SpaceX rocket carrying communications satellites blasts off in California

Steve Phelps
March 31, 2018

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket lifted off at 7:13:51 a.m. PDT (10:13:51 a.m. EDT; 1413:51 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 4-East at Vandenberg. This signifies optimal timing for airlines to begin testing the capabilities of space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), which will help airlines meet the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations that require aircraft be equipped with an aircraft tracking system for those flights not tracked by air traffic control by the end of 2018. SpaceX didn't attempt to recover Falcon 9's first stage after Friday's launch. It was the latest in a series of satellite launches although this time, SpaceX was planning to attempt to retrieve part of the spacecraft's $6 million nose cone before it fell into the ocean. "It's a giant steel & webbing catcher's mitt superstructure on a high-speed ocean ship", Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, tweeted.

SpaceX owns a boat named Mr. Steven (really) that's equipped with a giant net to catch the fairing when it falls back to Earth.

SpaceX did not attempt its signature move on Friday by landing the first-stage rocket booster.

The total cost of one of its Falcon 9 launches is estimated to reach £44 million ($61m), while each of its larger Falcon Heavy flights costs £65 million ($90m).

SpaceX previously tried to catch the fairing back in February 2017.

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At least twice, SpaceX guided fairing halves to soft landings in the ocean.

Recovering and reusing a fairing has never been done by any company or government.

The $3 billion project is scheduled for completion by the middle of the year, with a total of 75 new satellites in orbit. Iridium, based in McLean, Virginia, provides mobile voice and data communications.

According to the company, it is on track to fully replace the world's largest commercial satellite network of low-Earth orbit satellites in what will be one of the largest "tech upgrades" in history. Each launch sent 10 satellites into orbit for Iridium. The company built 81 satellites with plans to keep nine in space as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares.

Today's planned launch is the first of two planned by SpaceX in the next four days.

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