Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX to loft first Bulgarian geostationary satellite

SpaceX's Falcon 9 (Core 1029) undergoing a static fire test on June 15, 2017.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 (Core 1029) undergoing a static fire test on June 15, 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — When SpaceX launches its second “flight-proven” Falcon 9 rocket, it will be sending Bulgaria’s first geostationary communications satellite into space. Liftoff is currently slated for the beginning of a two-hour launch window opening at 2:10 p.m. EDT (18:10 GMT) on June 19 from Launch Complex 39A.

However, the weather for Monday’s attempt is looking less than ideal. The 45th Weather Squadron, based at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, has predicted a 60 percent chance of conditions violating launch rules. Isolated thunderstorms are expected with the primary concerns being thick cumulus and anvil clouds.

BulgariaSat-1 to launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9

Artist’s rendition of BulgariaSat-1 in space. Image Credit: SSL

In the event of a 24-hour weather-related scrub, conditions are not expected to improve; there will still be a 60 percent chance of inclement weather.

Whenever the rocket does get off the ground, it will be sending the SSL-built BulgariaSat-1 into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Once the satellite detaches from the upper stage of the Falcon 9, it will use onboard thrusters to circularize its orbit at some 22,300 miles (35,900 kilometers) over the 2 degrees East location.

There, the Bulsatcom-owned satellite will provide direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services primarily to southeast Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, and North Africa, according to BulgariaSat.

The 8,800-pound (4,000-kilogram) SSL-built spacecraft was built around the SSL 1300 satellite bus. It sports more than 30 Ku-band transponders powered by solar panels that produce 10 kilowatts of power.

Once in orbit, it is expected to have a minimum of a 15-year lifespan. However, it has an additional five years’ worth of fuel, mostly due to the lifting capacities of the Full Thrust version of the Falcon 9 and the super-synchronous transfer orbit (a type of GTO) the rocket will be delivering the satellite into.

The first stage of the 230-foot (70-meter) tall Falcon 9 that will be used in the first phase of the mission was previously flown during the Iridium-1 mission in January 2017. That mission, which launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, sent 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into a low-Earth orbit. The stage, core 1029, landed downrange in the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast drone ship named Just Read The Instructions.

It took SpaceX about four months to refurbish the stage and ready it for the BulgariaSat-1 mission. Core 1029 was rolled into the horizontal integration hangar at LC-39A not long after the company’s previous launch, the CRS-11 Dragon mission. Then, on June 15, 2017, the Falcon 9 sans the payload and fairing, was rolled up the ramp at LC-39A for a successful static fire test.

Core 1029 being transported into SpaceX's LC-39A Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF).

Core 1029 being transported into SpaceX’s LC-39A Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) on June 7, 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Since then, it has been rolled back to the integration hangar to attach the payload.

If the Falcon 9 launches on time Monday, it will be the Hawthorne, California-based company’s fourth launch in just seven weeks. About two minutes, 40 seconds after leaving Florida, the first stage will separate and begin a series of maneuvers to land downrange on the East Coast drone ship called Of Course I Still Love You.

The BulgariaSat-1 mission will be SpaceX’s eighth launch of 2017, the seventh from LC-39A. Assuming everything launches without delay, the company is expected to launch the Iridium-2 mission from California on June 25 and the Intelsat-35e mission from Florida in early July.



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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