At 0222 GMT, 8 October 2018, an SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, on the West Coast of the USA, carrying the SAOCOM 1A, L-band, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The satellite was launched for CONAE – the space agency of Argentina – as part of their SAOCOM programme to provide themselves with autonomous radar imaging capabilities.

A secondary objective of the launch was the inauguration of SpaceX’s first West Coast, land-based landing site, known as LZ-4 – previously all landing attempts from Vandenberg had to make use of Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships (ASDSs) out in the Pacific Ocean. This launch saw the first-stage successfully land at LZ-4 seven minutes after lift off at 0229 GMT.

The Block 5 Falcon 9 lifts off from Vandenberg carrying the Argentinian SAOCOM 1A. Courtesy of SpaceX

 

CONAE has two SAOCOM satellites planned, with the second identical unit, SAOCOM 1B, planned for launch on another Falcon 9 next year. Working in partnership with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) CONAE has developed the SAOCOM satellites to be interoperable with the Italian, X–band, Cosmo-Skymed SAR programme. Cosmo-Skymed now consists of four units launched between 2007 and 2010 – two “second generation” Cosmo-Skymed satellites are under development and planned to be launched in 2019 and 2020.