The final day of the workweek got off to a thunderous start on the Central Coast, thanks to the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The liftoff of the SpaceX rocket went off as planned at 7:13 a.m., about 20 minutes after sunrise. The rocket, which shot off from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-4E, roared over the coast as it delivered another set of 10 satellites into orbit for Iridium Communications’ NEXT constellation.
The launch was the fifth in the Iridium NEXT series from VAFB, but the first of 2018. The previous four Iridium NEXT launches all occurred in 2017.
As was the case for the Dec. 22 launch that sent up the fourth set of NEXT satellites, Friday’s Falcon 9 launch also utilized a previously-flown first stage. The recycled booster used Friday had previously flown in the Oct. 9 launch that sent up the third set of NEXT satellites.
Friday’s launch had initially been scheduled for Thursday, but was pushed back a day due to a payload issue with a ground harness test cable. That issue, which was first revealed Tuesday in a tweet from Iridium Communications CEO Matt Desch, was apparently ironed out quickly.
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Iridium, which bills itself as the only mobile voice and data satellite communications network that spans the entire globe, plans to send a total of 75 NEXT satellites into orbit as part of the current series of Falcon 9 launches from VAFB. There are plans for three more launches in the series, according to the company, with the next likely to occur sometime in May.
It is expected that the constellation will be completed this year.
The next launch that is currently scheduled to occur at VAFB is the historic May 5 InSight Mission to Mars. That morning, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is set to kick off a trip to the Red Planet for NASA's InSight vehicle.
The launch will mark the first Mars mission to originate on the West Coast. A public watch party has already been planned to take place at the Lompoc Airport.