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SpaceX Launches 3 Satellites Focused on Disaster Relief and Effects of Climate Change

June 12, 2019 - 9:32 am
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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from a foggy California coast Wednesday, launching three Canadian radar satellites on a $900 million mission focused on maritime surveillance, resource management, disaster relief and the effects of climate change.

Using a C-band synthetic aperture radar system, the Radarsat Constellation Mission satellites will operate day and night, peering through cloud cover to monitor the vast northern reaches of the continent, Canada's long shoreline and maritime approaches.

"We have a very large country, and most of the population density is on the southern border," said Steve Iris, the RCM mission manager. "So we have a large part of the northern part of Canada that has a low-density population, and there's not a lot of infrastructure there to do monitoring. That's where there is the most impact from climate change, especially on the permafrost.

"So with the (Radarsat) mission, we'll be able to monitor that region every day, and to monitor subtle changes like ground deformation due to permafrost melting. We'll be able to do that (four times per day across the arctic), which is a big advantage compared to what we do now."

With morning fog shrouding space launch complex 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Falcon 9 thundered to life at 7:17 a.m. PDT (10:17 EDT), its nine Merlin 1D engines throttling up to full power with a brilliant rush of flame. An instant later, the 229-foot-tall rocket was released from its firing stand to begin the climb to space.

Arcing away to the south over the Pacific Ocean, the slender booster quickly accelerated as it consumed its load of first stage propellants and lost weight, powering the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere with 1.2 million pounds of thrust.

About two minutes and 17 seconds after liftoff, the previously flown first stage fell away, flipped around, restarted three engines to reverse course and headed back to Vandenberg. After another brief rocket firing to slow down for re-entry, the stage homed in on Landing Zone 4 at the Air Force base, restarting a single engine and settling to a pinpoint touchdown just a few hundred feet from the launch pad.

It was SpaceX's 41st successful booster recovery overall since December 2015. The company's record now stands at 26 landings on offshore drone ships, 13 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and two at Vandenberg.

While the first stage was completing its return to Earth, the Falcon 9's single-engine second stage was completing the first of two firings to reach the intended orbit. The three RCM satellites were successfully released one at a time starting about 54 minutes after liftoff.

Tests and checkout are expected to take several months. Once complete, the satellites will begin routine observations under control of the Canadian Space Agency.

At a cost of about $1.2 billion Canadian dollars ($904 million U.S.), the RCM payload is one of the most expensive ever booked on a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Evenly spaced around the planet in a 373-mile-high polar orbit, the satellites will complete one trip around the planet every 96 minutes, beaming back 250,000 images per year and flying over the same point on the ground every four days. It took the earlier Radarsat 2 satellite 24 days to fly back over a given site.

With morning fog shrouding space launch complex 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Falcon 9 thundered to life at 7:17 a.m. PDT (10:17 EDT), its nine Merlin 1D engines throttling up to full power with a brilliant rush of flame. An instant later, the 229-foot-tall rocket was released from its firing stand to begin the climb to space.

Arcing away to the south over the Pacific Ocean, the slender booster quickly accelerated as it consumed its load of first stage propellants and lost weight, powering the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere with 1.2 million pounds of thrust.

About two minutes and 17 seconds after liftoff, the previously flown first stage fell away, flipped around, restarted three engines to reverse course and headed back to Vandenberg. After another brief rocket firing to slow down for re-entry, the stage homed in on Landing Zone 4 at the Air Force base, restarting a single engine and settling to a pinpoint touchdown just a few hundred feet from the launch pad.

It was SpaceX's 41st successful booster recovery overall since December 2015. The company's record now stands at 26 landings on offshore drone ships, 13 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and two at Vandenberg.

While the first stage was completing its return to Earth, the Falcon 9's single-engine second stage was completing the first of two firings to reach the intended orbit. The three RCM satellites were successfully released one at a time starting about 54 minutes after liftoff.

Tests and checkout are expected to take several months. Once complete, the satellites will begin routine observations under control of the Canadian Space Agency.

At a cost of about $1.2 billion Canadian dollars ($904 million U.S.), the RCM payload is one of the most expensive ever booked on a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Evenly spaced around the planet in a 373-mile-high polar orbit, the satellites will complete one trip around the planet every 96 minutes, beaming back 250,000 images per year and flying over the same point on the ground every four days. It took the earlier Radarsat 2 satellite 24 days to fly back over a given site.