Elon Musk’s SpaceX just delivered another win with the flawless launch of the JCSAT-14 satellite in the early morning hours of May 6. Thousands watched the live broadcast that followed the thrilling launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from a Florida launch pad.
The SpaceX rocket launch was contracted by SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation, one of the largest satellite operators in Asia. Once settled into orbit, the JCSAT-14 will provide high-quality broadcast signals to Asia, Russia, Oceania, and the Pacific Islands.
The mission was a challenging one. It required the SpaceX rocket to reach an orbit 250 miles or 400 kilometers above the earth – more than 20,000 miles beyond the International Space Station – to deliver its payload.
As reported in Deutsche Welle, the success of the JCSAT-14 was anything but a sure thing, and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried minimal fuel levels as a precaution. The mission’s parameters were complicated and involved launching the Japanese communications satellite into orbit and recovering the rocket by returning back to earth to land on a platform on the ocean. The SpaceX press material itself seems doubtful of the mission’s success.
“Given this mission’s GTO destination, the first-stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing unlikely.”
The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the SpaceX launchpad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1:21 a.m. EDT or 0521 UTC exactly on schedule. About three minutes after lift-off, the lower segment of the rocket broke away and then landed back on earth on the unmanned platform dubbed the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship, located in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 400 miles away from the launch site.
The remaining portion of the SpaceX rocket delivered its payload – the JCSAT-14 broadcast satellite – into orbit.
The JCSAT-14 mission represents Elon Musk’s second successful rocket landing at sea. After a ground-based rocket launch and landing at Cape Canaveral in Florida in December, SpaceX attempted four ocean-based launches that failed before scoring a win in April with another Falcon 9.
Entrepreneur Elon Musk created SpaceX – or Space Exploration Technologies – as a launch service that would be able to offer much lower rates than competitors with the simple sounding yet difficult to achieve strategy of reusing the rockets. The successful JCSAT-14 launch and second stage rocket recovery provesthe viability of that business model.
Elon Musk and SpaceX
Elon Musk was jubilant after the successful SpaceX rocket launch and took to social media.
What’s next for Elon Musk and SpaceX? The aerospace company plans several more satellite delivery launches this year with a growing client list that even includes NASA.
The difference lies in the Falcon 9 rockets, which feature a simplified two-stage design developed by SpaceX for maximum safety and with a view to human missions in space. In 2012, SpaceX was the first commercial company ever to reach the International Space Station due to the innovative Falcon 9.
As reported by Reuters, just last week, SpaceX landed an $83 million contract from the U.S. Air Force, breaking the decade-long monopoly held by Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co on U.S. military contracts.
But that’s not all of Elon Musk’s ambitions for SpaceX. There are plans to ferry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station with SpaceX Dragon capsules late this year and its most ambitious goal yet: An unmanned mission to Mars by 2018, with a manned mission to the Red Planet within the next two decades as part of an agreement with NASA.
This morning’s SpaceX rocket launch and the successful delivery of JCSAT-14 into orbit brings Elon Musk’s dreams into sharper focus.
[Image via Space Exploration Technologies]