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SpaceX launches first geostationary payload


December 3, 2013

The SES-8 satellite lifts-off atop the Falcon 9 rocket

The SES-8 satellite lifts-off atop the Falcon 9 rocket

Image Gallery (12 images)

Three’s a charm, they say. On Monday, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) met success with its third attempt at launching the SES-8 satellite into geosynchronous orbit. At 5:41 PM EST, the Orbital Sciences GEOStar-2 commercial telecommunications satellite lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida atop an upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle. This marks SpaceX’s first geostationary transfer mission.

According to SpaceX, Monday’s launch went without a hitch. Three minutes into the flight, the nine first-stage engines shut down and the second stage single Merlin 1-D vacuum engine fired for a 5 minute, 20 second burn, which placed the SES-8 satellite and the stage into a parking orbit. Eighteen minutes later, the second-stage engine fired again for one minute, sending the SES-8 into geostationary orbit as it separated from the second stage, 33 minutes after lift off. The SES is now in a 295 x 80,000 km (183 X 50,000 mi) orbit.

The launch vehicle was the Falcon 9 v 1.1, which is the replacement for the original Falcon 9. With a height of 68.4 m (224 ft), it’s significantly taller that the original Falcon’s 54.9 m (180 ft). It’s also heavier with a launch weight of 505,846 kg (1,115,200 lb) as opposed to 333,400 kg (735,000 lb). The Falcon 9 v 1.1 can put 13,150 kg (28,990 lb) into low Earth orbit over the original's 10,450 kg (23,040 lb) and can send 4,850 kg (10,690 lb) to geosynchronous orbit, where the old Falcon 9 could only cope with 4,540 kg (10,010 lb).

SES-9 mission patch

Tuesday’s successful launch was the third attempt by SpaceX. The first was on November 25 when the first stage oxygen tank showed pressure fluctuations and the launch was scrubbed. On November 28, a second launch attempt was aborted by the flight computer due to a slow ramp up in thrust in the first stage engines, which prompted the replacement of a gas generator.

The SES-8 is SpaceX’s first commercial launch from Cape Canaveral and the first Canaveral commercial launch in over five years. It’s also the second of three certification flights by SpaceX as part of the US Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, which will make the Falcon 9 eligible to fly National Security Space (NSS) missions.

SpaceX plans 50 launches with over 60 percent going to commercial customers.

Source: SpaceX

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy

Fact check on the orbit, please? A stationary orbit is pretty circular; those look like transfer orbits.

Erin Eldridge
4th December, 2013 @ 09:08 am PST

Erin, correct, the Falcon 9 took the SES to a Geostationary transfer orbit, the SES is equipped with manoeuvering thrusters which will now adjust it into its target geostationary orbit over the next 10 days.

Robert Smithers
5th December, 2013 @ 12:59 pm PST
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