SpaceX will deposit a batch of communications satellites into orbit this morning (March 30) in its sixth mission of the year.
A flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket—the first one was launched exactly a year ago—is expected to take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 10:13am ET. This rocket won’t return to Earth afterward. It’s an older version, previously used to launch a similar set of satellites in October 2017, and is being phased out by SpaceX ahead of a more robust model debuting this year.
You can watch SpaceX’s live stream of the launch here:
It’s not likely there will be an immediate video, but one of the more interesting things to watch out for today is a vessel called Mr. Steven, equipped with a large metal framework that holds a net. Mr. Steven will attempt to catch the carbon composite nose cone that protects the satellite during flight after it splits and falls away from the rocket. It may not look like much, but Elon Musk says those fairings cost $8 million, so recovering them is worth the effort.
The satellites are being launched for Iridium, a global satellite communications firm that has given SpaceX significant business. This is the fifth SpaceX mission to build out Iridium’s constellation since January 2017. After today’s launch, 50 satellites will be have been placed in orbit to provide communications and airplane-tracking services.
SpaceX says it will launch as many as 30 flights this year, and its pace will need to speed up to do so. It’s possible: Some of SpaceX’s early 2018 schedule was disrupted by the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy in January, but the company is now bearing down, including a plan to fly four rockets from two different coasts in the next month.