Jan. 11 (UPI) — SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket delivered the final batch of Iridium NEXT satellites into space on Friday morning. The Iridium-8 mission launched at 10:31 a.m. ET on Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Friday’s liftoff marked the first 2019 rocket launch in the United States.
“Main engine cutoff and stage separation confirmed,” SpaceX confirmed on Twitter just four minutes after blastoff. “Second stage engine burn underway.”
Shortly after separation, the second stage’s engine executed a series of orbital entry burns, while the first stage ignited its boosters to slow its descent back to Earth.
Less than ten minutes after liftoff, SpaceX confirmed Falcon 9’s first stage successfully landed back on its drone ship platform in the Pacific.
After a series of quick milestones in the minutes following the launch, the rocket’s second stage shut off its engines and coasted high above the Earth for 40 minutes. At 11:45 a.m. ET, SpaceX confirmed that the 10 satellites had been successfully released into orbit.
“This is the eighth and final set of satellites in a series of 75 total satellites that SpaceX will launch for Iridium’s next generation global satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT,” SpaceX announced on its website in a preview of Friday’s launch.
The deployment of the last ten satellites completes Iridium’s almost-12-year effort to replace and upgrade its extensive communications satellite network.
Like so many launches in recent weeks, the Iridium-8 mission was twice delayed. It was originally scheduled to launch on Jan. 7.