SpaceX aims to launch a satellite and catch a payload fairing2 min read

These fairings will separate from the rocket at about three minutes after launch.

SpaceX had to scrub the Wednesday launch attempt of its Falcon 9 rocket due to upper-level winds, but will try again Thursday morning. The instantaneous launch window opens (and closes) again at 9:17am ET. This launch will occur from at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in Southern California.

SpaceX has a sooty booster on the pad in California, ready for a launch.

There is heightened interest in this launch because, for the first time, SpaceX will attempt to “catch” one of the two payload fairings that enclose the satellite at the top of the rocket. The value of these fairings is about $6 million, and recovering and reusing them would both save SpaceX money and remove another roadblock on their production line for Falcon 9 rockets.

These fairings will separate from the rocket at about three minutes after launch and are “steerable” in the sense that SpaceX hopes to guide them back to a target location the ocean. The company has been mum about how it plans to slow the fairings and collect them as they fall to Earth. However, as part of that recovery effort, SpaceX will dispatch a boat named “Mr. Steven” into the Pacific Ocean. Photos of the boat, which has a large net above it, have popped up on social media in recent weeks. Presumably the company will share more information if the recovery is a success.

The primary 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 customer is Hisdesat, a Spain-based commercial satellite company.

The Falcon 9 rocket will also carry a second payload of note: two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b. Those are two satellites that SpaceX has previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing as part of an ambitious plan to eventually deliver global satellite Internet. Further satellites will be launched in phases, with SpaceX intending to reach full capacity with more than 4,000 satellites by 2024.

The webcast below, presuming upper-level winds are better Thursday morning, will open about 15 minutes before the launch.

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Sebastien Clarke

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