Today, Saturday, May 20, SpaceX launched a fleet of satellites for two telecommunications companies – Iridium and OneWeb. Iridium Communications, Inc. is an American company headquartered in McLean, Virginia, that provides satellite mobile voice and data service globally. The company shared a Falcon 9 ride to orbit with OneWeb, which is headquartered in the United Kingdom and provides Internet service. A flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 6:16 a.m. PT from Space Launch Complex 4E at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, carrying 5 Iridium satellites and 16 OneWeb satellites to Low Earth Orbit. The mission occurred a day after a last-minute launch abort on Friday, when SpaceX Mission Control called off the flight at 55 seconds before liftoff. “Since then, the teams have completed checkouts on the vehicle and the ground systems and we're looking good going into today's attempt,” shared SpaceX operations engineer Siva Bharadvaj during the live broadcast of the mission, which marks the company’s 34th mission of the year (including the Starship test flight).
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/sDDtFJTrOo— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 20, 2023
The Falcon 9 first-stage booster that performed the Iridium/OneWeb mission is identified as B1063-11; it has now launched 11 missions including: NASA’s Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Earth observatory, NASA’s DART mission which tested planetary defense technology, SpaceX’s Transporter-7 rideshare mission, and seven Starlink missions. The booster was recovered once more with a propulsive landing on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ autonomous droneship stationed in the Pacific Ocean (video clip linked below). SpaceX has made it routine to land orbital-class rockets. To date, it has performed 232 launches, 193 total landings, and 167 reflights of Falcon 9 boosters in its recovered fleet.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship pic.twitter.com/OJmw5L7pzJ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 20, 2023
During this mission, the launch commentator shared that SpaceX used a new ‘shortened nozzle’ on the Falcon 9’s upper-stage engine. “The shortened nozzle made its debut on the Transporter 7 mission,” Bharadvaj said. “It'll continue to be used on missions that don't need quite as much performance to get to their final destination.” The Falcon 9’s upper-stage released the fleet of satellites in a separate organized sequence an hour after liftoff. First, it deployed Iridium’s 5 satellites to orbit, then OneWeb’s 16 satellites. The entire deployment sequence took around 30 minutes to complete.
With today’s launch, Iridium achieved completing its upgraded satellite constellation. In total, it operates 80 satellites that enable “global weather-resilient connectivity everywhere on Earth.” “The completion of our upgraded constellation was a major milestone in the history of Iridium. We committed to our partners and our customers that they could depend on us and expect the highest quality of service and reliability anywhere on the planet, and that's what we've delivered,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch. “With all the new products and services enabled by our network, the launch of these spares shows our commitment to maintaining the gold standard of satellite network services.”
This mission marked OneWeb’s fourth launch with SpaceX. The UK-based company now operates a total of 634 satellites in orbit. “We are excited to see the successful completion of our 19th launch, which would not have been possible without our committed team and our enormously skilled launch partners,” stated OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson. “We have made tremendous progress in scaling our services, and today’s launch is a testament to our commitment to continue improving our service to our customers. Never ones to rest on our laurels, we also view this launch as proof positive of our drive to innovate, as we test new technologies that will usher in the future of our connectivity capabilities and services. We now look ahead to scaling our services as well as making important advancements in the future of connectivity.”
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Featured Images Source: SpaceX / Iridium via Twitter
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.