SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into space. (SpaceX via YouTube)
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sent the eighth and final set of next-generation Iridium satellites into orbit today, closing off a yearlong launch campaign.
The rocket rose into partly cloudy skies from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:31 a.m. PT after a trouble-free countdown. Iridium CEO Matt Desch counted down the final seconds.
Minutes after liftoff, the first-stage booster separated and made an at-sea touchdown on a drone landing ship called “Just Read the Instructions,” hundreds of miles out in the Pacific Ocean.
The booster took on its first launch last September, to send the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite into space. During that mission, it flew itself back to land on SpaceX’s other drone ship, based in Florida. It was refurbished for today’s launch, and now it’s eligible for a third go-round.
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.
While the Falcon 9 booster returned to Earth, the second stage and its payload pressed on to orbit. ...