The NewSpace Age is set to take another giant leap forward later this year with today’s announcement that SpaceX and SES have reached an agreement to use a “flight proven” Falcon 9 first stage for the launch of the SES-10 satellite.
Luxembourg based SES has been one of SpaceX’s most progressive supporters, having been the first geostationary satellite customer to launch on the Falcon 9 V1.1, and then the first to launch a GTO mission on the upgraded Falcon 9 Full Thrust, which uses superchilled, or “densified” propellants to achieve higher performance.
SES has also long let it be known that it would like to be the first to fly on a previously recovered Falcon 9, albeit with a considerable discount for assuming the risk. Not surprisingly, today’s announcement does not disclose the launch price, but it is safe to assume that SES has indeed negotiated a figure significantly below the $62 million published price for a GTO Falcon 9, even if it is not quite the full 30% figure it hoped to achieve.
With the launch of the 5,300 kg satellite scheduled to take place sometime in fourth quarter, SpaceX has a 10 day window to achieve something else of historical note in what will likely be the most heavily anticipated commercial satellite launch of the space age. It was less than one year ago, on December 21st 2015, that SpaceX recovered the first Falcon 9 booster, one which is now on display outside its Hawthorne, Ca. headquarters. If the company can manage to keep pace with what is already a tightly packed manifest for the second half of 2016, it stands to close the loop from recovering a rocket used on an orbital flight for the first time, to actually re-launching another, in the space of a just one year. Given the challenges involved in pioneering new ground, the timing alone stands as a remarkable achievement.
The booster which will most likely be tapped for the honor is the Falcon 9 that launched a Dragon spacecraft to low Earth orbit during the CRS-8 mission on April 8th. It already holds a place in history as the first Falcon 9 to be successfully recovered at sea, and there is little doubt that SpaceX will be just as focused on making it the first to be recovered for a second time as well, and not simply for financial reasons.
In its quest for iterative improvement, SpaceX is constantly seeking new data points as it progressively pushes the envelope of launch vehicle performance and durability. One of the most important questions the company is seeking to answer is how many times it can launch and recover a Falcon 9 before doing so is no longer cost effective, or even structurally possible. Given that higher velocity GTO flights inflict more wear on a rocket, engineers will be eager to see the comparative difference between a newly manufactured first stage recovered from a GTO mission, which it has now done several times, and one which previously has previously lifted a payload to LEO.
In what could be a Christmas give for space enthusiasts around the world, they now may have a chance to find out.
The complete press release is below:
SES-10 LAUNCHING TO ORBIT ON SPACEX’S FLIGHT-PROVEN FALCON 9 ROCKET
Leading satellite operator will be world’s first company to launch a geostationary satellite on a reusable rocket in Q4 2016
30 Aug 2016 – See more at: http://www.ses.com/4233325/news/2016/22407810#sthash.hqnmwfCh.dpuf
LUXEMBOURG/ HAWTHORNE, CA, 30 August 2016 – SES (Euronext Paris and Luxembourg Stock Exchange: SESG) and SpaceX announced today they have reached an agreement to launch SES-10 on a flight-proven Falcon 9 orbital rocket booster.
The satellite, which will be in a geostationary orbit and expand SES’s capabilities across Latin America, is scheduled for launch in Q4 2016. SES-10 will be the first-ever satellite to launch on a SpaceX flight-proven rocket booster.
SES-10 will be positioned at 67 degrees West, pursuant to an agreement with the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), and will be used for the Simón Bolivar 2 satellite network. With a Ku-band payload of 55 36MHz transponder equivalents, of which 27 are incremental, the multi-mission spacecraft is the first SES satellite wholly dedicated to Latin America. It will replace the capacity currently provided by SES’s AMC-3 and AMC-4 satellites at that location, as well as bring additional capacity to Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The high-powered, tailored and flexible beams will provide direct-to-home broadcasting, enterprise and mobility services.
“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket. We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES. “This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise. The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle gives us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”
“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX. “SES has been a strong supporter of SpaceX’s approach to reusability over the years and we’re delighted that the first launch of a flight-proven rocket will carry SES-10.”
SES-10 is being built by Airbus Defence and Space and is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. The satellite will utilise an electric plasma propulsion system for on-orbit manoeuvres and a chemical system for initial orbit raising and some on-orbit manoeuvres.