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On March 29th, subject to the usual weather constraints, a “pre-flown” SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will lift a much-needed SES satellite onto its first part of its journey into orbit. This launch, in itself, is a huge game-changer for the satellite and rocket industries.
A few minutes after launch from Cape Canaveral the SpaceX technicians and engineers intend bring the rocket’s 1st stage back to its floating landing barge (”Of Course I Still Love You”) for the second time. And another historic entry in the record books will be made.
“This is a Wright Brothers moment for space,” said Phil Larson, a former space policy adviser to President Barack Obama who worked for SpaceX and is now at the University of Colorado, and talking to Bloomberg. “It’s as important as the first plane taking off and landing and taking off again.”
The launch is currently set for Wednesday afternoon (in a window extending from 16.59 to 19.29 EDT).
SES-10 was expected to be launched during Q4 last year and has been patiently waiting in line while SpaceX recovered from the problems caused by a catastrophic explosion last Sept 1st.
SES-10 will, once it is in orbit, replace two existing SEWS satellites at 67 degrees West (AMC-3 and AMC-4), and beam TV channels and communications to the whole of Central and South America, and in particular used by the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) as their Simon Bolivar-2 satellite network.
“The satellite industry needs more launch vehicles, and we need more access to space,” SES’s Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Rockets that can be flown, recovered and relaunched again help enormously. This is a hugely important milestone.”
Viewers in Mexico and the Caribbean will also get improved power levels and capacity.
SES-10 was built by Airbus Defence & Space and carry 60 ku-band transponders. Following its launch, and release by the rocket, the satellite will use conventional bi-propellant chemical propulsion to reach a geostationary transfer orbit. Once in position it will use electric thrusters for station-keeping, and thus save a considerable amount of fuel and weight and yet still have a design life of 15 years, and possibly more.
This particular Falcon 9 first flew almost a year ago in April 2016. In total SpaceX has recovered 8 of its Falcon rockets, three on to the land at Cape Kennedy and five onto floating platforms.