SpaceX is aiming to launch a trio of radar satellites for the Canadian government this morning.
The launch, from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, is expected around 10:17 am ET. The rocket is the same one that was used to test-drive SpaceX’s new astronaut-carrying spacecraft in March 2019, and the company will attempt to return it to earth at a landing zone less than half a kilometer from where it lifted off. You can watch all the action on the company’s live stream:
The three satellites will use synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which unlike visual imaging satellites, deploys radio energy to peer through clouds and scan the earth. The data this system gathers will be used for a variety of purposes, from maritime tracking and monitoring arctic ice to assessing crops and planning for natural disasters. The Canadian Space Agency expects that the satellites will be able to scan Canada and its surrounding seas several times per day.
The launch is the seventh orbital mission for SpaceX this year, more than any other private company or indeed country with the exception of China, which has flown nine successful missions to orbit. SpaceX is the only rocket company that can re-use its rockets for multiple launches, helping it drive down the cost of access to space. In 2019, SpaceX has flown more “flight proven” rockets than factory-fresh models.
Elon Musk’s space company is coming off a busy few weeks. Its ups and downs have included a lawsuit protesting critical Air Force contracts; the successful launch of 60 new internet satellites (and the resultant controversy about their visibility); and lingering uncertainty about what exactly happened to the company’s Crew Dragon during a test gone wrong earlier this summer.
A routine launch and landing will keep the money flowing to pay for Musk’s solar system-sized ambitions.