In another major feat for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the company on Friday successfully launched 10 next-generation satellites for Iridium Communications. The satellites were launched into orbit on board Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force station in California.
The Falcon 9 lifted off from the station at 7.13 am and placed the satellites into the Earth’s orbit about an hour later. The launch engaged a previously used rocket. The Friday launch was one of the eight launches that are scheduled for the Virginia-based Iridium Communications to put a total of seventy-five Iridium-NEXT satellites into Earth’s lower orbit. Part of a $3 billion project, this was the fifth such launch for Iridium with three more scheduled later this year.
“All 10 new satellites have successfully communicated with the Iridium Satellite Network Operations Center and are preparing to begin testing,” the McLean, Virginia, company said in a statement. The satellites carry equipment for Aireon LLC’s air traffic surveillance system designed to provide airlines with frequent updates of aircraft positions, speeds and altitudes, even over remote oceanic and polar areas.
According to NASA, the Iridium constellation was originally developed by Iridium SSC with first-generation satellites deploying between 1997 to 2002. The constellation’s name comes from the chemical element Iridium, which has atomic number 77, as the system was originally expected to require seventy-seven satellites to provide worldwide service.
Following the Iridium-4 launch last year, the first stage rocket made a successful landing aboard SpaceX’s West Coast Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), however, it was not recovered again following its second flight on Friday. “This time there was no attempt to recover the first stage but it was to perform a simulated landing over the ocean,” said Michael Hammersley, a SpaceX materials engineer serving as launch spokesman.
During the Friday mission, SpaceX attempted to recover its payload fairing – the structure that protects the rocket’s payload from the atmosphere during the early stages of flight. The company has a high-speed ship with an enormous net structure designed to catch half of a fairing as it descends under a parafoil. However, a problem has encountered the parafoil on the fairing twisted and the object impacted the water at high speed. Reacting to the issue, Musk said that helicopter drop tests would be conducted to solve the problem.