SpaceX set to launch satellites from California air base


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off successfully Sunday afternoon from Vandenberg Air Force Base's Western Range, carrying a payload of 10 commercial communications satellites in an important test of the company's ability to increase launch rates. The McLean, Va., company has a contract with SpaceX for six more launches over the next 12 months to complete the constellation.

As planned, it landed on a barge floating in the Pacific Ocean. This was the ninth consecutive flight with a successful landing, on a drone ship or on land, for launches where the company attempted a landing. SpaceX's overall landing record now stands at 13 successes in 18 attempts.

This is a fairly conventional launch for SpaceX except for one novelty, revealed by SpaceX founder Elon Musk on Saturday night. There will be six more Iridium Next missions over the next year.

"It's hard to celebrate something like that, but these satellites have put in nearly 20 years of service, and making sure we've cleaned up after ourselves as we deploy our new constellation is a priority", he said. Those satellites will join a growing network dubbed the Iridium Next system. "But the amount of effort that we're undertaking to perform this network swap in space is quite fantastic". After a final round of lightning-quick computer checks, the booster was released from pad 4E to begin its fiery ascent.

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The Falcon 9 first stage on the deck of the drone ship "Just Read The Instructions" after landing June 25. The first 10 of these low-orbit satellites were launched in January. Well, SpaceX's future rests on its ability as a space company to convince clients that it can reuse its rockets. Having launch schedules closer to each other and being able to launch and land no matter the weather conditions are pretty much prerequisites to such a type of space travel. The new fins are a bit heavier, but are designed for multiple re-uses as SpaceX seeks to more toward rapid reuse of its first stage booster.

The engine re-ignited 52 minutes after launch, burning for just a few seconds to reach the required orbit. Iridium's NEXT satellite network will then be able to offer services such as higher broadband communications speeds and global airplane tracking. The new satellites will not create visible flashes of reflected sunlight as they passed overhead.

The new spacecraft also will carry circuitry provided by Harris track ships at sea on a minute-by-minute basis and another Harris-built device, provided by a multi-agency consortium known as Aireon, that will track aircraft anywhere in the world.