Musk’s SpaceX lofts Iridium satellites as they near 2017 launch target

Tesla Motors Inc Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk and other prominent tech executives are pouring $1 billion into a non-profit aimed at creating artificial intelligence that augments humans’ capabilities.

Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp successfully launched its 14th Falcon 9 rocket of the year, bringing the company a step closer to the 20 to 24 total missions it’s targeted for 2017. The pre-dawn launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast carried 10 communications satellites for customer Iridium Communications Inc to low-earth orbit, where deployment took place about an hour after the launch.

The mission was SpaceX’s third for Iridium this year. SpaceX plans to deploy a total of 75 satellites for Iridium by mid-2018 as the communications company works to upgrade the world’s largest commercial network of low-earth orbit satellites. SpaceX is scheduled to complete five more launches for Iridium over the next year.

“The process of replacing the satellites one-by-one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before,” SpaceX said in a statement ahead of the launch.

After take-off, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean for future reuse. Recovering and refurbishing rockets is key to Chief Executive Officer Musk’s goal to make space travel affordable. Musk, who’s also CEO of electric-car maker Tesla Inc, founded SpaceX in 2002 with the ultimate aim of enabling people to live on other planets.

The closely held company is expected to launch its next rocket on Wednesday. The upcoming mission, which will take off from Florida, will deliver a high-powered communications satellite for customers EchoStar Corp. and SES SA. In addition to contracts with commercial satellite operators and the US military, Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to resupply the International Space Station and a second pact valued at as much as $2.6 billion to eventually transport crews to the orbiting lab.