The long-awaited launch of SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket and its maiden flight of a commercial cargo in the shape of the SES-8 satellite was effected flawlessly at 17.41 Florida time on December 4.
SES-8 was placed into its geostationary transfer orbit just 31 minutes after launch. The satellite will now be placed alongside the existing NSS-6 at 95 degrees East, and serve South Asia and the Indo-China regions. SES-8 carries 33 Ku-band transponders.
The launch, despite the previous delays, is the proof needed by the commercial space industry that privately-backed launchers can match – and potentially undercut in terms of price – the launch ability of the likes of Arianespace and the Russian Proton launchers. SES chief technology officer Martin Halliwell told reporters in a November 24 teleconference before SpaceX’s first launch attempt: “It’s going to really shake the industry to its roots.” SES paid about $56 million for the launch.
Indeed, Arianespace, immediately following the launch, put out a press statement stressing that “America is the key for Arianespace,” according to Arianespace’s CEO Stephane Israel, and that it has a healthy order book from US clients. “[This] includes missions for long-time customers DirecTV (five satellites), Intelsat (five) and EchoStar (two). The company also has launched 161 spacecraft built by US manufacturers (50 from Boeing, 45 for Lockheed Martin, 42 with Loral and 24 for Orbital) and has partnered with NASA, the Department of Defense and other governmental agencies.”
“Today’s successful insertion of the SES-8 satellite marks SpaceX’s first geo-synchronous transfer mission and confirms the Falcon 9 launch vehicle lives up to the industry’s highest performance standards,” said Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX. “As always, SpaceX remains committed to delivering the safest, most reliable launch vehicles on the market today. We appreciate SES’s early confidence in SpaceX and look forward to launching additional SES satellites in the years to come.”
Work on the next SpaceX commercial launch, Thaicom-6, starts immediately for a launch later this month. SES itself has another three launches booked with SpaceX, and SpaceX is claiming around $500 millions-worth of launch contracts in the bag.