SpaceX has launched two new satellites for NASA and 5 Iridium NEXT communications satellites into the orbit of the Earth. The Falcon 9 rocket has lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Base in California at 3:47 PM EDT.
NASA’s TV’s launch commentator, Gay Yee Hill, had announced by saying when Falcon 9 rocket soared to the sky, “Liftoff for GRACE Follow-On, continuing the legacy of the GRACE mission of tracking the movement of water across our planet.” The other commentator Sammy Kayali, who is the director for the Office of Mission Safety and Success at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and former deputy manager for GRACE-FO said that it is a beautiful launch.
For this launch, SpaceX has used the Falcon 9 rocket booster which has used in launching the classified Zuma mission for the US Air Force in January. But this mission is not successful, and ZUMA fell into the sea without reaching the orbit, but the investigators said that this, not the Falcon 9 rocket which causes this accident. After launching ZUMA, the Falcon 9 booster returned to Cape Canaveral and done a vertical landing. But this time SpaceX did not try to recover the rocket.
This SpaceX tried to recover the valuable payload fairing or nose cone which covered the GRACE-FO and Iridium satellites during the launch. As per the plan, the clamshell-like structure of the fairing halves was expected to fly back to Earth under a parafoil, and it will be caught by Mr Steven, which is a SpaceX recovery boat equipped with a huge net between giant metal arms. But this was not succeeded. After this, John Insprucker, who is the principal integration engineer at the SpaceX said, “We came very close. We’re going to keep working on that.”
The rocket after 12 minutes of launch has deployed the twin satellites successfully into the near-polar orbit. The second stage then reignite and moves into more altitude to deploy the Iridium NEXT satellites. NASA has confirmed that there is contact with both GRACE-FO satellites after the short launch via the McMurdo tracking station present in Antarctica.
NASA has spent about $430 million on the GRACE-FO mission, and this is jointly developed with the German Research Center for Geosciences(GFZ). The GFZ has invested additional $91 million in this mission, as said by Frank Flechtner, who is the GRACE_FO’s project manager.