SpaceX launches Maxar's first WorldView Legion satellites aboard a 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 pair of planned Falcon 9 launches on Thursday, hours after it worked with NASA to ferry its Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. First up were a pair of Maxar Space Systems' WorldView Legion satellites.

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

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

Approximately 8.5 minutes after takeoff, B1061 descended back to landing zone 4 (LZ-4). This was the 18th landing to date on LZ-4 and the 303rd booster landing for SpaceX.

Last week, SpaceX indicated that it was qualifying its Falcon boosters for up to 40 flights.

Here she looks at you, Earth

On board the Falcon 9 are a pair of WorldView Legion satellites. These are the first two of Maxar's planned six satellite constellation. Once all six of these Earth observation satellites reach orbit, they will allow Maxar customers to revisit views of a particular location up to 15 times a day.

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The company's current satellites in orbit are capable of revisiting the site twice a day.

The Maxar WorldView Legion satellites are built on the company's first Maxar 500 Series satellite buses. It is described as a “medium-sized platform that can be designed for multiple missions and orbits.”

The first two WorldView Legion spacecraft are on display here at Maxar Space Systems' manufacturing facility in Palo Alto, California, before shipping to the launch base. Photo: Maxar

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

The company partnered with Raytheon Missiles and Defense to develop the satellite's on-board instrument suite. It will be able to see Earth with what Maxar describes as “30 cm class images.”

“Although the multispectral bands are similar to what our current satellites provide, what is new about WorldView Legion is that our teams have more control to detect each band individually,” Maxar said in a statement. “These improvements allow customers to more easily identify objects on the ground using our satellite images. For example, we can more easily distinguish between what is vegetation and what is man-made. These improvements also reduce sensitivity to water vapor.

Maxar is also marketing its technology as a way to enhance other U.S. national security assets in orbit. It points to its ability to monitor “the development of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities in North Korea and Iran” in addition to providing what it calls vessel detection services (VDS).

Dragons and hawks fly

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

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

The transfer took about an hour. The soft capture was confirmed at 9:46 AM EDT (1346 UTC).

Meanwhile, another SpaceX team was preparing to launch a constellation of Starlink satellites aboard another Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Station. The Starlink 6-55 mission is scheduled to be the 30th mission dedicated to SpaceX's growing low-Earth orbit constellation.

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