SpaceX Accomplishes Double Headed American Space Spectacular – 2 Launches and 2 Landings in 2 Days from 2 Coasts: Gallery

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT) carrying ten Iridium Next mobile voice and data relay communications satellites to low Earth orbit on the Iridium-2 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With Sunday’s successful Falcon 9 blastoff for Iridium Communications joining rocketry’s history books, Elon Musk’s SpaceX accomplished a double headed American space spectacular this weekend with 2 launches and 2 booster landings in 2 days from 2 coasts for 2 commercial customers – in a remarkably rapid turnaround feat that set a new record for minimum time between launches for SpaceX.

On Sunday, June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 2025 UTC) a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a second set of ten Iridium Next mobile voice and data relay communications satellites to low Earth orbit on the Iridium-2 mission from SLC-4E on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“All sats healthy and talking,” tweeted Matt Desch, Iridium Communications CEO, soon after launch and confirmation that all 10 Iridium NEXT satellites were successfully deployed from their second stage satellite dispensers. Iridium is a global leader in mobile voice and data satellite communications.

“It was a great day!”

The US West Coast Falcon 9 liftoff of the Iridium-2 mission from California on Sunday, June 25 took place barely 48 hours after the US East Coast Falcon 9 liftoff of the BulgariaSat-1 mission from Florida on Friday, June 23.

Without a doubt, Musk’s dream of rocket reusability as a here and now means to slash the high costs of launching to space and thereby broaden access to space for more players is rapidly taking shape.

Following separation of the first and second stages, the Falcon 9’s 15 story tall first stage successfully landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship ocean going platform stationed several hundred miles out in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, despite challenging weather conditions.

Indeed the droneships position was changed in the final minutes before launch due to the poor weather.

“Droneship repositioned due to extreme weather. Will be tight,” tweeted Musk minutes before liftoff.

The 156 foot tall booster touched down about 8 and ½ minutes after liftoff from Vandenberg AFB.

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT) carrying ten Iridium Next mobile voice and data relay communications satellites to low Earth orbit on the Iridium-2 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: SpaceX

The launch, landing and deployment of the 10 Iridium Next satellites was all broadcast live on a SpaceX webcast.

The perfectly executed Iridium-2 and BulgariaSat-1 launch and landing duo clearly demonstrates the daunting capability of SpaceX’s privately owned and operated engineering team to pull off such a remarkable feat in nimble fashion.

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The stage was set for the unprecedented Falcon 9 launch doubleheader just a week ago when SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk tweeted out the daring space goal after all went well with the Florida Space Coast’s static hotfire test for the first in line BulgariaSat-1 flight.

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Check out the expanding gallery of Bulgariasat-1 eyepopping photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself.

Click back as the gallery grows !

Liftoff of used SpaceX Falcon 9 at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017 delivering BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

Sunday’s Iridium 2 flight was Iridium Communications second contracted launch with SpaceX.

“This payload of 10 satellites was deployed into low-Earth orbit, approximately one hour after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg,” Iridium said in a statement.

The Mini Cooper sized Iridium NEXT satellites each weigh 1,900 pounds, totaling approximately 19,000 pounds placed into space. That is the weight of a semi tractor trailer truck!

The inaugural Iridium 1 launch with the first ten Iridium Next satellites took place successfully at the start of this year on Jan. 14, 2017.

IridiumNEXT satellites being fueled, pressurized & stacked on dispenser tiers at Vandenberg AFB for Falcon 9 launch. Credit: Iridium

The new set of ten Iridium Next mobile relay satellites were delivered into a circular orbit at an altitude of 625 kilometers (388 miles) above Earth.

They were released one at a time from a pair of specially designed satellite dispensers at approximately 100 second intervals.

“Since the successful January 14, 2017 launch, Iridium NEXT satellites have already been integrated into the operational constellation and are providing service. The first eight operational Iridium NEXT satellites are already providing superior call quality and faster data speeds with increased capacity to Iridium customers. The two additional satellites from the first launch are continuing to drift to their operational orbital plane, where upon arrival they will begin providing service.”

Iridium 2 is the second of eight planned Falcon 9 launches to establish the Iridium NEXT constellation which will eventually consist of 81 advanced satellites.

At least 75 will be launched by SpaceX to low-Earth orbit, with 66 making up the operational constellation.

The inaugural launch of the advanced Iridium NEXT satellites in January 2017 started the process of replacing an aging Iridium fleet in orbit for nearly two decades.

Nine of the 81 will serve as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares.

“Now, and for approximately the next 45 days, these newly launched satellites will undergo a series of testing and validation procedures, ensuring they are ready for integration with the operational constellation,” said Iridium.

“We are thrilled with yesterday’s success. These new satellites are functioning well, and we are pressing forward with the testing process,” said Scott Smith, chief operating officer at Iridium.

“Since the last launch, the team at our Satellite Network Operations Center (SNOC) has been anxiously awaiting this new batch of satellites. There is a lot of work to do, and we are up for the challenge.”

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

BulgariaSat-1 and Iridium-2 count as the eighth and ninth SpaceX launches of 2017.

Including these two ocean platform landings, SpaceX has now successfully recovered 13 boosters; 5 by land and 8 by sea, over the past 18 months.

Both landing droneships are now headed back into their respective coastal ports.

It’s a feat straight out of science fiction but aimed at drastically slashing the cost of access to space as envisioned by Musk.

Liftoff of used SpaceX Falcon 9 at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017 delivering BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

Watch this BulgariaSat-1 launch video from KSC pad 39A

Video Caption: Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 23, 2017 from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center carrying BulgariaSat-1 TV broadband satellite to geosynchronous orbit for BulgariaSat, which is Bulgaria’s 1st GeoComSat – as seen in this remote video taken at the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

BulgariaSat-1 streaks to orbit after June 23, 2017 liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
BulgariaSat-1 arcs over eastwards to Africa as it streaks to orbit after June 23, 2017 liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida- as seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
BulgariaSat-1 liftoff atop SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 23, 2017 from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as seen from Titusville, FL residential area. Credit: Ashley Carrillo
BulgariaSat-1 liftoff atop SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 23, 2017 from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as seen from Titusville, FL residential area. Credit: Ashley Carrillo
BulgariaSat-1 launches June 23, 2017 on SpaceX Falcon 9 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as seen from Titusville, FL residential area. Credit: Wesley Baskin
BulgariaSat-1 launches June 23, 2017 on SpaceX Falcon 9 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as seen from Titusville, FL residential area. Credit: Wesley Baskin
Launch 2nd recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – as seen from the countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Iridium Satellites Fueled and Tucked In For SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘Return to Flight’ Blastoff

The first ten IridiumNEXT satellites are stacked and encapsulated in the Falcon 9 fairing for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Ca., in early 2017. Credit: Iridium

Technicians have fueled, stacked and tucked the first ten advanced IridiumNEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites inside the nose cone of a Falcon 9 rocket designated as SpaceX’s ‘Return to Flight’ launcher – potentially as early as next week – from their west coast launch pad on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“Milestone Alert: The first ten #IridiumNEXT satellites are stacked and encapsulated in the Falcon 9 fairing,” Iridium Communications announced on the company website on Thursday, Dec. 29.

The excitement of a possibly imminent liftoff is clearly building – at least for Iridium Communications and their CEO Matt Desch.

“Our first 10 #IridiumNEXT satellites are all fueled now, tucked in and dreaming of flying in space. Very. Soon. Happy Holidays!” Iridium Communications CEO Matt Desch tweeted on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2016.

But SpaceX is still dealing with the fallout from the catastrophic launch pad explosion that eviscerated a Falcon 9 and its expensive commercial payload in Florida without warning, during a routine fueling test on Sept. 1, 2016.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 with the payload of 10 identical next generation IridiumNEXT communications satellites from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4-East could come as soon as next week – in early January 2017 perhaps as soon as Jan. 7.

IridiumNEXT satellites being fueled, pressurized & stacked on dispenser tiers at Vandenberg AFB for Falcon 9 launch. Credit: Iridium

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had said he hoped to resume Falcon 9 launches before the end of this year 2016 – while investigating the root cause of the devastating mishap.

But the launch has been repeatedly postponed and pushed off into 2017 while investigators plumb the data for clues and fix whatever flaws are uncovered.

“Iridium’s @Falcon9_rocket in processing at @VandenbergAFB, getting ready for our launch in early Jan. Progress! #Thistimeitsforreal!” Desch elaborated.

Nevertheless, there has been no official statement issued by either SpaceX or Iridium Communications announcing a specific target launch date.

And the liftoff is completely dependent on achieving FAA approval for the Falcon 9 launch.

“This launch is contingent upon the FAA’s approval of SpaceX’s return to flight following the anomaly that occurred on September 1, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida,” Iridium said in a prior statement, reported here.

All SpaceX Falcon 9 launches immediately ground to a halt following the colossal eruption of a fireball from the Falcon 9 at the launch pad that suddenly destroyed the rocket and completely consumed its $200 million Israeli Amos-6 commercial payload on Sept. 1 during a routine fueling and planned static fire engine test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The explosive anomaly resulted from a “large breach” in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank and subsequent ignition of the highly flammable oxygen propellant.

Meanwhile, SpaceX and Iridium are preparing the payload and rocket for launch as soon as possible after FAA approval is granted.

“Satellites have been fueled, pressurized & dispenser tiers are being stacked as we move closer to first launch #IridiumNEXT #NEXTevolution,” Iridium elaborated with photos showing the recent processing in progress.

The Iridium mission is the first of seven planned Falcon 9 launches – totaling 70 satellites.

“Iridium is replacing its existing constellation by sending 70 Iridium NEXT satellites into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket over 7 different launches,” says Iridium.

“There were many challenges on the program, from orbit determination knowledge design, to encryption design, to integration and verification test planning, to planning for on orbit acceptance activities, but the team made it all come together and the satellites are ready for deployment to enhance the future of mobile satellite communications — I could not be more proud,” Joel Rademacher, Ph.D, Director, Systems Engineering for Iridium Next, said in a statement.

The goal of this privately contracted mission is to deliver the first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into low-earth orbit to inaugurate what will be a new constellation of satellites dedicated to mobile voice and data communications.

Iridium eventually plans to launch a constellation of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites into low-earth orbit.

“At least 70 of which will be launched by SpaceX,” per Iridium’s contract with SpaceX.

Iridium’s SpaceX Falcon9 rocket in processing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, getting ready for launch in early Jan. 2017. Credit: Iridium

Besides the launch, SpaceX plans to continue its secondary objective of recovering the Falcon 9 first stage via a propulsive soft landing – as done several times previously and witnessed by this author.

The goal is to eventually recycle and reuse the first stage – and thereby dramatically slash launch costs per Musk’s vision.

This Falcon 9 has been outfitted with four landing lags and grid fins for a controlled landing on a tiny barge prepositioned in the Pacific Ocean several hundred miles off the west coast of California.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Desch says that all seven of his Falcon’s will be new – not resued.

“All our seven F9s are new,” Desch tweeted.

Incredible sight of pleasure craft zooming past SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 as it arrives at the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL, atop droneship platform on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX maintains active launch pads on both the US East and West coasts.

On the Florida Space Coast, SpaceX plans to initially resume launches at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) from pad 39A, the former shuttle pad that SpaceX has leased from NASA.

Commercial SpaceX launches at KSC could start from pad 39A sometime in early 2017 – after modifications for the Falcon 9 are completed.

Meanwhile pad 40, which was heavily damaged during the Sept. 1 explosion, is undergoing extensive repairs and refurbishments to bring it back online.

Aerial view of pad and strongback damage at SpaceX Launch Complex-40 as seen from the VAB roof on Sept. 8, 2016 after fueling test explosion destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It is not known when pad 40 will be fit to resume Falcon 9 launches.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. 1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com