In the second launch in two days SpaceX successfully deployed ten more Iridium® NEXT satellites. The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Vandenberg, CA carrying the ten satellites at 4:25 PM EDT and 57 minutes later started deploying the individual satellites.
The first stage landed back on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Just Read The Instructions”, which as Elon Musk tweeted earlier had to be repositioned.
This was the first Falcon 9 launch that used a newer design for the grid fins and according to another tweet from Elon performed better than expected.
This was the ninth launch this year and seventh landing, making this the most launches in a single year for SpaceX.
This afternoon SpaceX successfully returned to flight operations following the September 1st anomaly with the successful launch of ten Iridium Next satellites. The launch was delayed several times due to the investigation into the anomaly, as well as the unfavorable weather around Vandenburg this week.
As a result of the investigation into the anomaly, there were several changes to the countdown process for this launch, the first and most obvious was the lack of payload during the static fire test. Less obvious was the change to the fueling process in previous launches the RP-1 and LOX were loaded at the same time in the last 35 minutes of the countdown. However for this launch the RP-1 loading started 70 minutes before launch with the LOX being loaded as before with 35 minutes left.
Following a smooth countdown the rocket lifted off on time and successfully deployed the ten satellites, however due to a ground station issue confirmation of the successful deployments took longer then expected. The first stage also successfully landed on the ASDS in the pacific ocean.
Following a four month investigation into the September 1st anomaly that resulted in the lose of a Falcon 9 rocket with it’s payload the Spacecom Amos 6 satellite and significant damage to Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX announced this week that they have completed the investigate (see report here) and are ready to return to flight operations started on Sunday 8th January with the first of seven launches for Iridium.
SpaceX are able to resume flight operations without having to make design changes to the rocket by changing their propellant loading operation to avoid the scenario that most likely caused the anomaly. They have indicated that longer term they will make design changes to the COPV tanks to resolve the issue which will allow them to resume faster loading operations.
The flight of the Falcon 9 with ten Iridium Next satellites is currently scheduled for 10:28:97 PST on Sunday 8th January from Space Launch Complex 4E in Vandenberg, CA. However this is still subject to the results of the Static Fire test scheduled for Tuesday 3rd and flight readiness review.