Editor’s note: A livestream link for the Saocom 1B launch has been added below. The weather conditions in Florida are only 40% favorable, so there’s a chance the launch slips. We’ll update this post when we know more. Original story follows.
It’s become routine to see a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blast off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral and then watch the first-stage booster come back for a soft landing aboard an autonomous droneship off shore in the Atlantic Ocean. An upcoming mission, however, features the rare return of a Falcon 9 directly to dry land.
Elon Musk’s rocket company will launch the Argentinean Earth-observing satellite Saocom 1B from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as early as Sunday. The launch had originally been scheduled for Thursday, but delays in the unrelated launch of a spy satellite from Cape Canaveral have had a ripple effect that’s led to the postponement of this mission as well.
It’s far from certain Sunday will be the day either. The launch is currently set for 4:19 p.m. PT (7:19 p.m. Florida time). That’s only about nine hours after a Falcon 9 is on the docket to blastoff from nearby Kennedy Space Center carrying the latest batch of Starlink broadband satellites.
“Good chance something will slip,” Musk said on Twitter, referencing the company’s “intense” weekend agenda, which also includes a possible test “hop” of its latest Starship prototype in Texas.
When it does get off the ground, two smaller spacecraft, a commercial radar satellite called Sequoia and a weather data satellite dubbed Gnomes-1, will also be along for the ride.
SpaceX has only made one other ground pad landing in the past 12 months, as part of a resupply mission to the International Space Station on March 7. Multiple factors play into whether SpaceX lands ashore or on a droneship, a critical one being the trajectory of the flight and how far the rocket is from the coast once it’s separated from the second-stage rocket.
As NASASpaceflight.com reported last year, Saocom 1B will take off and fly on a polar trajectory toward the South Pole. After launch, the Falcon 9 will skirt the coast of Florida, making it possible to attempt the ground pad landing. This will mark the first orbital launch from Florida to use this southern polar corridor since 1960.
The SpaceX launch of the companion satellite Saocom 1A in 2018 also featured a ground pad landing, but at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. This launch was also initially set to take place from the West Coast, but eventually was moved to Florida and delayed thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After deploying Saocom 1B, we should see the first-stage rocket return to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) , which is only about 7 miles from the launch pad, a little less than 10 minutes after blast-off.
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World news – GB – SpaceX Saocom launch: Watch rare on-shore Falcon 9 rocket landing live