SpaceX successfully launches 10 Iridium satellites

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Capitalism in space: SpaceX this morning successfully launched into orbit 10 Iridium satellites.

The launch was from Vandenberg. The first stage successfully landed on a barge in the Pacific.



  • wayne

    Where does the 2nd stage come down for this launch?

  • Wayne: The second stage will be deorbited and burn up in the atmosphere, likely over the Pacific.

  • LocalFluff

    The 2nd stage simply burns up in the atmosphere somewhere, like most other upper stages to LEO. SpaceX gave up trying to make the 2nd stage reusable a couple of years ago. I remember Elon Musk then saying already then that they focus on the mars Project instead. And it seems consistently confirmed now.

  • wayne

    Thank you. I understand it burns up, just wondering where it came down today.

    To what degree does launching from California or Florida have, on the eventual end of a 2nd stage?

  • Wayne: the 2nd stage reaches orbit. It does not have to come back to Earth today. And I assume it likely is deorbited under controlled circumstances, using its engine to guide it into the Pacific. This would apply to launches from either California or Florida.

  • wayne

    Gotcha. “It reaches orbit,” it’s not on a ballistic trajectory, by definition.

  • X

    Could SpaceX team up with NASA to test inflatable heat shield with Falcon 9 second stage or Dragon trunk?

  • Commodude

    X, why would SpaceX want to team up with a bloated bureaucracy? All that would do is slow them down, and the likely money saved by recycling first stages puts them far ahead of their competition.

    SpaceX’s launches are getting boring, and when they’re boring, they’re profitable. (Still impressive watching the first stages land)

  • wodun


    It would make good business sense to use the 2nd stage for testing purposes. Orbital ATK does with the Cygnus. I am not sure if the orbital dynamics support this type of activity though. It would all depend on the excess fuel required. But it could be some testing takes place and we don’t get to know about it because of who the customer is.

    Personally, I think they should work on making their current second stage reusable in space.

  • pzatchok

    My guess is that it would take to much fuel and extra mechanicals to make this second stage returnable. Landing legs and control fins for example.

    But with the extra lift capacity of Falcon heavy they might just revisit the idea.

  • LocalFluff

    “Could SpaceX team up with NASA to test inflatable heat shield with Falcon 9 second stage or Dragon trunk?”
    Sure, if it looks like a good idea. Falcon and Bigalow and other private space companies were not built without substantial NASA legacy.

    But a second stage is not a spacecraft proper. Power supply, communication, maneuverability and whatnot if you ask people in the business, are challenges for doing anything more than “just” getting its payload to orbit and releasing it. It’d probably be simpler to launch a separate payload to reenter the atmosphere than having the upper stage do it.

  • Kirk

    Wayne: Here is a map of the Iridium NEXT Flight 3 launch hazard area off CA and the stage 2 debris area in the western half of the south Pacific, the latter being a 2700 mile long, 500 mile wide north-south corridor, 1600 miles east of NZ.

    Their launches from FL typically have a stage 2 debris area in the south Indian ocean, such as this one for the CRS-12 mission.

  • wayne

    thank you.

    tangentially– I’m still trying to figure out why everyone is so upset, when the sub-orbital weapons platform, is actually sub-orbital….

    Star Trek – Garry Seven

  • Kirk

    wodun> It would make good business sense to use the 2nd stage for testing purposes.

    Gwen Shotwell spoke at MIT two weeks ago, and is quoted as saying that they will try to “land a second stage gently in the ocean next year”, but she didn’t give any indication of how they would go about it.

  • LocalFluff

    Maybe on the first Falcon Heavy test launch next year they can afford to sacrifice the payload mass to to put a heat shield and landing legs on it? In contrast to all other upper stages, it seems to have been designed for reuse from the beginning, but since SpaceX evolves gradually, they have not given it the priority to become landable yet.

  • pzatchok

    Heat shields are cheap, fragile and light.
    Remember the second stage is not shaped the right way for cheap easy heat shield use.

    But instead of heat shields they could just use more fuel. They just have to slow down that forward momentum, and it would be easier on the way in because they are not carrying the payload and all that fuel it took to push that payload into a full permanent orbit.

    Just offer a cheaper launch but with a smaller payload. Or charge full price for an nonreturnable second stage.

  • Kirk

    Gwynne Shotwell spoke yesterday as Stanford, and said that they will not actually attempt F9 second stage recovery, but will just be exploring the reentry regime.

    There aren’t any recording of transcripts of her talk, but several attendees have posted notes.

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