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SpaceX Rocket Loudly Departs Vandenberg AFB for Third Iridium Next Mission

Falcon 9’s first stage successfully returned to Earth once its job was done, landing on a droneship

A Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Monday, carrying 10 more Iridium Next satellites into orbit. Click to view larger
A Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Monday, carrying 10 more Iridium Next satellites into orbit. (SpaceX photo)

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 more Iridium Next satellites provided a loud wakeup call early Monday morning as it departed Vandenberg Air Force Base just before dawn.

The Space Exploration Technologies rocket, standing taller than a 20-story building, blasted off at 5:37 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base.

Another 10 Iridium Next satellites rode on the rocket amid efforts to build a second-generation constellation for a global communications system. Monday's mission boosts the number of Iridium Next craft in space to 30.

In addition to delivering the satellites, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, once its job was done, successfully landing on a droneship, dubbed Just Read the Instructions, in the Pacific Ocean to the applause of SpaceX crews in a control room.

An hour after liftoff, each Iridium Next satellite was deposited in space every 100 seconds, with full deployment taking approximately 15 minutes. 

"T plus one hour, twelve minutes, seventeen seconds since a great liftoff,  the tenth and final Iridium Next satellite was deployed right on time so we're ten for ten," said John Inprucker, announcer on the SpaceX webcast. "Again a clean sweep of Iridium Next satellite deployment in the desired final orbit. It's been a great morning.

In all, SpaceX has been hired to conduct eight missions to deliver 75 Iridium Next satellites, with the launches planned every two months.

On-board cameras captured the separation of an Iridium Next satellite, at left, following a Falcon 9 rocket launch Monday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
On-board cameras captured the separation of an Iridium Next satellite, at left, following a Falcon 9 rocket launch Monday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  (SpaceX photo)

A total of 81 satellites are scheduled to roll off the Arizona assembly line, with 66 serving as the operational satellites to replace the existing Iridium network, officials said. The remainder will serve as spares, some positioned in space and others waiting on the ground to be called into service.

After going through an initial checkout period, each new satellite will be moved into service to replace an aging original spacecraft. Iridium officials have likened the “slot swap” to trying to change a tire on a car moving at 17,000 mph.

The majority of the first-generation Iridium satellites also launched from Vandenberg. 

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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