SpaceX successfully launched its second Falcon 9 of the year on Wednesday (31 January) afternoon, putting the heavy GovSat-1 communications satellite for the satellite operator SES and the government of Luxembourg into orbit. Lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the previously flown Falcon 9 rocket carried the 9,325-pound, multi-mission satellite designed to "address governmental and institutional security user needs."
The satellite was deployed about 32 minutes after launch to a geostationary orbit about 36,000km above the Earth's surface.
Built by Orbital ATK, the satellite offers X-band and military Ka-band capacity and will provide secure military communication between theatres of tactical operations, for maritime missions and over areas affected by humanitarian crises. It is also equipped with anti-jamming features, encrypted telemetry and control.
The mission was initially scheduled for liftoff on Tuesday but was delayed a day for SpaceX to replace a sensor.
The Falcon 9 rocket was previously launched in May 2017 to lift a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. Prior to launch, SpaceX announced that it would not attempt to recover the rocket booster in this mission but did not provide a reason.
However, there is speculation that the decision was based on it being an older iteration of the rocket known as Block 3. SpaceX is planning to launch Block 5 boosters sometime this year that are expected to be much more reusable than the Block 3.
It is also likely that the rocket would have less fuel left over to safely return for a landing on SpaceX's drone ships in the ocean since the satellite was being delivered to a particularly high orbit.
Although SpaceX wasn't planning to recover the booster, it still managed to survive its fall into the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX executed a test entry and descent and reignited its engines to gently lower and settle itself down for a "landing" in the ocean. The booster, however, managed to survive the landing attempt.
In a tweet, Elon Musk posted a photo of the booster resting on its side in the ocean with one of its landing legs popping out of the water.
"This rocket was meant to test very high retrothrust landing in water so it didn't hurt the droneship, but amazingly it has survived. We will try to tow it back to shore," Musk tweeted.
The successful GovSat-1 mission comes as SpaceX preps for the much-anticipated launch of its massive three-booster Falcon Heavy on 6 February. The powerful rocket will carry Musk's 2008 midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster playing David Bowie's "Space Oddity" as it makes its way towards Mars orbit.
"I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future," Musk tweeted in December last year.