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

Historic Liftoff

SpaceX

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

Spaceflight

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

SpaceX

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

SpaceX

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

Spaceflight Scars

SpaceX

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

SpaceX

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

Landing Burn

SpaceX

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).

Touchdown!

SpaceX

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

On the Deck

SpaceX

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

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

SpaceX

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, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, 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 (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace