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.