SpaceX notched its 19th launch of the year Monday, lofting 64 small spacecraft from 34 organizations into low Earth orbit.
A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast at about 10:34 a.m. local time. The customer was Spaceflight Industries, a Seattle-based company that organized the launch on behalf of several clients.
The Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission includes 15 microsats and 49 cubesats from commercial and government entities, including universities, startups and a middle school, according to the SpaceX press kit. The payloads -- which vary from technology demonstrations and imaging satellites to educational-research endeavors -- are from 17 countries, including the U.S., Brazil, India and South Korea.
SpaceX said a series of six deployments would occur about 13 to 43 minutes after takeoff, then Spaceflight would command its own deployment sequences over a period of six hours.
The Falcon 9’s first stage has flown twice before: in May 2018 and again in August. SpaceX recovered it Monday on “Just Read the Instructions,” a droneship in the Pacific Ocean.
SpaceX also attempted to recover the rocket’s fairing, which encloses the payload, with Mr. Steven, a boat designed to capture it in a massive net. Elon Musk -- the company’s chief executive officer, chairman and largest shareholder -- tweeted about the effort:
Monday’s success sets a new SpaceX record for the number of launches in one year, after a total of 18 in 2017. Another launch is slated for Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The closely held company’s valuation has climbed to about $28 billion as it has racked up successful missions, making it the third-most valuable venture-backed startup in the U.S. after Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc.
SpaceX has a contract to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station as part of what’s known as the Commercial Crew program with NASA, but the timeline for the first flights has slipped repeatedly. The agency’s latest plan has SpaceX’s first uncrewed demonstration flight on January 7 and the first flight with astronauts on board in June.
By Dana Hull