SpaceX Falcon rocket lifts off with communications satellite

By Reuters

Sep 07, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

A Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sunday to put a commercial communications satellite into orbit.

The 224-foot (68-meter) tall rocket lifted off from its seaside launch pad at 1 a.m. EDT/0500 GMT, dashing through partly cloudy, nighttime skies as it headed toward space.

Tucked inside the rocket's nosecone was the second of two satellites owned by Hong Kong-based Asia Satellite Telecommunications Holdings Ltd, or AsiaSat.

The first satellite, AsiaSat 8, was successfully delivered into an orbit some 22,200 miles (35,700 km) above Earth on Aug. 5.

Both satellites were built by Space Systems/Loral, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based subsidiary of Canada's MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.

"With the two satellites coming out of the factory approximately the same time we were able to book back-to-back missions," said AsiaSat chief executive William Wade. The two launches cost AsiaSat about $110 million, Wade said.

Privately owned SpaceX, as the company is known, planned to launch the second satellite, AsiaSat 6, two weeks ago, but delayed the flight to recheck the rocket's systems following an unrelated accident that claimed the company's prototype Falcon 9R reusable lander during a test flight on Aug. 22.

"We are confident there is no direct link," SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk wrote in a statement after the calling off the launch.

The Falcon 9R, a modified three-engine Falcon rocket, self-destructed shortly after liftoff from SpaceX's McGregor, Texas, facility. Musk said the problem was due to a blocked sensor port, a situation that would not have impacted an operational Falcon rocket.

"What we do want to triple-check is whether even highly improbable...scenarios have the optimal fault detection and recovery logic," Musk wrote.

SpaceX on Saturday declined to say if any equipment or procedures were changes as a result of the investigation.

Sunday's launch was the 12th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket, which in addition to delivering satellites for commercial companies flies Dragon cargo ships to the International Space Station for NASA.

SpaceX is competing to build a passenger version of Dragon to fly astronauts as well and is attempting to break into the lucrative military satellite launch business.

The satellite launched on Sunday is outfitted with 28 high-power C-band transponders for video distribution and broadband network services in China and Southeast Asia.

Half of the transponders are reserved for Thaicom PLC, which owns the orbital slot AsiaSat 6 will use, Wade said.

The new satellite, which is designed to last 15 years, is the sixth member of AsiaSat's current orbital network, half of which were launched by Russian Proton rockets.

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