SpaceX launches first geostationary payload
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).
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.