SpaceX launches Maxar’s first WorldView Legion satellites on Falcon 9 flight from Vandenberg Space Force Base – Spaceflight Now


A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, carrying the first pair of WorldView Legion satellites for Maxar Space Systems. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX completed the first of a planned pair of Falcon 9 launches on Thursday, hours after it worked with NASA to relocate its Crew Dragon spacecraft on the International Space Station. First up to launch was a pair of Maxar Space Systems’ WorldView Legion satellites.

Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base happened at 11:36 a.m. PDT (2:36 p.m. EDT, 1836 UTC), which was the opening of a 14-minute window.

The first stage booster supporting this mission, B1061, launched for a 20th time, becoming the third booster to reach this milestone. It previously launched two astronaut missions (Crew-1 and Crew-2), two smallsat rideshare missions (Transporter-4 and Transporter-5) as well as nine Starlink missions.

About 8.5 minutes after liftoff, B1061 touched down back at Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4). This was the 18th landing to date at LZ-4 and the 303rd booster landing for SpaceX.

Last week, SpaceX noted that it was in the process of qualifying its Falcon boosters for up to 40 flights.

Here’s lookin’ at you, Earth

Onboard the Falcon 9 are a pair of WorldView Legion satellites. These are the first two of a planned six-satellite constellation for Maxar. Once all six of these Earth-observing satellites are on orbit, they will allow Maxar’s customers to revisit views of a particular location up to 15 times per day.

The current satellites the company has on-orbit are able to revisit a site two times per day.

Maxar’s WorldView Legion satellites are built on the first of the company’s Maxar 500 Series satellite buses. They’re described as “a mid-size platform that can be tailored for multiple missions and orbits.”

he first two WorldView Legion spacecraft are shown here at Maxar Space Systems’ manufacturing facility in Palo Alto, California, ahead of shipment to launch base. Image: Maxar

“WorldView Legion and the Maxar 500 series platform is the culmination of decades of experience in building satellites for customer missions,” said Chris Johnson, Maxar Space Systems CEO, in a statement. “We are excited to reach this important program milestone and look forward to continued partnership on the program.”

The company partnered with Raytheon Missiles and Defense to develop the instrument suite onboard the satellite. It will be able to view the Earth in what Maxar describes “30 cm-class imagery”

“While the multispectral bands are similar to what our current satellites provide, what’s new on WorldView Legion is that our teams have more control to expose each band individually,” Maxar said in a statement. “These improvements allow customers to more easily determine what objects on the ground are made of using our satellite imagery. For example, we can more easily distinguish what is vegetation versus what is manmade material. These enhancements also minimize sensitivity to water vapor.”

Maxar also markets its technology as a way to augment other U.S. national security assets on orbit. It points to its ability to monitor “the development of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities in North Korea and Iran” as well as offering what it calls Vessel Detection Services (VDS).

Dragons and Falcons flying

In addition to launching the WorldView Legion satellites, SpaceX was also busy both at the International Space Station and over in Florida.

At 8:51 a.m. EDT (1251 UTC), SpaceX and NASA undocked the Crew Dragon Endeavour from the forward port of the Harmony module to shift it to the zenith (space-facing) port. Physical separation from the ISS occurred at 8:57 a.m. EDT (1257 UTC).

The relocation process took about an hour. Soft capture was confirmed at 9:46 a.m. EDT (1346 UTC).

Meanwhile, another SpaceX team was preparing to launch a batch of Starlink satellites onboard another Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Starlink 6-55 mission is set to be the 30th dedicated flight for SpaceX’s growing low Earth orbit constellation.

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