A Falcon 9 rocket roared to life Sunday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, giving its manufacturer a second liftoff and landing in approximately 48 hours from both coasts.
The Space Exploration Technologies booster blasted off at 1:25 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base, rising above a band of marine layer blanketing the pad.
On board the 23-foot-tall rocket were the next batch of 10 Iridium Next satellites to build a second-generation constellation for the global communication system.
Approximately an hour after departure, the rocket successfully delivered the payload to space, officials confirmed.
“Right now, it’s two down with six more launches to go,” said Matt Desch, Iridium chief executive officer. “Our operations team is eagerly awaiting this new batch of satellites and is ready to begin the testing and validation process.
“After several weeks of fine-tuning, the next set of ‘slot swaps’ will begin, bringing more Iridium Next satellites into operational service, and bringing us closer to an exciting new era for our network, company, and partners," he added.
The Iridium system is designed to use 66 satellites, with nine on-orbit spares. In all, 81 satellites will be built as six serving as ground-spares. As new satellites become operational, Iridum ground controllers will move older craft, or conduct a "slot swap," Desch said.
Iridium Next employs the same unique interconnected satellite architecture as the original constellation, Desch said.
“Crosslinks, as we refer to them, allow our satellites to bounce data and voice calls around the world nearly instantaneously creating a true web of coverage around the entire planet,” Desch said. “This is a key advantage of our network and one of the biggest reasons for our continued growth and success.”
Technologies allowed by Iridium Next, with its partner, Aireon, include a real-time, global aircraft surveillance and tracking service.
So far, Aireon has generated more than 1 billion aircraft position reports using some of the first set of Iridium Next satellites in January from Vandenberg.
“Since first launch, our technology has exceeded all expectations,” said Don Thoma, Aireon chief executive officer. “With just eight payloads, we have seen an incredible amount of data, from aircraft and vehicle antennas of both high and surprisingly low wattage.
Flight tests were conducted with the Federal Aviation Administration and its Canadian counterpart.
“We’re on a path to revolutionizing how the world sees the skies, and with each launch come one step closer to making it a global reality,” Thoma said.
In addition to delivering the satellites, the Falcon had a secondary mission — attempt to land the first-stage motor on the droneship, "Just Read the Instructions," positioned in Pacific Ocean.
That occurred successfully less than eight minutes after liftoff.
The first set of Iridium satellites successfully arrived in space thanks to a different Falcon rocket that blasted off in January from Vandenberg.
Iridium hopes to complete the final six launches within the next year, with each occurring approximately every 60 days.