Elon Musk and SpaceX are making terrific strides toward becoming the premier commercial space exploration company in the world. Last week, SpaceX hit a triple milestone, surpassing the number of launches the company achieved in 2016, reusing a primary booster rocket for the second time, and successfully launching two payloads in 49 hours. This week, they aim toward hitting their 10th launch of the year as they loft another Falcon 9 rocket into space. The launch will take place at the iconic Launch Complex 39A, where numerous space shuttle missions were launched.
This mission is putting a satellite into high geostationary orbit. The Intelsat 35e is a communications satellite manufactured by Boeing and owned by Intelsat. Intelsat 35e will help the international consortium maintain high-quality broadband and communication services across the globe. This particular satellite will be positioned almost directly over the Atlantic Ocean, providing coverage to the Caribbean, Europe and the Mediterranean, and Europe and North Africa. According to the press kit released by SpaceX, the satellite can broadcast in both C- and Ku-bands, providing high power wide beam coverage in needed areas. The C-band coverage allows penetration through spotty weather patterns, ensuring continuous coverage and service in affected regions.
Because this Falcon 9 will be inserting the satellite at such high altitudes, the primary booster for this mission will not be recovered. After all, it takes a lot of fuel to lift a payload to 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above the Earth. Combine that with the Intelsat 35e’s launch mass of 6.6 tons, and the Falcon 9 will be working hard to get the communications platform where it needs to be. The mission will be using a brand new booster, however, rather than one of the many that SpaceX has recovered.
This type of mission profile is why Elon Musk and SpaceX are hard at work getting the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle – now dubbed the Falcon Heavy – into service.
The Falcon Heavy is an upgraded launch vehicle that uses three Falcon 9 primary stage boosters to provide lift during initial takeoff. The three boosters improve liftoff thrust from 1.71M ft-lbs (7.607 kN) to 5.13M ft-lbs (24,681 kN). This improves the payload from 22.8 tons to 64 metric tons. In addition to improved launch capacity, the Falcon Heavy is the vehicle that Elon Musk and SpaceX intend to use to take humans into orbit for both commercial and industrial trips.
While not in service yet, the maiden flight is intended to take place late in 2017. The first planned commercial spaceflight to take private citizens is planned for 2018. Elon Musk announced in February of 2017 that two people had placed a deposit to take a commercial flight around the moon. The pair will fly in a crewed Dragon spacecraft.
Tonight’s launch is scheduled to take place at Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 7:36 p.m. EDT (23:36 uTC). There’s a 58-minute launch window. If you aren’t local, then you can watch it streaming online here.
The weather forecast for the launch time looks spotty with cloud coverage coming in. If the launch is delayed, the next launch window is on Monday, July 3, 2017, at 7:37 p.m. EDT (23:37 UTC). Check the website about an hour before launch to see if the launch has been delayed or not.
[Featured Image by John Raoux/AP Images]