On Sunday, August 30, SpaceX launched and landed its Falcon 9 rocket carrying Argentina’s Saocom-1B satellite. Alongside were two rideshare payloads named GNOMES 1 and Tyvak -172. This brings SpaceX’s count to 100 total missions since its first launch of the Falcon 1 in 2006.
This was not a normal launch from SLC-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Most launches now head easterly and then to low earth or geosynchronous orbits. This time the Falcon 9 launched south, hugging the Florida coast and flying over Cuba. This is the first use of the new polar corridor set up by the 45th Space Wing.
The last time a rocket launched into a polar orbit was a weather satellite in 1969. The rocket that launched was a Thor-Delta E. After a stage of that rocket supposedly landed in Cuba, all polar launches were moved to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The new corridor requires that rockets have an automated flight termination system, like what flies on the Falcon 9 and Heavy rockets. It also requires them to fly a “dog leg” maneuver. It flys around Florida and only crosses over Cuba when it is high enough not to cause any threat of falling space hardware.
This was supposed to be the finale of three launches this last weekend but the two prior were scrubbed. The first was aborted at launch at T-3 seconds due to ground support equipment. The second, a starlink mission, due to weather the night before, stopped ground operations to ready the rocket for launch.
Saocom-1B has been waiting to fly since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year. There have been countless delays due to satellite support personnel not being able to enter the country, and range priority being given to the NROL-44 mission. It was finally given the green light to launch three minutes before the scheduled liftoff when weather was determined safe for flight.
This mission also hosted a booster landing at LZ-1. This is something we have not seen since CRS-20 in March. Booster 1059.4 (the 4 denotes this as its fourth flight) returned to the Florida coast and successfully landed. The booster previously flew on CRS-19, CRS-20, and Starlink 8, which makes it a proven booster to SpaceX.