SpaceX rocket leaves Southern Californians looking skyward

SpaceX rocket leaves Southern Californians looking skyward
As seen at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. Photo by Jim Kydd

REGION — Hawthorne-based SpaceX launched 10 communications satellites into orbit today from Vandenberg Air Force Base, creating a streak of light visible to many people across Southern California.

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellites launched at about 5:30 p.m. from Vandenberg, with the satellites expected to be deployed around 6:30 p.m.

The launch was visible across most of Southern California, which was treated to a spectacular light show as the rocket streaked across the sky. Camera-wielding witnesses snapped photos and quickly posted them on social media, with many wondering if it was a UFO.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk, responding to one person on Twitter who said the launch sparked an “alien debate” in his family, wrote jokingly, “It was definitely aliens.”

The 10 satellites are part of Iridium’s NEXT system, which will ultimately include 81 satellites. Friday’s launch was the fourth set of 10 launched by SpaceX, which is scheduled to launch 75 of the 81 in the NEXT system. SpaceX plans to have all 75 satellites launched into orbit by mid-2018.

According to SpaceX, the satellite array will offer a “next- generation communications platform” known as Certus. The array will also include the Aireon aircraft tracking and surveillance system.

“In a historic first, upon completion this system will provide air traffic control organizations and aircraft operators that purchase the service with real-time, global visibility of ADS-B equipped aircraft.”

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