SpaceX Iridium 3 Mission to Launch from Vandenberg This Week

Images credit & copyright: SpaceX & Iridium Corp.

LAUNCH ALERT!: Monday, October 9, 2017 at 05:37 PDT (08:37 EDT & 12:37 UTC), a SpaceX Falcon 9 (B1041.1)will rise from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Space Launch Complex-4E (SLC-4E) carrying 10 Iridium NEXT 21-30 communication satellites for the Iridium Corporation. The launch window for this mission is instantaneous so if it doesn’t fly on time, the backup will likely be on October 10 at 05:31 PDT (08:31 EDT & 12:31 UTC).

This will be SpaceX’s 14th launch of 2017 and the 42nd Falcon 9 flight overall and the parameters of this mission will allow for a soft landing on SpaceX’s West Coast, Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), Just Read The Instructions (JRTI).  If successful this will be SpaceX’s 17th landing overall; 10 on drone ships and 7 on land. At this time, SpaceX has no Return To Launch Site (RTLS) capability at Vandenberg AFB.

Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships (ASDS): Were built at the Conrad Shipyard in Morgan City, Louisiana, the same place that NASA’s Pegasus barge was refitted to support the SLS program. Pegasus carried lots of equipment throughout the years but most famously the space shuttle external fuel tanks from NASA’s Michaud Plant in Louisiana to KSC.

SpaceX’s barges are 300 by 100 ft. with “wings” that extend that width to 170 ft. It has also been fitted with thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs that are able to hold balance and position to within 3 meters even in storm conditions. ASDS’s are painted black with the SpaceX “X” logo, a yellow inner ring and outer white ring acting as a bull eye. The East Coast ASDS is “Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY)” and the West Coast’s ship is “Just Read The Instructions (JRTI).”

In total there have been three ASDS’s. The first of which was Marmac 300, a deck barge named “Just Read The Instructions (JRTI).” That ASDS was used for two east coast landing attempts (CRS 5 & 6), deconstructed and retired. East Coast duties were then transferred to Marmac 304 named “Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY).” A third ASDS, Marmac 303 was constructed and stationed on the West Coast where it fields launches from Vandenberg AFB, CA. Its name, “Just Read The Instructions (JRTI).”

These fun yet odd names come from Scottish Sci-fi legend Iain Banks’s “Culture” series of 10 novels. They are spacecraft known as General Contact Units (GCU’s) from the novel “Player of Games.” Other spacecraft in the series (which get to name themselves) are even more entertaining such as “Size Isn’t Everything,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Death and Gravity.” Here’s a fun Wiki page with more info:

The Rocket: The greatly improved Falcon 9R FT rocket is a 2-stage partially reusable rocket with future ambitions of becoming fully reusable. The new version is 3.7 m (12 ft.) in diameter and 70 m (229.6 ft.) tall which is about 1.6 m (5.6 ft.) taller than the Falcon 9 v1.1 or “Block 2” in order to house a higher volume fuel tank. It is also fitted with upgraded Merlin family main engines. They have replaced the 9 Merlin-1D (and before them were the 1C engines), with the more powerful Merlin-1D+ engines that will provide a thrust of nearly 694,000kg (1.53 million lb.) at sea level. Each Merlin-1D+ provides 180,000 lb. (81,600 kg) of thrust at sea level, which equates to roughly a 20% increase in overall performance. If you add that with the new process of densifying the fuel and improving the overall airframe, the total gain in performance is about 33%.

Dragon Spacecraft (when in use) = The Dragon spacecraft is about 23.6 ft. (7.2 m) tall with trunk attached and 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide. It’s comprised of two main sections; the pressurized cargo area which can carry 388 cubic ft. of cargo as well as the unpressurized cargo area. The trunk (unpressurized area) carries 494 cubic ft. of cargo as well as the solar arrays. OR: Main Composite Payload Fairing (when in use) = the composite payload fairing is 13.1 meters (43ft) in length and 5.2 meter (17ft) in diameter. Dragon, along with Russia’s Progress & Soyuz, Europe’s (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Orbital ATK’s Cygnus and Japan’s (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), is one of only six vehicles that can fly to the Space Station. While Russia’s Soyuz is currently the only crewed means of reaching and returning from Station, SpaceX’s Dragon is currently the only means of returning experiments and supplies back to Earth from Station.

Second Stage: Powered by a single Merlin-1D+ Vacuum engine with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (LOX/RP-1). The Merlin 1D+ are basically the same Merlin-1D engines used previously but instead of utilizing them at only 80%, they will now be operating at 100%. This stage can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into desired orbits. For maximum reliability, the second stage has redundant igniter systems and has a burn time of 375 seconds.

Interstage: a composite structure that connects the first stage to the second stage and holds the release and separation system. Its al all pneumatic stage separation system for low shock, highly reliable separation that can be tested on the ground, unlike pyrotechnic systems used on most launch vehicles.

Core/Boost Stage is powered by nine (9) Merlin-1D+ engines in their circular “octaweb” configuration with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (LOX/RP-1). The Merlin 1D+ engines are basically the same Merlin-1D engines used previously but instead of utilizing them at only 80%, they will now be operating at 100%. The core stage has a burn time of 180 seconds and is gradually throttled. Its 9 Merlin-1D+ engine system can sustain up to two engine shutdowns during flight and still successfully complete its mission.

The first stage is fitted with four independently steerable grid fins that help control pitch, yaw and roll during vertical decent. It’s also fitted with four landing legs that will extend before touchdown.

Watch Live:

SpaceX Webcast:

SpaceX YouTube (Hosted Webcast):

SpaceX YouTube (Technical Webcast): May not be one.

SpaceX Facebook:

Iridium 3 (NEXT 21-30) Mission Info: 

45th Space Wing L-1 Weather Forecast:

SpaceX Iridium 3 (NEXT 21-30) Press Kit:

Reddit Iridium 3 (NEXT 21-30) Launch Campaign (Reddit):

General 2017 Launch List (Wiki):



Elon Musk Twitter:

Elon Musk Instagram:

SpaceX Twitter:

SpaceX Facebook:

SpaceX Instagram:

SpaceX YouTube:

SpaceX Google Plus:

SpaceX Flickr:

Irididium Corporation:


Iridium CEO Matt Desch:





Falcon 9 Family & Random SpaceX 411:

SpaceX Falcon 9:

SpaceX Falcon Heavy:

SpaceX Falcon 9 (Wiki):

SpaceX launches (Wiki):

SpaceX booster landing attempts (Wiki):

Falcon 9 core (booster) serial numbers:

SpaceX Stats:

SpaceX Now:

Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A):

NASA Launch Complex 39 (LC-39):

Heroicrelics Launch Complex 39 (LC-39):

Wiki Launch Complex 39 (LC-39):

Patrick AFB: 45th Space Wing, Cape Canaveral, Florida:

Main Site:



Vandenberg AFB, 30th Space Wing, CA:

Vandenberg AFB launch complex locations & viewing locations:

Vandenberg AFB :




Peterson AFB, U.S. Air Force Space Command, Colorado:






Los Angeles Air Force Base, Space and Missile Systems Center:

Main Site:





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