After the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket two weeks ago, returning to the launch of a single core of a Falcon 9 rocket may seem like a disappointment. But it’s worth tuning in to the upcoming launch of SpaceX, currently scheduled for early Wednesday.
The instant launch window opens (and closes) at 9:17 a.m. ET this Wednesday, and the predicted weather conditions for the launch pad at Vandenberg AFB, in California, are 90 percent favorable. (Update: top-level winds are too high, so SpaceX will collect additional weather data in T-25 minutes and make a final launch decision from there).
The main mission on Wednesday is the launch of the PAZ satellite to low Earth orbit. This is a synthetic aperture radar satellite that can generate high resolution images of the Earth’s surface, regardless of whether there are clouds covering the ground. The client is Hisdesat, a commercial satellite company based in Spain.
The Falcon 9 rocket will also carry a second payload: two experimental non-geostationary satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b. Those are two satellites that SpaceX had previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing as part of an ambitious plan to finally deliver global satellite Internet. More satellites will be launched in phases, with the intention that SpaceX reaches its maximum capacity with more than 4,000 satellites in 2024.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the launch on Wednesday will arrive a few minutes after takeoff when the fairings of the payload are separated from the top of the rocket. Although SpaceX has not spoken publicly about these fairings, they represent an update on previous versions, and the company will make an effort to recover them from the Pacific Ocean.
— Pauline Acalin (@w00ki33) February 19, 2018
As part of that recovery effort, SpaceX will send a ship named “Mr. Steven” to the recovery area in an attempt to catch at least one of the steerable fairings or, failing that, take them out of the ocean once they land. SpaceX has also been a mom about the nature of the ship, but the photos have appeared on social networks in recent weeks. Presumably, the company will share more information if the recovery is a success.
So many things are happening with the launch attempt early in the morning. As it is a pre-flown amplifier (launched for the first time on August 24, 2017), SpaceX will not attempt to recover it for a third flight. The webcast below should be activated about 15 minutes before the launch window on Wednesday opens.