This time it’s the good one: SpaceX is back. Four months after an accident at Cape Canaveral, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launcher has successfully taken off with the putting into orbit of ten satellites of the Iridium constellation.
SpaceX has successfully completed its long-awaited return to flight four months after the Cape Canaveral incident in Florida (a launcher exploded on the ground while filling the upper stage). After weeks of investigation and several postponements announced in recent weeks, the Falcon 9 launcher finally took off this Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Two hours after takeoff, SpaceX announced that Falcon 9 had placed the ten satellites planned in low orbit for the company Iridium Communications.
A successful flight, but not only. SpaceX engineers took the opportunity to land the first stage of its reusable launcher on a barge floating on the Pacific Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth off the coast of California 07:49 after liftoff after separating from the upper stage within 02:27 of liftoff. As for the Iridium Next satellites, they have been positioned in a temporary parking orbit of 625 km where they will be tested and piloted by Iridium over the next few weeks before migrating to their operational orbit at an altitude of 780 km. As Iridium points out in its press release, this “ launch marks the beginning of one of the greatest technological revivals in history by completely replacing the only constellation of satellites providing 100% global communications coverage « .
For Iridium Communications, this flight is indeed the first of a series of seven Falcon 9 launches scheduled over the next 18 months to place 70 satellites of the Iridium NEXT constellation into orbit, i.e. a total contract worth 468 $.1 million for SpaceX ($66.87 million per launch). The second launch of the constellation will be planned at the end of the tests, in April in order to respect an incompressible delay of 94 days between two launches due to operations and tests in orbit. All of Iridium NEXT is expected to be in orbit by mid-2018.