SpaceX Launches Falcon 9 Carrying Imaging Satellite and Experimental Internet Stations

Just two weeks after launching a Tesla Roadster into space in the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX got back to business Thursday, launching a Falcon 9 carrying a $200 million Spanish radar imaging satellite and two experimental internet relay stations, pathfinders for SpaceX’s proposed mega-network of orbital broadband beacons.

Running a day late because of high upper level winds, the 229-foot-tall rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 9:17 a.m. EST, streaking away to the south over the Pacific Ocean as it climbed toward an orbit around Earth’s poles.

The rocket’s first stage — the ninth previously flown SpaceX booster to make a second flight — powered the vehicle out of the thick lower atmosphere and then fell away two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. No attempt was made to recover the used rocket, which fell back to Earth and crashed into the Pacific.

The company did presumably attempt to recover the nose cone panels that protected the satellite payload during the early moments of the flight using a custom-designed recovery ship stationed down range from the launch site. But SpaceX provided no immediate confirmation.

The single engine powering the second stage, meanwhile, fired for about six minutes and 20 seconds, putting putting Hisdesat’s 1.5-ton PAZ — “Peace” — satellite into a 320-mile high orbit.

Using a sophisticated radar imaging system that can “see” Earth’s surface through clouds, day or night, PAZ is designed to capture images showing features as small as 9.8 inches across, covering an area of nearly 116,000 square miles every day. The imagery will be provided to the Spanish government and its allies as well as commercial users.

“It’s a very flexible mission,” Miguel Angel García Primo, chief operating officer of Hisdesat, told Spaceflight Now. “It’s useful for a lot of applications, environmental, also for big infrastructure tracking and planning, maritime surveillance and government applications like monitoring and surveillance for any specific items that you’d like to follow.”

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SOURCE: CBS News, William Harwood