WASHINGTON: Elon Musk´s Space-X sent a Spanish military satellite into orbit Thursday in a hitch-less liftoff from California, extending the private space company´s record of successful launches.
Space-X, which proved the utility of its massive Falcon Heavy rocket earlier this month, put up the Paz imaging satellite and two of the company´s own test internet communications satellites on a smaller Falcon 9 rocket.
"Successful deployment of PAZ satellite to low-Earth orbit confirmed," Space-X said about nine minutes after liftoff at 6:17 AM (1417 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast.
The Paz satellite, from the Spanish government-controlled Hisdesat satellite operator, was sent into a low-earth orbit vertically circling the north and south poles, giving it a constant sunlit view of the earth´s surface below.
The launch took place a day later than planned; liftoff was scrubbed Wednesday due to high winds in the upper atmosphere.
Besides the Paz satellite, the rocket carried two prototype satellites, dubbed Tintin A and Tintin B.
The two were to help test Musk´s plan to place thousands of low-cost satellites in orbit to provide global broadband internet service, including to poorly served low-income countries.
In Thursday´s launch, Space-X did not attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on a sea-anchored barge as it had with the February 6 Falcon Heavy launch.
Instead it tested the ability to catch one of the rocket nose cone´s two falling fairings on a small ship mounted with a massive trampoline like those set up as safety nets under circus aerialists.
The faring descended with a guided para-foil to slow its speed and carry it toward the ship.
The catch failed, however, with the faring landing in the sea just a few hundred meters away from the vessel, Musk said.
The faring was intact, however, he said on Twitter, and in the future they "should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent."
Catching the farings, like retrieving the boosters, could generate significant savings for Space-X by allowing the company to recycle equipment. The nose cone alone costs about $6 million.