Four months after a launch pad explosion, SpaceX returned to flight Saturday morning, delivering 10 satellites into orbit and landing its first-stage booster on a floating drone ship. Analysts had described the launch as “all-important” for the Hawthorne space company to reestablish customer confidence and momentum after a Sept. 1 launchpad explosion in Florida destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and a commercial communications satellite perched on top. But beyond the specter of the accident, stakes were high for Saturday’s launch because it involved deploying the first 10 satellites of a new commercial constellation for well-known operator Iridium Communications Inc.
The new satellites have more capability than their older counterparts, including higher data speeds. Saturday’s launch is the first of seven that SpaceX will perform for Iridium to carry a total of 70 satellites into orbit.
“There was a lot riding on this for SpaceX, but also for Iridium, and I think they can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst at the Teal Group.
The launch occurred at 9:54 a.m. Pacific time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara. About eight minutes after liftoff, the first-stage rocket booster landed upright on a floating platform called “Just Read the Instructions” in the Pacific Ocean.
About an hour after the launch, company Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted that the mission “looks good.” By 11:15 a.m., Musk tweeted that all satellites had been successfully delivered to the correct orbit.