SpaceX had a busy day today. There is a lot packed into this story including how the space industry is developing and a unique flight path for an Israeli Moon lander.
Original story: Tonight, SpaceX is set to launch its second Falcon 9 rocket of the year. This one will carry an eclectic trio of spacecraft into a high orbit above Earth. The payloads include an Indonesian communications satellite, a small experimental satellite for the Air Force, and an Israeli lander that will spend the next two months traveling to the Moon.
The rocket ride-share was partially coordinated by Spaceflight Industries, a company that serves as a broker for satellite operators that need to get into space. To do this, Spaceflight finds extra room on rockets already launching larger spacecraft and provides hardware to help deploy vehicles into orbit. In this case, SpaceX was set to launch the Indonesian satellite, named Nusantara Satu, and Spaceflight Industries arranged for the two other spacecraft to join the mission.
Nusantara Satu, operated by Indonesian satellite company Pasifik Satelit Nusantara, will provide internet connectivity for Indonesia as the country’s first “high-throughput satellite,” according to SpaceX. The Air Force’s payload, called S5, is meant to test whether small, low-cost satellites could be feasible for Department of Defense missions. S5 will ride into space attached to the Nusantara Satu satellite and then deploy when they’re both in orbit.
The final rider is the Beresheet lander, a spacecraft developed by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will drop this lander off about 60,000 kilometers up, putting the spacecraft into an elongated orbit around Earth. From there, Beresheet will spend the next two months stretching its orbit farther to make it all the way out to the Moon and reach lunar orbit. If that’s a success, the lander will then perform an autonomous landing, marking the first Moon mission for Israel and the first private spacecraft to reach the surface of another planetary body.
Update February 21st, 9:30PM ET: SpaceX successfully launched all three spacecraft into their intended orbits. The Falcon 9 used for the mission also landed on SpaceX’s drone ship, despite traveling through rough weather conditions. The landing marks the third successful touchdown of this particular rocket, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that it would fly again in April, performing a key test flight of the company’s new Crew Dragon capsule. If that happens, this Falcon 9 booster will be the first one to go to space and back four times. (The Verge)
In other news, Trump signed an order to begin creating the Space Force two days ago. It will be part of the Air Force just as the USMC is part of the Navy. It still has to be approved by Congress. Does that mean USSPACECOM will be reactivated as a combatant command? To be located on the Space Coast? That'd be nice.