SpaceX rocket blasts final round of Iridium satellites into orbit

SpaceX rocket blasts final round of Iridium satellites into orbit

The rocket lifted off at 7:31 a.m. Friday at Vandenberg Air Force Base and arced over the Pacific Ocean west of Los Angeles.

After being rescheduled several times, the Falcon 9 rocket officially launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) on Friday morning.

Delivery of the satellites to create a second-generation communication constellation was expected to start 56 minutes after launch and be complete 1 hour and 12 minutes after blastoff.

The Falcon's first stage successfully landed on a so-called droneship in the Pacific Ocean, marking its second launch and recovery.

SpaceX has been experimenting with techniques to recover the Falcon 9's nose cone and save millions of dollars in manufacturing costs, but no recovery attempt was made today.

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The devices are part of Iridium's campaign to "replace the world's largest commercial communication satellite network", according to a company press kit. The rocket carried Iridium 8 satellites into orbit.

Iridium Certis, for example, will enable new types of broadband applications such as drone command and control.

Once all 10 commercial satellites have been released, Iridium Next will have 75 spacecraft in orbit, with 66 of those used for the constellation and the others serving as in-orbit spares. Iridium's Aireon system will provide real-time, global aircraft surveillance and tracking. "That's not only 10 for 10 today, but that's 75 for 75", he said.

The Falcon 9 mission is separate from that of the Delta IV Heavy rocket, which was also to be launched from Vandenberg in December.

But instead of allowing the first stage, or booster, to fall into the ocean as trash, SpaceX's Falcon 9 fires its engines, maneuvers its grid fins and makes a controlled landing back on Earth.

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