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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 1:03 am | Overcast 59º


SpaceX Falcon Rocket Launch at Vandenberg AFB On Track for Saturday

Weather forecast for delayed mission calls for sunny skies; liftoff planned for 9:54 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base

The Iridium Next satellites were attached to the Falcon 9 rocket in anticipation of Saturday’s scheduled blastoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Iridium officials said on Twitter. Click to view larger
The Iridium Next satellites were attached to the Falcon 9 rocket in anticipation of Saturday’s scheduled blastoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Iridium officials said on Twitter. (Iridium LLC photo)

[Scroll down to watch launch live]

With sunny skies in the forecast, the team trying to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base is targeting Saturday for blastoff while hoping wind cooperates.

Liftoff of the Space Exploration Technologies rocket, standing approximately 229 feet tall, is planned for 9:54 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base. 

Due to the precise placement required for the 10 Iridium Next satellites on board the booster, the team has just once shot a day to get the rocket off the ground or try again another day.

SpaceX officials said wind could pose a problem, with a 60 percent likelihood conditions will favor the attempt. 

After days of silence, Vandenberg officials finally announced the launch, saying the Federal Aviation Administration removed the final conditions and authorized the launch as of  12:39 p.m. Friday.

"Vandenberg looks forward to the inaugural launch of Iridium Next and the return to flight for SpaceX," said Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander who also will serve as the launch decision authority on Saturday. "This is an exciting mission and we have worked closely with our mission partners at SpaceX to ensure a safe and successful launch."

The space company run by Elon Musk blamed the delayed departure -- once planned for Monday morning -- on rainy weather soaking the Central Coast, despite the fact regulators apparently had not given final approval for the launch. 

On Friday morning, Iridium CEO Matt Desch noted progress toward launch.

"Nice day in Cal for (the day before) a launch! Rocket is vertical and sats in good shape," Desch said on his Twitter account.

For those hoping to view the launch, SLC-4 is visible on the horizon, south of Ocean Avenue (or Highway 246).

Sites around the Lompoc Valley offer good vantage points for viewing Falcon rockets, including along Ocean Avenue, the peak of Harris Grade Road, and the intersection of Moonglow and Stardust roads.

People camping at Jalama Beach County Park will be evacuated from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday due to the launch, according to park rangers.

The rocket will lift the first 10 craft to make up the second-generation satellites for the constellation that makes up the commercial communication system.

“Still a go for IridiumNEXT launch Saturday morning,” Desch said.

Liftoff initially was planned for Jan. 8, but the Central Coast’s rainy weather was partially blamed for delays.

The extra time allowed Iridium crews more time to prepare for their chores, Desch said. 

“Final ‘rehearsal’ for our sat ops team complete — we are very ready for Saturday's Iridium NEXT sat deployment!”

Iridium has hired the Falcon rocket to carry 70 of the Iridium Next satellites on seven flights. 

The launch will mark a return to flight for SpaceX following a fiery end to an on-pad test in Florida on Sept. 1. 

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.

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