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26 May 2018, 04:39 | Justin Tyler
SpaceX Launches Rapid Reuse Falcon 9 Rocket
After the SpaceX rocket sent off its first payload, GRACE-FO, its second stage continued its climb in order to deploy a series of commercial communications satellites for the Virginia-based company, Iridium.
The SpaceXFalcon 9 rocket is seen with the NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft. Each Block 4 core will fly just two times as the company seeks to move all of its launches onto the newer Block 5 version of the rocket, which has slightly increased performance and numerous upgrades to optimize the first stage for reusability.
SpaceX's recovery ship, Mr Steven is heading out into the ocean to attempt to catch at least one half of the expensive shell used to protect spacecraft during the early phases of launch.
While SpaceX has previously recovered and reused the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage, the company won't be recycling that piece of equipment from this launch. GRACE-FO is sharing its ride to orbit with five Iridium NEXT communications satellites as part of a commercial ride-share agreement.
"GRACE was really a revolutionary mission for us understanding the water cycle and how the climate behaves and the trends which are taking place over the last 10 or 15 years", Frank Webb, GRACE-FO project scientist, told a pre-launch press conference.
The Iridium Next satellites are less interesting: They will join the 50 Iridium Next satellites already floating in space that, according to Space.com, will eventually make up part of the 75-satellite communications constellation. An additional six spares will remain on the ground until needed.
If you want to watch the launch live you can do so via the YouTube window embedded above. The satellites will be constantly measuring the distance between them by sending microwave signals back and forth.
The GRACE-FO spacecraft are equipped with laser retroreflectors that allow ground stations to accurately measure their orbits, further improving the accuracy of the data.
In addition to the microwave ranging system also used by the original GRACE satellite, the GRACE-FO satellites will use a laser rangefinder to measure their separation.
NASA contributed $430 million to the new mission and the German contribution was 77 million euros, officials said.
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