Crunch launch for SpaceX, and Elon Musk

A SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral’s Pad 40 will launch SES-8 into orbit using rocket company’s Falcon-9 craft on November 25th. Unashamedly named after the Millennium Falcon in the Star Wars movie sagas, the already delayed launch is crucial for billionaire Elon Musk who wants to capture a slice of the lucrative commercial launch business. He is also backing his Tesla all-electric sports car.

The problem for the Falcon-9 rocket is that this flight is, in effect, the first time that its upper stage engines have been correctly fired. A test flight in October failed to fire its all-important second stage booster. In other words SpaceX has never – yet – launched a satellite to its target geostationary transfer orbit.

The complex mission calls for the initial launch of the 224-foot (68.4m) high rocket at 5.37pm EST (22.37 GMT). This 178-seconds burst will take the rocket into space, and the main engines cutting off with the first stage falling away. Seven seconds later the second stage engine is scheduled to fire for a 5 minute 20 seconds period and this firing places the rocket and its satellite into a safe ‘parking orbit’. Eighteen minutes later and the engine is again fired up the second stage is again fired up for just over 1 minute in order to deliver the satellite to its target orbit. It is this crucial reignition that failed on the Falcon’s earlier test flight.

Martin Halliwell, SES’ CTO, speaking on Nov 24 to trade mag Space News, said he was relaxed about the launch. “We’ve worked extremely closely with SpaceX people to see exactly what’s been done” since the Sept. 29 flight, Halliwell said. “We’ve had extraordinary access to the engineering work that has been done. We are confident that all the risk has been retired.”

The mission calls for the satellite to be released from its rocket at 33 minutes after launch. In total this is the seventh flight of the Falcon-9 rocket system.

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