SpaceX Falcon 9 nails rare on-shore landing following Saocom launch

Despite less than ideal weather, Elon Musk's space company pulled off a launch from Florida on Sunday.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
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Inclement weather scrubbed one SpaceX launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Sunday morning, but the commercial spaceflight company pressed ahead with a second mission planned for blast-off in the evening.

Conditions improved just before the 4:19 p.m. PT (7:19 p.m. Florida time) launch time and the Falcon 9 rocket managed to pull off both a rare flight path and landing from Florida.

It's become routine to see one of SpaceX's workhorse rockets blast off and then watch the first-stage booster come back for a soft landing aboard an autonomous droneship off shore in the Atlantic Ocean. This mission, however, featured the rare return of a Falcon 9 directly to dry land. 

About eight minutes after liftoff, the rocket made a pinpoint landing at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), which is only about seven miles from the launch pad.

Meanwhile, the rocket's second stage engine delivered the Argentinean Earth-observing satellite Saocom 1B to orbit. 

SpaceX has only made one other ground pad landing in the past 12 months, as part of a resupply mission to the International Space Station on March 7. Multiple factors play into whether SpaceX lands ashore or on a droneship, a critical one being the trajectory of the flight and how far the rocket is from the coast once it's separated from the second-stage rocket.   

The Falcon 9 flew a rare polar trajectory toward the South Pole on Sunday. After launch, the Falcon 9 skirted the coast of Florida, making it possible to attempt the ground pad landing. This marks the first orbital launch from Florida to use this southern polar corridor since 1960.     

The launch had originally been scheduled for Thursday, but delays in the unrelated launch of a spy satellite from Cape Canaveral have had a ripple effect that led to the postponement. 

Also along for the ride are two smaller spacecraft, a commercial radar satellite called Sequoia and a weather data satellite dubbed Gnomes-1. 

The SpaceX launch of the companion satellite Saocom 1A in 2018 also featured a ground pad landing, but at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. This launch was also initially set to take place from the West Coast, but eventually was moved to Florida and delayed thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Starlink mission that had been scheduled for Sunday morning will now be the next SpaceX mission and is set for Tuesday at 6:29 a.m. PT. 

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