The first 10 spacecraft for a planned U.S. military mega-constellation launched from California Sunday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, setting in place the keystone for a multibillion-dollar network of hundreds of small satellites to improve defenses against hypersonic missiles and other emerging threats.
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket at 7:29 a.m. PDT (10:29 a.m. EDT; 1429 UTC) Sunday from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California with 10 missile tracking and data relay satellites for the U.S. military’s Space Development Agency. The launch occurred three days after SpaceX aborted the first launch attempt at T-minus 3 seconds to examine data from one of the Falcon 9’s main engines.
After a 22-day stay at the International Space Station, an Orbital ATK Cygnus supply ship is set for departure Wednesday en route to a higher orbit for release of 14 CubeSats for commercial weather monitoring and technology demonstrations. The robotic Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled for release from the station’s robotic arm at 8:10 a.m. EST (1310 GMT) Wednesday.
NASA is advancing a plan to send a robotic orbiter to Mars in the early 2020s, developing designs with five U.S. satellite makers for a mission to extend high-resolution mapping capabilities, telecommunications relay functions, and potentially act as a waypoint for Martian soil samples destined for return to Earth.