SpaceX Launches Dual Satellite Mission

In what could be a positive sign for a busy year, a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Cape Canaveral Sunday evening in spectacularly uneventful fashion.  Carrying its first ever dual primary payload, ABS 3A and Eutelsat 115 West B, a pair of Boeing built all electric satellites, the Falcon 9, sans landing legs or grid fins, climbed away into the night sky on its way to a “supersynchronous transfer orbit” releasing the craft five minutes apart 30 minutes after liftoff. Launch took place from SLC-40 at 10:49 PM EST, at the beginning of a 45 minute launch window.

From the SpaceX fact sheet:

“ABS 3A will be located at 3° West and will connect the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. With three C-band beams and four Ku-band beams, the satellite will support VSAT services, TV distribution, IP trunking, cellular backhaul and maritime services.

EUTELSAT 115 West B will be located at 114.9° West and will provide coverage from Alaska and Canada to South America. EUTELSAT 115 West B will renew resources at 114.9° West by providing 12 C-band transponders and 34 Ku-Band transponders, replacing EUTELSAT 115 West A’s inclined orbit capacity”

While Sunday’s flight did not include a first stage landing attempt due to the fuel required to boost its 9,000 lbs of payload to the target orbit, a destination which required an energy intensive plane change maneuver, a tweet from Spacex founder Elon Musk indicated that further improvements to Falcon 9 performance will allow first stage recovery for similar launches in the future. Those changes include the planned upgrade of the Merlin 1-D engines to improve thrust by 15%, deeper chilling of the liquid oxygen to improve density, and finally a 10 increase in second stage tank volume.

As for when the next recovery effort will happen, Musk also confirmed that as expected it will take place on the next SpaceX resupply launch to ISS, currently scheduled for April 10th. The next launch, a communications satellite for Turkmenistan is scheduled to take place in three weeks.

The mission was also noteworthy due to the nature of the fully electric powered satellites which are now slowly making their way to geostationary orbit in a cruise phase which will take approximately six moths for ABS 3A, and two more for Eutelsat. The pairing of the Boeing built satellites with launch service provided by SpaceX resulted in a highly affordable launch cost of roughly $30 million per bird. As such, for those operators who can make good use of this category of comsat, and accept the time delay imposed by low thrust plasma propulsion, the deal is one which competitor Arianespace will find very difficult to match.

Taking a longer term view, the combination of chemical propulsion to initial orbit followed by electrical propulsion to destinations beyond may very well prove to become the routine method of supply for deep space exploration and settlement for most unmanned payloads.

Sunday’s successful mission marked the 16th flight of the Falcon 9 overall, and the 11th of the Falcon 9 V 1.1.

Posted in: SpaceX

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