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SpaceX rocket blasts off from Vandenberg for third satellite mission

A Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, carrying 10 more Iridium Next satellites into orbit.
A Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, carrying 10 more Iridium Next satellites into orbit.

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 more Iridium Next satellites provided a loud wakeup call early Monday morning as it departed Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County just before dawn.

The Space Exploration Technologies rocket, standing taller than a 20-story building, blasted off at 5:37 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base.

The launch is part of an effort to build a second-generation constellation for a global communications system. An hour after liftoff, each Iridium Next satellite was deposited in space every 100 seconds, with full deployment taking about 15 minutes.

Monday’s mission boosts the number of Iridium Next craft in space to 30.

Vandenberg Air Force Base launched the Formosat-5 satellite on a SpaceX 9 rocket on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017. The satellite was launched into orbit for the Taiwanese National Space Organization.

In all, SpaceX has been hired to conduct eight missions to deliver 75 Iridium Next satellites, with the launches planned every two months.

A total of 81 satellites are scheduled to roll off the Arizona assembly line, with 66 serving as the operational satellites to replace the existing Iridium network, officials said. The remainder will serve as spares, some positioned in space and others waiting on the ground to be called into service.

After going through an initial checkout period, each new satellite will be moved into service to replace an aging original spacecraft. Iridium officials have likened the “slot swap” to trying to change a tire on a car moving at 17,000 mph.

The majority of the first-generation Iridium satellites also launched from Vandenberg.

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

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