SpaceX successfully fired off another Falcon 9 rocket from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday (24 August) lifting Formosat-5, a small Earth observation satellite for Taiwan's National Space Organization (NSPO), to low-Earth orbit. The historic launch marked the 12th one for SpaceX so far - the most number of launches for the Elon Musk-owned company and the most rockets fired off by any other space company or country in the world thus far.
Russia, in comparison, has launched 11 rockets so far in 2017. With five months to go, SpaceX could launch 20 rockets by the end of the year at its current pace.
Carrying Taiwan's first domestically designed satellite, SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifted off at 11:51 AM local time with the rocket's two stages separating about 2.5 minutes after launch. The company also nailed the landing and recovery of the first stage that safely settled on the drone ship "Just Read the Instructions" in the Pacific Ocean about 10 minutes after liftoff.
The landed booster could be refurbished for another future flight in accordance with SpaceX's reusability goals to drive down the prices of space hardware and launches.
The latest successful landing brings SpaceX's record to 15 successful recoveries in 20 attempts so far and its 9th successful landing this year.
The half-ton Formosat 5 satellite, one of SpaceX's lightest payloads yet, was deployed about 11 minutes after launch to its targeted sun-synchronous orbit 447 miles (720 km) above the ground.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted: "The #satellite will gather images & data on earth's surface to help evaluate natural disasters. Congratulations to all at #Taiwan's #NSPO!"
Equipped with an optical Remote Sensing Instrument )RSI) and an Advanced Ionospheric Probe provided Taiwan's National Central University, the newly launched satellite will gather images and data for scientific research to aid Taiwain's national security, help evaluate natural disasters, monitor the environment, NSPO Director Chang Guey-shin said, Taipei Times reports.