VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE >> Hundreds of rocket fans gathered to watch SpaceX launch the second installment of Iridium’s next-generation global satellite network around this sprawling U.S. Air Force base in Lompoc.
The fourth-ever West Coast launch for the Hawthorne rocket maker blasted off on time, despite heavy fog and strong winds. It was the company’s 36th successful launch.
Carter McBride, 12, came from Arizona with his family to watch his first launch.
“It looked like it was from a movie,” Carter said after silently watching the launch. “It kinda felt like my chest was shaking.”
McBride and others watched from the closest viewing locations at the base, about 4 miles away.
The view of the liftoff was obscured by dense fog. But the rocket’s glowering orange-red trail of fire came into view after it cleared the ground-hugging fog layer.
Viewers heard the ripping explosions from the rocket’s burning tail moments after it flew into the air with 1.7 million pounds of thrust. Then, as the exhaust burned off, a line of bright-white contrail formed in the blue sky.
RECOVERED 13TH BOOSTER
Minutes later, after delivering the second stage carrying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit, the 16-story-tall booster then returned to land gently on an at-sea barge off the coast of Baja California.
The booster was partially guided by a new set of titanium grid fins designed to withstand the high heat of re-entry. The Falcon 9’s former grid fins caught fire during Friday’s launch from Cape Canaveral, and on the first launch of a preflown booster on March 30.
CEO Elon Musk said the new grid fins “worked even better than expected,” minutes after the booster landed on the mesh-like appendages at its base.
They “should be capable of an indefinite number of flights with no service,” he tweeted. During re-entry, he said, the fins “glow red hot.”
The barge, or “autonomous drone ship,” will now motor the salvaged booster to the Los Angeles…