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Falcon Rocket with Satellite for Taiwan Launches from Vandenberg AFB

First-stage booster successfully landed on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force  Base on Thursday, en route to delivering a satellite into orbit for the Taiwanese government. Click to view larger
A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday, en route to delivering a satellite into orbit for the Taiwanese government. (Max Janatsch photo)

The year's third Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force  Base lifted off on Thursday, en route to delivering a satellite into orbit for the Taiwanese government.

The Space Exploration Technologies booster and its international cargo blasted off at 11:51 a.m., the beginning of a 42-minute launch window from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base.

In Vandenberg Village and around the Lompoc Valley, cloudy skies cleared to give spectators a view as the Falcon climbed away from the Central Coast, where Taiwanese dignataries and international media gathered for the small country's historical moment.

While the upper portion of the rocket continued toward space, the used first-stage booster landed on a droneship, “Just Read the Instructions,” in the Pacific Ocean about 11 minutes later, which made Falcon three for three for touch downs following Vandenberg missions.

It was the 15th successful landing for the a first-stage booster by SpaceX, with most of the others occuring following Florida launches. The landings will allow the company to recycle the first stage for use on future missions with the goal of reducing the cost of putting payloads into orbit.

The Formosat-5, an Earth-observation satellite built by Taiwan’s National Space Organization, successfully deployed more than 11 minutes after liftoff, prompting applause from crews in the SpaceX control room.

"The Falcon 9 launch of Formosat-5 was an incredible mission to be a part of," said Capt. Kylie Prachar, Air Force launch commander for the Formosat-5 mission and a member of the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron. 

"This was the first satellite manufactured and integrated entirely by Taiwan and it was also the fastest turn-around time between Falcon launches here at Space Launch Complex-4," Prachar added.

Formosat-5 will collect black-and-white images, able to see items as big as 2 meters, and color images, capturing objects as small as 4 meters, from its spot some 447 miles in the air.

For Taiwan, the launch occurred at 2:51 a.m. Friday. Despite the early morning departure, approximately 200 guests watched the webcast of the launch occurred an ocean away.

"As Falcon 9 was lifted off, the mission operations team at National Space Organization (NSPO) located in Hsinchu, Taiwan and the launch team at launch site cheered together for this special moment," Taiwan's space agency said on its website.

A number of Taiwanese dignataries and international media members also gathered at Vandenberg to view the rocket's launch.

The satellite's predecessor, Formosat-2 or Rocsat-2, also launched from Vandenberg, reaching space in 2004. The craft ultimately was decommissioned in late 2016.

Launch of Formosat-5 came four years later than planned due to a number of reasons, including Falcon rocket failures.

Vandenberg's next Falcon 9 rocket reportedly is targeting Sept. 30, with the third set of 10 Iridium Next communication satellites ready to head to space. The mission has an instantaneous launch window with departure planned for 6:30 a.m. 

Before that mission, Vandenberg's launch manifest calls for a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launch with a top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. ULA officials said the mission is aiming for Sept. 14 from Space Launch Complex-3, also on South Base. The launch window remains hush-hush due to the payload.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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