SpaceX has successfully launched its Iridium-5 mission, which carries 10 satellites to add to Iridium’s NEXT global communications constellation. This is the fifth set of 10, out of a total of 75 that SpaceX is launching for client Iridium, and today’s launch used a first stage Falcon 9 booster originally employed last October for the third Iridium NEXT satellite launch.
The launch included reuse of a flight proven rocket, but it did not include a recovery attempt for the first stage booster this time around. SpaceX attempted to recover one half of the fairing used during the launch, which is the protective metal shielding that covers the cargo as the rocket blasts through the atmosphere en route to space. The fairing alone is worth around $6 million, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has indicated that it would be relatively easy to refurbish this part for repeat flight, provided their recovery plan works.
SpaceX was once again unsuccessful in recovering the fairing, per Musk. The parafoil that controls the fairing’s descent twisted during its return to Earth, and so the component crashed into the water a high velocity instead of alighting softly on the barge as intended.
Meanwhile, the 10 satellites were deployed as planned to their target low-Earth orbit, and will join the NEXT constellation, providing commercial communications capabilities to Iridium clients on the ground.
This is SpaceX’s fifth Falcon 9 launch of 2018, and its sixth launch of the year overall when you include the Falcon Heavy launch which took place in February. That was a significant milestone for the company, and additional Falcon Heavy launches are planned for later this year, as well as another Falcon 9 launch on April 2: The twelfth commercial resupply mission SpaceX will fly for the International Space Station.