SpaceX Flies Iridium, NASA Satellites in 10th Launch of 2018

(Bloomberg) -- Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched satellites for longtime customers Iridium Communications Inc. and NASA, reusing part of a previously flown rocket for its 10th mission of 2018.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast about 12:47 p.m. local time Tuesday. Five Iridium NEXT satellites were launched as part of the company’s campaign to replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network. Iridium shares rose 6.8 percent, the biggest gain in almost seven months.

SpaceX’s mission also includes launching twin satellites for the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, a joint project between the National Aeronautics & Space Administration and the German Research Centre for Geosciences. They’ll measure the distribution of the Earth’s mass and can monitor changes in ice sheets, glaciers and sea level, according to NASA.

The Grace-FO satellites deployed roughly 11 minutes after launch, while the five Iridium satellites were released after about an hour. SpaceX didn’t attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket, which flew in January during the Zuma mission, according to a SpaceX press kit.

Reuseable rocket components are crucial to SpaceX’s strategy to drastically reducing the cost of space travel. Earlier this month, the closely held company launched a new Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 that’s designed to be used at least 10 times with limited refurbishment and as quickly as twice within a 24-hour period. Tuesday’s mission was conducted with an outgoing Block 4 version.

The company led by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, who’s also CEO of Tesla Inc., is targeting roughly 30 missions this year, up from a record 18 in 2017. The Hawthorne, California-based company’s valuation has climbed to about $25 billion, trailing only Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc. among U.S. venture-backed startups.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.