SpaceX Launch Puts Commercial Satellite in Orbit on Third Try

Image: SpaceX Launch Puts Commercial Satellite in Orbit on Third Try

Wednesday, 04 Dec 2013 01:13 PM

By Ken Mandel

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It took three attempts, but Space Exploration Technologies Corp. successfully sent its first commercial satellite into space on Tuesday from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The Falcon 9 rocket officially launched at 5:41 p.m. EST and placed a three-ton communications satellite — owned by SES S.A. — some 50,000 miles above Earth. In doing so, the company founded by Elon Musk fired its salvo as a low-cost option to legacy satellite-launch providers backed by U.S. and foreign governments, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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Onlookers watched as the rocket soared into clear skies above the Atlantic Ocean, amid a plume of orange and white exhaust. Thirty minutes after the launch, SpaceX announced that the satellite's orbit "looks nominal."

Originally scheduled for Nov. 25, the rocket's launch was canceled minutes before liftoff.

A SpaceX spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal, "We observed unexpected readings with the first stage liquid oxygen system, so we decided to investigate.

A second attempt was made on Thanksgiving Day but was aborted due to a "slower than expected thrust ramp," according to a tweet from Musk. The day before the third attempt, Musk tweeted that gas generators on the rocket's central engine were cleaned and replaced as a "precautionary measure."

The mission represents another milestone for the Luxembourg-based company, as it confirms SpaceX's entrance into a $2.4 billion market, and demonstrates the company's ability to launch objects into much higher orbits. The Falcon 9 had already launched six times previously, but only once with more powerful engines and a 43-foot payload, according to USA Today. Most of SpaceX's 50 contracted launches are for commercial clients.

"The successful insertion of the SES-8 satellite confirms the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle delivers to the industry's highest performance standards," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a statement.

In the coming weeks, the Falcon 9 will settle 22,300 miles over the equator in a "geosynchronous" orbit, where satellites match the speed of Earth's rotation and give the appearance of staying in stationary positions. Its purpose is to broadcast high-definition television channels to the Asia-Pacific region, according to USA Today.

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