Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched a rocket carrying 10 Iridium Communications Inc satellites to orbit early Friday, its fifth in a series of eight launches contracted for the communications company as it builds its NEXT constellation network.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast at around 7:13 AM local time. SpaceX has signed on to deliver 75 Iridium satellites to orbit in total. SpaceX said on Twitter about an hour after launch that all 10 satellites had been deployed.
“Iridium NEXT will replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network of low-Earth orbit satellites in what will be one of the largest ‘tech upgrades’ in history,” SpaceX said in a press kit. “The process of replacing the satellites one-by-one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before.”
Friday’s launch used the same first-stage rocket from Iridium’s similar mission in October. SpaceX did not attempt to recover the rocket again for reuse. It did try to catch part of the fairing, or nose cone, though was unsuccessful, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said.
“GPS guided parafoil twisted, so fairing impacted water at high speed,” he said on Twitter. “Air wake from fairing messing w parafoil steering. Doing helo drop tests in next few weeks to solve.”
SpaceX is targeting roughly 30 total missions this year, up from a record 18 in 2017. The Iridium launch brings its 2018 tally to six. A seventh mission, known as CRS-14, is slated for Monday, during which SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will resupply the International Space Station as part of the company’s contract with NASA.