A McDonnell Douglas (MDC) Delta 2/7920 two-stage booster launched the first five Motorola Iridium satellites into polar orbit from Vandenberg AFB, California, on 5 May.

It was the first lift-off of a Delta 2 since the 17 January explosion of a three-stage booster after lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a damaged solid-rocket booster leaked. It was MDC's first commercial launch from Vandenberg.

The Iridium satellites are the first of 66 planned operational Lockheed Martin-built craft, which will provide a $5 billion worldwide mobile-telephone service in late 1998 from six, 12-satellite, orbital planes - an additional six satellites will also be in orbit for use as spares.

The next seven Iridium satellites will be launched on a Russian Proton in June. MDC is contracted to launch a further 35 satellites.

Source: Flight International