SpaceX launches, releases NASA's GRACE-FO, Iridium Next satellites

SpaceX launches, releases NASA's GRACE-FO, Iridium Next satellites

SpaceX launches, releases NASA's GRACE-FO, Iridium Next satellites

The planned GPS III launch "has slipped due to ongoing SpaceX qualification testing and final engineering reviews by both SpaceX and the Air Force of Falcon 9 design changes", the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center said in a statement to Bloomberg News.

Today's launch will be the 56th for the Falcon 9 family, and the 10th launch of a Falcon 9 this year, if you include the debut of the Falcon Heavy.

After the SpaceX rocket sent off its first payload, GRACE-FO, its second stage continued its climb in order to deploy a series of commercial communications satellites for the Virginia-based company, Iridium.

The NASA satellites are part of a mission called Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO). SpaceX's launch narrator said a recovery vessel named Mr. Steven "came very close" to catching them using a giant upward facing net. Iridium shares rose more than 8 percent earlier Tuesday for the biggest intraday gain in nearly seven months.

"The twin GRACE-Follow On satellites have deployed from their dispenser the Falcon 9's second stage", SpaceFlightNow reported.

SpaceX did not attempt to recover the Falcon 9's first stage.

Iridium CEO Matt Desch told investors last month that the majority of his network's traffic is now running on the 50 new satellites SpaceX has launched since January 2017. That mission was lost, but SpaceX was not to blame for the mishap. He billed it as one of the "largest tech upgrades in history", telling investors he expects the rest of the satellites to go up this year, "completing our Iridium NEXT constellation and starting on a well deserved [capital expenditures] holiday".

The company's Falcon 9 rocket launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base at 12:47 p.m. The two satellites, about the size of a sports auto, will fly in tandem 137 miles apart in a 305-mile orbit around Earth's poles. "That is about one-tenth of a human hair over the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego", Frank Flechtner, GRACE-FO's project manager at GFZ in Potsdam, Germany, said at the news conference. Rather, "the instrument is really the two satellites together as a system" to detect changes in Earth's gravity, he said. So, to obtain information about the distribution of mass below, the GRACE-FO satellites need not look down; instead, they'll only "look" at each other and measure their separation by constantly sending microwave signals back and forth. GRACE-FO, a collaborative mission of NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), continues the work of the original GRACE mission in observing the movement of water and other mass around our planet by tracking the changing pull of gravity very precisely.

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