CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. - A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivered its heaviest satellite yet to orbit on Monday evening after the company's second blastoff from Kennedy Space Center in two weeks.
On the mission’s first launch attempt, the 23-story rocket rumbled southeast over the Atlantic Ocean at 7:21 p.m. ET with London-based Inmarsat’s fourth Inmarsat-5 satellite.
Thirty-two minutes later, the rocket deployed the satellite that on the ground weighed nearly 13,500 pounds and stood taller than a red double-decker bus.
“We’ve had good orbits, good separation, all you can ask for today,” SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said on the company’s launch webcast.
The mission completed Inmarsat’s $1.6 billion, four-satellite Global Xpress constellation, designed to provide high-speed, global broadband service to mobile users from airplanes and ships to the U.S. military.
SpaceX did not try to land the rocket's first stage, reserving all its performance to deliver the heavy satellite on its way to an orbit more than 22,300 miles over the equator.
The mission marked the “end of the beginning,” Pearce said, for Inmarsat’s new constellation, whose previous three satellites launched on Russian rockets from Kazakhstan.
The satellite’s final location has not yet been determined. It is expected to move around, offering services from Europe to India.
Those services could enable an airline passenger to watch a movie video on their phone or tablet, or complement the Department of Defense’s high-bandwidth satellite communications system.
“You can go anywhere in world, and you’re still our customer,” said Pearce. “And you can do it on the move.”
The Boeing-built satellite will grow Inmarsat’s fleet to 13 spacecraft, with a 14th expected to launch next month.
The launch was the company’s first with SpaceX, whose lower-cost Falcon 9 rocket — advertised online for $62 million — have won back commercial satellite launches that had all but abandoned the United States until a few years ago.
Although launches remain an expensive proposition, Pearce said it was “very welcome to have more competition and to drive down costs a bit.”
And, he said, SpaceX is showing that it can handle adversity.
The mission was SpaceX’s sixth of 2017, continuing its rebound from a Falcon 9 explosion last September during a launch pad test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
That was the second failure by a Falcon 9 in just over a year, but SpaceX is back on pace to have its best year ever if it continues launching every two or three weeks as planned.
“You see how strong the corporate culture is,” said Pearce. “I think in their recent troubles with the recent launch failures, they’ve dealt with that very openly, constructively, calmly … and that’s very comforting.”
The mission for Inmarsat, which has a 200-person office in Palm Bay, Fla., set sail two weeks after a Falcon 9 launched a U.S. intelligence mission from the same pad, a relatively rapid turnaround.
SpaceX’s next launch is targeted for June 1 from KSC. A Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule will attempt to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.
And later in June, if schedules hold, SpaceX hopes to launch a Bulgarian satellite with a Falcon booster landed and recovered from a mission earlier this year.
That would be SpaceX’s second launch of what it calls a “flight proven” rocket, demonstrating reusability that CEO Elon Musk believes over time will dramatically lower launch costs and open the door to the settlement of Mars.
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