SpaceX launches 10 more Iridium satellites

Author: CBS News
Published: Updated:

Just three days after launching a heavyweight communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, SpaceX fired off another Falcon 9 rocket from the fog-shrouded coast of California early Wednesday carrying 10 more Iridium NEXT satellites, the latest additions to a growing $3 billion constellation of advanced telephone relay stations.

The rocket’s first stage, meanwhile, the 3rd enhanced “block 5” version of the booster, was expected to fly itself to a landing on a SpaceX droneship stationed several hundred miles south of the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch site, although officials said high seas and winds would make a successful touchdown problematic.

Likewise, an attempt to recover the rocket’s protective payload fairing also was uncertain given the stormy conditions.

But recovery operations were a secondary objective. The primary goal of the mission was to launch the 10 NEXT-generation satellites, the seventh batch of relay stations carried aloft by Falcon 9 rockets.

Sixty-six of the 1,896-pound satellites operating in six orbital planes will provide global coverage, allowing customers to make calls from anywhere in the world. Another 15 satellites will be stored in orbit as spares with six more initially held in reserve on the ground.

The new satellites are replacing older, less-capable spacecraft that are being driven into the atmosphere to ensure they do not pose a threat to other satellites in low-Earth orbit.

While the new constellation is not yet complete, “our customers will be serviced by our NEXT satellites, on average, well over 80 percent of the time since we are biasing our NEXT satellite beams to carry more of the traffic, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere,” Iridium CEO Matt Desch said before the sixth launch in May.

“The NEXT satellites are faster, voice calls sound better, and we want our customers to get service through them as soon as possible,” Desch said.

The Falcon 9 blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base northwest of Los Angeles at 4:39 a.m. PDT. The 10 Iridium NEXT satellites were expected to be released to fly on their own about an hour after liftoff.

You can re-watch the launch below:

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