Hawthorne-based SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket Saturday morning, Nov. 21, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County. The craft promptly deployed NASA’s Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite into orbit and doubled back to return its reusable main components to Earth.

On an unexpectedly clear morning, many residents in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties got a good view of the airshow and could hear a series of sonic booms following liftoff.

Farther south in Los Angeles County, residents might have caught a glimpse of the rocket’s smoky trail as it powered the satellite into orbit, then reversed course and returned to Vandenberg for recovery and use in future missions.

The launch was scheduled for 9:17 a.m., and SpaceX tweeted a video showing the successful liftoff at 9:19 a.m.

At 9:28 a.m., the company tweeted that “Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on Landing Zone 4,” and deployment of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich was confirmed at 10:18 a.m.

The rocket cut loose the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, which joins a nearly 30-year project to measure global sea-surface height, while also providing atmospheric data that, officials say, will improve weather forecasts, climate modeling and hurricane tracking.

That satellite’s twin, dubbed Sentinel 6B, will join the mission in 2025.

The namesake of Saturday’s satellite was NASA’s former Earth Science Division director. Freilich died in August, about seven months after NASA announced the satellite would bear his name. He was 66.

“Mike’s excellence as a scientist is well known,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a written statement after Freilich died. “His dedication to oceanography and helping train the next generation of scientific leaders was inspiring.


“This satellite,” Bridenstine added about the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, “will gather critical information about the oceans for which Mike had such an abiding passion.”

Three science instruments aboard the satellite were built by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena — the Advanced Microwave Radiometer, the Global Navigation Satellite System-Radio Occultation and the Laser Retroreflector Array.

The ocean-monitoring program was developed by the European Space Agency in conjunction with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


The launch was the second triumph in a week’s time for the South Bay rocketbuilder.

The company’s Crew Dragon capsule docked at the International Space Station on Monday, Nov. 16, to engage in a history-making six-month science mission by its four-person crew, which includes Pomona native Victor Glover.

The Dragon capsule’s docking concluded a 27-hour, completely automated flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The Space Station will be home and workplace for the four-astronaut crew until spring.

Among the capsule crew is Navy Cmdr. Glover, 44, the first Black astronaut to serve on an extended Space Station Mission. Glover, a Navy commander, aviator and test pilot, is taking his first spaceflight as a Crew Dragon First Mission astronaut. He was presented his gold astronaut pin Monday by Commander Mike Hopkins during an impromptu mid-flight ceremony marking his first time crossing the 100-kilometer mark above Earth.

The three Americans and one Japanese astronaut will remain at the orbiting lab until their replacements arrive on another Dragon in April. And so it will go, with SpaceX — and eventually Boeing — transporting astronauts to and from the station for NASA. This regular taxi service got underway with Sunday night’s launch.


By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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