Following three separate delays, a Falcon 9 rocket soared from Vandenberg Air Force Base late Monday morning as part of a multifaceted mission.
The launch went off as scheduled at 10:32 a.m. from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-4E. The Falcon 9 rocket rumbled through a mostly clear sky as it delivered 64 small satellites into orbit in a mission dubbed, “Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express.” The rocket's first stage landed successfully on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean about 10 minutes after takeoff, eliciting cheers and applause from the mission control room.
Although the landing went smoothly, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted Monday that Mr. Steven, a large cargo ship that was designed with netting to catch the rocket's fairings, failed to record its first perfect reception.
"Falcon fairing halves missed the net, but touched down softly in the water," Musk tweeted from his account. "Mr Steven is picking them up. Plan is to dry them out & launch again. Nothing wrong with a little swim."
The satellites involved in the rocket's primary mission will be operated by 34 different organizations, including some U.S. government agencies.
"The mission includes 15 microsats and 49 cubesats from commercial and government entities, like universities, startups and even a middle school," read a portion of the payload description prepared by SpaceX. "The payloads, which vary from technology demonstrations and imaging satellites to educational research endeavors, are from 17 countries, including the U.S., Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, U.K., Germany, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Poland, Canada, Brazil and India."
Monday’s launch occurred two weeks after it was initially slated to go off, following a trio of postponements.
The launch had initially been scheduled for Nov. 19, but it was postponed a couple days prior to that date so as to allow more time for maintenance on the rocket. It was rescheduled for Nov. 28 but was again pushed back due to poor weather that day. It was rescheduled again for Sunday, Dec. 1, but was again postponed "to conduct additional inspections of the [rocket's] second stage," according to SpaceX.
Monday’s takeoff marked the third this year for the Falcon 9’s first stage, SpaceX reported. The company said the first stage had already completed two East Coast launches and landings in 2018. Those included the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 mission in May and the Merah Putih mission in August.
SpaceX, which successfully completed its first land-based landing at VAFB on Oct. 7, landed the first stage of Monday’s Falcon 9 rocket on its "Just Read the Instructions" droneship off the VAFB coast.