A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying ten individual low-Earth-orbiting communication satellites for Iridium launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base Monday morning at 8:37 A.M. Eastern time.
Image Credit: SpaceX/YouTube
After the engines ignited, the rocket took off and carried the payload high above the Earth's clouds. Once the payload made it into space, it separated from the first stage, and the latter fell back to Earth to initiate its autonomous landing routine.
Just over seven minutes later, the first stage landed upright on SpaceX's drone ship dubbed “Just Read the Instructions,” enabling recovery crews to gather the spent rocket and return it to headquarters for refurbishing. The vessel calmly awaited the first stage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean just off California's coast.
While the first stage landed, the payload continued climbing higher up into the skies with the Falcon 9's second stage. After reaching the desired altitude, satellite deployment took place over the course of several minutes.
"Looks like we've got a good orbit," said SpaceX Falcon 9 principal integration engineer John Insprucker during satellite deployment. "We're 10 for 10! A clean sweep of Iridium NEXT satellite deployment in the desired final orbit."
A full video of the Falcon 9 launch and landing from this morning is available on SpaceX’s YouTube channel, embedded below:
Iridium has contracted with SpaceX numerous times in the past and plans to continue doing so. The firm uses these launches to beef up its 'NEXT' satellite constellation, comprised of several individual units that orbit the Earth simultaneously.
To date, SpaceX has launched three out of eight scheduled Iridium missions. Eventually, Iridium will have 66 primary satellites and nine back-ups orbiting Earth; all of them should make it to space by 2018.
Monday's mission, which utilized a brand-new Falcon 9 rocket instead of a refurbished one, marks SpaceX’s 14th successful launch in 2017.
The company is already gearing up for another launch scheduled for October 11th at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center – just two days from today. At that time, a refurbished SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry a satellite from EchoStar and SES into space and then land once again.