Update October 7th, 10:40PM ET: SpaceX successfully launched and landed its Falcon 9 this evening, marking the 62nd flight of the vehicle. It was also the 12th ground landing for the company, and the first one on the California coast.
Original Story: This evening, SpaceX is set to launch a used Falcon 9 rocket from California, a flight that will be followed by one of the company’s signature rocket landings. But this time around, SpaceX will attempt to land the vehicle on a concrete landing pad near the launch site — not a drone ship in the ocean. If successful, it’ll be the first time that the company does a ground landing on the West Coast.
Up until now, all of SpaceX’s ground landings have occurred out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, the company’s busiest launch site. SpaceX has two landing pads there, and has managed to touch down 11 Falcon 9 rockets on them. And each time the company has attempted to land on land, it’s been a success.
SpaceX has been wanting to do ground landings out of its other launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, too. The company leased a site there in 2015, a former launch site for the Titan rockets, in order to create a concrete landing pad. However, SpaceX had yet to receive clearance to use the pad, and has only been able to land its West Coast vehicles on drone ships in the Pacific Ocean. But over the summer, the company applied for a license to land at the Vandenberg pad, and now it seems the site is open for business.
Since this is the first time a rocket will be landing at Vandenberg, nearby residents can expect to hear a trio of sonic booms. These large thunder claps are made when the Falcon 9 returns to Earth, moving faster than the speed of sound. When traveling at such speeds, parts of the rocket create shock waves that people can hear. It was a common occurrence at Cape Canaveral whenever NASA’s Space Shuttles landed, and it’s continued with SpaceX’s rocket landings over there. Vandenberg Air Force Base issued a warning to California locals ahead of tonight’s flight.
Tonight’s mission will be sending up a 3,500-pound satellite called SAOCOM 1A for Argentina’s space agency. The satellite is one of an identical pair that are meant to sit in orbit 385 miles up and observe the Earth. The two are equipped with radar to help with responses to emergencies and natural disasters, as well as gather information about the amount of moisture in soil for the agriculture industry. The other probe, SAOCOM 1B, is also set to launch on top of a Falcon 9, sometime in 2019.
The rocket being used for this flight launched from Vandenberg once before. On July 25th, the vehicle lofted 10 satellites for telecommunications company Iridium, and landed on a drone ship in the Pacific. SpaceX is now targeting 10:21PM ET for this liftoff. This launch has an instantaneous launch window, too, so if the rocket doesn’t go up exactly on time, SpaceX will have to try again another day. The company has a backup launch date set for the same time on Thursday, October 11th.
Once this rocket gets off the ground, it’ll be the 17th launch of the year for SpaceX. That puts the company just one launch away from tying its record of 18 launches last year. SpaceX has been aiming to hit 24 launches in 2018, however it seems unlikely that the goal will be met. But the company is still on track to surpass any other US company, and even Russia in total launches this year.
Coverage of the launch is set to begin 15 minutes prior to liftoff. Check back then to watch this flight live.