A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sent a bright orb of light streaking through the morning sky over the Central Coast prior to sunrise Monday as part of an ongoing mission the company describes as “one of the largest tech upgrades in history.”
The predawn launch, which rattled homes and set off car alarms throughout the Lompoc Valley, began at 5:37 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex-4. The rocket carried with it the third set of 10 satellites for Iridium, a company that specializes in mobile voice and data satellite communications.
About seven and a half minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage was successfully landed on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” droneship in the Pacific Ocean. With the landing, the company will be able to reuse the booster in a future launch.
The primary mission for the launch was the third stage in the replacement of the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation, which is described by Iridium and SpaceX as the world’s largest commercial network of low-Earth orbit satellites.
All 10 satellites were deployed from the rocket's second stage Monday about an hour and 12 minutes after the initial launch. SpaceX reported just after 7:50 a.m. that Iridium had acquired "healthy signals" from each of the satellites.
Col. Michael S. Hough, commander of the 30th Space Wing at VAFB, was the space launch commander for the mission.
"This is the fourth Falcon 9 and the third Iridium NEXT launch in 2017 from Vandenberg," Hough said. "This launch continues to highlight the extraordinary level of teamwork and precision that exists between Team Vandenberg and SpaceX."
SpaceX is set to carry 75 of the 81 Iridium satellites in the constellation over the course of eight Falcon 9 launches.
“The process of replacing the satellites one-by-one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before,” read a portion of a release from SpaceX ahead of Monday’s launch.
Among the services that will be enabled by the Iridium NEXT satellites will be Iridium Certus, the company’s next-generation communications platform. Iridium Certus, according to SpaceX, will deliver faster speeds for Iridium's vast network of partners that provide services for aviation, maritime, terrestrial and government organizations, and the Internet of Things, which are physical devices embedded with network connectivity.
“A service of this quality and value is unprecedented in the industry, and is poised to disrupt the current market status quo,” read the SpaceX release.
With three of the Iridium NEXT launches now completed, the next five are slated to take place by mid-2018, according to SpaceX.