SpaceX launches, releases NASA's GRACE-FO satellites

By Brooks Hays  |  Updated May 22, 2018 at 7:15 PM
share with facebook
share with twitter
1 of 3
| License Photo

May 22 (UPI) -- SpaceX played the role of carpool driver on Tuesday, ferrying seven satellites into space.

The company's Falcon 9 rocket launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base at 12:47 p.m.

Eleven minutes after launch, and shortly after first and second stage separation, the Falcon 9 rocket released NASA's twin GRACE-FO satellites. After a rest, the rocket's upper stage reignited its engines and adjusted its orbit for the release of five Iridium Next communications satellites.

The two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On spacecraft will continue the GRACE mission's objective of measuring gravitational anomalies.

Data collected by the mission, a joint effort between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, can help scientists measure the distribution of mass across planet Earth.

"The twin GRACE-Follow On satellites have deployed from their dispenser the Falcon 9's second stage," SpaceFlightNow reported. "They're designed to separate in opposite directions, then configure themselves to contact ground controllers during passage over a ground station in Antarctica in a few minutes."

After release, the space-facing GRACE-FO satellite began pushing up into a higher, slower orbit, while the Earth-facing satellite started slipping down into a lower, faster orbit.

"For the first few days after launch, the lower, faster satellite will pull slowly ahead of the other until the two satellites are approximately 137 miles apart -- the optimal separation distance for science operations," NASA said in a mission update.

Once the Earth-facing satellite has put a safe distance between itself and its sibling, it will thrust back up into a higher orbit, so that one follows the other on the same trajectory.

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories