Spaceflight Insider

SES-10 confirmed to launch on previously-flown Falcon 9

SpaceX Falcon 9 SES-9 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 photo credit Michael Howard SpaceFlight Insider

An archive photo of a Falcon 9 launching SES-9 back in March 2016. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., — Luxembourg-based SES has reached an agreement with SpaceX to be the first customer to launch a satellite on one of the NewSpace company’s recovered Falcon 9 rockets. The payload is expected to be SES-10 and occur sometime in the last quarter of 2016.

The booster to be used will likely be the one from the Commercial Resupply Services 8 (CRS-8) mission back in April. That launch sent a Dragon capsule into low-Earth orbit (LEO) to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 first stage, core F9-0023, landed on the Automated Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) some nine minutes after blasting out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. This was the first time a stage was recovered on an ocean-going platform.

“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft into 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.”

CRS-8 F9-0023 booster at Port Canaveral

About four days after landing downrange on an ocean-going platform, the first stage used in the CRS-8 mission returned to Port Canaveral to be offloaded and inspected. Photo Credit: Michael McCabe / SpaceFlight Insider

SES has been open about their wish to be the first to fly atop a reused booster.

“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,” said Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer at SES, in a news release. “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.”

Halliwell said the new agreement with SpaceX shows the faith SES has with the NewSpace company’s 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,” Halliwell said.

The flight-proven booster will be launching SES-10 into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The spacecraft will ultimately be placed in a geostationary orbit (GEO) at 67 degrees West and be used for the Simón Bolivar 2 satellite network. It will have a 55 Ku-band transponders at 36 megahertz, 27 of which are incremental.

It will replace the capacity currently being provided by SES’s AMC-3 and AMC-4 vehicles at that location. Additionally, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean will get additional capacity.

Airbus Defence and Space is building SES-10, which is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. It will utilize electric plasma propulsion for on-orbit maneuvers. The spacecraft will raise its orbit from GTO to GEO using a chemical system.

To date, SpaceX has recovered six Falcon 9 first stage rockets. The first one, occurring less than a year ago in December 2015, is currently on permanent display in front of the Hawthorne, California-based company’s headquarters. That booster, core F9-0021, launched 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites into orbit. After the first two-and-a-half minutes of flight, the first stage turned around and boosted its way back to Cape Canaveral before landing on the ground some nine minutes later.

The second landing was the CRS-8 booster. The next two also landed downrange on an ASDS but were the first to be recovered after sending a payload to GTO, a high-energy trajectory. Core F9-0024 helped propel JCSAT-14 spaceward, while F9-0025 lofted Thaicom 8, in early and late May, respectively.

F9-0024 became SpaceX’s “life-leader” in terms of the forces endured. The company does not plan to refly it and has been placing it through extensive testing at their McGregor, Texas, facility.

Earlier this summer, at the 30th annual Conference on Small Satellites at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, Shotwell said the company hopes to test fire F9-0024 as many times as they can.

“Hopefully, we’ll get more than four, and maybe eight to ten of these before we go ahead and refly,” Shotwell said.

In July, SpaceX performed their second ground landing after the launch of CRS-9 and less than a month later, another ASDS landing occurred for the JCSAT-16 mission. Each of those stages, core F9-0027 and F9-0028 respectively, have been reported in good shape. What will become of them and when they will be reflown is still unknown.

In the meantime, SpaceX’s next launch is expected to occur this weekend. On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 3, a Falcon 9 will launch the Amos 6 communications satellite into GTO for Spacecom of Israel. That spacecraft is expected to service an area stretching from the U.S. East Coast to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

As this will be a GTO flight, the first stage of the booster will attempt a landing on the ASDS Of Course I Still Love You.

SES-10 spacecraft

An artist’s rendering of SES-10. Image Credit: SES


Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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