CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – After enduring four launch scrubs caused by poor weather, misguided boaters, high level winds and propellant fueling problems, SpaceX put on a stunning sky show with tonight’s sunset blastoff of their private Falcon 9 rocket boosting the high powered SES-9 commercial telecommunications satellite to orbit.
For the many spectators who stuck around, the fifth launch attempt proved to be the charm as they were richly rewarded with a spectacular sunset launch that was visible for more than five minutes all around the space coast and far beyond due to crystal clear skies.
Liftoff of the Cape’s first Falcon 9 launch of 2016 took place without issue as all nine first stage Merlin engines ignited as planned at the opening of Friday nights launch window at 6:35 p.m. EST from SpaceX’s seaside Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
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The two stage Falcon 9 carrying the 5,271 kg SES-9 satellite roared off the launch pad and soon arched over eastwards on its trail boost the satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).
Exquisitely symmetrical contrails blessed the sky and enveloped the rocket as it accelerated to space.
From my vantage point with the media on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station we could clearly see the stage separation and ignition of the second stage engine.
The SES-9 satellite was deployed approximately 31 minutes after liftoff and delivered to Geostationary Transfer Orbit.
“Target altitude of 40,600 km achieved,” tweeted SpaceX’s billionaire CEO and founder Elon Musk.
“Thanks @SES_Satellites for riding on Falcon 9! Looking forward to future missions.”
The commercial launch was contracted by the Luxembourg based SES, a world-leading satellite operator. SES provides satellite-enabled communications services to broadcasters, Internet service providers, mobile and fixed network operators, and business and governmental organizations worldwide using its fleet of more than 50 geostationary satellites.
SpaceX previously launched the SES-8 satellite for SES on Dec. 3, 2013.
The primary mission of the liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 was to carry the SES-9 payload to orbit.
SES-9 is the largest satellite dedicated to serving the Asia-Pacific region for SES.
With its payload of 81 high-powered Ku-band transponder equivalents, SES-9 will be the 7th SES satellite providing unparalleled coverage to over 20 countries in the region, according to SES.
The Boeing built SES-9 satellite has a dry mass of 2,835 kg and a fueled mass of 5,271 kg. The huge satellite sports a wingspan of 48 meters with two solar wings. In addition each wing is outfitted with six additional solar panels on each wing.
It is designed to operate for 15 years. It will be co-located with the SES-7 satellite at the prime orbital location of 108.2 degrees East.
The secondary test objective of SpaceX was to land the Falcon 9 rockets first stage on an ocean going barge about 300 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. Prior to launch, SpaceX officials were not optimistic about the chances of a successful landing.
The droneship barge was named “Of Course I Still Love You.”
Although SpaceX engineers were able to guide the first stage back to the barge, it made a hard landing and as expected it did not survive.
“Rocket landed hard on the droneship,” tweeted Musk soon after the results were known.
“Didn’t expect this one to work (v hot reentry), but next flight has a good chance.”
Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
2 Replies to “SpaceX Stuns with Spectacular Sunset Launch of SES-9 Telecom Satellite”
If safety restrictions on high speed re-entry forbid landfall and a barge landing is not viable then how much re-usability is SpaceX going to get? Maybe they can still be competitive on the launch costs but they need to nail a barge landing – and reuse the stage – soon.
It isn’t safety restrictions on high speed reentry that “forbid landfall” (return to launch site), it’s basic physics. It takes a *lot* more fuel to return to the launch site than it does to continue on a nearly ballistic trajectory and aim at a platform that you can place right underneath where you expect the rocket to impact the water. The more energy it takes to loft the payload into orbit (either a higher energy orbit like GTO or a heavier sat), the less energy (fuel) is left to make a landing attempt. Hence why a heavy sat going to GTO doesn’t leave enough fuel reserves to attempt an easier land landing.
This particular landing attempt was even more challenging because the payload was heavy enough and going to a high enough orbit that there wasn’t enough fuel left to even do a regular barge landing. They weren’t able to slow the rocket down to safe speeds while it reentered the atmosphere like they normally do on a landing attempt (it would have taken too much fuel), so it experienced large amounts of heat while reentering.
Even with that sacrifice it still didn’t have enough fuel left to make a regular landing attempt at the barge. Rather than do a “hoverslam” into the barge (slowing down with one engine for a moderately long period of time), they did a high speed suicide burn into the barge with 3 engines to conserve fuel. It was fairly unlike to succeed… but it was technically possible, so they tried it. Maybe they can make the 3 engine suicide burn work next time they have a similar launch;).
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