Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket launched the Eutelsat 10B broadband communications satellite for aviation and maritime connectivity. Follow us on Twitter.
SpaceX’s oldest active Falcon 9 rocket booster, in service since 2018, made its final flight Tuesday night to deliver a Eutelsat broadband communications satellite into orbit on a mission to provide internet services to airplanes and ships across the North Atlantic, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The mission completed a series of four major satellite launches for Eutelsat since early September.
The Eutelsat 10B satellite lifted off on top of a Falcon 9 rocket at 9:57 p.m. EST Tuesday (0257 GMT Wednesday) from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Eutelsat 10B is heading toward a perch in geostationary orbit to beam communications signals across a coverage zone from the North Atlantic to Asia, employing more than 100 spot beams to connect airline and cruise ship passengers, maritime crews, and other users on-the-go.
A launch attempt Monday night was scrubbed a couple of hours before liftoff to “allow for additional pre-flight checkouts,” SpaceX said. And SpaceX defied the odds Tuesday night after forecasters predicted a 90% chance of unacceptable weather conditions for launch.
SpaceX did not attempt to recover the first stage of the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket. The launch company had an agreement with Eutelsat to dedicate all of the Falcon 9’s lift capability to sending the Eutelsat 10B satellite into as high of an orbit as possible, without reserving and propellant on the first stage for landing maneuvers.
A few miles north of pad 40, SpaceX intended to launch a Falcon 9 rocket earlier Tuesday to begin a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. But bad weather prevented liftoff of that flight from Kennedy Space Center, delaying the mission until Saturday.
Eutelsat 10B deployed from the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage about 35 minutes after launch. The rocket aimed to release the spacecraft into a “super synchronous” transfer orbit with an apogee, or farthest point from Earth, well above Eutelsat 10B’s final operating altitude of 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers). The target apogee for the Eutelsat 10B mission at spacecraft deployment was above 37,000 miles, or about 60,000 kilometers, according to Pascal Homsy, Eutelsat’s chief technical officer.
Instead of reserving some of its propellant for landing on a drone ship, the Falcon 9’s first stage booster burned its nine main engines a few seconds longer than usual, giving an extra burst of speed to the rocket’s upper stage. That allowed the Falcon 9’s second stage engine to place the Eutelsat 10B satellite into a higher orbit than would have otherwise been possible.
SpaceX still planned to retrieve the two halves of the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing for refurbishment and reuse.
A spokesperson for Thales Alenia Space, the manufacturer of Eutelsat 10B, said the deployment of the satellite into a super synchronous transfer orbit will shorten the time needed for it to reach its final operational geostationary orbit by about 10 days. Based on Thales’ Spacebus Neo satellite platform, Eutelsat 10B will use plasma thrusters for the orbit adjustments needed to circularize its orbit at geostationary altitude 22,000 miles over the equator, where it will circle Earth in lock-step with the planet’s rotation.
Eutelsat 10B’s total launch mass is about 5.5 metric tons, or roughly 12,000 pounds, a Thales spokesperson told Spaceflight Now on Monday.
The expendable Falcon 9 mission marked the third…