A first-of-its-kind launch is set to take place this month from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a set of Iridium NEXT satellites, is slated to blast off from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-4 at 1:25 p.m. June 25. The launch will be the first under Col. Michael Hough, the new commander of VAFB’s 30th Space Wing, and it will also be the first from the West Coast utilizing an Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS), which is expected to decrease launch costs and offer improved safety.
“I’m excited my first launch opportunity is in partnership with SpaceX,” said Hough, who took over command of the 30th Space Wing on June 9. “And being a part of putting Iridium NEXT in orbit to meet the growing demand for global mobile communication is icing on the cake.”
The AFSS was first successfully used on a Falcon 9 launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 17. The new system is expected to have a major impact on the future of the rocket industry.
The safety system, which relies on GPS navigation data, replaces radar and other aging tracking equipment that required human operators. With the new AFSS, an on-board computer system is able to blow up, or otherwise destroy, any errant rocket before it threatens people or property.
Along with that assumed increased safety, the AFSS is also able to support multiple crafts in simultaneous flight, which is anticipated to be significant as companies build rockets with the intention of landing multiple boosters. The system also significantly cuts infrastructure costs and creates faster launch turnarounds by requiring fewer instruments.
The June 25 launch will be the second of eight planned Iridium NEXT launches. Each launch will contribute to replacing the world’s largest commercial satellite network and the only network that covers 100 percent of Earth.
Iridium NEXT is expected to enable new capabilities like real-time, global aircraft surveillance and tracking services, and Iridium Certus, the company's next-generation communications platform that will bring broadband speeds to some of the world’s most remote locations.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the first Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit from VAFB on Jan. 14. That launch was also historic in that it was the first from the West Coast to successfully land its boosters.