Published: Sat, May 26, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

SpaceX is about to launch 2 NASA satellites into orbit

SpaceX is about to launch 2 NASA satellites into orbit

The GPS III satellites are expected to provide improved security against cyberthreats, as well as more accuracy for navigation. Lots of them. The payload included two NASA GRACE-FO satellites.

Called GRACE-FO, for short, the mission will detect the movement of Earth's water masses and changes in mass within the planet by measuring variations in gravity through tiny fluctuations in the distance between the two satellites as they orbit 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart - roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego - at an altitude of about 304 miles (490 kilometers).

The rocket, reusing a first stage booster that successfully launched Northrop Grumman's failed Zuma mission in January, took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at 3:48 p.m.

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in California, a SpaceX rocket roared into the sky with a duel payload on board.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites deployed approximately 11 minutes and 30 seconds after launch, Xinhua reported.

This is an unusual launch - the rocket will be making some complicated maneuvers 300 miles up to make sure NASA's satellites are deployed correctly, then it travels the rest of the way to the targeted orbit for the communication satellites.

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U.S. private space firm SpaceX launched two new Earth-observing satellites for NASA and five commercial communications satellites for Iridium on a used Falcon 9 rocket in a ride-share mission on 22 May.

A total of 75 satellites for Iridium are being sent to orbit as part of the upgrade, taking place over eight launches with SpaceX.

Iridium used the extra lift capacity to launch three more Iridium Next satellites than it would have using the Dnepr vehicle. The satellites for Iridium Communications' next-generation fleet were released in a process completed a little more than an hour after liftoff.

The McLean, Virginia, company now has 55 Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit.

The GRACE-FO mission is a joint effort of NASA and GFZ. 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. GRACE Follow-On will spend the next five years mapping Earth's gravity to study the effects of climate change around the world.

In addition to the microwave ranging system also used by the original GRACE satellite, the GRACE-FO satellites will use a laser rangefinder to measure their separation. That mission was lost, but SpaceX was not to blame for the mishap.

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