Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 9:54 am | Fair 56º

 
 
 
 

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off For First Iridium Next Mission

Clear skies aided viewing of successful launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites blasts off Saturday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites blasts off Saturday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (SpaceX photo)

The Falcon 9 rocket is back in business after a successful blastoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Saturday morning, successfully carrying the first 10 Iridium Next satellites to space while also safely landing the first-stage motor on a droneship.

The Space Exploration Technologies rocket, standing some 229 feet tall, climbed away from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base at 9:54 a.m.

The flight appeared normal as spectators cheered and craned their necks to watch the rocket climb away from the Central Coast.

On board Falcon were 10 Iridium Next satellites, to start building the second-generation of the space-based communication system.

Iridium boasts a capability to provide mobile voice and satellite data communications anywhere on the globe.

“Today Iridium launches a new era in the history of our company and a new era in space as we start to deliver the next-generation of satellite communications,” said Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium Communications.

“We have been working endless hours for the last eight years to get to this day, and to finally be here with 10 Iridium Next satellites successfully launched into low-Earth orbit is a fulfilling moment. We are incredibly thankful for all of the hard work from our team, as well as our partners, to help us achieve this milestone.”

Separation of the satellites started an hour after liftoff, officials said. However, a ground station problem meant a short delay before officials finally confirmed the crafts’ arrival.

“It’s a clean sweep — 10 for 10,” SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker said.

The mission marks the start of a series of replacements of the initial satellites that made up the Iridium constellation two decades ago.

The Falcon 9 is launched Saturday from Space Launch Complex-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The rocket’s first stage later landed successfully on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean. Click to view larger
The Falcon 9 is launched Saturday from Space Launch Complex-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The rocket’s first stage later landed successfully on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The liftoff also signaled the first flight for Falcon since the Sept. 1 on-pad fiery explosion during a test in Florida, and the first flyback mission following a Vandenberg launch.

The droneship, dubbed “Just Read the Instructions,” was in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles away from Vandenberg with video showing the rocket’s first stage landing on the bull’s-eye.

Retrieving the lower portion of the rocket for reuse is vital to keeping costs down for future customers under SpaceX’s business plan.

A successful mission Saturday was crucial for Iridium officials, who plan to send 70 satellites to space aboard seven Falcon 9 rockets in approximately 14 months from Vandenberg.

Plans call for the second set of Iridium Next satellites to head to space in about 90 days.

The Falcon 9 rocket was carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites destined to replace satellites placed in space two decades ago. Click to view larger
The Falcon 9 rocket was carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites destined to replace satellites placed in space two decades ago. (Felipe Garcia photo)

After that, Iridium hopes the missions occur 60 days apart, with launches tentatively planned for June, August and October.

An eager Desch said Friday night that upon a successful mission Saturday he planned to get officials to pin down a date for the next launch.

“That’s an amazing schedule to replace 66 satellites in space,” he said, adding that he hopes to have the network completely replaced by the second quarter of 2018.

Iridium partnered with Thales Alenia Space as the prime contractor for the new Iridium satellites with Orbital ATK of Goleta hired to assemble, test and integrate the 81 Iridium satellites. The additional 15 satellites will serve as in-orbit and on-the-ground spares.

Some 32 satellites have already rolled off the manufacturing line, with work continuing on others, Desch said.

“Every week a new satellite is coming out the door,” he added.

Arrival in space marks a busy time for Iridium ground controllers, who will put the satellites through weeks of testing in preparation for moving them into service.

Once a vehicle is deemed ready, the Iridium crews will perform a slot swap, or a carefully choreographed and delicate ballet, Desch said, to get the new satellite into place and the old craft moved out the way.

Iridium officials said the slot swap has been likened to trying to the change the tires on a school bus while moving 17,000 mph, all while not dropping a call.

Replacing the Iridium network involves a $3 billion investment for the McLean, Va.-based company, which has a primary gateway Earth station in Tempe, Ariz., and a satellite network operations center in Leesburg,Va.

This marked the second year Falcon flew at the first blastoff of the new year from Vandenberg.

Another liftoff, of an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance, is planned for Jan. 26 from South Base.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

(Robert Bernstein video)

From a viewing site in Vandenberg Village, spectators watch the Falcon 9 rocket climb away from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
From a viewing site in Vandenberg Village, spectators watch the Falcon 9 rocket climb away from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.