SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 rocket for the first time since a fireball engulfed a similar rocket on a Florida launch pad more than four months ago.
The two-stage rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on Saturday morning to place 10 satellites into orbit for Iridium Communications Inc.
About eight minutes later, the rocket’s first-stage booster flew down from the edge of space to a modified barge in the Pacific Ocean, touching down softly on four landing legs on an “X” painted on the center of the deck.
The booster is the seventh that SpaceX has recovered since late 2015, and the company says it hopes to launch a mission on a used stage soon.
Meanwhile, the rocket’s upper-stage continued on with 10 Iridium Communications satellites, the first of 70 SpaceX is contracted to launch by early next year.
The 10 Iridium NEXT spacecraft will begin replacing the company’s aging constellation, whose first satellites were launched nearly two decades ago and have far outlived their expected lives.
The upgraded network will offer improved broadband data services around the globe, and new services including real-time tracking of aircraft and ships from space.
Deployment of the satellites, each weighing a ton and the size of a Mini Cooper car, was expected to begin about an hour after launch.
If the mission is completed successfully, SpaceX hopes to return to Florida for another commercial satellite launch as soon as Jan. 26. The launch would be SpaceX’s first from historic pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, the launching point for Apollo moon shots and dozens of space shuttle missions.
SOURCE: James Dean