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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 1:24 am | Fair 49º


SpaceX Rocket Set to Launch Saturday, Then Land Booster at Vandenberg AFB

Falcon 9 to carry an Earth-observing satellite for Argentina's space agency before attempting to return rocket's first-stage to base site

A Falcon 9 rocket sits on the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
A Falcon 9 rocket for a previous Iridium mission sits on its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Another Falcon 9 rocket launch is planned Saturday night with a satellite for Argentina’s space agency and a secondary mission of attempting to return the first-stage to touch down near the launch site on South Base. (Contributed photo)

A Falcon 9 rocket mission could make some extra noise Saturday night as Space Exploration Technologies attempts a first-time landing not far from site of its blastoff at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon rocket is planned for 7:21 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base.

The rocket’s primary mission involves delivering the SAOCOM 1A satellite to space for Argentina’s space agency, Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales, or CONAE.

But SpaceX also plans to try to land the rocket’s used first stage at Landing Zone 4, which was previously called Space Launch Complex-4 West. 

Following previous missions from Vandenberg, SpaceX has landed the spent first stage on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean.

However, this will be SpaceX's first landing attempt at the historic site of the former Titan II launch pad, where the mobile service tower and other critical support equipment for the heritage system have been removed.

Weather willing, local residents may see the first stage of the Falcon 9 returning to Vandenberg AFB, including multiple engine burns associated with the landing. 

They also may hear it.

“During the landing attempt, residents from Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties may hear one or more sonic booms,” Vandenberg officials said. “ A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves from an aircraft or vehicle traveling faster than the speed of sound. 

“Sonic booms generate a sound similar to an explosion or a clap of thunder. The sonic boom experienced will depend on weather conditions and other factors.”

Landing should occur roughly 10 minutes after launch.

SpaceX touts its landings as key to keeping the rocket affordable and cutting the time between blastoffs, since the first-stage boosters have been recycled for use on different missions. 

Both launch and landing could be scrubbed due to a number of factors, including technical troubles and unfavorable weather.

Vandenberg officials are notifying local emergency officials about the possibility of sonic booms from the historic landing attempt to alleviate concerns.

Jalama Beach County Park will be evacuated from 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday for safety reasons related to the mission.

Surf and Ocean beaches also will be closed.

Vandenberg officials said the public can view this launch from the Hawk's Nest on Azalea Lane off Highway 1, a half mile south of the base's main gate.

The Hawk's Nest gates will open on Saturday at 5 p.m. and close at 7:10 p.m.

As a reminder, the public is asked not to bring or consume alcohol, smoke, or have any open fires or barbecues. Weapons are not allowed, and the use of small unmanned aerial systems (drones) within five miles of any active runway, such as Vandenberg’s, is prohibited.

Assuming the marine layer remains away from the coast, several off-base locations also offer clear views of SLC-4's East and West sites, which are visible on the horizong while looking south of Highway 246.

Those include the peak of Harris Grade Road, along West Highway 246, and near the intersection of Moonglow and Stardust roads in Vandenberg Village.

On Tuesday, SpaceX representatives said the team had completed the static fire test of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg, a key milestone for the launch to proceed. 

Along with Argentina’s space agency, the Earth-observation satellite SOACOM 1A riding aboard the Falcon 9 rocket also involved participation from Belgium and Italy.

SAOCOM 1A is the first two satellites for a constellation Argentina hopes to use to monitor the effects of natural disasters.

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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