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SpaceX Falcon Rocket Poised For Launch With Fifth Batch of Iridium Next Satellites

Blastoff now set for Friday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base after delay related to satellite

A Falcon 9 rocket like this one will carry the fifth set of Iridium Next satellites into space on Thursday morning. The first set of Iridium satellites headed to space aboard this Falcon rocket in January 2017. Click to view larger
A Falcon 9 rocket like this one will carry the fifth set of Iridium Next satellites into space on Thursday morning. The first set of Iridium satellites headed to space aboard this Falcon rocket in January 2017. (SpaceX photo)

A glitch involving an Iridium Next satellite sitting aboard a Falcon 9 rocket has delayed the departure from Vandenberg Air Force Base until Friday.

"We are having an issue with 1 of the 10 satellites in prep for #Iridium5," Iridium CEO Matt Desch said Tuesday on Twitter.

Officials initially estimated the launch would aim for Saturday morning or even later.

However, Iridium officials said crews found the fix, allowing the team to target 7:14 a.m. Friday for liftoff from Space Launch Complex-4.

The delay was blamed on an issue involving a ground harness test cable, Desch told his Twitter followers.

"All issues have been resolved and the satellites and rocket are green to go," an Iridium representative said Tuesday evening.

A successful test Sunday morning had signaled a key milestone the Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 launch attempt, once planned for Thursday.

On Sunday morning, SpaceX crews performed a hot fire test — counting down to zero without lifting off — to assess readiness for launch.

Lompoc Valley residents noted the cloud of smoke and rumble that signaled the test had take place. SpaceX officials later confirmed the static fire test's completion.

The SpaceX rocket will carry another 10 Iridium Next satellites into orbit, marking the fifth set launched since January 2017.

“Everything is currently looking green for launch on Thursday morning. Satellites are all happy and buttoned up and ready to go,” Desch said.

“An early view of the weather is very positive too...  Beginning my prelaunch rituals and happy thoughts,” he added, including the hashtag, "#pleaseohpleaseohplease."

Iridium Next is a second-generation constellation of satellites to provide voice and date communications around the globe.

The rocket set to fly this mssion will be familiar to Iridium.

This launch will use the same Falcon 9 first stage as the Iridium-3 launch that took place in October 2017 and begin a rapid-cadence launch schedule targeting completion of the Iridium manifest by mid-2018, Iridium officials said.

The Iridium campaign will replace an  existing constellation which saw most of its satellites travel to space from Vandenberg aboard a Delta II rocket.

The Iridium Next campaign calls for sending 75 satellites into space on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets over eight different liftoffs.

“We are entering the home stretch,”​ Desch said. “This is going to be a monumental year for us as we complete our constellation refresh.”

Iridium’s final four launches will bring a total of 35 new satellites to space, completing the $3 billion constellation of 66 commercial operational satellites and nine in-orbit spares.

Decades ago, the constellation was named for the 77th element on the periodic table, but the tweaked system meant they ultimately used 66 satellites. The inventors kept the same name rather than switch to match the 66th element — dysprosium.

While Vandenberg is closed to the public, several locations around the Lompoc Valley offer good vantage points to view Falcon launches.

Those include the peak of Harris Grade Road, West Ocean Avenue and near the intersection of Moonglow and Stardust roads. 

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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