Science

Commercial satellites deployed by SpaceX rocket

Commercial satellites deployed by SpaceX rocket

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's central coast about 12:47 p.m. local time. The Falcon 9 Block 5 is expected to change that.

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, will use its Falcon 9 rocket to launch seven satellites on Tuesday: two state-of-the-art NASA satellites and five commercial communications satellites. The new rocket had its first successful launch May 11, when it carried Bangladesh's first geostationary communications satellite toward orbit.

"The twin GRACE-Follow On satellites have deployed from their dispenser the Falcon 9's second stage", SpaceFlightNow reported.

Although SpaceX will not seek to recover the first stage, it will attempt to recover one half of the rocket's payload fairing, using a system of on-board thrusters and parachutes to steer the fairing-half back to the Pacific Ocean toward a boat named Mr. Steven. Two additional SpaceX flights are planned later this year. Billing it as one of the largest tech upgrades in history, CEO Matt Desch told investors last month that the majority of his network's traffic is now running on the 50 new satellites SpaceX has launched since January 2017. SpaceX appears to have been absolved from blame for this mishap, and certainly the first stage booster performed nominally during that mission.

A SpaceX rocket Tuesday blasted off a duo of sports car-sized satellites built by the United States and Germany to reveal changes in sea level rise, ice melt and drought on Earth. Desch expects the rest of the satellites to go up this year, "completing our Iridium NEXT constellation and starting on a well deserved [capital expenditures] holiday".

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They will be launched along with five Iridium Next communications satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3:47 p.m. ET.

NASA's share of the GRACE-FO mission cost is $430 million.

"For the first few days after launch, the lower, faster satellite will pull slowly ahead of the other until the two satellites are approximately 137 miles apart - the optimal separation distance for science operations", NASA said in a mission update.

The science provided by this pair of satellites is really interesting. The pair measure Earth's gravity field by detecting minute changes (down to a micron level) in the distance between the spacecraft caused by anomalies in gravity. "If mass changes on the ground, like in aquifers or melting glaciers or in the oceans and so on, we see it immediately in a range change, which we measure very, very precisely by a microwave tracking system with a precision of about one micrometer", said Frank Flechtner, GRACE-FO project manager at the German Research Centre for Geosciences, or GFZ.


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