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SpaceX ascent
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasts its way into orbit. (SpaceX via YouTube)

Two days after launching a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida and landing it again, SpaceX accomplished the same feat in California, bringing 10 satellites to low Earth orbit for Iridium’s next-generation communications network.

Liftoff came at 1:25 p.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and the booster landing on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean took place a little less than eight minutes later. A little more than an hour after that, SpaceX confirmed that all 10 satellites were successfully deployed.

This was the second launch in SpaceX’s campaign to put 75 Iridium NEXT spacecraft into a constellation that’s designed to provide global high-speed satellite data transmission as well as aircraft tracking and surveillance.

The new constellation should be ready to replace Iridium’s existing network next year, representing one of the biggest satellite tech upgrades in history.

The first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites were sent into a pole-to-pole orbit aboard a two-stage Falcon 9 that was launched in January. The first-stage booster from that flight was recovered, refurbished and launched again on Friday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

That booster sent the BulgariaSat-1 telecom satellite on its way geostationary orbit, and then it was recovered a second time. In the process, it became the first booster to notch a launch from the West Coast and the East Coast.

SpaceX successfully recovered the brand-new booster being used for today’s liftoff as well: After stage separation, it flew itself down to an autonomous drone ship that’s floating in the Pacific Ocean, off the California coast.

The ship is named “Just Read the Instructions,” after one of the sentient starships in Iain M. Banks’ science-fiction novels.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said this booster was outfitted with upgraded grid fins for navigation:

Musk said in a pre-launch tweet that the arrangements for the landing attempt would be “tight”: The ship had to be repositioned due to extreme weather in the Pacific, he said. But SpaceX’s video stream showed the rocket descending smoothly to a touchdown on the ship’s rolling deck.

The booster will be returned to shore, fixed up and prepared for another flight. It’s all part of SpaceX’s campaign to reduce the cost of access to space by increasing rocket reusability, and part of Musk’s vision of making trips to Mars economically justifiable as well.

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