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
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: