SpaceX Makes Spectacular Return to Flight, Launching 10 Satellites Into Orbit

As reported by The Associated Press, the SpaceX designed and manufactured Falcon 9 rocket left the Air Force launch facility in Vandenberg, California flawlessly and on schedule.

The launch window for the Iridium-1 Mission opens on January 14 at 9:54 a.m. PST or 5:54 p.m. UTC.

Packed into the Falcon 9's nosecone are 10 small communications satellites, the first batch in a planned constellation of 66 operated by telecom giant Iridium.

The company had successfully launched a Falcon 9 in August, sending a Japanese communications satellite into orbit and then landing the rocket on a floating drone ship.

As of Friday afternoon the percentage of a Saturday morning launch based on the weather was 60 percent.

"There are so many variables that need to be considered when finalizing launch preparations, and a slight deviation or unexpected behavior by any of them can jeopardize the launch integrity", noted Iridium COO Scott Smith.

Iridium's launch campaign, according to the company, will consist of seven SpaceX Falcon 9 launches, deploying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites at a time.

First stage of a Falcon 9 coming in for a landing
First stage of a Falcon 9 coming in for a landing

"Investigators scoured more than 3,000 channels of video and telemetry data covering a very brief timeline of events - there were just 93 milliseconds from the first sign of anomalous data to the loss of the second stage, followed by loss of the vehicle", said SpaceX.

"SpaceX still has plenty of launches on its manifest - enough to keep it busy for a few years", Nick Stockton writes for Wired. Aside from Falcon 9 launches, SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches will be scheduled at least six times a year.

The autonomous spaceport drone ship, christened "Just Read the Instructions" in homage to science-fiction author Iain M. Banks, was pre-positioned in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles offshore. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said at the time that the blast came while workers were still loading propellant into the rocket, though no one was physically harmed in the accident.

SpaceX is suffering the consequences of rocket malfunctions and explosions.

SpaceX's effort to recover Falcon first stages is meant to reduce costs by recycling a major piece of the launch system. The company hopes to fly one of these returned or "flight-proven" rockets in 2017.

SpaceX has been awarded NASA contracts valued at $4.2 billion to resupply the International Space Station via its unmanned Dragon spacecraft and to ultimately ferry astronauts to the station from the U.S.

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  • Desiree Holland