Commercial satellites deployed by SpaceX rocket

25 May, 2018, 23:06 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • Through many dangers, toils and snares.... SpaceX to send amazing GRACE to spaaaaace

Its upper stage deployed the research satellites minutes after reaching orbit. (That mission was lost, but SpaceX was not to blame for the mishap.) Although the rocket stuck a flawless landing on its last mission, SpaceX does not plan to attempt a landing for this flight.

SpaceX has already delivered a number of Iridium satellites into orbit, so that part of the mission is business as usual, but the launch of the GRACE satellites is a pretty special occasion.

Falcon 9's first stage for the Iridium-6/GRACE-FO mission previously launched the US Air Force's classified Zuma mission in January.

The second stage will take the payload to about 300 miles up, at which point it will cut off, and about 11 minutes after liftoff the rocket will dip its nose and spin a bit to get the GRACE-FO satellites into position.

Update: First stage complete, main engine cutoff good, fairing separation good.

The $521 million payload, called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-on (GRACE-FO), was successfully deployed into its planned orbit some 310 miles (500 kilometers) above the Earth about 10 minutes after liftoff.

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United States private space firm SpaceX launched two new Earth-observing satellites for NASA and five commercial communications satellites for Iridium on a used Falcon 9 rocket in a ride-share mission on 22 May. Tuesday's mission was conducted with an outgoing Block 4 version.

A total of 75 satellites for Iridium are being sent to orbit as part of the upgrade, taking place over eight launches with SpaceX. Unlike most Earth-observation satellites, GRACE-FO won't "use imagers [to] collect light reflected from the surface or the atmosphere", said David Jarrett, GRACE-FO program executive, said at a news conference Monday (May 21).

If you want to watch the launch live you can do so via the YouTube window embedded above.

When water or ice fills an area - such as a coastline or river basin - the liquid slightly increases that area's mass. Objects with more mass have a stronger gravitational pull, so measuring these variations in gravity gives NASA data on phenomena like sea-level rise, glacial retreat, drought, and changes in the size of underground aquifers. They will use microwave tracking that can measure the distance between the two 1,300-pound satellites to within the diameter of a red blood cell. That promises at least an order of magnitude accuracy improvement, said Frank Flechtner, GRACE-FO project manager at GFZ.

NASA contributed $430 million to the new mission and the German contribution was 77 million euros, officials said.

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