In what looked like a scene from a Van Gogh painting, a swirl of white light illuminated the dark December sky above Santa Clarita last night as SpaceX – a private, Southern California-based aerospace firm – launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit as a part of its Iridium-4 Mission.
The rocket lifted off at 5:27 p.m. on Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County, and its incandescent contrails could be seen across Southern California.
These condensation trails were clearly visible from Santa Clarita, prompting residents to set social media platforms ablaze with photos, videos and even conspiracy theories about the launch.
“It’s Santa and his reindeer,” joked one Facebook commenter.
“E.T. is finally coming back,” wrote another resident on Facebook.
In reality, however, the scene was neither the product of extraterrestrials, North Koreans nor St. Nick – but of Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX.
“SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket [delivered] 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit for Iridium,” the company said in a press release on Friday. “This is the fourth set of 10 satellites in a series of 75 total satellites that SpaceX will launch for Iridium’s next generation global satellite constellation.”
Friday’s Iridium-4 launch was the company’s second this year as a part of the Iridium NEXT project.
“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,” read the SpaceX press release.
The Iridium project has been spearheaded by the eponymous, Virginia-based telecommunications company. The firm, which currently operates a system of 66 active satellites, relies on SpaceX to launch their products into orbit.
SpaceX has a long list of laurels of its own. Since being founded by Musk in Hawthorne, California in 2002, the company has achieved a long list of firsts – including being the first private firm to launch a rocket into orbit (2008) and to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (2012).
While Musk continues to innovate on the still nascent front of the private space industry, he can rest assured that he entertained a number of Santa Clarita residents on Friday night.
“It was insane,” said one resident, “the best I’ve seen!”