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Second high-orbit launch for SpaceX



Second high-orbit launch for SpaceX

By Jonathan Amos


California’s SpaceX company has launched a second satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), high above the Earth.

Its Falcon 9 rocket, flying out of Cape Canaveral in Florida, put up the 3-tonne TV and telecoms platform for the Asian operator Thaicom.

SpaceX completed its first commercial GTO mission in December.

The company has received major financial support from the US space agency Nasa.

SpaceX is aiming to shake up the rocket business, offering launch prices that undercut the established players.

These are already drawing the interest of operators who run the world’s fleet of telecommunications satellites, keen to reduce their costs.

Monday’s flight was important also because it counts towards SpaceX earning the qualification status it needs to launch the big US defence and intelligence spacecraft, and the flagship science missions of Nasa.

SpaceX has been told it must demonstrate the effectiveness and reliability of its Falcon vehicle before the highest value national assets are entrusted to it.

The Thaicom mission left the pad at Cape Canaveral at 17:06 local time (22:06 GMT), with the satellite itself being released by the Falcon’s upper-stage some 31 minutes later.

The rocket was targeting a so-called supersynchronous transfer orbit – an elliptical path that runs out from about 295km (180 miles) to 90,000km above the planet.

The Thaicom-6 satellite, with its own propulsion system, must now circularise this orbit and move itself to a “stationary” position 36,000km over the equator at 78.5 degrees East.

From this orbital slot, it will deliver direct-to-home TV broadcasts and other services to Southeast Asia and Africa, including Madagascar.

SpaceX has a backlog of customers waiting for an opportunity to use the Falcon.

Its manifest, which is approaching 50 flights, represents about $4bn (£2.4bn) in contracts.

A good chunk of these are Nasa space station sorties, sending supplies to astronauts inside the company’s Dragon cargo ship.

The next of these missions is likely to occur in February.

SpaceX had earlier suggested that it might use this flight to try to recover the first stage of the Falcon, bringing it back to Earth for a controlled landing.

If large segments of the vehicle can be re-used rather than simply discarded – as is standard on most rocket systems – this should lead to a further reduction in launch prices.

Second high-orbit launch for SpaceX

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