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SpaceX rocket blasts final round of Iridium satellites into orbit

A recycled Falcon 9 carries the satellite baton across the space finish line.

Falcon 9 sits ready on the launchpad for the final Iridium NEXT mission.


There are a whole lot of new machines in orbit now that SpaceX has completed a series of eight launches to upgrade communications company Iridium's constellation of satellites

The Iridium-8 mission blasted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Friday at 7:30 a.m. PT. The rocket carried the last batch of 10 NEXT satellites, which brought the total in orbit up to 75 after a successful deployment. The previous Iridium launch took place in July 2018.

The recycled Falcon 9 first stage used for the final Iridium mission previously launched an unrelated satellite to space in September. The rocket's first stage landed safely on SpaceX's "Just Read the Instructions" droneship in the Pacific Ocean.

Taken together, the Iridium satellite deployments represent an ambitious project that SpaceX refers to as "one of the largest 'tech upgrades' in space history." 

Iridium's communications network spans the globe. The new system will enable advanced satellite broadband services and aircraft surveillance and tracking.

While SpaceX's satellite launches went off well, the company is still waiting to send its Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew program. That launch was recently delayed again, pushing the uncrewed Demo-1 mission into February at the earliest.