On Tuesday, May 22nd at 12:47 p.m. PDT, SpaceX successfully launched five Iridium® NEXT satellites and two GRACE-FO satellites from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Liftoff occurred at 12:47 p.m. PDT, or 19:47 UTC. The GRACE-FO satellites were deployed about eleven minutes and thirty seconds after launch, followed by the deployment of the five Iridium® NEXT satellites about an hour after launch.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the Iridium-6/GRACE-FO mission previously supported the Zuma mission from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in January 2018. SpaceX did not attempt to recover Falcon 9’s first stage after launch.

For this sixth Iridium mission, five Iridium® NEXT satellites will be launched as part of the company’s campaign to replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network. A total of eight Iridium NEXT launches are planned with SpaceX, which will deliver 75 new satellites to orbit. In total, 81 satellites are being built, with 66 in the operational constellation, nine serving as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares. Iridium is the only satellite communications network that spans the entire globe. Iridium NEXT is one of the largest “tech upgrades” in space history. The process of replacing the satellites one by one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before. The new constellation is enabling the development of innovative products and services including Iridium
CertusSM, the Company’s next-generation broadband solution for specialized applications, like safety services, data and communications, remote monitoring, tracking and more.

The NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) GRACE Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission will continue GRACE’s 15-year legacy of tracking the movement of Earth’s mass.  As its twin satellites fly overareas of higher and lower mass, the distance between them changes slightly due to gravitational forces. By precisely measuring these changes, the distribution of Earth’s mass can be mapped monthly and tracked over time. This data can be used to monitor changes in ice sheets and glaciers, underground water storage, water in large lakes and rivers, and sea level, providing a unique view of Earth’s evolving
climate and its water and energy cycles, with far-reaching societal benefits.

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