A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base shortly after sunrise Friday morning, marking the base’s first launch of the year.
The rocket pierced through a mostly clear portion of the sky over the Lompoc Valley — avoiding the clouds likely associated with the storm expected later Friday — after taking off as scheduled at 7:31 a.m. from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-4E. The mission, dubbed Iridium-8, delivered the final 10 satellites in Iridium Communications’ NEXT constellation.
"Incredible! We are beyond proud to share that the eighth and final #IridiumNEXT launch is a success! #Iridium8 #GrandFinale," read a message posted after the launch from the official Iridium Twitter feed.
After deployment of the satellites, SpaceX landed the rocket’s booster on its “Just Read the Instructions” droneship in the Pacific Ocean. The return to the droneship occurred almost exactly two years after SpaceX performed its first-ever successful boostback landing on a droneship off the West Coast, which followed the launch of the Iridium-1 mission on Jan. 14, 2017.
Like they did after the first landing two years ago, the mission control room erupted in cheers and applause after Friday's landing, which hit the bulls-eye target on the droneship and was confirmed.
For Iridium, which bills itself as the only mobile voice and data satellite communications network that spans the entire globe, Friday's launch marked the finale of its NEXT series. The deployment of the final 10 satellites brought the new constellation total to 75.
In total, 81 NEXT satellites were built, according to SpaceX, with 66 in the operational constellation, nine serving as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares.
The new constellation will enable "innovative new products and services, including Iridium Certus, the company’s next-generation L-band broadband solution for specialized applications, like safety services, remote monitoring ... and more. It also hosts the Aireon system, which will for the first time bring real-time, truly global aircraft surveillance and tracking to fruition," according to a payload description from SpaceX.