This Could Be Big for SpaceX
SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation), the private space company founded by Elon Musk, postponed the launch of its “SES-9” communications satellite from Cape Canaveral in Florida. SpaceX aborted the mission just seconds before takeoff because of a malfunction, according to the company. Meanwhile, Musk hopes the company will soon launch a mission to Mars.
Rarely are missions in outer space predictable. Any number of issues can go wrong and delays are part of the process. In fact, on Friday, SpaceX will attempt another launch of its “Falcon 9” rocket, as the company expects to determine the cause of Sunday’s malfunction. The mission will also test SpaceX’s improvements toward recovering the first stage of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle after takeoff.
SES-9 will be the eighth satellite that SpaceX launches into geostationary transfer orbit. The Falcon 9 will attempt to propel the SES-9 to an orbit more than 22,000 miles over the equator. This will require all of the Falcon 9’s performance. But, given the distance and limited fuel to spare, the company has braced for the worst, expecting an unsuccessful landing. Still it is necessary to make the effort. This is because the recovery and reuse of rocket stages will make space flights more affordable.
Last year, SpaceX managed for the first time to land the Falcon 9 first stage on the ground in Florida shortly after launch. Unfortunately, it has not been able to repeat the feat. It has also never managed to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 on the sea platform, the company’s ultimate goal, after several attempts.
The Falcon 9 will attempt another soft landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic this time, some 400 miles off Florida’s coast. This is one of the key advantages of SpaceX’s re-usability. The company must take its risks because the ability to land vertically after a mission—unlike the Space Shuttle, which needed a runway—is the key selling point of its program. However, SpaceX has warned there could be little hope of doing this, given the constraints of the launch.
The SES-9 is a geostationary communications satellite. It will provide television broadcasting in Africa and Asia. At 12,000 pounds, it is one of the heavier payloads that SpaceX has attempted. About 10 minutes after takeoff, the first stage of the Falcon 9 will attempt the maneuver landing on the platform, or barge, named “Of Course I Still Love You.” In 2013, SpaceX deployed the “SES-8,” a geosynchronous satellite, providing communications to India and Southeast Asia.