Flying Start

SpaceX: 5 incredible Falcon 9 photos capture the first launch of 2021

SpaceX sent up its first mission of the year, and the photos were as impressive as ever.

Falcon 9.

SpaceX has completed its first launch of 2021 — and the photos are as impressive as ever.

On Thursday, January 7, at 9:15 p.m. Eastern time, the company launched the Turksat-5A mission. This mission sent up a communications satellite, which will provide television services over Turkey and surrounding regions.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This was the fourth flight for this booster, and it successfully landed after the mission on the droneship Just Read the Instructions.

Want to know more about what it's like to photograph a SpaceX rocket launch? Read this week's exclusive interview with launch photographers Cosmic Perspective, only in MUSK READS+.

It was the first flight of 2021, a year where CEO Elon Musk aims to complete 48 launches in a single year — nearly one per week. It will be a tall order: 2020 saw SpaceX complete the most flights in a single year, as well as the most flights with a re-used booster. But with just 26 flights total, 21 with recycled boosters, SpaceX will have to nearly double its launches.

Following the launch, third-party shutterbugs shared their snaps of the landmark launch. Rocket launch photographer Michael Cain captured the Falcon 9 leaving an impressive trail across the night sky:

Another photographer, John Pisani, captured the light trail from the other side:

Launch photographers have played a prominent role in publicizing SpaceX's efforts. Cosmic Perspective, a media team dedicated to educating the public on the new space race, told Inverse this week that the increasing role of third parties in this new race could mean big things for artistic expression.

Citing SpaceX plans to send artists around the Moon and non-astronauts to the International Space Station, co-founder MaryLiz Bender said "we don't even know what they're going to experience or how they're going to translate that experience."

This one from Stephen Marr captures the seconds taking place after this week's launch:

An impressive shot by Erik Kuna shows the rocket as a single beam shooting up:

This shot from Daryl Gilbert captures a tropical scene around the launchpad:

This booster, dubbed B1060, flew on three previous missions:

  1. The GPS III SV-03 mission on June 30, 2020.
  2. The 12th batch of Starlink satellites on September 3, 2020, supporting the company's ever-growing internet connectivity constellation.
  3. The 15th batch of Starlink satellites on October 24, 2020.

SpaceX has aimed to re-use as much of the rocket as possible to reduce the costs of spaceflight. Re-using the booster, Musk said in 2013, saves around three-quarters of the total cost of a Falcon 9.

This was the second flight for both halves of the fairing. One half previously flew on the GPS III SV-03 mission on June 30, 2020. The other half flew on the ANASIS-II mission on July 21, 2020.

Saving the fairing has played a growing role in SpaceX's reuse efforts. Musk claimed in 2017 that these fairings could cost around $6 million per launch.

“Imagine we have a pallet of cash worth $6 million dollars falling through the sky,” he told his staff at the time. “Would we try to catch it? I say we do.”

The Inverse analysis — Ahead of a planned bumper year for rocket launches, these impressive photos show how SpaceX is inspiring a wealth of photographers.

The future could enable artists to spread their creative wings even further. Reports claim that movie star Tom Cruise will fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon later this year, in partnership with Axiom Space. The goal is to produce the first feature film in outer space.

As space travel grows increasingly accessible, these photos could be just the start for SpaceX-enabled art.


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