SpaceX launched its 14th Falcon 9 rocket of 2017 today, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket carried 10 satellites for Iridium Communications.
This was California rocket builder’s 14th launch so far this year, and its third mission for Iridium, more planned to complete the communications provider’s Iridium NEXT satellite network.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 launch executed an automated return to the Earth. SpaceX recovered the first stage booster it used for this mission, returning the used rocket to its ‘Just Read The Instructions’ floating drone ship in the Pacific Ocean.
The primary goal of the mission was to launch the third set of 10 Iridium NEXT spacecraft under contracts with the satellite telephone provider to deploy 75 of the 81 relay stations being built to replace the company's current fleet of aging first-generation spacecraft.
Iridium’s customers depend on the 66 satellites already operational in six orbital planes to make and receive calls anywhere in the world.
SpaceX launched the first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg on Jan. 14. A second batch of 10 satellites was launched June 25. SpaceX plans to launch the fourth set in late November.