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A used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lofted 10 final Iridium Next satellites into orbit today (Jan. 11), completing a two-year, eight-launch contract between the two companies.
The rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 7:31 a.m. local time (10:31 a.m. EST, 1531 GMT) during an instantaneous launch window. If all goes well, satellite deployment will begin about an hour after launch. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on the droneship "Just Read the Instructions" about seven minutes after liftoff. That stage had previously flown on the Telstar 18 launch in September 2018. SpaceX did not attempt to recover the fairing, which it has yet to do successfully.
Today - Launch - Iridium - Next - Constellation
Today's launch will complete the Iridium Next constellation of communications satellites, replacing the company's previous generation of satellites. The Iridium Next network will support the company's new broadband service and devices connected to the so-called Internet of Things, among other communications services.
"Our final launch … is by far the most important milestone of all," Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium, said during a news conference last week. "It means finally realizing the dream that the founders of this system had 30 years ago."
Satellites - Iridium - Weeks - Everything - Tests
Once the new satellites are orbiting successfully, Iridium will spend about three weeks testing them to make sure everything is working properly. When the tests are complete, the upgraded constellation will be fully operational, with 66 active satellites and nine orbiting spares. The entire overhaul cost $3 billion, and each Next satellite is about the size and weight of a Mini Cooper, according to Desch.
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