SpaceX blasts off with Iridium satellite payload

by Edgar Hayes March 31, 2018, 7:47
SpaceX blasts off with Iridium satellite payload

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets have shown their worth by being reused to launch 10 Iridium Communications satellites into space. Pacific Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

As was the case for the December 22 launch that sent up the fourth set of NEXT satellites, Friday's Falcon 9 launch also utilized a previously-flown first stage.

SpaceX initially aimed to launch the Iridium-5 mission Thursday (March 29), but a technical glitch with one of the satellites forced a delay. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that as the nose cone - also called a fairing - fell back toward Earth, the parafoils that were supposed to slow its decent became tangled.

A previously launched Falcon 9 rocket was the vehicle used for this event, the fifth in a series of eight launches for Iridium.

SpaceX did not attempt to recover Falcon 9's first stage after launch. Currently, a typical Falcon 9 launch costs around 62 million US dollars, according to the company.

'We will be attempting a recovery for one of the halves of the fairing on our recovery ship, Mr Steven'.

Recovering and reusing a fairing has never been done by any company or government.

Artist’s illustration of the Iridium constellation. Credit Thales Alenia Space
Artist’s illustration of the Iridium constellation. Credit Thales Alenia Space

SpaceX's previous attempt to catch a Falcon 9 fairing just missed earlier this year.

When completed, the constellation will consist of 66 operational satellites and nine spares in orbit.

Multiple companies are rushing to be the first to deploy satellite constellations to provide broadband data connections, taking advantage of advances in miniature electronics and batteries, as well as cheaper launch costs, to fill the globe's apparently endless demand for more connectivity.

The Iridium project, though less flamboyant, will replace the world's largest commercial satellite network of low-Earth orbit satellites in one of the largest "tech upgrades" in history, Iridium has said.

The system proposed by privately held SpaceX will use 4,425 satellites, the FCC said, and will help improve communications in rural or hard-to-serve places where fibre-optic cables and cell towers do not reach.

Today's planned launch is the first of two planned by SpaceX in the next four days. Another used Falcon 9 rocket will launch an uncrewed Dragon cargo ship, which has also flown previously, to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

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