A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Saturday and placed a constellation of satellites in orbit, marking the company’s first launch since a fireball engulfed a similar rocket on a Florida launch pad more than four months ago.
Successful deployment of 10 @IridiumComm NEXT satellites has been confirmed.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 14, 2017
The two-stage rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:54 a.m. ET carrying a payload for Iridium Communications Inc., which is replacing its entire global network with 70 next-generation satellites.
The satellites were deployed about an hour after launch.
About nine minutes after the rocket blasted off, to cheers from the control room, its jettisoned first stage landed upright on a so-called droneship in the Pacific Ocean south of Vandenberg — part of Spacex’s effort to make boosters reusable.
The company has succeeded six times previously with landings on a barge or ashore.
The 10 satellites launched Saturday are part of McLean, Virginia-based Iridium’s project to replace its existing network of satellites that provide global voice and data communications.
The program, called Iridium NEXT, was not only delayed by the SpaceX accident but again most recently as a powerful storm headed into California last weekend.
Iridium plans six more Falcon 9 launches, each carrying 10 satellites, as part of a technology upgrade expected to be completed in 2018.
SpaceX’s effort to recover Falcon first stages is intended to reduce costs by recycling a major piece of the launch system.
The first stage contains tanks for liquid oxygen and kerosene as well as nine engines that power the rocket and payload into space, then separates 2 1/2 minutes into flight as the single-engine second stage ignites and continues on to place payloads in the proper orbit.
The first Falcon booster to safely land back on Earth now stands outside the company’s headquarters.