A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rose out of California’s coastal fog today to send three radar-sensing satellites into orbit for the Canadian government.
Little could be seen from the ground when the rocket lifted off at 7:17 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base, but that didn’t matter to the three satellites tucked inside the Falcon 9’s nose cone for the Radarsat Constellation Mission.
The satellites, built by Maxar Technologies’ MDA division, are designed to observe Earth from sun-synchronous orbit using C-band synthetic aperture radar. The Radarsat Constellation Mission follows up on two previous generations of Canadian Radarsat spacecraft.
Such radar instruments will produce high-resolution, daily scans of Canada and the Arctic — revealing the status of sea ice, crop moisture and terrain features even when the skies are obscured by clouds. Or fog, for that matter.
Minutes after launch, the Falcon 9’s second stage separated and pressed onward to orbit. Meanwhile, the rocket’s first-stage booster — which was previously used to send a Crew Dragon spaceship to the International Space Station on an uncrewed test mission in March — successfully flew itself back down through the murk to SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg, not far from where it took off.
The touchdown was cheered by scores of SpaceX employees watching the video feed from the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. The booster will be refurbished for yet another launch, just as it was after March’s mission.
About an hour after launch, the three Radarsat satellites were deployed into their proper orbits, roughly 600 kilometers (370 miles) above Earth’s surface. The trio is designed for an operating life of seven years.
This is an updated version of a report that was first published at 7:45 a.m. PT June 12. We’ve corrected a reference to the time of liftoff.