SpaceX launched a series of satellites on Tuesday to measure climate change and sea level rises, and the results are stunning. CEO Elon Musk shared images on Twitter from the company’s launch hours after lift-off, the ninth this year and a strong sign SpaceX will break its previous annual record of 18 launches last year.
The satellites lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 12:47 p.m. Pacific time. The Falcon 9 first stage booster employed in the mission was previously used in the January Zuma mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but despite SpaceX’s bid to save as much of its rockets as possible, the company chose to not recover Tuesday’s booster after the mission. The payload consisted of five Iridium Next satellites and two GRACE Follow-On satellites.
The two $521 million Grace-FO satellites are part of a joint project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the German Research Centre for Geosciences. The satellites will fly over areas of higher and lower mass, measuring the changes in the pull of gravity by checking whether the distance between the two satellites has changed because of a stronger pull on one satellite. The team uses the data to monitor changes in water storage and glaciers over time, as the changes in mass will indicate rapidly moving water.
The Iridium satellites from the sixth mission to replace the largest commercial satellite network in space, a plan described as the largest tech upgrade in history with the total launch of 75 low-Earth orbit satellites. The network is part of Iridium’s goal to offer mobile voice and data coverage anywhere in the world. Tuesday’s mission brings the total in orbit up to 55.
After launch, the GRACE-FO satellites were deployed around 10 minutes later, followed by the Iridium satellites starting from one hour after launch.
View some of the stunning images below:
It’s impressive, but there could be more on the way. A second Falcon Heavy launch, currently the largest space rocket in operation, is set to take place in June.