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SpaceX Back in Action for 2017On Jan. 14, the private spaceflight company SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 commercial communications satellites in a flawless liftoff from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The mission was SpaceX's first flight since a Sept. 1 explosion destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and its Amos-6 satellite payload during a test at the company's launchpad at Florida's Cape Canaveral Florida.
If you missed the launch, you can watch video of the Falcon 9 rocket soaring into space here, and click the arrows to relive the flight in photos by SpaceX (and later Space.com's own Calla Cofield, who witnessed the launch first-hand).
FIRST STOP: High Stakes
High StakesSlide 2 of 31
SpaceX (and its customer, satellite communications operator Iridium) had a lot riding on the Jan. 14 launch. For SpaceX, it was a return to flight after more than four months of down time to track the cause of the Sept. 1, 2016 explosion. The company ultimately traced the cause to the aluminum of a helium tank inside the upper stage of the two-stage Falcon 9 booster and devised measures to avoid the problem moving forward.
But for Iridium, the stakes were high for a different reason.
NEXT: Building a ConstellationSlide 3 of 31
Building a ConstellationSlide 4 of 31
Building a ConstellationFor Iridium, more than just tech was riding on the Falcon 9. The rocket was carrying Iridium-1, the first wave of the company's vast new Iridium NEXT mobile communications satellite constellation, a network that - when complete - will consist of 70 satellites providing vast coverage for Iridium's customers.
Iridium built the Iridium NEXT satellites to launch 10 at a time, so if something went wrong with the Falcon 9's return to flight, Iridium could have lost one-seventh of its planned constellation.
NEXT: Iridium's Big DreamSlide 5 of 31
Iridium's Big DreamSlide 6 of 31
Iridium's Big DreamHere's an illustration of what an Iridium NEXT satellite will look like when fully operational in orbit. Each of the satellites weighs 1,896-lbs. (860 kilograms).
Iridium representatives have said the 70-satellite Iridium NEXT constellation will be the largest satellite network in the world once it is complete. The remaining 60 satellites will be launched, 10 at a time, on six more Falcon 9 launches, all of them based out of Vandenberg. Ultimately, the Iridium NEXT satellites will replace Iridium's current 66-satellite network in place today.
NEXT: Liftoff!Slide 7 of 31
Liftoff!Slide 8 of 31