California, US | May 23
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a pair of U.S.-German science satellites and five commercial communications satellites into orbit from California on Tuesday.
The rocket roared off from a pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 12:47 p.m. and arced over the Pacific Ocean west of Los Angeles as it headed toward the South Pole.
Its upper stage deployed the research satellites minutes after reaching orbit. The satellites for Iridium Communications’ nextgeneration fleet were released in a process completed a little more than an hour after liftoff.
The Falcon 9’s first stage was previously used for a launch from Florida in January. SpaceX did not attempt to recover it this time.
The science payload from NASA and the German Centre for Geosciences included two identical satellites for the agencies’ Gravity Recovery and Climate ExperimentFollow On mission, continuing the work of two predecessor spacecraft that spanned 15 years ending last October. Called GRACE-FO, for short, the mission will detect the movement of Earth’s water masses and changes in mass within the planet by measuring variations in gravity through tiny fluctuations in the distance between the two satellites as they orbit 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart — roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego — at an altitude of about 304 miles (490 kilometers).