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SpaceX, Iridium Now Planning for Jan. 14 Falcon Rocket Blastoff at Vandenberg Air Force Base

West Coast's first launch of 2017 will mark debut for second-generation constellation of satellites for space-based communication system

A Falcon 9 rocket will carry 10 Iridium communications satellites into orbit, possibly as soon as Monday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
A Falcon 9 rocket will carry 10 Iridium communications satellites into orbit, possibly as soon as Monday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Iridium Communications Inc. photo)

Despite having a Federal Aviation Administration license in hand and an on-pad test complete, a Falcon 9 rocket and its cargo still will have to wait several days longer for the launch  from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Liftoff of the Space Exploration Technologies rocket now is planned for Jan. 14 from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base, according to safety notices revised Saturday evening.

Reasons for the delay aren’t known, but weather-related postponements typically don’t occur more than 24 hours before liftoff. The team likely is battling other issues that can involve the technical troubles with a rocket, satellites or ground support equipment or even scheduling conflicts with other activities at Vandenberg.

Even if they are tackling technical troubles, the weather looked less than accommodating for a Monday launch attempt, however, as heavy rains are expected with an incoming winter storm.

Rainy conditions are expected for most of the week, with Saturday hinting at one of the best chances for sunshine, according to the National Weather Service.

"Can now confirm: new launch date Jan 14 at 9:54am pst. Bad weather the cause," Iridium CEO Matt Desch said on his Twitter account Sunday morning. "Anti-rain dances didn't work - oh well. Cal needs rain?" 

The team also has Jan. 15 reserved as a back-up date.

While many launches have longer windows that offer multiple chances to get off the ground, this mission has just one moment a day so the Iridium satellites can be placed in the proper place in space. The launch moves several minutes early for each day it delays.

Since late Friday, other signs hinted that a Monday attempt appeared shaky. ​Vandenberg officials did not release information about the upcoming launch as they typically do. 

As of Friday morning, Iridium officials were hopeful for a Monday attempt

“Looks like we’re good to go for Monday!” Desch said Friday on Twitter. “Payload/rocket mating underway; we’ll just have to see about the weather. Anti-rain dances, anyone?”

The Falcon will carry the first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to begin building the second-generation constellation of craft for the space-based phone system.

“The finish line of the marathon is in sight,” said Scott Smith, Iridium chief operating officer. “The satellites are ready. The rocket is ready. Operations is ready. A new era is about to begin!”

On Friday, a day after the successful test of the rocket’s engines, the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation issued a license for the Falcon 9 rocket and six others for Iridium Communications.

“With completion of the static fire test, our first launch has just gotten that much closer,” Desch said.

“The Iridium team has been anxiously awaiting launch day, and we’re now all the more excited to send those first 10 Iridium Next satellites into orbit.”

The license came after the FAA accepted the investigation report on the dramatic Sept. 1 mishap in which a Falcon erupted into a fireball during an on-pad test in Florida.

In what is expected to be a first for the West Coast, SpaceX plans to possibly land the Falcon rocket’s first stage on a barge off the coast, according to the FAA license, which also mentions an ocean landing option.

SpaceX has conducted several flyback missions as part of Florida launches after the Falcon fulfilled the rocket’s primary mission.

Unlike landlines and cell phones, the Iridium system provides coverage over 100 percent of the earth’s surface, including across oceans, airways and polar regions, company representatives said.

The revolutionary system launched a majority of its original satellites plus several spares from Vandenberg aboard Delta II rockets between 1997 and 2002.

The campaign meant jobs for the launch crews plus full hotels and restaurants when support staff and visitors came to watch the blastoffs.

Other Iridium satellites headed to space aboard Chinese and Russian launchers.

The system is named for the 77th chemical element on the Periodic Table —marking the original number of craft planned for the constellation.

While design changes meant fewer satellites for the constellation, the moniker remained.

Falcon rocket launches from Vandenberg can be viewed from various viewing sites around the Lompoc Valley since the launch pad is visible south of West Ocean Avenue (Highway 246).

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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