The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 5:27 p.m. Friday on a trajectory that took it south along the U.S. and Mexico coasts carrying 10 satellites for the Iridium mobile communications network.
Numerous posts on Twitter showed the rocket’s progress as it flew south, and the sight startled many.
“WOW!!! The view from LA is amazing!!!! People are going to freak out,” said one person on Twitter.
“CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN WHAT THIS IS IN THE SKY #ALIENS,” tweeted another.
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.”
At 5:38 p.m., SpaceX reported that the second stage and its cargo of 10 satellites was coasting before a scheduled restart of the engine to deploy the satellites into their final orbits.
At 6:59 p.m., all satellites had been deployed and Iridium confirmed they were in communication and operating normally.
— Huntington Beach (@HBCityBeach) December 23, 2017
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 total.
The Iridium network supports satellite phones that can be used anywhere in the world.
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 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,” SpaceX said.
City News Service contributed to this report