Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX launches PAZ radar imaging satellite into orbit

Archive photo of SpaceX Falcon 9 launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base photo credit USAF

Archive photo of SpaceX Falcon 9 launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Photo Credit: USAF

With three successful flights already under their belt already this year, SpaceX successfully launched Spain’s PAZ radar imaging satellite along with two secondary payloads, both of them were SpaceX’s own satellites – Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b which are thought to be technology demonstrators for the company’s Starlink satellite broadband service.

The previously flown Falcon 9 Full thrust’s first stage lifted off with the rest of the rocket and its payload from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at 6:17 a.m. PST (14:17 GMT) on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018.

The nine Merlin 1D engines, providing a total thrust of 710,000 lbf (7,607kN1) at liftoff propelled the rocket for about 2 minutes and 42 seconds. A few seconds after stage separation, the second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine, providing 210,000 lbf (934kN) of thrust, delivered the Falcon 9’s payloads to their desired orbits.

The core that was used on this mission, core 1038, launched the Formosat 5 Earth observation satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 19 2017. Following its flight the core landed successfully on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Just Read The Instructions.”

The core for this flight, B1038.2,  will not be recovered again. Instead it performed a ballisitic arc ending in a destructive landing in the Pacific Ocean. 

The mission had been slated to get underway as early as Feb. 17. However, as SpaceX noted on Twitter, the company wanted more time to complete pre flight checks and the launch date slipped to Sunday, Feb. 18 with the NewSpace company noting that both the Falcon 9’s payload fairing and the precious cargo that it carried were “healthy.”

The F9’s payload fairing also appears to have been at the center of the delays of the classified Zuma mission, which was supposed to fly last year (2017). Indeed, the delay to Feb. 21 also appears to relate to the rocket’s fairing (it’s nosecone) as was noted by SpaceX in a later tweet:

Team at Vandenberg is taking additional time to perform final checkouts of upgraded fairing. Payload and vehicle remain healthy. Due to mission requirements, now targeting February 21 launch of PAZ.

Spain's PAZ radar-imaging satellite being prepared for shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base. Photo Credit: Airbus

Spain’s PAZ radar-imaging satellite being prepared for shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base. Photo Credit: Airbus

The Feb. 21 launch attempt was also called off due to high upper level winds with SpaceX noting that weather conditions for a Feb. 22 launch attempt provided an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions for flight. These predictions appear to have been accurate as the rocket roared into the skies above California in the early morning hours.

One hour and 13 minutes prior to the opening  of today’s launch window, SpaceX’s launch conductor gave the go ahead to start loading the Falcon 9 with propellant. Three minutes later and RP-1, a highly-refined, aerospace grade of kerosene began coursing into the rocket. With a little more than a half hour before the scheduled launch, liquid oxygen began being loaded into the rocket.

Just seven minutes prior to the planned T-0, the Falcon 9 underwent a scheduled chill period prior to its flight.

As the countdown approached zero and with just one minute left on the clock, the rocket’s flight computer commanded to begin final pre-launch checks. Also at this time, the Falcon 9’s fuel tanks were brought up to flight pressure.

Fifteen seconds later SpaceX’s launch director confirmed that the mission was ready for flight.

With a mere three seconds remaining, the engine controller gave the order for engine sequence start. The rocket promptly left the pad a few moments later.

Within one minute and approximately 17 seconds after leaving SLC-4E, the Falcon 9 entered max Q (maximum dynamic pressure). This region is where the rocket’s speed when coupled with the atmospheric pressure outside place the stack under the greatest amount of stress during the flight.

Almost two and a half minutes into the flight, the rocket’s first stage underwent main engine cutoff (MECO) with the first and second stages separating four seconds later. 

Seven seconds after this took place, the second stage’s lone Merlin 1D activated for a burn that lasted some six minutes and 18 seconds. 

Nearly three minutes into the flight, its mission complete, the payload fairing was jettisoned, exposing the PAZ satellite to space. The satellite was finally deployed nearly eleven minutes after it had thundered off the pad at Vandenberg.





Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.

Reader Comments

Well done SpaceX. Pushing boundaries again with fairing recovery. Seems an obvious thing to do now that someone is trying. With lots of launches they have lots of opportunities to get lt right and Elon even said they might try it with Dragon. Probably a bit tongue in cheek but then you never know and that’d be quite a sight.

Also not costing them much at all to experiment with this recovery or their own sats as the flight’s paid for by their customer.

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