While Cape Canaveral is no stranger to a high launch cadence, last week the Cape saw something it hasn’t seen in decades – two launches on the same day. On the early morning of August 4, ULA launched SBIRS GEO-6, then in the evening, SpaceX launched KPLO.
ULA’s launch of SBIRS GEO-6
At 6:29 a.m. on August 4, ULA launched an Atlas V in the 421 configuration to carry SBIRS GEO-6 into geosynchronous orbit from SLC-41. This was the final launch of the Space Based Infrared System for the Space Force’s Space Systems Command. The four meter fairing on this Atlas V enclosed the satellite, which provides infrared surveillance to serve as a warning system for missiles. The Atlas V used two solid rocket boosters to provide thrust in addition to the primary RD-180 engine.
SpaceX’s launch of KPLO
The second launch of the day from Cape Canaveral was one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets from SLC-40. SpaceX launched the Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter to the Moon at 7:08 p.m.. The orbiter, known as Danuri, is carrying several scientific instruments to make observations about the Moon and is South Korea’s first Lunar orbiter. Launching on the Falcon 9 booster that was formerly a Falcon Heavy side-booster, the spacecraft includes a Lunar Terrain Imager, a Wide-angle Polarimetric Camera (which will help investigate lunar rock), a Magnetometer, a Gamma Ray Spectrometer, and networking equipment to test communication. In addition, NASA has a payload onboard – ShadowCam. That camera is specifically meant to look a reflectivity in order to search for ice deposits.
Tagging along for the mission is a digital mosaic of photos from Tesla owners who participated in the company’s referral program – a prize of which was to send your photo to space.
Watch two the Cape’s two launches of Aug. 4
The last time two rocket launches occurred from Cape Canaveral on the same day was back in the 1966. In order to test on-orbit docking of spacecraft, Neil Armstrong and David R Scott launched on their very first spaceflight – Gemini 8 – on March 16th. Less than two hours earlier, an Atlas rocket had launched an Agena Target Vehicle to which the Gemini crew would dock their spacecraft.
While SBIRS GEO-6 and KPLO took a fair amount of the attention, they were far from the only rocket launches on August 4. The US Company Rocket Lab also launched an orbital mission for the National Reconnaissance Office on an Electron rocket, and Blue Origin carried out another suborbital human spaceflight, which carried Dude Perfect member Coby Cotton to the edge of space. There were several other orbital and suborbital launches around the world as well.