Falcon 9 launches all-Taiwanese Formosat-5 into orbit
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Lifting off on its 40th flight, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket soared skyward to send into space Taiwan’s first domestically designed and built satellite: Formosat-5. The launch took place at 11:51 a.m. PDT (18:51 GMT) on August 24, 2017, from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) in California.
Weather for the flight was predicted to have a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions during the roughly 42-minute launch window. Despite some early-morning fog, the countdown proceeded smoothly.
Colonel Gregory E. Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander and the launch safety authority, said: “The 30th Space Wing takes great pride in supporting another successful SpaceX launch. It is a sterling example of the wing’s commitment to public safety and mission success on the Western Range.”
The payload for the mission weighed about 1,047 pounds (475 kilograms), well within the Falcon 9 rockets capability of more than 22,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms). This is because the satellite was originally supposed to fly on the Falcon 1e rocket in 2013. However, because SpaceX retired its small launcher, Formosat-5 was moved to the Falcon 9.
Additionally, it was also intended to have a secondary payload set with it. Spaceflight Industries Inc. was to have flown its SHERPA adapter with some 90 small satellites. The adapter was removed, and Spaceflight Industries has a dedicated launch for it sometime in early 2018.
Formosat-5 was designed and built by the Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO). It is a remote sensing satellite that will be able to provide 6.5-foot (2-meter) resolution panchromatic imagery with 13-foot (4-meter) resolution multi-spectral color images using an optical Remote Sensing Instrument.
A secondary payload on the small satellite includes an Advanced Ionosphere Probe, which is an instrument designed to study plasma in the upper atmosphere.
Once the countdown neared zero, the Falcon 9’s nine first-stage Merlin 1D engines ignited and roared to life. At zero, the launch clamps released the rocket and it rose skyward into the California skies.
After pitching over toward the south, the vehicle soon reached the speed of sound. One minute, 9 seconds into the flight, the moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket was reached. This point of the flight is known as max-Q.
After 2 minutes, 28 seconds of a nominal ascent, the first stage’s engines cut off, as planned. The first and second stages then separated to go their separate ways.
The second stage, with the Formosat-5 on top, ignited its lone Merlin 1D Vacuum engine to finish the journey into orbit. Meanwhile, the first stage, which was now on a suborbital trajectory, slowly began to pitch over to position its engines toward its direction of travel to prepare for a landing attempt on SpaceX’s West Coast drone ship Just Read The Instructions, located downrange in the Pacific Ocean.
At 2 minutes, 53 seconds, the payload fairing jettisoned, revealing the Formosat-5 satellite to the vacuum of space.
Captain Kylie Prachar, Air Force Launch Commander for F9-40 Formosat-5 mission, 1st Air and Space Test Squadron, said: “The Falcon 9 launch of Formosat-5 was an incredible mission to be a part of! This was the first satellite manufactured and integrated entirely by Taiwan and it was also the fastest turn-around time between Falcon launches here at Space Launch Complex-4.
“Our Air Force team put in a lot of work to support the mission and provide Fleet Surveillance on behalf of the Space and Missile Systems Center.”
Falcon 9 launch of the Formosat-5 mission. Photos Credit: SpaceX
Eight minutes, 45 seconds after leaving California, the first stage performed a three-engine entry burn to ease the booster back into Earth’s atmosphere. This burn was only about a minute long.
Several seconds later, in space, the second stage reached its designated 450-mile (720-kilometer) Sun-synchronous orbit with a 98.28-degree inclination.
Another few seconds later, the first stage ignited its center Merlin 1D engine to begin to slow down for a landing on Just Read The Instructions. Because the mission payload was so light, there was plenty of fuel for the booster to make a successful landing. This was the 15th successful first stage landing to date, the three of them on the West Coast drone ship.
Meanwhile, back in orbit, the second stage deployed the Formosat-5 satellite. It successfully separated 11 minutes, 18 seconds into the flight.
This was the fifth Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg since the company activated its launch site in 2013. It was the third for 2017 alone.
In total, 2017 has seen 12 Falcon 9 rocket launches – nine from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX plans at least 11 launches this year, including the maiden flight of the long-delayed Falcon Heavy. That mission is currently targeting November.
The next Falcon 9 launch is now slated for no earlier than September 7. It will send the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B into space.
Video courtesy of SciNews
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.