This past year has been a great one for SpaceX. The company has sent rocket after rocket skyward, completing missions for a number of clients including NASA and private firms, and they’ve got just one more thing to do before wrapping up 2017 with a nice bow. Tonight, the company will conduct one last 2017 launch for Iridium, a company that uses SpaceX’s services to place its satellites into orbit. It should be a fairly straightforward mission, but there’s one thing that makes this launch different from most of the others SpaceX has performed this year: the rocket won’t be coming back in one piece.
Tonight’s launch will be performed using one of SpaceX’s used — sorry, “flight proven” — Falcon 9 rockets. The company has made a habit of recovering this hardware and relaunching them later after a brief period of refurbishing. However, the rocket being used tonight will not be recovered, and will instead meet its demise as it falls back to Earth.
The mission will see the deployment of ten satellites in Earth orbit, and is part of a 75-satellite deal between Iridium and SpaceX. Tonight’s launch will be the fourth that SpaceX has conducted for Iridium as part of the agreement.
Speaking with the Verge, SpaceX explained that rocket recovery decisions are made on a “case by case” basis but wouldn’t go into greater detail about why this particular rocket won’t be getting a new lease on life. Speculation about why the booster will be scraped ranges from the upcoming holiday (and SpaceX possibly not wanting to pay employees overtime to take care of the recovery) to the booster being an older model that will simply not be needed as part of the company’s lineup going forward.
Whatever the case, the launch is being treated with all of the usual fanfare of a SpaceX mission, including a live video stream of the liftoff as it happens. The launch is taking place at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and is scheduled for a launch window beginning at 5:27 pm PST. If something prevents the launch from happening, the backup launch is scheduled for Saturday at 5:21 pm PST. You can watch the entire thing live on the YouTube embed above.