Spaceflight Insider

Iridium-4 mission slips to December, taps ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 for launch

File photo of a Falcon 9 with the Iridium-3 mission awaiting launch at Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Iridium-4 mission is now scheduled for December 2017. Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

File photo of a Falcon 9 with the Iridium-3 mission awaiting launch at Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

Though Iridium Communications is now targeting a launch date near the end of the year for the Iridium-4 mission, the company demonstrated its faith in the quality of SpaceX’s hardware and refurbishing regime by opting to fly on a “flight-proven” Falcon 9 first stage.

The Iridium-4 mission is now scheduled for liftoff at 5:26 p.m. PST Dec. 22, (01:26 GMT Dec. 23), 2017, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Additionally, the 10-satellite payload will mark Iridium Communications’ first use of a previously-flown first stage.

“I believe that reusability is the future for satellite launches, and I think SpaceX has intelligently built their Falcon 9 program around this strategy,” said Iridium Communications CEO Matt Desch.

Insurance underwriters see no increased risk


While customers have indicated their trust in SpaceX’s recovered boosters by using them for three missions (and counting) in 2017, it had been unclear if the insurance market would continue placing a higher premium on what it may consider a riskier undertaking. Luckily, that does not seem to be the case.

In a release announcing the new launch date and selection of a re-flown booster, Iridium laid those concerns to rest: “Iridium confirmed with its insurers that there is no increase in premium for the launch program as a result of the use of flight-proven Falcon 9 rockets, further supporting Iridium’s conclusion that the risk profile is unchanged.”

Although the company’s accounting staff may be celebrating the savings a re-flown booster provides, those hoping to see Vandenberg’s first “return to launch site” (RTLS) landing will have to wait a little longer for their party.

Initially, the Iridium-4 mission was set to launch on a new Block 4 Falcon 9, which could have allowed the booster to return to the West Coast launch site for the first-ever landing at the California-based facility. However, according to NASASpaceflight, the switch to a Block 3 booster removes that option. Nevertheless, the stage will still attempt a landing on SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship Just Read The Instructions downrange in the Pacific Ocean.

An artist's rendering of an Iridium Next satellite in orbit. Image Credit: Iridium Communications

An artist’s rendering of an Iridium Next satellite in orbit. Image Credit: Iridium Communications

 

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Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

Reader Comments

Why is the Block 3 only suitable for a barge landing and not a RTLS?

Thanks in advance.

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