The main payload on this flight, a satellite known as PAZ, was built by Airbus and is operated by Hisdesat, a military-focused subsidiary of Spain’s national satellite company. It has a powerful synthetic-aperture radar that will allow it to peer through the clouds to generate images with a resolution of 25 centimeters per pixel—the kind of technology needed to spot, say, North Korean missile launchers. It will also generate data for commercial use.

Following PAZ, the rocket will also launch a secondary payload—two small satellites designed to test and demonstrate SpaceX’s mooted constellation of thousands of internet-broadcasting satellites.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO and lead designer, says his company charges approximately $40 million per flight for a proven booster, making it the cheapest ride to space for most satellites. This year, the company hopes to make the final version of the Falcon 9, called “Block V,” operational. This version of the rocket will be certified to fly humans into space next year.

Today’s mission will be the fourth SpaceX launch this year, a projected rate of about 24 a year. One of those launches was the debut of the new Falcon Heavy rocket earlier this month. Last year, the company set a new record for a private firm with 18 successful launches; in 2018, the SpaceX’s president, Gwynne Shotwell, says she hopes to fly 30-40 missions, which suggests that the company will pick up the pace.

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