SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday with a cluster of ten Iridium communications satellites at Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's central coast.
As the video shows, the multi-stage space rocket burst out of its firing blocks at 09:54 (local time). The rocket's second stage put the ten Iridium satellites into orbit at an altitude of 800 km. Eight minutes later, the first stage of the rocket returned to land smoothly on an unmanned droneship miles offshore in the Pacific Ocean. By recovering the most expensive part of the launcher, SpaceX will considerably reduce its costs.
As we announced to you three months ago, these are the first ten satellites in a constellation that will be made up of a total of 81 by early 2018. Six more launches are planned. These satellites will eventually cover 100 per cent of the planet.
The satellites' space-based automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) receivers will retransmit in real-time to ground stations the exact position of all aircraft equipped with the GlobalBeacon embedded system. It should be a foolproof way to track planes and prevent a repeat scenario of Flight MH370's going off the radar. The monthly cost of this system for companies is estimated at $80 to $100 per aircraft.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is gradually introducing mandatory real-time tracking of aircraft. From 2018, there will be obligatory monitoring once every 15 minutes, evolving to once every minute in case of distress situations in 2021.