A Falcon 9 rocket took its second flight over the Central Coast on Friday evening as SpaceX reached another milestone in its quest to reuse its rockets for multiple launches.
Friday’s blastoff took place at 5:27 p.m., about half an hour after sunset, from Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex-4. The rocket left a visible trail through a clear darkening sky and its rumbling aggressively shook cars and buildings throughout the Lompoc Valley. The rocket carried with it the fourth batch of 10 NEXT satellites for Iridium Communications.
The launch was the company’s first from VAFB with a first stage that was reused from a prior launch, a practice the company began employing on the East Coast this year.
The first-stage of the rocket used for Friday’s launch had previously flown from VAFB as part of the second Iridium mission. SpaceX did not attempt to recover the first stage again.
Col. Michael S. Hough, 30th Space Wing commander, was the space launch commander.
"What a way to end the year with the fifth Falcon 9 launch carrying the fourth set of Iridium satellites," he said. "This mission proves that Team V provides assured access to space and we do it safely and securely. It goes without saying that we can't accomplish this without great mission partners like SpaceX."
According to Iridium, the NEXT satellites will replace the world's largest commercial network of low-Earth orbit satellites in what will be one of the largest "tech upgrades" in history.
Iridium, which bills itself as the only mobile voice and data satellite communications network that spans the entire globe, partnered with Thales Alenia Space for the manufacturing, assembly and testing of the 81 Iridium NEXT satellites, at least 75 of which are slated to be carried into orbit by SpaceX over a span of eight total launches.
All the satellites are scheduled to be deployed by mid-2018, according to Iridium.
Friday's launch was the final this year planned from VAFB.