Rumbling was both heard and felt throughout the Lompoc Valley on Saturday morning as SpaceX returned to launching rockets — and made history with a successful landing — from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The launch, which had been twice delayed earlier in the week, went off as planned at 9:54 a.m. It left a visible trail through a mostly clear, sunny sky that helped make up ideal weather conditions. It was the first rocket launch this year from VAFB and the first for SpaceX since a failed test launch Sept. 1 in Florida.
In addition to successfully boosting its 10-satellite payload into orbit for Iridium Communications, the rocket made history by sticking its landing on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first ever successful boostback landing on the West Coast. It was the fourth such attempt.
Cheers and applause took over the SpaceX control room, which was streamed live online, as the rocket succeeded in its secondary mission by hitting its landing target, aboard the "Just Read the Instructions" barge, less than nine minutes after initial lift-off.
"Congratulations @SpaceX on successful first stage landing," the official Iridium Twitter account tweeted just moments after the landing.
For its primary mission, the rocket carried with it the first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites. 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 81 Iridium NEXT satellites, at least 70 of which are slated to be launched by SpaceX.
Iridium's launch campaign, according to the company, will consist of seven SpaceX Falcon 9 launches, deploying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites at a time. These 70 satellites are scheduled to be deployed by early 2018.
Col. J. Christopher Moss, the commander of the 30th Space Wing at VAFB, was Saturday's launch decision authority.
"Team Vandenberg takes pride in supporting the launch of Iridium NEXT and SpaceX's return to flight," Moss said afterward, according to a statement released by VAFB public affairs. "Today's launch is a testament to the professionalism and commitment to mission assurance, public safety, and mission success on the Western Range."
The next launch from VAFB is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 26 or 27, according to SpaceFlightNow. For that one, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket will attempt to carry a classified spacecraft payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.