Landing and refurbishing first-stage boosters is key to SpaceX's plans to decrease launch costs.
The event marked the company's first West Coast landing on dry land. After launch, the first-stage booster rocket will attempt to land at the Air Force base for the first time.
After a trouble-free countdown, the two-stage rocket blasted off right on time at 7:21 p.m. PT from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, leaving a post-sunset contrail glowing in the cloudless skies above. SpaceX got in on the action themselves, sharing four photos of the dazzling light display.
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Known as plume interaction, the phenomena has been known to produce extraordinary visual effects and the launch of SAOCOM 1A was certainly no exception.
SpaceX calls its California touchdown site Landing Zone 4, presumably because it's part of Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4). The rocket's first stage successfully returned and landed at the Vandenberg base eight minutes after taking off, while the second stage accomplished the successful deployment of SAOCOM 1A after around 12 minutes of the launch.
According to SpaceX's press release, SAOCOM 1A is carrying an "active instrument consisting of a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which works in the microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum, particularly the L-band". This mission has the main aim to gather soil moisture information. The mission will also help planners and emergency-management officials keep tabs on wildfires, floods and other disasters. Both spacecraft will make similar observations from orbit, which will be integrated with measurements made by a network of Italian satellites.
Aside from the stir it caused among the locals, the launch was a huge success for SpaceX.