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SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Sets New Booster Turnaround Record With Monday Satellite Launch

CAPE CANAVERAL (CBS) -- After standing down last week to resolve an unspecified technical issue, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket Monday, lifting a South Korean military communications satellite into orbit.

Using the same first stage that helped launch two astronauts on a May flight to the International Space Station, the 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 roared to life at 2:30 p.m. PDT and and raced away from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The rocket quickly powered through the sound barrier and the region of maximum aerodynamic stress as it consumed propellants, lost weight and steadily accelerated, arcing to the east and out of sight over the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch July 20, 2020
SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch July 20, 2020 (SpaceX via YouTube)

The first stage then fell away and headed for touchdown on a SpaceX drone ship stationed several hundred miles offshore while the second stage continued the climb to space.

An issue of some sort with the second stage prompted SpaceX to call off a launch attempt planned for last Tuesday. No details were released but the stage appeared to chalk up a flawless climb to an initial orbit.

A second, shorter firing a half hour later finished the job and the Anasis 2 satellite was released to fly on its own in a highly elliptical "transfer" orbit.

Communications satellites typically operate in circular orbits 22,300 miles above the equator where it takes 24 hours to complete one orbit. As a result, such satellites appear stationary in the sky, allowing the use of fixed antennas on the ground.

To reach its parking spot in geostationary orbit, Anasis 2, built under contract with Lockheed Martin, was equipped with on-board thrusters to raise the low point of its orbit and adjust the high point as needed, a process that typically requires multiple firings over several weeks. But no details were released about the satellite's capabilities

In any case, moments after the second stage ended the first of its two firings, the Falcon 9's first stage touched down on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You." SpaceX video ended at that point "per the customer's request."

Monday's launch was SpaceX's eleventh flight so far this year, the company's 91st overall including three Falcon Heavy rockets. The first stage landing was the 55th overall and the 36th on a drone ship.

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