SpaceX Launches EchoStar 23 Satellite, Says Goodbye to Falcon 9


SpaceX successfully completed its latest rocket launch on Thursday, after bad weather during the previously-scheduled Tuesday launch window led to a last-minute postponement. The company launched the EchoStar 23 communications satellite into orbit, which will provide Brazil with direct-to-home television service for a lifespan of around 15 years.

The launch took place at 2 a.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, during the scheduled backup window. The backup window was originally scheduled to start at 1:35 a.m., but weather issues led SpaceX to delay it slightly.

“We had a little bit of a weather problem, high-altitude winds were pushing our limits just a few minutes or hours ago, which is why we decided to hold the launch for half an hour,” said Tom Praderio, SpaceX firmware engineer, minutes prior to the launch on the company live feed.

It hasn’t been a smooth rocket launch for SpaceX. The launch was previously delayed from its initially scheduled date of March 12 because of problems with the static firing sequence. The test was initially scheduled to take place last Tuesday, but it was delayed 48 hours due to an unspecified issue.

The routine check was eventually completed last Thursday, but the delays didn’t stop there. A launch scheduled for Tuesday had to be called off due to high winds around the center.

You may notice the Falcon 9 looks slightly different to others. There’s no legs, no fins, no recovery hardware at all. That’s because SpaceX did not plan for a landing of the first stage booster. The landing has become something of a legendary feature of Falcon 9 launches. They help reduce the costs associated with spaceflight, which in turn helps SpaceX plan for more ambitious missions. This time around, the company had to say goodbye to the booster in the sea.

The EchoStar 23 satellite, manufactured by SSL, will provide broadcast satellite services alongside EchoStar’s 25 other satellites. The craft needs to reach geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), over 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, to properly communicate, which requires a lot more propulsion. The first stage gets the satellite to the edge of space, around 100 kilometers up, with the second stage powering ahead at a speed of around eight kilometers per second. Once it reaches GTO, the satellite is released.

“Geostationary orbit is a particular type of geosynchronous orbit,” Michael Hammersley, materials engineer at the SpaceX avionics department, said during the live feed. “The two terms often are used interchangeably. Geosynchronous just means it passes through the same point once a day.”

The satellite is incredibly heavy, though, weighing around 12,000 pounds. This meant the rocket needed a lot more propellant to lift off in the first place. A droneship landing would have been too much to handle this time, but future rocket designs that use liquid-cooled propulsion fuel may enable landings on GTO missions.

It’s the second launch from complex 39A. SpaceX took out a 20-year lease on the complex in 2014, and it’s brought upgrades to the center’s components that can better support Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches, like the transporter erector used to roll the rocket out and tip it upright.

The next SpaceX launch is expected to take place on March 27. Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES will work with the company to launch an SES-10 telecommunications satellite. It’s the first company to use a previously-used Falcon 9 rocket in its mission, a major milestone in SpaceX history.