SpaceX eyeing Thursday afternoon launch, landing of Falcon 9 with Thaicom 8
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The rate of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., (SpaceX) launches is set to accelerate with the planned flight of one of the NewSpace firm’s Falcon 9 rockets on Thursday, May 26. The Hawthorne, California-based company has one hour and 40 minutes in which to get the rocket and its precious cargo off the pad – and into the sky.
If everything goes as planned, the “Full Thrust” version of the Falcon 9 should lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 at approximately 5:40 p.m. EDT (21:40 GMT) in Florida. After being successfully launched, the Thaicom 8 communications satellite will be placed into a geostationary orbit.
A report on the launch appearing on Florida Today noted that the spacecraft will be placed into a Geostationary Orbit some 22,300 miles (35,888 kilometers) above Earth’s equator. Once there, it will provide TV and Internet services to India, Thailand, and parts of Africa.
The spacecraft is destined to reside at 78.5 degrees East Longitude and carry a Ku-band payload (comprised of 24 active transponders).
Built by Orbital ATK, the satellite has an estimated mass of about 6,834 lbs (3,100 kg) and is based on the flight-proven GEOStar-2 satellite platform.
Orbital ATK was selected by Thaicom PLC to build the satellite which is planned to have an operational life of about 15 years. The GEOStar-2 platform is designed to be compatible with all major commercial launch vehicles. Orbital ATK’s description of the GEOStar-2 design notes that it is best used for “smaller” satellite missions with the capability of providing at least 5.0 kilowatts of payload power.
Thursday’s flight should mark the 25th time that a version of the Falcon 9 has either been launched from SLC-40 in Cape Canaveral or from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s SLC-4 East located in California. It also should be the fifth time that SpaceX has carried out a launch this year.
As has been the case with the previous two missions that SpaceX has carried out, the aerospace company will attempt to conduct a controlled landing out in the Atlantic Ocean of the rocket’s first stage. It will do so using the “Of Course I Still Love You” Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) which will await the stage’s return. If successful, this would be the fourth time that SpaceX has recovered the rocket’s first stage.
The first landing, in December of 2015, was a ground landing at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1 (formerly known as Space Launch Complex 13) after that Falcon 9 had delivered 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites to orbit.
Given that many of the missions that SpaceX carries out on behalf of its customers require a tremendous amount of energy to reach their proper orbits – ground landings are not always an option. To counter this, SpaceX has developed a sea-landing recovery system that has, to date, seen two of the rockets’ first stages recovered.
After being offloaded from the ASDS after it arrives at Port Canaveral, the stages that have conducted ocean-based landings have been transported to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, where they are currently housed along with the first stage that carried out the first ground landing last year.
The Falcon 9 is listed as having a price of $62 million by SpaceX and runs on a mix of rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen. The two-stage rocket’s name comes from a mixture of the Millennium Falcon, the iconic Star Wars spaceship, and as a reference to the 9 Merlin 1D rocket engines that the launch vehicle employs in its first stage.
The Falcon 9 is capable of hoisting some 50,265 lbs (22,800 kg) to low-Earth orbit and 18,300 lbs (8,300 kg) to a geostationary transfer orbit. Interestingly, SpaceX details how much specifically the rocket can deliver a payload to Mars as being 8,860 lbs (4,020 kg). SpaceX is working with NASA to send a version of its crewed Dragon to the Martian surface in 2018.
In terms of the launch of the Thaicom 8 telecommunications satellite, the weather conditions for the flight are looking to be near-perfect, with U.S. Air Force meteorologists predicting a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions for launch (according to a report appearing on Florida Today).
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.