SpaceX puts 10 next generation satellites into orbit in bid to cover entire Earth's surface

Updated 2017-10-10 09:02:53 Xinhua

The U.S. private spaceflight company SpaceX successfully delivered 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit on Monday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and landed its Falcon 9 on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:37 a.m. PDT (1237 GMT), carrying 10 satellites for Iridium Communications, as part of the company's Iridium Next constellation.

About seven and a half minutes later, the California-based company successfully landed the rocket's first stage on "Just Read the Instructions" droneship that was stationed in the Pacific Ocean.

Cheers and applause broke out in the SpaceX control room as the launch was streamed live online.

The mission also marked SpaceX's 14th launch this year and the 17th successful landing of a Falcon 9 first stage. SpaceX has been reusing Falcon 9 first stages and is pursuing fully reusable rockets in an effort to lower the cost of spaceflight.

The Iridium Next satellites were deployed about 57 minutes after liftoff, with the entire process taking about 15 minutes.

"We're 10 for 10!" John Insprucker, Falcon 9's principal integration engineer, said in a webcast. "A clean sweep of Iridium Next satellite deployment in the desired final orbit."

"Iridium has acquired healthy signals from all 10 satellites," SpaceX then tweeted.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, then posted a photo on Instagram, showing a satellite was deploying. "The last of ten Iridium global communication satellites delivered to orbit several hundred miles above Earth, traveling at over 17,000 mph. They will circle the planet every 90 minutes," he said.

This is the third of eight scheduled SpaceX launches for Iridium's next generation global satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT, which brings the total number of satellites now in orbit up to 30. The first launch occurred in January, followed by the second on June 25.

The company announced early this month that it has begun live testing of the Iridium Certus service on operational Iridium NEXT satellites.

Beginning on Sept. 25, the testing and validation process has involved uploading and activating software to the Iridium NEXT satellites already in orbit to enable Iridium Certus. As of Oct. 4, several Iridium NEXT satellites in operation were already undergoing live on-orbit Iridium Certus testing.

Iridium is the only mobile voice and data satellite communications network that spans the entire globe. According to the company, it is on track to fully replace the world's largest commercial satellite network of low-earth orbit satellites in what will be one of the largest "tech upgrades" in history.

The satellite communications company has partnered with Thales Alenia Space for the manufacturing, assembly and testing of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites, 75 of which will be launched by SpaceX.

These 75 Iridium NEXT satellites are scheduled to be deployed by mid-2018. The process of replacing the satellites one-by-one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before.

The next generation global satellite constellation will deploy a cross-linked Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) architecture, providing coverage over 100 percent of the earth's surface, including across oceans, airways and polar regions.

"It has been a great morning," said Insprucker.

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