Two launches by US commercial rocket companies took place this week:

** A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched on Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the coast of California with seven satellites. First released after reaching a low earth orbit were the two GRACE-FO (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-on) research spacecraft sponsored by NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ). After a coast period and a brief firing of the upper stage engine, five Iridium NEXT communications satellites were deployed successfully.

The GRACE-FO spacecraft

will continue a study begun by the original GRACE mission, which proved that water movement can be tracked with high precision by its effect on Earth’s gravitational field. GRACE-FO will continue the record of regional variations in gravity, telling us about changes in glaciers, ground water, sea levels and the health of our planet as a whole. 

The five NEXT satellites join 50 others launched previously by SpaceX, ten at a time. There will be two more F9 launches of NEXT satellites this year to complete the constellation.

Another video of the mission:

also find lots of great pictures of the launch at Official SpaceX Photos | Flickr

IRIDIUM-6/GRACE-FO MISSION

** An Orbital ATK Antares rocket launched early Monday morning from Wallops Island, Virginia with a Cygnus cargo spacecraft that is carrying over 3.3 tons of supplies, equipment, and science and technology R&D payloads to the International Space Station. The Cygnus will reach the ISS on Thursday morning. See the OA-9 Mission Page for updates.

A view of the launch:

The Antares lifts off from the pad a Wallops Island with the OA-9 Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

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