SAOCOM-1B | Falcon 9 Block 5

Lift Off Time
August 30, 2020 23:19 UTC | 19:19 EDT
Mission Name and what it was
  • SAOCOM-1B, an earth Observation Satellite for Argentina’s Space Agency
  • Sequoia Smallsat Ride Share 
Launch Provider (What rocket company is launching it?)
Customer (Who’s paying for this?)
CONAE (National Space Activities Commission), PlanetiQ, and Capella Space
Falcon 9 Block 5 B1059.4
Launch Location
Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) Cape Canaveral Airforce Station, Florida
Payload mass
~3,000kg (~6,600 pounds)
Where did the satellites go?
Low Earth Sun Synchronous Orbit 620 km (97.89°)
Did they recover the first stage?
Where did the first stage land?
Landing Zone-1, CCAFS (9 km from the launch pad)
Did they recover the fairings?
Go Ms. Chief has been dispatched, recovery of both fairing halves (1 x catch, 1 x water) expected
Are these fairings new?
This was the:
  • First polar launch from the East Coast since 1969
  • First commercial launch on the fourth flight of a booster
  • 92nd flight of a Falcon 9
  • 100th SpaceX launch
  • 41st reflight of a booster
  • 15th mission for SpaceX in 2020
Where to watch 
SpaceX Livestream Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, will be streaming at T-30 minutes; come ask questions and join the conversation live!
Graphic by Geoff Barrett Rocket by Stanley Creative

What’s all this mean?

SpaceX launched the SAOCOM-1B and the GNOMES-1 Earth observation satellites, along with the Sequoia SAR smallsat, atop its rocket, the Falcon 9. SAOCOM-1B lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This launch will mark the first polar launch since 1969.

What is SAOCOM-1B?

SAOCOM-1B, and its sister satellite SAOCOM-1A, each weigh 1,600 kg and were built by INVAP, in Argentina. SAOCOM-1A was launched on B1048 on October 8th, 2018. Both satellites are Earth observation satellites containing L-band microwave radars and infrared cameras which gives the ability to see through clouds and at night. Due to this functionality, SAOCOM-1A/B will be used to monitor for disasters, joining a joint Italo-Argentine SIASGE (Sistema Italo Argentino de Satélites para la Gestión de Emergencias) constellation consisting of four COSMO-SkyMed satellites.
SAOCOM-1B satellite
SAOCOM-1B getting ready to be shipped to the Cape (credit: Agencia Télam)
Enclosed in the fairing there are also two smallsats: GNOMES-1 and Sequoia. The GNOMES-1 satellite is a navigation and occultation measurement satellites and is the first of 20 satellites to be launched for this constellation. It will be used to provide weather forecasting, climate research, and space weather monitoring services. Sequoia is an Earth observation satellite, and is the first satellite of six in the “Whitney” constellation. The main goal of this constellation is to provide sub-half meter imagery that has both low noise and high contrast. Little is known about the use of this satellite.

Polar Launches

This launch is especially interesting as it is a polar launch (meaning it is heading South) from the East coast.  This is something that has not been done in over 50 years; it last happened when NASA Launched  ESSA-9 on a Delta rocket on February 26th, 1969. After this, this launch corridor was shut down due to being too much of a risk to the populated areas in it. However, this changed in 2018 when the 45th space wing announced that if rockets had an automatic flight termination system (AFTS) they would be able to launch in this corridor. As of now, this means that only the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are able to launch into polar orbits from the East coast, but that is going to change in the coming years. SpaceX’s Starship, Blue Orgin’s New Glenn, and ULA’s Vulcan are all going to have automatic flight termination systems, meaning they will be able to take advantage of this opening.

What is Falcon 9 Block 5?

The Falcon 9 Block 5 is SpaceX’s partially reusable two-stage medium-lift launch vehicle. Block 5 is the final iteration of the Falcon 9; the goal is to apply all the lessons learned from 56 previous Falcon 9 flights into a human-rated reusable rocket. The Falcon 9 contains 3 main components: a reusable first stage, an expendable second stage, and a reusable fairing.

Falcon 9
Falcon 9 Block 5 launching on the GPS Block III SV03 mission (Credit: SpaceX)

Block 5 updates:

SpaceX introduced a lot of changes on Block 5, allowing it to become the crewed-launching reusable rocket that we know today. To start, the Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel (COPV) had to undergo a complete redesign. NASA mandated the COPV redesign, as it had been the cause of both of the Falcon 9 failures: AMOS-6 and CRS-7.

Alongside with certification for human spaceflight, Block 5 came with a number of other major changes. To increase the amount of flight each booster could handle, and decrease the turnaround time, SpaceX reinforced the landing legs, upgraded the grid fins, and added a carbon fiber interstage. They also added heat resistant external paint and upgraded the engines. For more information about the changes in Block 5, and the other Blocks of the Falcon 9, check out this video by the Everyday Astronaut:

Tim Dodd explains the differences between the Falcon 9 versions. (Click image to watch) (Credit: Andrew Taylor)

Falcon 9 Booster B1059

The booster supporting this mission is B1059. It first flew on CRS-19 on December 5, 2019. This booster’s second flight was on CRS-20, on March 6, 2020. The third mission of the booster was Starlink V1.0 L8 on June 13, 2020. This changes the vehicle’s designation to B1059.4!

Following stage separation, the Falcon 9 conducted 3 burns. These three burns brought the Falcon 9 to a soft landing at LZ-1, at the CCAFS.  

Falcon 9 entering port
Falcon 9 B1051.5 entering port after launching Starlink 9. (Credit: Lupi)

Fairing Reuse

SpaceX is the first entity ever that recovers and reflies its fairings. Go Ms. Chief recovered both fairing halves from the water. After being jettisoned, the two fairing halves used cold gas thrusters to orientate themselves as they descend through the atmosphere. Once at a lower altitude, they will deploy parafoils to help them glide down to a soft landing for recovery.

SAOCOM-1B Full Mission Profile


Hr/Min/Sec              Event
– 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*

Hr/Min/Sec              Event
00:01:12                    Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket) 00:02:17                   1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO) 00:02:20                   1st and 2nd stages separate 00:02:27                   2nd stage engine starts (SES-1) 00:03:23                   Fairing deployment 00:06:24                   1st stage entry burn complete 00:07:49                   1st stage landing 00:10:08                   2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1) 00:14:09                   SAOCOM 1B deployment 01:01:39                   GNOMES-1 deployment 01:02:19                   Tyvak-0172 deploys *All times are approximate
  1. I’ve heard that SpaceX is postponing its falcon 9 flights due to COVID-19. As part of the SpaceX crew 4 more others were tested positive with COVID-19. Stay safe everyone and keep 2 electron rockets standing up in distance away from each other.

    1. Starlink 6 is happening a week from this Thursday, on 16 April, from KSC’s LC-39A.

  2. There won’t be a Sequila satellite aboard this mission. Instead the Tyvak-0172 satellite will rideshare along with SAOCOM 1B and GNOMES-1. This can be found in the description of the webcast on youtube.

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