The weather was iffy all day, but the heavens parted for just a moment and allowed the Falcon 9 to take flight south and make history as the first rocket to launch a satellite into a polar orbit from Cape Canaveral in 60 years, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
Most rockets launching from the Space Coast travel east over the ocean, but to reach for polar orbit, the Falcon 9 had to veer south. A polar orbit is just what it sounds like -- the satellite orbits around the North and South poles -- which is better for imaging, spy and weather satellites.
Less than eight minutes after launch, the rocket barreled past Miami and onward to Cuba.
Seconds after that, space fans were also treated to a symphony of sonic booms heralding the landing of the Falcon 9 booster at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1, a few feet from the beach. SpaceX hadn’t returned a booster to land in six months, instead sending ships out to sea to fetch them.
The historic launch and booster landing caught the eye of local resident and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin who tweeted photos from his backyard and a congratulatory, “Well done, SpaceX.”
Falcon 9’s launch and first stage landing in my backyard. Well done @SpaceX pic.twitter.com/SzkQKowwBh— Dr. Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) August 30, 2020
The Falcon 9 carried an Earth observation satellite called SAOCOM-1B equipped with radar to help it predict and monitor natural disasters for the Argentinian government. Two smaller payloads, Tyvak-0172 and PlanetiQ’s GNOMES-1, also caught a ride to space aboard the Falcon.
Making history with this polar orbit launch could mean more business for the Elon Musk-led company and his competitors. Until now, most American rockets aiming for a polar orbit have launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in order to avoid traveling over populated areas.
In 2018, the 45th Space Wing certified SpaceX’s automated flight termination system and granted vehicles using that system authorization to launch into a polar orbit from the Cape. Right now, only the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are capable but soon SpaceX’s Starship, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, and ULA’s Vulcan will have similar automatic flight termination systems. This means we could see even more traffic at the Cape for those heading into a polar orbit.
The successful launch of the SAOCOM satellite capped a busy week of rocket reshuffling in which two launches cancelled. Early Saturday morning United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy aborted at the last second due to technical issues. Then Sunday morning SpaceX pulled the plug on sending another batch of Starlink satellites to space due to inclement weather.
SpaceX will attempt the launch of its 12th batch of Starlink satellites Tuesday morning from Kennedy Space Center.