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Double success for SpaceX

March 31, 2017

By Chris Forrester

Martin Halliwell, CTO at satellite operator SES of Luxembourg, summed up a very successful launch of his SES-10 satellite by SpaceX on March 30th, saying: “People said we were taking a huge risk. I always said: ‘We’re not!’. We had access to information that gave us confidence.”

That confidence, and SpaceX’s skillset, is now very apparent to the rest of the world. Not only did a ‘pre-flown’ (SES described it as “flight proven”) Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX deliver a flawless launch for the satellite, but a few minutes later, the SpaceX team executed a perfect landing on its drone barge patiently waiting on the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles downrange. This means that the rocket’s valuable first stage can be re-used again.

Indeed, Halliwell, speaking at the launch told journalists that SES had three more rocket launches coming up with SpaceX, and that SES might use pre-flown rockets on two of them.

Halliwell could well have been speaking with an eye on future financial savings for SES. Launching a satellite takes up to 25-30 per cent of SES’s total capital expenditure. Saving 5 or 10 percent of a launch cost flows straight to SES’s bottom line. Equity analysts suggest that SES paid only $30-$40 million for the launch of SES-10, about half the normal cost. That’s an enormous saving.

SES-10 was built by Airbus and will be placed at 67 degrees West. “With a Ku-band payload of 55 36MHz transponder equivalents, of which 27 are incremental, the multi-mission spacecraft is the first SES satellite wholly dedicated to providing service to Latin America. SES-10’s high-powered beams will augment its capabilities across the region, providing direct-to-home broadcasting, enterprise and mobility services, said SES.

“We are thrilled to have achieved the successful launch of a flight proven Falcon 9. This is an historic milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO at SpaceX “We are pleased to have accomplished this milestone with SES, which has been a strong supporter of SpaceX and innovation over the years.”

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