SpaceX—Iridium-6/GRACE-FO Mission


On May 22, SpaceX launched two new Earth science satellites(GRACE-FO) for NASA-German Research Centre for Geosciences (GeoForschungsZentrum-GFZ) and five commercial communications satellites (Iridium® NEXT) for Iridium on a pre-flown Falcon 9 rocket in ride-share mission.

The rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the state of California, at 12:47 pm PDT (1947 GMT).

About 11 minutes 30 seconds after liftoff, The NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites were deployed into a near-polar orbit. GRACE-FO will monitor the movement of water across our planet. NASA’s ground tracking station at McMurdo in Antarctica, confirmed contact with both GRACE-FO satellites shortly after launch.

Iridium Next satellites-Falcon9
Successful deployment of 5 Iridium communication NEXT satellites to low Earth orbity confirmed credits: SpaceX

About an hour after launch, SpaceX confirmed that the five Iridium satellites also deployed successfully. The Iridium Next communications satellites that SpaceX launched with GRACE-FO are to build up company’s satellite constellation. These satellites will join a constellation of 50 satellites, counting to 55. When Iridium Communications will complete the constellation, there will be total 75 satellites in orbit.

NASA is spending $430 million on the GRACE-FO mission, which is a joint project with the GFZ. The GFZ has invested another $91 million in the missiom. Frank Flechtner has been appointed as GRACE-FO’s project manager at GFZ, in Germany. GRACE-FO is expected to spend the next five years mapping Earth’s water.


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 will not attempt to recover Falcon 9’s first stage after launch.

This will be its last mission

It’s not one of the Block 5 rockets with all the durability improvements, so it would take a lot of money and time to fly again, and the risk of failure would grow considerably every time.

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