AsiaSat 8 takes its place in the AsiaSat constellation
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Asia Satellite Communications (AsiaSat), a Hong Kong-based company, successfully launched its AsiaSat 8 communications satellite atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket. During a two-hour launch window beginning at 1:25 a.m. EDT (0525 GMT) on August 5, the rocket cleared the pad just after 4:00 a.m. EDT (0800 GMT). AsiaSat lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) in Florida, after a hold to investigate an anomaly in the rocket’s first stage.
With everything looking good in the early hours of this morning, SpaceX went ahead with standard launch procedures. About four hours before launch, the fueling process was started with the addition of RP-1 (a highly refined version of kerosene) propellant. About an hour before launch, fuel and Thrust Vector Control were bled from the second stage to ensure no air was in the nozzles.
At T-10 minutes to launch, the terminal phase of the countdown commenced. At the six minute mark, the rocket’s onboard automated sequence was initiated. About five minutes to launch, Falcon 9 was transferred to internal power and the tank was pressurized. Only a few minutes later, the Flight Termination System (FTS) was armed. FTS is the self-destruct mechanism that would have allowed flight control to terminate the rocket had the launch gone wrong.
With 150 seconds left in the count, the launch control director gave the go ahead for launch followed by the range 30 seconds later. One minute before launch, the Falcon 9 initiated its start up configuration under internal power. Next, the sound suppression deluge (dubbed “Niagara” by SpaceX) was turned on; however, the launch was aborted with only seconds left.
After taking the majority of the launch window to troubleshoot, the SpaceX team was able to resolve the anomaly in the first stage’s hydraulic parameters, recycled the count and ignited the engines during the 4 a.m. EDT launch attempt. With just 11 minutes left in the launch window, the Falcon 9 majestically took to the skies, underscoring the non-routine nature of spaceflight.
Shortly after the scrub was called, Hannah Post, one of SpaceX’s media reps, relayed the information to the assembled media, a large portion of whom then queued up behind the 45th Space Wing’s representatives in preparation to leave. These folks were then led out of the Cape.
As they were leaving the Cape, a SpaceX SUV did an abrupt U-turn and headed back toward the Station. At this time, SpaceFlight Insider received a tweet at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) from one of our personnel that Post might have been premature and that the company was now moving ahead with a new T-0, of 3 a.m. EDT. SpaceX’s Emily Shanklin endeavored to get the media who had been escorted back onto the site at 2:41 a.m. EDT (just 19 minutes before the 3 a.m. EDT 0700 GMT launch attempt). Other issues cropped up which saw the launch delayed until 4 a.m. Both Post and Shanklin are to be commended for their Herculean efforts to remedy the situation.
In the end, everything came together and the nine Merlin 1D engines in the F9’s first stage roared to life, unleashing more than 1.3 million pounds of thrust. These engines burned for close to three minutes, sending the AsiaSat payload beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Whereas nine Merlin engines are used in the first stage to safely deliver the payload to orbit, only one engine burned in the rocket’s second stage. At the end of both burns, AsiaSat reached about 22,236.4 thousand miles (35,786 km) in altitude to assume its place in a geostationary orbit. From liftoff to payload separation a total of 32 minutes had elapsed.
AsiaSat launched Asia’s first privately-owned satellite in April 1990 (AsiaSat 1), according to the company’s website. As of 2013, AsiaSat owned four operational satellites (AsiaSat 3S, 4, 5, and 7), with AsiaSat 6 and 8 both launching this year (2014). AsiaSat 6 has arrived at Cape Canaveral, according to NASASpaceflight, flown in Antonov An-124 transport aircraft. All AsiaSat satellites provide telecommunications services to the Asia-Pacific.
The AsiaSat 8 spacecraft variant is designed to trace the same orbital slot (105.5 degrees East) as its predecessor AsiaSat 7. This orbital orientation gives the satellite preferred “look angles” to help deliver better services across the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific.
The company’s website describes AsiaSat 8 as “a Space Systems/Loral 1300 series satellite, to be equipped with 24 Ku-band transponders and a Ka-band payload. Co-locating with AsiaSat 7, Asia’s most established satellite platform for Middle Eastern, European, Asian and international programming, AsiaSat 8 will provide exceptional power and additional Ku beam coverage with inter-beam switching capability for services including DTH [direct to home] television, private networks and broadband services.” AsiaSat 8, with a power payload of 8,500 watts (unsurpassed in the AsiaSat family), will service China, India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
To do so, Falcon 9 pushed AsiaSat 8 into a high Geostationary Transfer Orbit, where it will remain above its target region (GTO). The additional fuel required to take AsiaSat 8 into GTO made SpaceX’s exciting controlled core landings impossible this time around.
The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the payload is fast becoming a popular workhouse for both domestic and foreign clients. As a assign of this, NASA has contracted SpaceX to launch unmanned Commercial Resupply Missions (CRS) to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX is also in competition to secure a NASA contract for the Commercial Crew Program where astronauts will ride a crew-rated Dragon spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory atop the Falcon 9.
It will be during SpaceX’s next CRS mission that the company is set to attempt another propulsive landing in its pursuit of recoverable and reusable rocket cores. In July of this year, the United States Air Force announced that the F9 rocket was progressing toward being included in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. Such a status would allow SpaceX to include the Department of Defense among its growing list of clients.
SpaceX will follow today’s AsiaSat launch with another (AsiaSat 6); the launch date is still to be determined. Yet procedures for the AsiaSat 6 launch are already in motion. The payload is already in storage at SLC-40, with another Falcon 9 being prepped for shipment to the Air Force base as well.
Since 2011 Joshua Tallis has served as the manager for research and analysis at an intelligence and security services provider in Washington, DC. Josh has co-authored several articles in the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International with colleagues from the defense community. Previous work experience includes internships at the U.S. Congress and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Josh is also a PhD student in International Relations at the University of St Andrews' Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. He is a Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Special Honors graduate of The George Washington University where he received a BA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs.