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January 12th, 2017

SpaceX Prepares Falcon 9 for Launch and Landing... Just Read the Instructions

SpaceX engineers work to prepare the 10 Iridium-NEXT satellites for launch atop the Falcon 9. Credit: Iridium Communications

SpaceX received the nod of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and began ramping up its Falcon 9 rocket to launch.  

Currently the flight is scheduled for send off at 9:54 a.m. PST (12:54 p.m. EST / 17:54 GMT) Saturday, January 14, 2017, at Space Launch Complex 4 East on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The company has already conducted a hold-down firing of the rocket's first stage. The initial launch date was last Monday, but that was delayed due to unfavorable weather and a mid-week range conflict.

Ten Iridium-NEXT satellites, built by Thales Alenia, will be flying into low-Earth orbit (LEO) and will be the first members of Iridium Communications‘ next-generation satellite constellation that will total 72 spacecraft, which will provide communications and data services across the globe. With each of the 10 satellites weighing approximately 1,874 pounds (850 kilograms) the total payload is within the Falcon 9 Full Thrust’s performance capacity.

“This is one of the largest commercial satellite systems being built today,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch. When Iridium signed with SpaceX in 2010 to launch 70 Iridium-NEXT satellites, valued at $492 million, it was the largest single launch deal ever engaged. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was also impressed with Iridium’s goal, “The Iridium-NEXT constellation is the most ambitious, innovative thing in space communications that is going to happen anytime this decade.” 

The launch and a landing will take place at separate locations. The launch at the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch complex and the booster will hopefully land out to sea on one of the company’s automated drone ships aptly named Just Read the Instructions.