Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched a batch of satellites for longtime customer Iridium Communications Inc. early Wednesday, marking the company’s 14th mission of 2018.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast at 4:39 a.m. local time. The rocket successfully deployed 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to low Earth orbit about an hour after launch, Iridium said.
SpaceX said it landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship in the Pacific Ocean.
SpaceX also made its fourth attempt at a first in spaceflight history: Recover a used fairing, which encloses the payload aboard a rocket. The company has fitted a vessel dubbed Mr. Steven with huge nets to capture the fairing as it falls back to Earth. On Wednesday, rough seas and wind-shear foiled the effort, but SpaceX plans to persist, using what it’s learned to perfect the technique.
The fairing recovery is part of SpaceX’s goal of reducing launch costs by reusing as many parts of a rocket as possible. Earlier this month, SpaceX showed photos of new, larger nets attached to the ship. The effort to snag fairings remains at the “experimental stage,” SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said on the company’s launch webcast. “We’re still learning how to catch a fairing out of the air.”
The company run by billionaire Elon Musk is targeting roughly 30 total missions this year, up from a record 18 in 2017. SpaceX’s valuation has climbed to about $25 billion with a recent funding round, putting it on course to become the third-most valuable venture-backed startup in the U.S. after Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc.
The launch was the seventh of eight planned for Iridium to deploy its newest, $3 billion constellation of 75 NEXT satellites. The blast off slipped from July 20, prompting Iridium to move its quarterly earnings report to July 31.