SpaceX Falcon 9 launch date with Iridium NEXT announced
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — SpaceX and the 30th Space Wing are eyeing Dec. 16, 2016, as the launch date for a “Full Thrust” Falcon 9 with 10 NEXT satellites to be sent into orbit on behalf of Iridium. If it flies on this date, it will mark the first time one of the launch vehicles has been sent aloft since the Sept. 1, 2016, explosion of another F9.
Final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration still needs to be made, allowing SpaceX to conduct its second return-to-flight in less than a year (the first being the Dec. 22, 2015, launch of 11 Orbcomm OG-2 satellites).
For Iridium’s NEXT satellites, the delay was relatively minor, with approximately three months elapsing from the prior Sept. 19, 2016, launch date.
Iridium is currently planning on testing the second batch of NEXT satellites that are set to launch perhaps as early as March 2017.
When all is said and done, some seven launches are slated to be carried out. If on schedule, launches of this constellation could take place at the rate of about one every two months (seven launches in total). If everything goes as advertised, the constellation should be complete by early 2018.
According to Space.com, another SpaceX Falcon 9, one which had been tapped to launch the Israeli Amos-6 communications satellite, exploded as it sat on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 during the lead up to a static test fire of the rocket. As was noted on Israel Defense, the $195 million Amos-6 satellite was encapsulated within its payload fairing atop the rocket when the explosion occurred.
The launch site for this mission will be Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E (East). If it goes as planned, it will be only the third time SpaceX has used their West Coast launch site.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.