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article imageSpaceX will put two major payloads into orbit with Falcon 9 today

By Karen Graham     May 22, 2018 in Technology
Los Angeles - Later today, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Vandenberg AFB in California carrying two payloads - five Iridium NEXT telephone relay stations and two for NASA and a German research agency.
Today's launch will be the 56th for the Falcon 9 family, and the 10th launch of a Falcon 9 this year, if you include the debut of the Falcon Heavy.
The launch is scheduled for 12:42 p.m. PDT (GMT-7; 3:42 p.m. EDT) from pad 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base northwest of Los Angles, California. A 90 percent chance of good weather is forecast for the launch, but another launch window is available for tomorrow.
Falcon 9's first stage was the same one used in the ill-fated launch of the classified ZUMA satellite launch earlier this year. It was found that a user-provided attachment mechanism failed to release the spacecraft from the Falcon 9's second stage.
A Spacex Falcon 9  as seen in this NASA photo released in April 2018  will take NASA's new wate...
A Spacex Falcon 9, as seen in this NASA photo released in April 2018, will take NASA's new water-monitoring satellites into orbit
Kim SHIFLETT, NASA/AFP
And while the rocket was blameless in the loss of ZUMA, the previously flown first stage will not make another flight. SpaceX officials say that because it is an older model, a recovery attempt will not be made.
A ride-share mission for two payloads
The five Iridium NEXT satellites on board the Falcon 9 will boost the satellite telephone operator's fleet of upgraded relay stations to 55 following five earlier SpaceX flights that launched 10 satellites at a time.
Two additional SpaceX flights are planned later this year. When complete, the Iridium NEXT constellation will include 75 satellites, with 66 being operational and nine spares.
The first-ever SpaceX launch from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex-4 occurred on Sunday  Sept. 29...
The first-ever SpaceX launch from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex-4 occurred on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013.
Airman Yvonne Morales/Vandenberg AFB
Iridium CEO Matt Desch told investors last month that the majority of his network’s traffic is now running on the 50 new satellites SpaceX has launched since January 2017. 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.”
The second package, consisting of a pair of satellites called Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, or GRACE-FO, is a collaboration of NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences. The two satellites, about the size of a sports car, will fly in tandem 137 miles apart in a 305-mile orbit around Earth's poles.
The GRACE-FO satellites were assembled by Airbus Defence and Space in Germany. The photo shows the s...
The GRACE-FO satellites were assembled by Airbus Defence and Space in Germany. The photo shows the satellites in the testing facility of IABG, an Airbus subcontractor, in Munich. (Photo credit: Airbus DS GmbH/A. Ruttloff
NASA/JPL
The science provided by this pair of satellites is really interesting. They will use microwave tracking that can measure the distance between the two 1,300-pound satellites to within the diameter of a red blood cell. The gravity produced by the Earth's mass includes a component contributed by water, regardless of what state it may be in, like vapor, solid or liquid.
"If mass changes on the ground, like in aquifers or melting glaciers or in the oceans and so on, we see it immediately in a range change, which we measure very, very precisely by a microwave tracking system with a precision of about one micrometer," said Frank Flechtner, GRACE-FO project manager at the German Research Centre for Geosciences, or GFZ.
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