Southern California

SpaceX's Latest Generation Rocket Boosters Make West Coast Debut in Early Morning Launch

The launch Wednesday morning was well before sunrise at Vandenberg AFB, offering a view of the rocket from around Southern California

What to Know

  • The Falcon 9 rocket is carrying a payload of 10 satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base
  • The launch was Wednesday at 4:39 a.m., well before sunrise at Vandenberg AFB on the Santa Barbara County coast
  • This launch is the West Coast debut of the newest generation of Falcon 9 boosters, known as the "Block 5" series

Southern California-based SpaceX launched a rocket into the early morning sky in a mission to carry 10 communications satellites into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base. 

The satellites launched aboard the Falcon 9 rocket, which could be seen glowing in the sky over a widespread part of Southern California, are part of Iridium's in-development $3 billion array that will eventually include 75 satellites supporting a worldwide voice and data communications network. It was the seventh launch SpaceX has made in support of the Iridium project.

At least one more launch is planned to complete the Iridium array. Of the 75 satellites being launched into orbit, 66 will be in operation and nine will be orbiting backups, according to Hawthorne-based SpaceX.

Following the launch, SpaceX recovered the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket by landing it on a barge -- named "Just Read the Instructions" -- floating in the Pacific Ocean, as the company continues its process of reusing rockets to save money on future missions. The latest version of the Falcon 9 rocket, known as the Block 5, are designed to be reused as many as 10 times.

The launch is the second this week for SpaceX, which launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida early Sunday morning, carrying a Canadian communications satellite into orbit.

This launch also was the West Coast debut of the newest generation of Falcon 9 Block 5 boosters. The Block 5 produces more thrust, and has upgraded landing legs. Additional improvements have been made in order to speed up the turnaround time for reusing the booster.  

The schedule for Vandenberg AFB after Wednesday has another six launches by the end of the year, including four Falcon 9 launches and an Aug. 2 launch. The other launches are on the Delta rocket family, with one on a Delta II -- the final Delta II launch, one of the brightest rockets launched from Vandenberg -- and a Delta IV Heavy.

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