August 30th, The first polar launch from Cape Canaveral since 1969.
7:18 PM Est, from SLC-40 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Canaveral Air Force Station
The 100th launch for SpaceX was one to be remembered. Set as the second launch on the same day from Cape Canaveral SAOCOM-1B has finally got off the pad and into orbit.
That's right two launches in one day! Something not seen for many decades, and also came as a surprise after the delay of the Delta IV Heavy earlier in the week, range control gave the go ahead to move forward. Unfortunately there was no double header that day as the Starlink mission set to launch in the morning was delayed due to foul weather in the area.
All day long around the Space Coast it rained and stormed and things did not look good for SpaceX to get this bird off the ground. The decision was made to fuel the rocket and make the final call at T-minus sixty seconds, but just about twenty five minutes before the scheduled lift off time the weather conditions turned GREEN. This meant all criteria for launch was GO and we would have liftoff after all.
Most launches take advantage of the Earth's spinning in order to reach orbit, part of why Florida was chosen as the main launch site, it's close to the equator. The SAOCOM-1B mission however was entering a polar orbit, therefore flying south down the coast of Florida, and over the Caribbean. Mostly flown from Vandeberg Air Force base in California, this would be the first polar launch since Feb. 26th 1969 when a Delta E1 rocket launched a meteorology satellite.
The risk of a failure early in flight is part of why these launches have not taken place from here in so long. The rocket flew right over SLC-40, and SLC-37B where ULA keeps their rockets, and currently has the Delta IV Heavy waiting for it's next launch attempt. It came as quite a surprise when the announcement was made that SpaceX would be allowed to launch before the NROL-44 mission, especially after the National Reconnaissance Office had previously specially requestied that SAOCOM-1B not launch until after NROL-44 was off the pad.
The Falcon 9 rocket initially flew southeast along the coast, then when the first stage and second stage separated, the second stage performed a "dogleg" maneuver turning it's payload to the south so it could achieve the proper inclination. The rocket flew directly over Cuba, and was seen across several Caribbean Islands as it left the Earth's atmosphere. The first stage of the rocket then returned to the landing zone at Cape Canaveral and became the second rocket this year to land back onshore for SpaceX.
First stage of the Falcon 9 rocket landing back at LZ-1
Initially slated to launch in march of 2020, the payload was shipped to the launch site in February of 2020. Then the global pandemic struck and the launch was indefinitely delayed as the satellite belonged to the Argentinian government space agency, CONAE, and they wished to be on site for liftoff and were barred from entering the country as with most of the world for safety concerns. The sixteen hundred kilogram satellite carries L-band Synthetic Aprture Radar instruments that measure soil moisture and other parameters in support of emergency response and disaster relief. The secondary payload includes two smaller satellites, the first is the GNSS Navigation and Occultation Measurement Satellite built by BLue Canyon Technologies for American Earth science company EarthIQ. The second, secondary payload is Tyvak-0172 built by Tyvak Nano-satellite systems. Not much information about this satellite is available at this time.