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SpaceX plans to launch Argentine satellite into polar orbit from Florida

SpaceX plans to launch Argentine satellite into polar orbit from Florida
SpaceX plans to launch an Earth-observation satellite for Argentina's space agency on a Falcon 9 rocket, like the one shown here, Sunday evening from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 28 (UPI) -- SpaceX plans to launch an Earth observation satellite for Argentina's space agency Sunday evening as the first polar orbit mission from Florida in more than 50 years.

A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off with the SAOCOM 1B satellite at 7:19 p.m. EDT from Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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This rocket is to head south over the Atlantic Ocean, while most Florida launches go east. The spacecraft will pass over Cuba, and the first stage booster will fly back for recovery near the Air Force station, likely creating a sonic boom.

In the past, launching over communist Cuba would have caused "consternation" due to the Cold War standoff and lingering tension after that, U.S. Space Force Brig. Gen. Douglas Schiess said this week.

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Since 1969, rockets launched from the United States have lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California or from Kodiak Island in Alaska. Both of those sites have clear shots to the south over open water. Any debris would not fall into populated areas.

Concerns about polar launches from Florida date to 1960, when part of a Thor rocket fell on Cuba, reportedly killing a cow. That resulted in a moratorium and shifted all polar launches away from Florida.

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The U.S. Space Command announced in 2017 that it again had certified a polar launch trajectory from Florida, but only if the rocket had an automated launch termination capability. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has that.

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Schiess said the U.S. State Department "notified" Cuba of the pending launch, but he didn't know if Cuba responded. Calls and emails to the department for comment were not returned.

The rocket should be so high into the atmosphere as it crosses over the island nation that any potential debris from a failure would be small and dispersed by the time it reached Earth, the general said.

Argentina's satellite had been scheduled for launch in March, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Argentine agency, known as CONAE for the ComisiĆ³n Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (National Commission of Space Activities).

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The delay "forced us to stay a long time in Cape Canaveral, away from our families," according to a statement from the agency's executive and technical director, Raul Kulichevsky.

The launch had been set for Friday night, but the delay of another launch -- United Launch Alliance's rocket carrying a U.S. spy satellite -- bumped the Argentine mission to Sunday.

The first of two SAOCOM satellites was launched in October 2018. According to the mission description for the program, a major focus for the spacecraft is to monitor weather and agriculture.

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Data on soil moisture "will help producers know the best time for sowing, fertilizing and irrigation, in crops such as soybeans, corn, wheat and sunflower," the description said.

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