SpaceX on Friday blasted off a re-used Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 satellites into orbit, its fourth launch toward a $3 billion upgrade to Virginia-based Iridium mobile, voice and data network. It left behind a trail of mystery and wonder as it soared into space.
The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from coastal Vandenberg air force base at 5:27 pm (0127 GMT Saturday), carrying the latest batch of satellites for Iridium Communications.
Calls came in to TV stations as far afield as San Diego, more than 200 miles south of the launch site, as people puzzled about what caused the strange sight.
Cars stopped on freeways in Los Angeles so drivers and passengers could take pictures and video.
The Los Angeles fire department issued an advisory that the “mysterious light in the sky” was from the rocket launch.
Friday’s payload, known as Iridium 4, brings to 40 the number of new Iridium satellites now in orbit.
81 satellites in total are expected by the time the launches are complete for the global project, known as Iridium NEXT.
SpaceX will launch 75 of the 81 Iridium satellites.
“Iridium NEXT will replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network of low-Earth orbit satellites in what will be one of the largest ‘tech upgrades’ in history,” said a company statement.
The satellites also carry payloads for global aircraft tracking and a ship-tracking service in real time.
SpaceX did not attempt to land the first stage of its rocket after launch, as has become its common practice.