NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) spacecraft will share a ride into Earth orbit with communications satellites.
Iridium Communications Inc. contracted with SpaceX for an eighth Falcon 9 launch. Along for the ride will be the twin satellites of the GRACE-FO mission, a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ).
GRACE-FO will be deployed into a separate low-Earth orbit, marking the first rideshare deal for Iridium. An agreement of this kind is economical for all parties, and affords Iridium the ability to launch five additional satellites for its next-generation global satellite network, the company announced. The rideshare is anticipated to launch out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by early 2018.