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.
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.
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.