[Click here to watch the SpaceX stream, slated to start about 15 minutes before launch.]
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SpaceX plans to launch a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The PAZ mission, named for the Spanish government’s satellite on board, will head for low Earth orbit. While this is a reused rocket, SpaceX is not expected to attempt another landing of the first-stage booster, and instead will likely discard that portion of the rocket into the ocean.
With the launch set shortly before sunrise in Los Angeles, there may be another visual display like the Iridium-4 mission on Dec. 22. Due to the atmospheric conditions just after dusk, the Iridium-4 mission was visible to the naked eye by millions in Los Angeles. SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted one video of the launch, calling the spectacle a “nuclear alien UFO from North Korea.”
Col. Greg Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander at Vandenberg, said in a statement that the division is “excited to support this mission as we continue to provide safe, secure access to polar orbit.”
The company is also launching its own satellites for the first time, Microsat 2a and 2b, which are headed for orbit aboard the rocket. These test craft will take the critical next step in demonstrating the viability of SpaceX building the largest satellite network in history.
Musk confirmed Wednesday the inclusion of the two satellites on the launch, saying in a tweet that “if successful” the new satellite network would serve the “least served” around the world.
Starlink – a name SpaceX filed to trademark last year – is an ambition unmatched by any current satellite network. The largest existing constellation is built by Iridium, with the company halfway through launching its new 75 Iridium Next satellites to space, set to finish deployment in the next year.
SpaceX will begin launching an initial constellation of 4,425 Ka/Ku band low Earth orbit satellites in 2019, with the system becoming operational once at least 800 satellites are deployed, the FCC documents show. The two test satellites will orbit about 700 miles above the Earth, in the same range as the eventual constellation.
Musk also tweeted that this launch would see SpaceX attempt to catch the fairing of the rocket using a high speed boat known as “Mr. Steven.” The boat has a net strung up behind it to capture the fairing.
The fairing “has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on tries to catch it,” Musk said.
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