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Late on March 4th, a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket successfully launched the very much delayed SES-9 satellite into space. It launched at 6.35pm (Florida time, and 00.35 Paris time) from the Cape Canaveral spaceport.
SES-9 has, one way or another, been waiting almost nine months for a launch window. Even this past week it had been ready to launch on three separate occasions but either caution over a mechanical glitch or bad weather had forced last minute cancellations.
SES-9 is headed to a popular SES orbital position at 108.2 degrees East, and where it will join SES-7 which is already operating at the position and serves the fast-growing video market covering India, Indonesia, the Philippines and surrounding areas. SES-owned NSS-11 is also at the same spot and will be retired once SES-9 arrives on station. SES-9 brings 81 transponders into the market.
However, it is going to take some time to reach its working position. The reason is that SES-9 is – in essence – an all-electric satellite. While it will use a chemical bi-propellant to conduct its major post-launch manoeuvres, the final leg of its orbital journey and all subsequent on-station minor positioning moves depends on its electric thrusters, which are extremely fuel-efficient but relatively slow. Indeed, the satellite isn’t expected to be put to work until Q3 this year.
The SpaceX rocket itself did not have quite the same success. Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of SpaceX attempted to land the rocket’s important second stage booster onto a floating barge some 400 miles offshore. Musk summed up the failure, saying (via a Tweet): “Rocket landed hard on the droneship. Didn’t expect this one to work (v hot re-entry), but next flight has a good chance”.