SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches SES-9, First Stage Comes Close But Hits Hard

Liftoff ! Credit: SpaceX

Liftoff !
Credit: SpaceX

After slogging through a frustrating launch campaign, SpaceX finally lofted the SES-9 satellite to geostationary transfer orbit on Friday evening. Liftoff of the first Falcon 9 Full Thrust carrying a comsat to GTO, and the second overall, took place on time at 6:35 pm Eastern from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40. Shortly thereafter, company founder Elon Musk confirmed the launch was successful via Twitter:

The news was not as good for the much anticipated first stage landing attempt on the Automated Spaceport Drone Ship located northeast of the Bahamas.

As Musk’s tweet indicated, a successful landing was not anticipated, and for those who watched the webcast, the final verdict was not much of a surprise. In the final frames of the live video feed coming from the ASDS, the incoming stage seemed to be slightly off target, but the loss of video feed at the last second left viewers in doubt for a brief period.

Despite the unsuccessful landing, and the likely need for a bit of touch-up paint on the barge, the evening’s launch marked a major milestone for SpaceX, and one which should not be overlooked. Dating back to the company’s founding in 2002, the long term plan has called for achieving a dominant position in the global commercial satellite launch market. That campaign began in earnest with the flight of the SES-8 mission in early 2014 aboard a Falcon 9 V1.1. It is the 30% more powerful, full thrust version of the Falcon 9 however, upon which the company’s ambitions rest. In successfully launching SES-9, a satellite whose mass actually exceeds the published capacity of the Falcon 9 FT, SpaceX has demonstrated the booster to its fullest potential on what will be one of the most demanding missions that it is ever asked of it.

It may have also learned quite a bit more regarding what the performance limits for landing actually are, informing future decisions of when it is time to call in the Falcon Heavy.


SES-9 Glamour Shot Credit: SpaceX

SES-9 Glamour Shot
Credit: SpaceX

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1 Comment on "SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches SES-9, First Stage Comes Close But Hits Hard"

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  1. Keith Pickering says:

    The fact that SES-9 is heavier than spec for F-9FT is the really telling point here, and widely under-reported. This may be pointing the way to dual specs for the Falcon 9: one for “recovery attempted” mode (equal to the current specs), and a possibly new “fully expendable” mode spec, somewhat heavier than current. Which would be exactly why Elon Musk had no confidence of sticking this landing going in: he knew they didn’t have enough fuel to make it realistically possible.

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