SpaceX begins 2019 with eighth and final for upgraded Iridium network

Ten Iridium communications satellites rode a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit Friday from California in the eighth and final launch for Iridium’s upgraded network over the last two years, and the first of around 18 predicted SpaceX missions planned in 2019.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket lit its nine Merlin 1D main engines and climbed away from Space Launch Complex 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at 7:31:33 a.m. PST (10:31:33 a.m. EST; 1531:33 GMT) Friday.

The Falcon 9 streaked into an clear morning sky on California’s Central Coast, heading south over the Pacific Ocean and dropping its first stage booster to descend back to a landing on SpaceX’s drone ship around 150 miles (250 kilometers) downrange from Vandenberg.

The landing marked the 33rd time SpaceX has recovered one of its rockets intact after a launch toward orbit, and the second mission for the specific booster launched Friday, following a flight from Cape Canaveral in September.

The Falcon 9’s second stage continued into orbit, firing its single Merlin engine two times to maneuver to an altitude of approximately 388 miles (625 kilometers) before releasing the 1,896-pound (860-kilogram) Iridium Next satellites one at a time from a two-tier dispenser mounted to the forward end of the rocket.

Iridium’s ground controllers quickly received signals from the new satellites, confirming their health after arriving in orbit, and ending a run of eight SpaceX launches to repopulate the Iridium network with modernized 21st century spacecraft.

Matt Desch, Iridium’s chief executive, told Spaceflight Now in a phone interview after the launch that he was elated with the mission, which gives Iridium 75 new-generation satellites capable of higher-speed data transfers, better voice communications and secondary missions in aircraft and maritime surveillance.

“I’m still processing it because it’s so gratifying to complete something that’s this epic and massive undertaking,” Desch said. “I’m obviously relieved, but I’m a little bit wistful that we’re not doing it anymore. It’s fun to have these launches, and to have it all work successfully. But I’m also trying to look forward and think about all the cool things we’re going to do with these satellites.

“I’m very proud of my team and proud of everybody who’s been associated with Iridium, and who’s been following along with us,” Desch said in a phone interview Friday from Vandenberg. “And I’m very grateful for all the fans we’ve made along the way, who have been cheering us on.”

Iridium ordered 81 Iridium Next satellites from Thales Alenia Space and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, which teamed up to build the spacecraft on an assembly line in Gilbert, Arizona. In June 2010, less than two weeks after the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 rocket, Iridium announced a nearly $500 million contract for SpaceX to deliver the satellites to orbit.

At the time, Iridium and SpaceX aimed to launch the first batch of satellites in 2015 and complete the upgraded network in 2017. Delays primarily driven by a pair of Falcon 9 rocket mishaps in 2015 and 2016 pushed that schedule back a couple of …read more

Source:: Daily times


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