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As Next Customer on Falcon 9 Manifest, SES Awaits Details on Sept. 29 Flight

The SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Sept. 29. Credit: SpaceX photo

PARIS — Satellite fleet operator SES will await a detailed briefing from SpaceX on why SpaceX’s new-version Falcon 9 failed to perform a planned reignition of its upper stage — crucial for deployment of the SES-8 satellite awaiting a Falcon 9 launch — during its Sept. 29 demonstration flight, SES spokesman Yves Feltes said Oct. 2.

In an interview, Feltes said Luxembourg-based SES nonetheless still expects SES-8 to be the payload on the next Falcon 9 launch. The mission, scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, will be the Falcon 9’s first to geostationary transfer orbit, the dropoff point for most telecommunications craft.

Among the new features to be proved during the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket was the ability of its upper stage to perform a second ignition. While it was not needed for the Sept. 29 mission, which deployed multiple satellites to low Earth orbit, it is a necessary feature for launches into geostationary transfer orbit.

Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has a backlog of more than $1 billion in commercial satellite launches, more than half of which is for owners of geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellites.

SpaceX’s low prices relative to the competition — even compared with the Chinese Long March vehicle — have enabled the company to amass a healthy commercial backlog despite having never launched to geostationary transfer orbit.

SpaceX officials said after the Sept. 29 launch that the nonignition of the upper stage did not appear to be of a sort to delay the SES flight for very long. Feltes said SES is will hoping for a launch as soon as October, but added that if it slipped to November the company was willing to wait.

The fact that SES will be awaiting details from SpaceX “does not mean that we reject the flight as a qualification flight,” Feltes said. “We still plan to be on the next Falcon flight, once SpaceX has solved the problem. But we need a technical explanation. We do need reignition of the stage for our satellite.”

The shutdown of the U.S. government has rendered moot the date of SES-8’s launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Feltes said no new launches are moving forward during the shutdown. SES-8’s manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is weighing whether to send the satellite to Florida aboard a truck once SES has authorized its shipment to the spaceport.

 

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Article Comments

NASASpaceFlight.com is reporting that Orbital Sciences has already shipped SES-8 to KSC.

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