On October 7, 2018, Space X Falcon 9 successfully took Argentina’s Earth observation satellite – the SAOCOM 1A − into orbit. The event became the first time SpaceX’s first stage was successfully recovered on a landing zone in the West Coast.

The launch took place at Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California (U.S.) on October 7 at 7:21 p.m. PDT. The satellite was deployed about 12 minutes after liftoff. Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage returned to land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) at the base.

Image: Space X

The booster recovery on a landing pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base is “a first” for the company. Previously, Space X’s “West Coast landings had all taken place on the deck of the company’s drone ship, Just Read the Instructions,” as Wired explains.

The satellite is operated by Argentina’s Space Agency, the National Commission on Space Activities (CONAE). The satellite carries an active instrument consisting of a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which works in the microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum, particularly the L-band, according to Space X statement.

The SAOCOM 1A is one of two identical satellites (the other one being titled SAOCAM 1B) that carry an L-Band SAR polarimetric instrument as part of SAOCAM 1 mission. The mission’s main purpose is to gather soil moisture information, according to Space X statement. “SAOCOM 1, together with the Italian COSMO-SkyMed X-Band SAR constellation, comprise the Italian-Argentine Satellite System for Emergency Management (SIASGE), a partnership between CONAE and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Flying both constellations along the same orbit supports a rapid response by providing SAR information in emergency situations. International partnerships include ground support from ESA (Europe), and technical support from CSA (Canada) and NASA (US)”.

The SAOCOM 1A mission pre-planned timeline


- 00:38:00 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load

- 00:35:00 RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway

- 00:35:00 1st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway

- 00:16:00 2nd stage LOX loading underway

- 00:07:00 Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch

- 00:01:00 Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks

- 00:01:00 Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins

- 00:00:45 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch

- 00:00:03 Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start

- 00:00:00 Falcon 9 liftoff

Launch, landing and satellite deployment:

00:00:59 Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)

00:02:20 1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)

00:02:24 1st and 2nd stages separate

00:02:31 2nd stage engine starts

00:02:36 Boostback burn

00:02:48 Fairing deployment

00:05:57 1st stage entry burn

00:07:46 1st stage landing

00:10:07 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)

00:12:37 SAOCOM 1A satellite deployment