After a series of delays due to various reasons from National holidays to high winds, the Sun-Synch Express mission for Spaceflight Industries was launched by an Space X Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket at 1834 GMT, 3 December 2018. The launch from the western SpaceX launch pad located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, reportedly carried 64 microsatellites (49 of which are CubeSats), for 34 different organisations from 17 countries. The majority of the payloads were transported to orbit using the “SHERPA” free-flyer developed by Spaceflight Industries to carry and deploy multiple smaller payloads, four were installed directly onto the Falcon 9 upper stage using an multi-payload adapter  also supplied by Spaceflight Industries.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifts-off carrying the “SmallSat Express” to orbit. Courtesy of SpaceX


This mission made use of Falcon 9 Core B1046, a “Block 5” first-stage. The first-stage landed safely on the SpaceX droneship Just Read the Instructions located in the Pacific Ocean eight minutes after lift-off. Although Vandenberg has been outfitted with its own onshore Landing Zone – like at Cape Canaveral – SpaceX was not authorised to land their first-stage back at base due to the presence of the NRO L-71 mission present at the other launch pad awaiting its own launch. The B1046 first-stage has now been used on three separate missions – having previously launched the BANGABANDHU 1 satellite in May 2018 and MERAH PUTIH in August. Another record for the Hawthorne, California, based SpaceX, and further supports their founder Elon Musk’s drive towards greater reusability in the launcher market.