SpaceX Launches 10 Iridium Next Satellites

Falcon 9 lifts off with Iridium Next 41-50 satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX successfully launched 10 Iridium Next satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Friday morning.

Iridium-NEXT satellites 41-50 were successfully deployed from the booster’s second stage about an hour after the launch at 7:13 a.m. PDT. It was the fifth batch of 10 Iridium-NEXT satellites that SpaceX has orbited using three different first stage boosters.

An effort to recover half of the payload fairing by catching it with a small ship named Mr Steven failed.

“GPS guided parafoil twisted, so fairing impacted water at high speed,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted. “Air wake from fairing messing w parafoil steering. Doing helo [helicopter] drop tests in next few weeks to solve.”

The company was forced to cut off its webcast early due to a licensing issue with NOAA. The weather agency said the cameras used constituted a remote sensing space system, requiring a license from the government, SpaceX said.

The provisional license did not allow images to be shown from the second stage once it was on orbit, the company said. This restriction should not be in place once a full license is obtained.

SpaceX’s next launch will be a Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA on Monday, April 2. The CRS-14 mission is set to lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:30 p.m. EDT (2030 GMT). The launch will be webcast at www.spacex.com and www.nasa.gov.

The Iridium-NEXT launch was SpaceX’s sixth flight of the year. It was also the fourth launch of a five planned worldwide over a three-day period. The following launches were conducted on Thursday:

  • an Indian GSLV Mk. II booster orbited the GSAT 6 communications satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Center;
  • a Russian Soyuz-2-1v rocket launched the classified EMKA military payload from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome; and,
  • a Chinese Long March 3B booster orbited a pair of Beidou navigation satellites from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

On Saturday, China is scheduled to launch three remote sensing satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long March 4C booster. It will China’s 10th launch of the year and the 31st flight of 2018 worldwide.