June 29th at 2:56 PM Est atop a Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-40 at Canaveral Space Force Station
You may have been expecting Jason Statham and fast cars, but you’ll have to settle for Elon Musk and rockets instead. If you’re like us you aren’t disappointed though. Much like the movie where actor Jason Statham’s character has retired to Florida and taken up work as a Chauffer for a wealthy family, Elon has long ago set up shop in Cape Canaveral Florida and is chauffeuring eighty-eight satellites to orbit for various customers today. Our Climax during today’s launch wasn’t some awesome car chase scene or bullets flying, but rather a sixteen story tall Falcon 9 booster landing back at LZ-1 at Canaveral Space Force Station. It’s been many months since we’ve last seen a booster return to landing site, the NROL-108 mission in December of 2020 to be exact.
Those eighty-satellites are part of SpaceX’s rideshare program. This allows customers cheaper flights to orbit as they literally share the rocket with many other spacecraft to popular orbits, like the Sun Synchronis Orbit, which was today’s destination. Their price, only one million dollars per 200 kilograms of payload, making them seriously inexpensive compared to other launch providers. On this mission a company, Exolaunch, from Germany has four ports inside the fairings which hold ten micro satellites and nineteen cubesats which together weigh almost one ton. All this is for their Fingerspitzengefuhl mission. Translating to finger tips, the company hasn’t released a complete manifest of their satellites. Spaceflight Inc. a provider from Seattle Washington has seven micro satellites and twenty-nine cubesats riding along today for their SXRS-5 mission. An Italian launch service provider, named their mission “Wild Ride” and they are flying their third OTV, ION SCV-003. This vehicle carries six cubesats and three hosted payloads, some of which from a launch service provider in the Netherlands. Once deployed payload tests dealing with optical communications will commence. This is an on-orbit computing for artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, using machine learning for flood detection.
These are just a few examples of the larger massed payloads on board, with eighty-eight total it would be a very long article to cover them all. To many it wasn’t the payloads which made this launch exciting but rather the route which the Falcon 9 flew along with where it landed. For the first mission this year was saw SpaceX bring their booster back to land. At Cape Canaveral Space Force Station LZ-1, just about eight minutes after launch the sixteen story booster came soaring back down, with a sonic boom being heard just before the booster actually touched down. It was also a polar launch, only the third from Cape Canaveral since the 1960s. The rocket took a Southerly path skirting the Florida coast before separating from the second stage. Then the second stage performed a “Dogleg” maneuver to turn it’s course slightly West of South where it skirted along West Palm Beach and keeping course just off the coast to reach the desired orbit.
Originally delayed from last week when SpaceX said they were postponing the launch to perform additional checks on the rocket it was set to launch June 29th at 2:56 PM Est. Storm clouds surrounding the area made things look less than ideal for launch conditions but around forty-five minutes prior to lift off the Launch Director gave the GO for propellant loading, which meant the team believed they could get the Falcon to fly. With three minutes left on the clock reports indicated that the weather was green, meaning launch conditions were acceptable. Then as the live stream hit eleven seconds to ignition the words “Hold hold hold” came through and the launch attempt was scrubbed. What many first thought must be a weather issue turned out to be a wayward helicopter in the restricted flight zone. Perhaps some confusion about the no fly zone was happening because of the Southerly trajectory of the rocket but either way Elon Musk took to twitter to once again go at the FAA. Stating humans will never become an interplanetary species with ridiculously gigantic restriction zones around launches. It did appear that later in the evening he removed that tweet, but it had already been spread across the internet with screenshots by that point.
That takes us to June 30th. Once again the weather was looking less than great around the space coast with thunderstorms to the west and several storm cells moving in across the Atlantic. When propellant loading was underway a light rain covered the base, but continued to move through the area quickly. T-minus zero struck and the nine Merlin 1D engines all ignited perfectly for booster 1060’s eighth launch. Then a little over eight minutes later the booster was once again spotted above the Cape, this time sans second stage and payload fairings. A single Merlin engine ignited to slow it down high above in the clouds then went dark. Once below the clouds onlookers could see the sixteen story tall booster falling through the air and headed on a collision course with Earth. Then once again that single engine ignited to slow it down once again, the landing burn took slowed 1060 down as the grid fins guided the rocket to LZ-1 where just before it touched down perfectly twin sonic booms shook windows in the vicinity. If you happened to be near enough and listened closely one could tell it was actually three sonic booms in short unison taking place. The first is from the aft end engine, second boom is from the landing legs as they are the widest point of the rocket, and the third boom is from the grid fins at the top.
This is when the cheering took place. All that remained visible to the public of the Falcon 9 was the upper portion above the tree line, but all could tell that the landing was successful and those who travelled near or far erupted in elation about watching something once deemed impossible. That’s when many packed up and went home, but the mission was not complete. A short time later the fairings were jettisoned and the second stage continued to push the payloads to their respective orbital positions.