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Quadruple success for SpaceX; new giant launch

May 19, 2022

By Chris Forrester

Another SpaceX launch success and subsequent landing on May 18th was the fourth Starlink batch lifted into space in barely 10 days. The launch carried 53 satellites into their transfer orbit.

It has also emerged that a planned launch of a Maxar-built heavyweight satellite will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon ‘Heavy’ rocket in order to handle the massive weight.

The heavy satellite launch is for Hughes Network Service which is owned by EchoStar. The Hughes Jupiter-3 satellite (also known as EchoStar 24) was initially due to launch about now (during Q2/2022) but Covid-related delays have slipped the launch to “no earlier” than early 2023.

The Jupiter-3 craft has a dry weight of 5817 kgs. But top that up with its all-important fuel and its weight rises to a thumping 9.2 metric tonnes (about 20,300 lbs) and thus too large a challenge for an ‘ordinary’ Falcon 9 to get the satellite into a high transfer orbit. But the Falcon 9 ‘Heavy’ variant, with its pair of additional strap-on boosters, can manage that weight.

As various observers have pointed out, this weight is the largest-ever single satellite (other than perhaps totally secret military craft) to be launched into orbit.

Jupiter-3 will be capable of handling up to 500 gigabits/second of transmissions across its Ka-band transponders.

Details as to how SpaceX will actually manage the launch are still hazy. It is also currently unknown as to whether SpaceX will simultaneously land the two strap-on boosters while the remaining core booster takes the craft to a higher geostationary transfer orbit, and then attempt to recover the core booster or abandon it in space to burn up on atmospheric re-entry.

While this launch will be one for the record books it falls short of the overall amount launched by a single commercial launch which was aboard an Arianespace rocket which placed TWO satellites into transfer orbits and totalling 10.27 tonnes.

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