May 26, 2024

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SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with two Internet satellites O3b - Spaceflight Now

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with two Internet satellites O3b – Spaceflight Now

Watch our live replay of the countdown and launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with two O3b mPOWER internet satellites on Friday, April 28th. SpaceX also attempted a Falcon Heavy launch later in the night, but the countdown was canceled at the last minute before liftoff. Follow us Twitter.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off with a pair of O3b internet satellites for SES Friday night from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, but a last-minute abort of the Falcon Heavy mission later in the night prevented the company from launching the twin-headed rocket.

The launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral at 6:12 p.m. EDT (2212 UTC) sent the second pair of satellites built by Boeing into space for SES’s O3b mPOWER network, a constellation of telecom operators’ orbital internet platforms. . and mobile communication services.

Three and a half miles to the north, SpaceX readied its Falcon Heavy rocket—made by combining three Falcon 9 first-stage boosters—for a flight into a high-altitude orbit more than 20,000 miles (about 35,000 kilometers) above the equator with The Viasat 3 Americas Wide Band satellite, also made by Boeing.

Meteorologists predicted unfavorable weather on Friday evening for both launches, but SpaceX took advantage of a favorable trend in weather conditions to launch the Falcon 9 to Earth on the O3b mPOWER mission on Friday evening. The Falcon Heavy launch was previously scheduled for Thursday night, but SpaceX delayed the flight by 24 hours due to severe weather affecting the Florida space coast.

Ultimately, the Falcon Heavy’s countdown was aborted a minute before liftoff for reasons SpaceX didn’t explain during its launch broadcast Friday night. The last-minute wait killed any chance for SpaceX to launch back-to-back rockets Friday night, an event that would have marked the shortest period between two SpaceX missions in the company’s history, and the quickest turnaround between two orbital-class launches from Cape Canaveral since 1966.

Separate SpaceX launch teams watched the nearly simultaneous countdown of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy on Friday night.

A Falcon 9 rocket (left) stands on Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for liftoff with two O3b mPOWER internet satellites. In the background, a Falcon Heavy stands on pad 39A for takeoff on the ViaSat 3 Americas mission. Credit: SpaceX

The O3b mPOWER satellites launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from platform 40 will transmit high-speed internet services around the world, providing a “fiber-like” connection for users between 50 degrees north and south latitude, according to SES, the Luxembourg-owned operator. O3b fleet. Airplanes, cruise ships, energy companies, research institutions, and remote communities can all stay connected using the O3b network.

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The O3b spacecraft on the Falcon 9 rocket, when combined, weighs about 9,000 pounds (4,100 kilograms) in launch configuration, according to Boeing. The first stage of the Falcon 9 booster landed on an unmanned ship in the Atlantic Ocean about nine minutes after takeoff for the O3b mission on Friday.

The Falcon 9 upper stage fired its single engine three times to propel the O3b mPOWER satellite into an elliptical transmission orbit extending more than 4,300 miles (nearly 7,000 kilometers) above Earth, at an inclination of about 10 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use electric propulsion to reach their final, circular operational orbits above the equator at an altitude of about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers).

SES already has 20 first-generation O3b satellites in MEO. They flew into space on Russian Soyuz rockets under a launch services contract with Arianepas.

The new O3b mPOWER satellites will operate in a similar medium Earth orbit, or MEO, as the original O3b satellites. The first of two O3b mPOWER satellites launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in December.

O3b stands for “3 Billion More” in recognition of the billions of people who do not have access to a reliable internet service.

The O3b mPOWER satellites, No. 3 and 4 in the fleet, are stacked in launch formation before being encased inside SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket payload fairing. Credit: SpaceX/SES

The original O3b satellites, built by Thales Alenia Space nearly a decade ago, had 10 user beams per spacecraft. The new O3b mPOWER satellites, built on the spacecraft’s Boeing 702 platform, have more than 4,000 beams that can be adjusted to focus bandwidth on areas of high demand.

SES has focused on developing broadband satellites for the MEO constellation, which place relay stations closer to Earth than in geostationary orbit about 22,000 miles above the planet. This reduces latency, or lag, in Internet signals compared to geostationary satellites. A few geostationary satellites can provide global coverage, but more satellites are needed at MEO to reach all parts of the world.

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But that number is still far less than the hundreds or thousands of Internet satellite companies like SpaceX and OneWeb that launch into low Earth orbit. Satellites flying less than 1,000 miles above Earth reduce latency further than MEO satellites, but more spacecraft are needed for global coverage.

Another pair of O3b mPOWER satellites — Nos. 5 and 6 — are scheduled to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later this year. SES has ordered 11 O3b mPOWER satellites from Boeing so far, with additional launches on SpaceX rockets planned throughout 2024.

The Falcon Heavy is preparing for its sixth launch on a commercial flight to GEO

Upon liftoff, the Falcon Heavy mission will be SpaceX’s sixth launch of a three-body rocket since 2018, and the second of as many as five Falcon Heavy flights the company plans for this year. It’s the first Falcon Heavy launch where SpaceX will intentionally get rid of all three first-stage boosters. SpaceX devotes all of its rocket propellant to flying America’s roughly 6-tonne (13,000-pound) Visat III satellite and its co-passengers into near-Earth orbit (GEO).

The mission will take about four and a half hours to reach its target orbit, requiring three burns by the upper stage engine. Direct entry into geosynchronous orbit is one of the most challenging mission profiles in the launch industry. This feat requires extended battery life on the upper stage, as well as a custom strip of gray thermoplastic paint on the rocket to help ensure that the kerosene fuel does not freeze during hours spent in the cold space environment.

Viasat did not say how much it paid SpaceX for the launch. Intelsat officials said last year that SpaceX charged a launch premium where the booster is spent.

The core of ViaSat 3 Americas mission center is all new, while the side reinforcements from previous SpaceX missions are reused.

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ViaSat 3 Americas is the first of three new-generation broadband satellites for Viasat, which send Internet signals to underserved consumers, businesses and governments. Headquartered in Carlsbad, California, Viasat has agreements to provide in-flight WiFi to passengers on Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and other commercial airlines.

The ViaSat 3 Americas satellite inside the Boeing factory in El Segundo, California. Credit: Boeing

The satellite is about the size of a school bus, and its solar panels will be deployed in orbit to generate more than 30 kilowatts of energy in orbit, more than a quarter of the electrical energy produced by all the solar arrays on the International Space Station.

The spacecraft has one of the largest antenna reflectors ever sent into space, and will rely on all-electric propulsion for precise orbital maneuvers and station maintenance. After separating from the Falcon Heavy rocket, the spacecraft will use plasma thrusters to lift its orbit about 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) into a geostationary orbit, where its speed is proportional to the Earth’s rotation rate.

This will allow the ViaSat 3 Americas spacecraft to fly over the same geographic location along the equator at 88.9 degrees west longitude, providing coverage over North and South America and adjacent marine areas. Viasat and Boeing are working on two more satellites to provide similar internet service across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region.

Smaller communications satellites of Astranis and Gravity Space, both commercial startups, will blast into orbit on a Falcon Heavy rocket.

The Astranis satellite, called Arcturus and weighing about 660 pounds (300 lbs), will provide broadband internet services to Alaska. The Gravity Space mini-satellite will help an Indonesian company retain regulatory rights to an orbital slot in geostationary orbit with the International Telecommunication Union, which allocates fixed positions relative to commercial satellite operators.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @employee.