While you wait for SpaceX to launch—and attempt to land—its 28th Falcon 9 rocket, I’m going to ask you to take a moment and think about the mission’s payload. The JCSat-16 is a telecommunications satellite. Amid the constellation of artificial objects orbiting this planet—things that peer to the edge of space, measure gravitational fluctuations, warn scientists about incoming solar radiation—telecoms satellites are suburban. Boring1. However, in terms of everyday usefulness to normal people on Earth, telecommunications satellites are among the most important things in space.
They are boring because they are successful. And in this sense, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is carrying in its nose cone a version of its future. That might be hard to imagine right now, when every SpaceX launch—even those without landing attempts—nets enough attention that every science-interested media outlet on the web embeds the company’s complimentary livestream. Right now, people care about launches and landings. In many ways, if SpaceX does everything right for long enough, very few people will care.
Tonight’s launch is happening in the still of the night—1:26 am Eastern on August 14; 10:26 pm on August 13 for the west coast. Between then and now, you might find yourself with a little bit of time for quiet thought. Perhaps your brain will entertain thoughts of the amazing telecommunications infrastructure that allows video technicians in Cape Canaveral to transmit images of the launch—and subsequent landing attempt out at sea on a drone ship—to your computer screen. But if not, don’t force it. Sometimes the best measure of a successful technology is how easily it is ignored.
1 And if that is not boring enough, JCSat-16 is a backup satellite, in case one of the main telecommunications platforms in the SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation’s geostationary fleet goes out of commission.