SpaceX Launches Prototype Internet Satellite Network

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a pre-flown first stage successfully delivered to orbit today (Feb. 22) the first two prototypes for the company’s huge Starlink satellite-internet constellation, along with a Spanish Earth-observing spacecraft.

The two-stage Falcon 9 lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base today at 9:17 a.m. EST (1417 GMT; 6:17 a.m. local California time) and successfully delivered its main payload, the Paz radar-imaging satellite, into its intended orbit. In a first, SpaceX also attempted to recover the protective nose-cone-like payload fairing in the Pacific Ocean with a net-carrying boat called Mr. Steven.

The launch kicked off the second space trip for the rocket’s first stage, which also helped loft a Taiwanese Earth-observing satellite in August 2017. Last year, the first stage came back to Earth for a pinpoint landing on a SpaceX “drone ship” in the Pacific Ocean. But there was no repeat performance: SpaceX did not try to recover the booster during today’s mission. [In Photos: SpaceX’s Double Rocket Launches and Landings of October 2017]

The main goal today was getting the Paz satellite aloft for Spanish operator Hisdesat. If all goes according to plan, Paz will observe Earth in radar wavelengths from a 319-mile-high (514 kilometers) perch in quasi-polar orbit, gathering data for the Spanish government and other customers over the course of a mission lasting at least 5.5 years.

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