SpaceX’s Falcon 9 soared under a blue sky Tuesday morning from Vandenberg Space Base and into low Earth orbit.
The rocket carried 49 Starlink satellites, which SpaceX deployed almost 90 minutes after the launch. Designed by SpaceX, the satellites are providing internet access to remote and rural areas in 46 countries, including SpaceX’s latest customers: Peru and Nigeria.
The Falcon 9 also carried Italian company D-Orbit’s spacetug, which had its own payloads — from Munich-based HPS, U.S. company EBAD, the Swiss institute EPFL and the New Zealand company StardustMe, according to Kate Tice, SpaceX quality system engineering manager. Ms. Tice listed the companies as she narrated the webcast of the launch at SpaceX.com.
D-Orbit’s payload included tech demo experiments and cremated human remains for customers in the U.S., Germany, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Tuesday’s mission was SpaceX’s seventh for this year and the second one in 2023 from Vandenberg.
The flight was originally scheduled for Sunday, then postponed to Monday, then finally rescheduled for Tuesday. The rocket took off without any problems at 8:15 a.m. Shortly before the launch, Ms. Tice said, “Teams are tracking no issues with the vehicle.”
After the classic countdown of 10, 9, 8, etc., Falcon 9 took off.
“Go, Falcon. Go, Starlink,” a SpaceX announcer said calmly.
Thirty seconds in the launch, Falcon 9 was up to 477 kilometers per hour. Then at almost a minute in launch, SpaceX announced the Falcon 9 had become supersonic. The webcast showed the speed at 1,144 kph.
“Falcon 9 is now traveling faster than the speed of sound,” Ms. Tice said. (The speed of sound is 1,234.8 kph.)
About 15 seconds later, Ms. Tice added, “We heard the call for maximum dynamic pressure, the largest amount of stress exerted on the vehicle.” That’s known as “max-q.”
Soon three events, one after another, set the stage for separation of the second stage, which was confirmed by SpaceX at 2 minutes, 37 seconds.
The webcast split into two views, with the first stage on its own and continuing to climb in altitude on the left, and the second stage on the right.
“On the left-hand side, you can see the fins, which will help to steer the vehicle back down for a precise landing” on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Pacific Ocean, Ms. Tice said.
The ship is called Of Course I Still Love You.
At nearly six minutes, the first stage started to make its descent back to Earth.
“There’s a stunning view there of the globe in the background,” Ms. Tice noted.
Around 6 minutes, 30 seconds, three engines were ignited on the first stage to help slow it down during its re-entry into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the second stage continued its ascent and orbit.
Seven minutes into the flight, Ms. Tice reported, “Things are looking good for both the first and second stages.”
At around 8 minutes, 30 seconds, the first stage landed on the drone ship.
That marked the seventh landing of this Falcon 9 first-stage booster.