SpaceX successfully launches Spanish radar satellite

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Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a Spanish radar satellite.

They also intended to try to recover the rocket’s fairing, but they did not telecast this, and there is no word yet whether they were successful. In fact, their low-key approach here suggests a shift in policy. Previously, SpaceX was eager to show off its test programs. Now, this silence suggests a desire to throttle back on that openness, possibly in order to protect their proprietary engineering.

Update: It appears that at least one fairing half landed in the water intact, though that also means they were unable to catch it. According to a Musk tweet at the link, the fairing missed the ship net by “a few hundred meters.” Musk also indicates the need for larger chutes in the future. Either way, I wonder if the fairing in the water can still be reused.

The 2018 launch standings:

7 China
4 SpaceX
2 Russia
2 Japan

As a nation, the U.S. now has 7 launches total, tying China.



  • Mdn

    I think it would be interesting and worthwhile to expand your launch tracking list into a table listing launches, launch failures, booster recoveries, and booster recovery failures. This would illustrate why re-usability is important and how well the various players are performing reliability wise.

  • Mdn: For the information you want, there are sites that do it, far better than I could. See for example: Space Launch Report. My goal here is simply to track the larger patterns, from a historian’s perspective.

  • wayne

    What task does this Spanish radar satellite, perform?


    Commando Cody, (‘Sky Marshal of the Universe’)
    Radar Men from the Moon (1952)
    chapter 1

  • Only 6 U.S. launches. Also this:

    Europe: 1
    India: 1
    New Zealand: 1

  • Doug Messier: I have responded to you about this at least once, maybe twice before. I have truncated my standings, dropping from the updated list those with only one launch. I also rank Rocket Lab under U.S. because it is listed as a U.S. company. This is certainly open to debate and disagreement.

    If you don’t like how I make my list, post your own on Parabolic Arc. :) And I promise you I won’t nitpick you there about how you do it. :)

  • Mike Borden

    I believe that the electron rocket that flew from New Zealand was made by rocket lab which is headquartered in LA. that makes it a US launch. Also i recall Robert saying at the very begining of the year that states with only 1 launch will be left off of the list. Only 1 launch is not viable for competition as there needs to be more than 1 launch to compete.

  • Willi

    In addition to the Spanish satellite, two SpaceX satellites were placed in orbit.

  • Edward

    wayne asked: “What task does this Spanish radar satellite, perform?
    The $200 million (160 million euro) mission, primarily funded by the Spanish government, will produce radar imagery for the Spanish military and its allies, plus commercial clients. … It’s useful for a lot of applications, environmental, also for big infrastructure tracking and planning, maritime surveillance and government applications like monitoring and surveillance for any specific items that you’d like to follow.

  • jburn

    The launch count is a fun number to track!
    I suspect weight will become a more interesting number to track in the future, when falcon heavy lift capabilities materialize.

  • jburn: Fun is the important word here, though the launch standings are informative as well. I am hopeful that Localfluff continues to update his mass-to-orbit numbers as well for us.

  • Max

    It’s just a thought, but isn’t the second stage worth more than the fairing? I wonder if the faring is capable of splitting/mechanically expanding into three or four pieces and sliding/traveling down with motorized wheels clamping around the engines during reentry to act as a heat shield. Positioning jets can keep it upright until air resistance and drag can slow it down for parachute deployment. The faring can open allowing the engine to land the second stage like the boosters do. Of course that means it will need landing gear or special candlestick holder that grabs the booster and holds it in position on the barge.

    If nothing else, the fairings can ride the second stage down and be preserved that way.

  • Richard M

    China is certainly off to an impressive year, launch wise. It will be fascinating to see if they can sustain it.

  • Edward

    Max pondered: “It’s just a thought, but isn’t the second stage worth more than the fairing? I wonder if the faring is capable of splitting/mechanically expanding into three or four pieces and sliding/traveling down with motorized wheels clamping around the engines during reentry to act as a heat shield.

    It is possible that the weight of the fairing is more than is worth the effort of taking it all the way to space. One of the reasons to jettison a fairing is that its weight would impact the capability of the rocket if it were taken all the way to orbit. Please notice that the fairing is typically jettisoned somewhere around 1/3 of the way to orbit (altitude and velocity) on all rockets. Substituting approximation for actual calculation, this suggests that the payload capability to low Earth orbit would be reduced by around 2/3 of the fairing weight, or a bit less than 1.5 metric tonnes for Falcon.

    A possible difficulty with using the fairing as a heat shield during reentry is that blunt shapes are better for slowing the body higher in the atmosphere, whereas more pointed shapes tend to travel lower in the atmosphere before slowing down. From the behavior of the reentering Falcon 9 first stages, SpaceX wants them to be relatively slow (compared to orbital speed) while they are still fairly high up.

    The second stage is probably worth more than the fairing, and SpaceX once planned to find a way to recover the Falcon 9 second stage, because it does cost a pretty penny, but they seem to have abandoned that idea due to the reusability and low cost of the proposed BFR and its reusable payload section (currently called the Interplanetary Transport System, but there are other missions that seem to need other designs for a reusable second stage of the BFR). In this case, SpaceX does intend to take the equivalent of a fairing into space and use part of it as part of the heat shielding on the down to the planet’s surface, as a sort of lifting body reentry method.

    (See also

    This new rocket is intended to replace the Falcon 9 series as well as the second stage component. Apparently, SpaceX would rather employ its engineering talent to create this new reusable second stage than to make the Falcon 9 second stage reusable. This concentration of effort allows them to make BFR operational sooner than if they split their talent between two projects.

    Yes, SpaceX does intend to use the BFR “fairing” portion to help as a heat shield. It is just that they are no longer planning on reusability of Falcon 9’s second stages.

  • Max

    Thanks Edward, very concise analysis.

    The picture at the link you provided shows the next generation of boosters will be reusable and the faring will be molded into the construction.
    It kind of looks like a miniature space shuttle. Very practical, limited area that will be used as a heatshield minimizing weight.
    The faring topic will soon be a non-issue.

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