Published: Sat, May 26, 2018
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Two sportscar-sized satellites in orbit to measure Earth's water

Two sportscar-sized satellites in orbit to measure Earth's water

This first-stage booster has flown once before, a little more than four months ago when it launched the Zuma mission for the USA government-a satellite or spacecraft that was apparently lost in space after it failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

A SpaceX rocket launched from California has successfully deployed five communications satellites.

SpaceX did not attempt to recover the Falcon 9's first stage.

The second stage will take the payload to about 300 miles up, at which point it will cut off, and about 11 minutes after liftoff the rocket will dip its nose and spin a bit to get the GRACE-FO satellites into position. A 90 percent chance of good weather is forecast for the launch, but another launch window is available for tomorrow. The stream will spring to life shortly before the scheduled launch opportunity and SpaceX will provide commentary and additional details as the event unfolds.

The Iridium Next satellites are less interesting: They will join the 50 Iridium Next satellites already floating in space that, according to Space.com, will eventually make up part of the 75-satellite communications constellation.

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SpaceX, and an earlier model of the Falcon, were certified in May 2015 for military missions, and it won the Air Force's first competitive launch a year later when the United Launch Alliance of Boeing Co. and Lockheed, which long held exclusive rights to military missions, declined to bid on the GPS III launches. 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". "We await our first communication from #GRACEFO via our communications station at McMurdo, Antarctica", NASA tweeted after launch.

"Three, two, one, liftoff!" said a SpaceX commentator as the Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 12:47 pm Pacific time (1947 GMT).

NASA has spent $430 million on the mission, and Germany has spent about $91 million. The photo shows the satellites in the testing facility of IABG, an Airbus subcontractor, in Munich.

"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. -German science satellites created to study the movement of water masses across the Earth. GRACE Follow-On will spend the next five years mapping Earth's gravity to study the effects of climate change around the world.

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