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A Falcon 9 rocket soared through a mostly clear sky over the Lompoc Valley early Sunday afternoon following a launch that marked a pair of firsts for Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The SpaceX-built rocket took off from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-4 at 1:25 p.m. The rocket’s primary payload was a set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites, which will be included among a commercial network that aims to cover 100 percent of Earth.

The launch set a pair of milestones for VAFB, as it was the first under new 30th Space Wing Commander Michael Hough and it was also the first from the base — and just the second ever — to use an Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS), which relies on computer systems rather than humans for rocket safety tracking.

Less than 10 minutes after the launch, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter that the rocket's first stage had successfully landed on the company's "Just Read the Instructions" drone ship in the Pacific Ocean. The boost-back landing was just the second ever to succeed on the West Coast.

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The AFSS, which was in part developed at VAFB, is expected to cut down on launch costs and offer improved safety. The system was first successfully used on a Falcon 9 launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 17.

Sunday’s send-off was the second of eight planned Iridium NEXT launches. Iridium NEXT is expected to enable new capabilities like global aircraft surveillance and tracking services, as well as a communications platform that the company anticipates will bring broadband speeds to remote locations of the globe.

"We are once again proud to support another successful launch of Iridium NEXT," Hough said after Sunday's launch. "This launch is a perfect demonstration of the high level of teamwork and precision that exists between Team Vandenberg and SpaceX."

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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