WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched a pair of Maxar Intelligence imaging satellites May 2 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. 

The Falcon 9 lifted off at  11:36 a.m. Pacific carrying Maxar-1 — the company’s first two WorldView Legion high-resolution Earth observation satellites, each carrying powerful cameras capable of capturing precise images of small objects and features on the Earth’s surface.

These are the first two of a planned six-satellite WorldView Legion fleet of electro-optical imaging satellites — with resolution of 30 centimeters — that are expected to triple Maxar’s capacity to collect high-quality imagery and map the planet, the company said. 

Maxar-1 was the 20th flight of the Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission. This was the company’s 44th launch of 2024 and the 328th launch of the Falcon 9. 

After stage separation, about 8.5 minutes after liftoff, the first stage returned to Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) at Vandenberg, marking the 303rd booster landing for SpaceX.

Maxar on Thursday evening confirmed that the deployment was successful and both satellites began receiving and sending signals. “Maxar Intelligence expects first images from the spacecraft later this spring,” the company said.

Legion satellites suffered many delays

The first two Legion satellites will join Maxar’s existing fleet of three WorldView and one GeoEye electro-optical imagery satellites already in orbit.

Thursday’s Falcon 9 launch marked a milestone for Maxar, which had to grapple with supply chain challenges and pandemic-related delays in developing and manufacturing the WorldView Legion satellites. 

Maxar is the U.S. government’s primary provider of commercial electro-optical imagery. The company in 2022 won a $3.2 billion contract from the National Reconnaissance Office to supply imagery and mapping services over the next decade.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...