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SpaceX Falcon rocket launch at Vandenberg AFB on track for Saturday

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in California.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in California. AP

With sunny skies in the forecast, the team trying to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County is targeting Saturday for blastoff.

Liftoff of the Space Exploration Technologies rocket, standing about 229 feet tall, is planned for 9:54 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base. Because of the precise placement required for the 10 Iridium Next satellites on board the booster, the team has just one shot a day to get the rocket off the ground or try again another day.

Sites around the Lompoc Valley offer good vantage points for viewing Falcon rockets, including along Ocean Avenue, the peak of Harris Grade Road, and the intersection of Moonglow and Stardust roads. The roar and thin yellow contrails from Vandenberg launches can also usually be heard and seen in San Luis Obispo County, especially the South County.

People camping at Jalama Beach County Park will be evacuated from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday because of the launch, according to park rangers.

The rocket will lift the first 10 craft to make up the second-generation satellites for the constellation that makes up the commercial communication system. Iridium has hired the Falcon rocket to carry 70 of the Iridium Next satellites on seven flights.

“Still a go for IridiumNEXT launch Saturday morning,” Iridium CEO Matt Desch tweeted.

Liftoff initially was planned for Jan. 8, but the Central Coast’s rainy weather was partially blamed for delays.

The launch will mark a return to flight for SpaceX after a fiery end to an on-pad test in Florida on Sept. 1.

For the highly anticipated launch, SpaceX has not yet released information about the mission or provided routine details as it has in the past. The Vandenberg Public Affairs staff has not released any information to inform the public about the scheduled blastoff as they usually do before a launch. This goes against precedence set by more than two decades of missions.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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