The second set of Iridium Next satellites is on track for a Sunday afternoon departure from Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County, potentially part of a doubleheader weekend for the Falcon rocket manufacturer.
Blastoff of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base is planned for 1:25 p.m. Sunday, with 10 Iridium Next communication satellites set to head to orbit.
This mission has an instantaneous window — just one chance a day — to get off the ground because of where the satellites need to be placed in space.
The rocket will carry the next bunch of second-generation Iridium global communication satellites, after the first set flew aboard a different Falcon rocket at the start of the year.
In addition to the West Coast launch, SpaceX has been gearing up for another mission, BulgariaSat-1, from Florida. But plans for the East Coast launch hit a snag when the team had to stand down to repair a payload fairing valve, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Twitter.
The next opportunities for that mission reportedly are June 23 or 24.
“Could be a weekend doubleheader,” SpaceX representatives said on the corporate Twitter account.
“If schedule holds there will be two Falcon 9 launches within 48 hours (Cape & Vandenberg) this weekend,” Musk noted on his Twitter account.
The Falcon flight will mark the first mission for new 30th Space Wing Commander Col. Michael Hough.
“I’m excited my first launch opportunity is in partnership with SpaceX,” Hough said. “And being a part of putting Iridium Next in orbit to meet the growing demand for global mobile communication is icing on the cake. As a side, this will also be our first launch with the Autonomous Flight Safety System, which is expected to help decrease launch costs and improve turnaround times between launches.”
This is the second of eight planned Iridium Next launches as the company replaces approximately 20-year-old spacecraft that make up the constellation.
In all, the Iridium Next constellation employs 66 satellites, with plans to have several craft in space as spares plus others as ground spares for future missions to space.
As commonly occurs with South Base launches, Jalama Beach County Park south of Vandenberg will be evacuated from about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Surf Beach and Ocean Beach County Park also are expected to be closed for a time Sunday for safety reasons linked to the launch.
The roar and thin yellow contrails from Vandenberg launches can usually be heard and seen in San Luis Obispo County, especially the South County, depending on weather and the rocket’s trajectory.