A screenshot from the live webcast of Friday's aborted Falcon 9 rocket launch at Vandenberg Space Force Base | Credit: Courtesy

[Update: Sat., May 20, 2023, 10:40 a.m.] A day after scrubbing its launch just seconds before liftoff, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday morning from Vandenberg Space Force Base and deployed a total of 21 satellites, including OneWeb’s technology demonstration satellite JoeySat. For the latest story, click here.

[Original Story] With its Falcon 9 rocket enveloped in a thick layer of fog early Friday morning, SpaceX aborted its 6:19 a.m. launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County with just 55 seconds left until liftoff. “Launch abort has started,” a voice announces on SpaceX’s live video stream of the scrubbed launch five seconds into rocket startup. Another attempt at the launch is scheduled for early tomorrow morning.

If the mission is successful, the rocket will deliver a total of 21 satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) — five belonging to Iridium and 16 to OneWeb, according to SpaceX’s mission description. Its first stage booster will return to Earth, landing roughly nine minutes after liftoff on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship. Stationed in the Pacific Ocean, the droneship was named by SpaceX’s controversy-courting founder Elon Musk in honor of legendary Scottish sci-fi author Iain M. Banks, whose novel The Player of Games features a sentient starship of the same name.

According to its website, “Iridium is a global satellite communications company, providing access to voice and data services anywhere on Earth.” The five LEO satellites being delivered as part of this mission are backups for its “constellation” of 66 currently operational telecom satellites, according to a September 2022 press release announcing this launch.

OneWeb, on the other hand, “is a wholesale connectivity provider delivering high-performance, low-latency network services for consumer-facing distribution partners such as telecommunications and internet service providers,” according to its mission description

Fifteen of the satellites in this mission will add to “OneWeb’s LEO satellite fleet, increasing resiliency and redundancy to the network.”

Its 16th satellite is called JoeySat, nicknamed after a baby kangaroo, according to the European Space Agency (ESA), which developed the satellite in partnership with OneWeb. According to OneWeb, JoeySat “contains several new technologies including a digitally regenerative payload and demonstration of multi-beam electronically steered phased array antennas.” In layman’s terms, the beam-hopping satellite “will demonstrate connectivity for people travelling by air, sea or on land, preparing for fast 5G connectivity from space,” the ESA stated, and can “respond to real-time surges in commercial high-quality and connectivity demands — or during emergencies such as natural disasters.”

SpaceX will reattempt the Falcon 9 launch at 6:15 a.m. on Saturday, May 20. A live webcast will begin around 15 minutes prior to liftoff.


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