SpaceX Launches 10 Iridium Next Satellites Despite Harsh Weather
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched 10 Iridium Next satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), even under harsh weather conditions. The launch happened today at 4:39 a.m. PDT at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This was the seventh of eight launches planned for the Iridium Next constellation, replacing the company’s existing 66 satellite network. An additional launch of 10 satellites remains until the Iridium Next network is completed, ushering in a new era of capabilities for the company, like the Iridium Certus broadband service and Aireon real-time aircraft surveillance system.
The 10 Iridium Next satellites launched as part of the seventh mission were delivered to orbital plane number five, where they will go in to operation immediately following testing and validation. The Iridium network is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 cross-linked satellites for a total of 66 in the operational constellation. Upon activation of all 10 new satellites, orbital plane five will become the fourth Iridium orbital plane to be comprised exclusively of Iridium Next satellites. In total, 81 satellites are being built with 75 planned for launch. Nine of the satellites launched will serve as in-orbit spares, and the remaining six will be ground spares.
The Iridium satellites were deployed approximately an hour after launch. Even with challenging weather conditions, the rocket’s first stage booster landed on the drone ship with success, according to SpaceX’s Twitter.