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Launch Photos: SpaceX Falcon 9 Lofts 64 Satellites (and Lands) on Historic 3rd Flight

Historic Liftoff


A privately built SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket made history on Dec. 3, 2018, making a historic third spaceflight as it lofted a record 64 satellites into orbit. See launch videos in our full wrap story. Here's a look at the mission in pictures.

An Epic Rideshare


Of the 64 satellites on board the SSO-A ride-share mission, 49 of them are cubesats. This illustration shows how these cubesats will be deployed in low-Earth orbit.

Into the Sky


The Falcon 9 climbs into the skies above Vandenberg. Liftoff occurred at 1:34 p.m. EST (1834 GMT; 11:34 a.m. PST).

The Long View


The rocket rising into a deep-blue sky, seen from afar.

Spaceflight Scars


A look at the nine Merlin engines on the Falcon 9’s first stage, whose body bears the burn marks of two previous orbital launches.

Looking Down


The rugged Central California coast, as seen by the ascending Falcon 9.

Landing Burn


The Falcon 9 first stage performs its landing burn (left) as the second stage continues to carry the 64 satellites to their proper orbit (right).



The first stage comes down on SpaceX's drone ship "Just Read the Instructions" in the Pacific Ocean (left).

On the Deck


The Falcon 9 first stage on the deck of "Just Read the Instructions" shortly after acing its third touchdown, on Dec. 3, 2018.

SpaceX Block 5 Rollout for SSO-A Mission 1


SpaceX's first Falcon 9 rocket destined to fly three times is rolled out to its launch pad at the Vandenberg Air Force Station in California on Dec. 1, 2018. The rocket is scheduled to launch 64 satellites into orbit on Dec. 3.

SpaceX Block 5 Rollout for SSO-A Mission 2


A close look at SpaceX's first Falcon 9 rocket first stage booster to make a third flight. The Block 5 booster launched two satellites into orbit in summer 2018 and is the first to fly a third time.

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.