(Image Credit: SpaceX)
Get ready for the next Falcon 9 launch, Tuesday 5/22/2018 at 12:47pm PDT (3:47pm EDT) from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vanderberg Air Force Base in California. This mission will loft NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, an extension of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment which was retired in 2017. These precision instruments are intended to track the movement of water on Earth, and are also able to monitor the planet’s gravitational fields. This data will be used to track the planet’s distribution of mass, and to refine models of the ocean and climate.
Also launching tomorrow are Iridium Satellites 51-55, which are part of the ongoing construction of the 75 satellite Iridium NEXT worldwide network. This advanced network is intended to provide L-band data speeds of up to 128 kbit/s to mobile devices, along with improved service to marine terminals and high-speed Ka-band service. The Ka-band allows for higher bandwidth communication and is often part of modern satellite communication protocols.
The booster for this mission is a Falcon 9 Block 4, which is not intended to be recovered. Pretty soon all missions will be flown with the highly reusable block 5 rockets, which will ensure a landing show every time.
The deploy of this varied cargo turns out to be a pretty interesting challenge for tomorrow’s launch, as it must happen at two very different spots along the voyage. The NASA GRACE-FO mission needs to be deployed at 300 miles of elevation, which is intended to take place midway through the 2nd stage burn, so it seems. The burn will pause at the 305 mile mark, the NASA payload will be deployed, then burn will recommence and continue to a 500 mile elevation for the Iridium hardware. This all sounds like yet another amazing plan and raises the bar once again for what can be done with commercial (and low cost!) rocketry. Hopefully the cams will be working and we will all get a heck of a show!