Elon Musk’s Space-X sent a Spanish military satellite into orbit Thursday in a hitch-less liftoff from California, extending the private space company’s record of successful launches. Space-X, which proved the utility of its massive Falcon Heavy rocket earlier this month, put up the Paz imaging satellite and two of the company’s own test internet communications satellites on a smaller Falcon 9 rocket.
“Successful deployment of PAZ satellite to low-Earth orbit confirmed,” Space-X said about nine minutes after liftoff at 6:17 AM (1417 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast. The Paz satellite, from the Spanish government-controlled Hisdesat satellite operator, was sent into a low-earth orbit vertically circling the north and south poles, giving it a constant sunlit view of the earth’s surface below.
The launch took place a day later than planned; liftoff was scrubbed Wednesday due to high winds in the upper atmosphere. Besides the Paz satellite, the rocket carried two dummy satellites representing Musk’s plan to place a thousands of low-cost satellites in orbit to provide global broadband internet service, including to poorly served low-income countries.
In Thursday’s launch, Space-X did not attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on a sea-anchored barge as it had with the February 7 Falcon Heavy launch. Instead it tested the ability to catch the falling nose cone from the rocket on a small ship mounted with a massive trampoline like those set up as safety nets under circus aerialists. The faring was to descend with a guided para-foil to slow its speed and carry it into the ship.