A collection of small spacecraft of varying sizes stowed inside a Falcon 9 rocket’s nose cone climbed away from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Saturday morning as clear blue skies greeted spectators.
The SpaceX rocket lifted off at 10:49 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on the South Base for the Transporter-9 mission — a dedicated ride-share launch.
The first-stage booster loudly sounded its return, touching down at Vandenberg just west from where it launched more than seven minutes earlier.
Spectators staked out spots around the Lompoc Valley to catch a glimpse of the rocket’s launch and landing, with weather being especially cooperative by keeping the marine layer away for the daylight departure and landing.
Others looked to the skies as they awaited the start of the Veterans Day ceremonies on the Central Coast.
“Woah, that’s awesome,” one woman said, watching from the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building.
The payload had 113 satellites, including CubeSats, MicroSats and orbital transfer vehicles, according to SpaceX, with 90 set to deploy after liftoff and 23 others to arrive in their planned orbits later.
Satellite deployment was set to start 54 minutes after liftoff and end nearly 90 minutes later, according to SpaceX, which later confirmed the deployment sequence had been completed.
Among the cargo were the two newest satellites for Umbra, which is based in Santa Barbara.
It was Falcon’s ninth dedicated ride-share flight.
“Our goal with these missions is to provide small satellite operators competitive pricing, increased flight opportunities and flexibility,” said Jessie Anderson, a structures, manufacturing and engineering manager and webcast host.
“We’re flying some interesting payloads on this mission, including several different types of Earth-observation and imaging satellites, multiple new orbital transfer vehicles, student research projects and several payloads intending to demonstrate and grow in-space technologies,” Anderson added.
Customers came from 19 counties across the globe and include the U.S. Air Force Academy and Ministry of Higher Education and Research in the Republic of Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.
Tucked inside the nose cone, or payload fairing, were satellites of varying sizes, as Kongsberg NanoAvionics shared on social media for those “hungry for the nerdy details.”
The satellite bus manufacturer based in Lithuania, noted its SmallSats come in all shapes and sizes. A satellite bus is the frame that carries various instruments to conduct the actual mission.
Transporter-9 carried three different examples of NanoAvionics’s satellites buses.
One spacecraft, “NinjaSat,” is the size of a shoebox with a mass around 22 pounds. Still, it has a big mission — studying tiny black holes and supernovae known for their space-time-bending heaviness, the company said.
Another high-resolution nanosatellite boasts being the size of a microwave and weighing 66 pounds.
A third craft, weighing 220 pounds, has been likened to the size of a washing machine but is still considered a microsatellite. It will demonstrate technologies in orbit for an undisclosed customer technologies, the company said.
It was the 82nd launch of 2023 for SpaceX and the 24th of the year from the West Coast.