SpaceX is about to launch 2 NASA satellites into orbit

IRDM GRACE-FO Launch Falcon 9

He billed it as one of the "largest tech upgrades in history", telling investors he 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".

SpaceX's recovery ship, Mr Steven is heading out into the ocean to attempt to catch at least one half of the expensive shell used to protect spacecraft during the early phases of launch.

Meanwhile the SpaceX second-stage booster will fire until 11 minutes and 33 seconds into the flight, when NASA's GRACE-FO spacecraft will be deployed.

Iridium and the GRACE-FO team originally planned to launch today's satellites on separate Dnepr missions, but had to find another ride when Russian Federation halted missions on the converted intercontinental ballistic missile.

Falcon 9's first stage for the Iridium-6/GRACE-FO mission previously launched the US Air Force's classified Zuma mission in January.

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Critics have questioned the safety of SpaceX's use of super-cooled rocket fuel that needs to be loaded right before takeoff - after astronauts are already on board. The Falcon 9's first and second stages will separate seconds later.

"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. What remains is "mission-unique and risk-reduction work that includes government-sponsored independent verification and validation as well as SpaceX's corresponding design and testing work for Block 5", he said. SpaceX has signed up for a total of eight Iridium NEXT launches with the aim of putting 75 new satellites into orbit. Once in orbit, they'll be used to analyze Earth's water and ice content by detecting small changes in the planet's gravitation field. Iridium spent around $3 billion on Iridium Next, purchasing the satellites from Thales Alenia Space in Europe.

When water or ice fills an area - such as a coastline or river basin - the liquid slightly increases that area's mass. Objects with more mass have a stronger gravitational pull, so measuring these variations in gravity gives NASA data on phenomena like sea-level rise, glacial retreat, drought, and changes in the size of underground aquifers. GRACE stands for "Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment".

NASA contributed $430 million to the new mission and the German contribution was 77 million euros, officials said.

Today's launch was the tenth SpaceX mission conducted this year.

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