Taiwanese satellite rides SpaceX rocket into orbit – Spaceflight Now

 In Science
    The Falcon 9 rocket lifts off Thursday with Formosat 5. Credit: SpaceX

Flying with an exceptionally lightweight payload, a Falcon 9 rocket delivered a multipurpose research satellite into a nearly 450-mile-high orbit Thursday for Taiwan following a smooth countdown and liftoff from California’s Central Coast.

Weighing in at about a half-ton, or 475 kilograms, the Formosat 5 satellite doubles as an orbiting observatory to look down on Earth and as a pathfinder for Taiwan’s future space ambitions.

Formosat 5 climbed into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which lifted off at 11:51 a.m. PDT (2:51 p.m. EDT; 1851 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Originally slated to fly on SpaceX’s discontinued Falcon 1 rocket, Formosat 5 is the first major space mission fully designed, manufactured and tested in Taiwan. It follows Formosat 2, a European-built satellite owned by Taiwan’s National Space Organization, or NSPO, launched in 2004 from Vandenberg on a Taurus rocket.

Formosat 2 was retired last year, well after Formosat 5 was originally scheduled for launch. But the project ran into delays in Taiwan, and Formosat 5’s launch was switched to a larger Falcon 9 rocket once SpaceX ended its Falcon 1 rocket program.

Two SpaceX rocket mishaps over the last two years also contributed to the delays.

But the pre-launch worries faded Thursday with an on-target launch directly into Formosat 5’s planned operating perch around 450 miles (720 kilometers) above Earth. Formosat 5 will fly in a sun-synchronous orbit, allowing its camera to regularly take photos of locations around the world, supporting scientific research and disaster monitoring functions.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket soared through low clouds a few seconds after liftoff, then turned south on course to place its payload into an orbit flying over Earth’s poles.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 switched off its nine Merlin engines around two-and-a-half minutes into the mission, then detached 60 miles (100 kilometers) over the Pacific Ocean to begin a ballistic plummet toward a remotely-controlled floating barge.

Meanwhile, the upper stage’s single Merlin engine fired six-and-a-half minutes to send Formosat 5 into orbit. About a minute after the Falcon 9 and Formosat 5 arrived in orbit, the first stage touched down on its landing target, making a propulsive vertical descent before settling on the platform with the aid of four deployable legs.

Moments later, Formosat 5 flew free from the Falcon 9’s upper stage. Live video from a camera mounted on the rocket showed the Taiwanese satellite receding from view.

The NSPO said ground controllers received the first radio signals from Formosat 5 via a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, around 83 minutes after liftoff, confirming the craft’s condition and health.

The Falcon 9’s upper stage was programmed to reignite its engine later Thursday for a de-orbit maneuver to burn up in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX and Formosat 5’s owner declared success, making the Falcon 9 booster 12-for-12 this year after returning to service in the wake of an on-pad rocket explosion last year. Thursday’s launch also marked the 40th Falcon 9 flight overall since SpaceX debuted the first version of the launcher in June 2010.

The first stage on Thursday’s launch, a newly-manufactured booster, will return to port in Southern California in a few days for inspections, refurbishment and potential reuse on a future mission.

Thursday’s flight was the fifth time a Falcon 9 rocket has launched from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4-East, a hillside launch complex previously used by heavy-lift Titan 4 rockets.

The Air Force’s Western Range manages tracking and support infrastructure at Vandenberg.

Recent Posts
Get Breaking News Delivered to Your Inbox
Join over 2.3 million subscribers. Get daily breaking news directly to your inbox as they happen.
Your Information will never be shared with any third party.
Get Latest News in Facebook
Never miss another breaking news. Click on the "LIKE" button below now!