SpaceX on Friday said a partially-reused rocket successfully launched and deployed the latest group of satellites to upgrade communication networks for Virginia-based company Iridium.
“We have successful liftoff of the Falcon 9,” a SpaceX commentator said after the rocket roared off with a tail of fiery exhaust from Vandenberg US Air Force base in California.
Falcon 9 rockets as part of the company’s reusable-rocket program aimed at lowering the cost of spaceflight. However, SpaceX did not attempt to land the Iridium-5 booster on its offshore drone ship Just Read the Instructions. Instead, the booster was expected to fly a landing approach over the open sea in the Pacific Ocean, and then splashdown.
Hammersley said SpaceX did send out its recovery boat Mr. Steven, which is equipped with a giant net held up by huge steel arms, to try to catch half of the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing, the protective nose cone that covers satellite payloads during launch. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has called the boat a “catcher’s mitt” in boat form.
California-based SpaceX has regularly launched, landed and re-flown Falcon 9 rockets as part of the company’s reusable-rocket program aimed at lowering the cost of spaceflight.
It was the fifth set of 10 satellites that SpaceX has launched for Iridium, whose $3 billion project is expected to include a total of 81 satellites — with 75 launched by SpaceX.
The first stage of the rocket sent aloft on Friday had been used in October for a previous launch as part of the project, known as Iridium NEXT.
SpaceX did not attempt to make another recovery of the rocket’s first stage after Friday’s launch. However, it did try to land the fairing — the rocket’s nose cone — on a SpaceX-owned boat named “Mr Steven,” which is equipped with a huge net.
CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter the fairing “impacted water at high speed,” without confirming explicitly if the landing was successful or not.
Musk aims to make rockets as reusable as commercial airplanes, bringing down the cost of spaceflight and boosting efficiency.
In February the company’s Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, blasted off on its maiden test flight carrying Musk’s cherry red Tesla roadster car.
The Iridium project, though less flamboyant, will replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network of low-Earth orbit satellites in one of the largest “tech upgrades” in history, improving mobile, voice and data networks, Iridium has said.
Musk reported that the payload fairing capture attempt was unsuccessful. The fairing’s GPS-guided parafoil twisted during descent, causing the fairing to hit the ocean at high speed.