Falcon 9 set to launch Taiwanese Formosat-5 from California
As SpaceX prepares for its third Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in 2017, its customer looks forward to a payload “first”. The Formosat-5 spacecraft that will be launched on this mission is the first satellite designed and built entirely in Taiwan.
To prepare for launch, SpaceX conducted its customary pre-flight static fire test on August 19, 2017. The company performs these tests to ensure that all is well with their Falcon 9 rockets.
The firing involved fueling the vehicle just like launch teams do on the day of the mission. A simulated countdown also took place. Once the nine first-stage Merlin 1D engines ignited, they fired for three seconds while the launch mount firmly held the Falcon 9 in place.
After three seconds of firing, the computer called an automatic abort, as planned, and the engines shut down. SpaceX then lowered the rocket and rolled it back into the nearby horizontal integration facility to attach the payload to the top of the Falcon 9.
Formosat-5: demonstrating domestic development
Developed by Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO), Formosat-5 is a remote sensing satellite. The primary payload on the spacecraft will be an optical Remote Sensing Instrument, which provides 6.5-foot (2-meter) resolution panchromatic and 13-foot (4-meter) resolution multi-spectral color images.
According to NSPO, these images will support multiple uses, including disaster forecasting and mitigation, national security, environmental observation, international technological exchanges, academic research, and international humanitarian assistance.
Formosat-5 also includes an Advanced Ionospheric Probe scientific payload, which is an upper-atmosphere plasma sensor. It will be used to measure ionospheric plasma concentrations, velocities, temperatures, and ambient magnetic fields. It also will measure seismic precursors associated with earthquakes.
“Through Formosat-5, Taiwan will show the world that it is capable of independently building satellites,” Chang Ho-pen, director of the Formosat-5 project at NSPO, said in a Focus Taiwan story.
The Falcon 9 will lift off from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex 4E. Its 44-minute launch window will open at 11:50 a.m. PDT (2:50 p.m. EDT / 18:50 GMT).
Once the vehicle leaves the pad, it will fly south over the Pacific Ocean to place the satellite into a 450-mile (720-kilometer) Sun-synchronous polar orbit.
It will be the fifth Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg and the 40th overall, including the flights from SpaceX’s two launch pads in Florida. It will also be the NewSpace company’s 12th launch in 2017.
After the first stage completes its job some two-minutes into the flight, it will separate from the second stage, which will complete the job of sending the Formosat-5 satellite into orbit.
The first stage will then begin a series of maneuvers to land on SpaceX’s automated spaceport drone ship Just Read The Instructions, which will be waiting for it downrange in the Pacific. If it is recovered, it will be refurbished for another flight.
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.