SpaceX launched 10 Iridium satellites today (July 25) in the seventh and penultimate launch required to complete the communications company’s new constellation.
The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellites took off from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:39 a.m. EDT (11:39 UTC, 4:39 a.m. local time). The launch had a one-second window because of the precision needed for the satellite insertion, according to company spokesperson John Insprucker said during the broadcast. The launch went smoothly, despite the fact that fog obscured the view of the rocket until after lift-off.
SpaceX hoped to complete two separate marine tasks in addition to the launch itself: landing the first stage of the rocket on the droneship "Just Read the Instructions" and catching the rocket's fairing with a second boat, which to date, no launch launch has accomplished. The company knew both boat maneuvers would be tricky today. "The weather in the Pacific is bad," Insprucker said. "We have choppy seas."
"[The conditions are] the worst that we've ever had for trying to get a first stage on the droneship," he continued later in the broadcast. Nevertheless, the company soon confirmed in a tweet that the rocket successfully landed on the droneship — despite some initial confusion due to a lack of lighting on the landing platform.
Falcon 9 and Iridium-7 went vertical earlier today on the SpaceX launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Weather is 90% favorable for tomorrow’s launch at 4:39 a.m. PDT, 11:39 UTC. https://t.co/gtC39uBC7z pic.twitter.com/zGw49C1UTP
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 24, 2018
Spectators had hoped the company would attempt to catch the rocket's fairing with "Mr Steven," its boat equipped with a giant net. Earlier in July, the company tweeted photos of the boat with an upgraded net four times larger than the previous version and stated that it was targeting another recovery attempt for later in the month, and today's launch was the company's last of the month.
Mr. Steven—now with more net. SpaceX’s fairing recovery vessel has been fitted with a 4x larger net ahead of its next recovery attempt targeted for later this month. https://t.co/cjXvzg1H70 pic.twitter.com/AdAwPP30OU
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 13, 2018
SpaceX was not able to specify at launch when it would know whether Mr. Steven was successful, but a later update confirmed the weather was too harsh for the maneuver. "They did see the payload fairing coming down, but they were not able to catch it in the net," Insprucker announced shortly after 8:30 a.m. EDT.
The Iridium satellites were scheduled to deploy about an hour after launch and were on target for a smooth deployment after the cruise phase of the launch. They will bring the constellation up to 75 satellites, which with ten additional units meant to launch later this year will run tracking procedures on devices connected to the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).
Today's launch followed a launch from the opposite coast on Sunday and will be followed by a third launch currently scheduled for Aug. 2.
Editor's note: The story was updated to include further details about the fairing catch attempt and satellite deployment provided about 50 minutes after launch.