A SpaceX rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base Tuesday carrying communications satellites and a pair of science-research orbiters.
The Hawthorne-based company's Falcon 9 rocket is carrying five more satellites that are part of Iridium's in-development $3 billion system that will ultimately include 75 satellites bolstering a worldwide voice and data communication network. The launch will be the sixth by SpaceX carrying Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit.
SpaceX is planning at least two more launches to complete the Iridium array.
The rocket will also be carrying a pair of research satellites as part of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, or GRACE-FO, mission. The project, a joint effort of NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences, is an effort to observe the movement of water and other mass around the planet by precisely tracking the changing pull of gravity.
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Following the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, the GRACE-FO satellites will be deployed first, followed by the Iridium satellites, which are being placed in a higher orbit.