SpaceX Launches Hisdesat’s PAZ plus Two Starlink Demo Satellites atop it’s Falcon 9 Rocket

SpaceX employs previously used first stage Falcon 9 booster to launch Spain’s PAZ and two of its own Starlink demo satellites | also manages to recover the rocket’s expensive nosecone (fairing) for re-deployment in future launches

SpaceX Launches Hisdesat’s PAZ plus Two Starlink Demo Satellites atop it's Falcon 9 Rocket

Delayed by a day, after ‘Upper Level Winds’ forced SpaceX to call off its Wednesday launch, the company’s Falcon 9 finally lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday (Feb.22) at 9:17 a.m. Eastern (1417 GMT; 6:17 a.m. local time), carrying three significant payloads.

All three satellites atop the Falcon 9 rocket – including Spanish company Hisdesat Servicios Estrategicos’ radar-imaging reconnaissance satellite PAZ and two of SpaceX’s own prototypes for its ambitious Starlink high-speed internet from space project – were successfully deployed into low Earth orbit 11 minutes after launch.

The company did not attempt to recover the Falcon 9’s reusable first stage as the Thursday mission was its second, having already been used for the launch of a Taiwanese Earth-observing satellite in August last year.

In its mission, expected to last at least five and a half years, PAZ will observe Earth in radar wavelengths from an altitude of 514 kilometers (319 miles), orbiting the planet 15 times a day, collecting important information – including weather data and ship tracking – on behalf of government agencies as well as commercial clients.

The 1,400-kilogram PAZ – which in Spanish means “peace” – was built by Airbus Defence and Space around the AstroBus platform and will be operated by Hisdesat to work in tandem with Germany’s national space center’s aging TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X manufactured by EADS Astrium. While still operational, both the satellites have outlived their five-year design lifespan.

Meanwhile, SpaceX prototypes Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, nicknamed Tintin A and Tintin B for the mission, will ultimately reach an altitude of 1,125 kilometers where they will do the groundwork, or should we say spacework, for the Starlink constellation of 4,425 satellites that Musk’s company intends to launch by 2025.

Elon Musk confirmed the successful deployment of the two Starlink demo satellites in a tweet, saying that they were communicating with Earth stations.

In a subsequent tweet, Musk said that Tintin A and B will attempt to greet us with the words “hello world” as they pass over the Los Angeles area in about 22 hours, meaning Friday.

While SpaceX made no attempt to recover the already used first stage booster, it did manage to recover the six-million-dollar fairing – which basically protects the rocket’s payload during the stressful ascent – but not in the manner it had planned to.

As the clamshell-like fairing fell back to Earth after separation, it deployed a parafoil to slow down its descent so that SpaceX could collect it on its customized fairing recovery boat, called Mr. Steven, fitted with a massive net held in place by giant metal arms extending out of Mr. Steven.

“Going to try to catch the giant fairing (nosecone) of Falcon 9 as it falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound,” the billionaire wrote on Instagram. “It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on, tries to catch it.”

However, the fairing missed Mr. Steven’s “giant catcher’s mitt” and landed in the Pacific with no major damage do it.

“Missed by a few hundred meters, but fairing landed intact in water,” Musk wrote on Twitter, adding that in future the company “should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent”

Watch the launch here.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO’s internet-from-space ambitions received a major thrust earlier this month when Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai gave his nod of approval to SpaceX’s plan of providing broadband services using space technologies.

Pai urged his fellow commissioners to give their consent to the California-based space company’s application, highlighting the space internet technology’s potential to provide broadband services to rural America and remote parts of the country.

The four FCC commissioners who will be considering the application are Mignon Clyburn (Dem.), Michael O’Reilly (Rep.), Brendan Carr (Reo.) and Jessica Rosenworcel (Dem.).

“To bridge America’s digital divide, we’ll have to use innovative technologies,” Pai said. “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach. And it can offer more competition where terrestrial internet access is already available.”

Should the application get the majority votes it requires from Pai’s four fellow commissioners, SpaceX will become the fourth company after OneWeb, Telesat Canada and Space Norway to get the FCC approval for broadband satellite services out of a total of twelve applications that the agency has received until now.

“Following careful review of this application by our International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts, I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans. If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies,” Pai said in a Feb. 14 statement.

With Pai in favor of the plan and two Republican commissioners most likely to give their nods as well, it appears that Musk is well on his way to realizing his space-broadband dreams.

And, with Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel saying that the move would “multiply the number of satellites in the skies, creating extraordinary new opportunities,” a unanimous decision in favor of the project seems like a foregone conclusion.

“The FCC should move quickly to facilitate these new services while underscoring our commitment to space safety,” Rosenworcel said.
If all goes as anticipated, SpaceX will deploy an array of 4,425 satellites to meet its broadband venture requirements.

It must be mentioned that OneWeb and Telesat Canada have FCC approval for 720 and 117 LEO satellites respectively, while Space Norway has the agency’s go-ahead for two highly elliptical arctic-focused satellites.

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