SpaceX will return to flight on Saturday morning and launch a rocket into space for the first time since a launchpad explosion last September. The company will be sending up Falcon 9 rocket Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:54 a.m. Pacific Time, delivering 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit for Iridium, a satellite communications company. These are the first of at least 70 satellites that SpaceX will launch for Iridium, as part of a global satellite constellation called Iridium NEXT.
This is SpaceX’s first mission since August, and the stakes are high. On September 1, a Falcon 9 rocket undergoing tests for an upcoming Israeli communications satellite launch blew up on the launchpad.
The explosion destroyed a rocket booster with a Facebook-backed commercial satellite. An investigation found that the explosion was originated from the rocket’s second stage liquid oxygen fuel tank, where three composite overwrapped pressure vessels had a reaction with the liquid oxygen. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called the explosion “the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years.”
This Saturday, the satellites will start deployment an hour after the launch. After stage separation, the first stage of Falcon 9 will attempt to land upright on the company’s “Just Read the Instructions” droneship stationed in the Pacific Ocean. This is part of Musk’s philosophy of “full and rapid reusability”, where SpaceX invests in a droneship landing program where it can reuse its boosters — and save the company millions of dollars.
The launch was originally scheduled for January 8, but postponed due to heavy wind and rain. And this mission will be the first of a series. SpaceX plans to do seven Falcon 9 launches for Iridium, deploying 10 at a time. All the satellites should be deployed by early 2018.
Falcon 9’s last successful launch was in August, where it delivered the JCSAT-16 spacecraft to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit about 36,000 km from Earth. Following the launch, the first-stage of Falcon 9 landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean, called “Of Course I Still Love You.”
You can watch the launch of Falcon 9 at SpaceX’s website Saturday morning.