In Pictures: SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches NASA's GRACE-FO & Iridium Satellites

Out with the Tide

Bill Ingalls/NASA

Another stunning long-exposure view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launching NASA's GRACE-FO and the Iridium Next satellites.

Orbit Ahead

Bill Ingalls/NASA

A parting view of the Falcon 9 rocket as it heads to space. This was the second flight for the first stage of this Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX did not try to land the first stage at sea on a drone ship for this flight.

Iridium Next Satellite Deploy!


One of five Iridium Next satellites is deployed into orbit after being launched into space atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on May 22, 2018. This was the sixth launch if Iridium satellites by SpaceX.

Epic Rideshare

Bill Ingalls/NASA

SpaceX had two customers for its May 22 launch: NASA and Iridium Communications. The rideshare mission included the twin GRACE-FO Earth science satellites and five Iridium Next communications satellites.The payload fairing shown here was also equipped with parafoils for an attempted recovery at sea. That recovery try was unsuccessful, but SpaceX pledged to keep trying.

SpaceX's Mr. Steven


During the launch, SpaceX hoped to recover the Falcon 9 rocket's payload fairing at sea by catching it with Mr. Steven - a ship equipped with a giant net suspended between robot arms.

The Giant Net


Here's a close-up of the giant net on SpaceX's Mr. Steven payload fairing recovery ship. SpaceX later reported it was unable to catch the fairing this time.

Moments Before Splashdown

SpaceX via Twitter

SpaceX tried to catch the payload fairing with a net-equipped boat named Mr. Steven but missed by about 165 feet (50 meters), company representatives said.

Payload Fairing Floating Down

SpaceX via Twitter

Half of a SpaceX Falcon 9 payload fairing descends toward splashdown in the Pacific Ocean after the rocket’s launch on May 22, 2018.

In the Water

SpaceX via Twitter

A close-up view of the Falcon 9 payload fairing half.

Waiting to Fly

Bill Ingalls/NASA

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen with the NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft onboard, Monday, May 21, 2018, at Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mission will measure changes in how mass is redistributed within and among Earth's atmosphere, oceans, land and ice sheets, as well as within Earth itself. GRACE-FO is sharing its ride to orbit with five Iridium NEXT communications satellites as part of a commercial rideshare agreement.

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.