SpaceX has successfully launched the Formosat 5 satellite into orbit and completed their fifteenth successful first stage landing. The launch was commissioned by the government of Taiwan and took off at 2:51 pm Eastern from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. After reaching an altitude of 720 kilometers, the satellite was deployed into a sun-synchronous orbit.
The Formosat 5 satellite was developed by Taiwan’s space agency, the National Space Organisation (NSPO). The satellite weighs just 450-kilograms which was no problem for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that features a maximum payload capacity of more than 50 times that weight. The satellite is fitted with ultra-high resolution cameras that are capable of taking panoramic shots at a resolution of two meters and colour shots at a resolution of four. Additionally, the satellite features an ionospheric science instrument that was developed by a Taiwanese university. Formosat 5 will take over from Formosat-2 which was retired by NSPO almost a year ago.
Although Thursday’s launch does mark yet another engineering success for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, it should also be noted that the launch was a commercial disaster for the company. The contract signed in 2010 outlined that SpaceX would launch the Formosat 5 satellite from a Falcon 1e for around $23 million. However, due to unexpectedly low demand for the smaller Falcon 1e rocket, SpaceX scrapped the model in favour of a more focused effort on the larger Falcon 9. A launch aboard a Falcon 9 costs more than double that of its now defunct predecessor the Falcon 1e at $62 million a launch. As a result, SpaceX will be out a staggering $14 million following Thursday’s launch. This, however, does not take into account the possible reusability of the Falcon 9’s booster which accounts for 70% of the total cost of a launch. If SpaceX is able to reuse the booster in future launches, it will likely significantly reduce the impact of the Formosat 5 mission.