A SpaceX Falcon 9v1.2FT Block 5 rocket successfully launched 10 Iridium next generation satellites from Vandeberg, California, on 11 January 2018, at 1531 GMT. The satellites carried were Iridium NEXT 68-77. The vehicle’s reusable first stage was successfully landed on the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” located in the Pacific Ocean at 1539 GMT. The B1049 first stage had flown before on the Telstar 18 Vantage in September 2018.

This mission completed the new Iridium NEXT constellation of 66 satellites and nine spares – fully replacing the older Iridium constellation’s satellites most of which have now been deorbited.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has revealed initial photographs of its new “test hopper” second stage prototype as an eventual BFS (Starship) rocket stage/spacecraft. This will fly in the spring on “up and down” test flights. A longer fully orbital version is due for launch in June. This will be single-stage-to-orbit capable – albeit with only a very small payload. It is more likely to be used as the upper stage of the main BFR booster.

However, not everything is going the firm’s way. SpaceX has revealed plans to reduce its workforce by up to 10 per cent. This equates to a loss of about 600-700 jobs. This is not a “deadwood” reduction of poorly performing staff, as the company attempted to do four years ago.  Instead SpaceX admits that it is letting go of many talented and experienced staff as it attempts to cut costs.

The Starship hopper prototype appears to be made out of stainless steel. Courtesy: Elon Musk/Twitter