SpaceX lands 1st stage after California launch

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

A Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket heads toward orbit after launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday.

It launched from the Space Launch Complex-4E at VAFB in Lompoc at 7:31 a.m. Iridium CEO Matt Desch counted down the final seconds. The original fleet of satellites, famous for their periodic Iridium flares, were launched between 1997 and 2002. The show was completed with a first stage booster landing on droneship "Just Read the Instructions", SpaceX's 33rd such landing and the successful deployment of Falcon's payload. During that mission, it flew itself back to land on SpaceX's other drone ship, based in Florida.

SpaceX has been experimenting with techniques to recover the Falcon 9's nose cone and save millions of dollars in manufacturing costs, but no recovery attempt was made today.

This is the eighth and final launch for Iridium using SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

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In an image made from the SpaceX webcast, a spacecraft deploys the final set of Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit, January 11, 2019. The rocket carried Iridium 8 satellites into orbit. The new system will enable advanced satellite broadband services and aircraft surveillance and tracking.

SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker hailed the end of the launch campaign as he closed off today's webcast, which was watched by tens of thousands on YouTube.

While the Falcon mission secured the first launch of 2019 from Vandenberg, the second is set to be a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and its top-secret cargo for the National Reconnaissance Office. This will be the company's first landing attempt since a stage launched December 5 malfunctioned and "landed" in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral.

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