SpaceX Completes First Comsat Launch, Takes Step Toward DOD Certification

Falcon 9 in flight with the SES-8 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 in flight with the SES-8 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida (SpaceX PR) – Today, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) successfully completed its first geostationary transfer mission, delivering the SES-8 satellite to its targeted 295 x 80,000 km orbit. Falcon 9 executed a picture-perfect flight, meeting 100% of mission objectives.

Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at 5:41 PM Eastern Time. Approximately 185 seconds into flight, Falcon 9’s second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8 satellite into its parking orbit. Eighteen minutes after injection into the parking orbit, the second stage engine relit for just over one minute to carry the SES-8 satellite to its final geostationary transfer orbit. The restart of the Falcon 9 second stage is a requirement for all geostationary transfer missions.

“The successful insertion of the SES-8 satellite confirms the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle delivers to the industry’s highest performance standards,” said Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX. “As always, SpaceX remains committed to delivering the safest, most reliable launch vehicles on the market today. We appreciate SES’s early confidence in SpaceX and look forward to launching additional SES satellites in the years to come.”

Today’s mission marked SpaceX’s first commercial launch from its central Florida launch pad and the first commercial flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in over five years. SpaceX has nearly 50 launches on manifest, of which over 60% are for commercial customers.

This launch also marks the second of three certification flights needed to certify the Falcon 9 to fly missions for the U.S. Air Force under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. When Falcon 9 is certified, SpaceX will be eligible to compete for all National Security Space (NSS) missions.

  • Robert Gishubl

    Great work by SpaceX on getting it all together, even if there were a few delays. Also great vision by SES to take the risk on a new rocket with a longer term objective of supporting competition and lower prices in the longer term. It is a pity Congress did not take the same attitude and fully support comercial space with more COTS type contracts such as a anchor tenant in a private space station, cargo to the moon, fuel depots etc.

  • A_J_Cook

    We showed the launch live to a small audience in the Depths of Space at Griffith Observatory. Does anyone know if there was any attempt to control the return of the first stage?

  • Chad Overton

    Elon has stated that they would not attempt a relight and soft landing with this launch. He said they needed all of the vehicle’s performance for the launch on this one.

  • Christopher James Huff

    They said they wouldn’t be able to do a full test, but they probably did a partial test. The first stage did appear to be maneuvering after separation. (which is still an odd thing to see a first stage doing…hopefully soon to become commonplace)

  • therealdmt

    Awesome work, SpaceX.

    The first commercial launch from the Cape in 5 years — man, we were really out of it, weren’t we?

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Actually he said no return for 2 flights, then continued testing where the Cassiope flight left off. Possibly flying with legs on, but still dinking them into water.

  • Chad Overton

    I just watched the launch again and it does look like the fist stage performed a rotation manuver.

  • Hug Doug

    not on this launch, nor on the next one. the next attempt at a soft water landing will be on the next CRS flight to the ISS. they may even include flight-like landing legs on that Falcon 9. there’s been some speculation in other forums that SpaceX will attempt to put down on land, but i think that’s extremely unlikely because 1. the Grasshopper 2 tests would have to go very, very, very well out in SpaceX’s Spaceport America testing facility, and 2. they’d need the clearance to land somewhere at or near their launch site at Canaveral. i doubt they’d get the go-ahead to do so without first successfully soft-landing out in the ocean.

  • Carolynne Campbell

    A milestone indeed. Doug:, as this is commercial spaceflight, perhaps it would be useful to give us an article comparing the commercial realities of the currently available launch systems, such as ULA and Ariane with Falcon 9? When it’s all added up, is the commercial advantage of Space X as overwhelming as it seems?
    I’m sure this has all been covered elsewhere, but to see it all in one place would be most instructive.

  • Dennis

    The 1st stage did indeed turn itself around after separation, SpaceX wanted to see how it fared coming down tail first. Basically to see if they could restart the engines later on during the descent to save fuel!

  • Dennis

    I believe that if the are granted permission to do so they will attempt a land landing, otherwise a soft ocean splash.

  • Hug Doug

    that’s a big IF. even so, i’m not certain that SpaceX would have enough confidence in their landing legs for that yet.

  • Tonya

    An interesting question about the commercial market isn’t just the launchers, but the number of payloads. We know that as launch prices fall new uses will appear, but within this decade we’re heading for an enormous over capacity. Something Ariane will probably feel more than anyone else.

  • mattmcc80

    Right from the beginning, Musk stated that they didn’t expect to attempt a land landing for several launches. If it were me, I’d take a page from Sea Launch’s book and drag a converted oil rig out to sea and practice landing on that before moving to land landings.

  • Dennis

    Òw well, we’ll see when CRS-3 comes along… if the rocket has legs attached I guess they wouldn’t want to waste them by crashing into the ocean 🙂

  • mattmcc80

    It wouldn’t necessarily be a waste. The landing legs are intended to play a role in stability control, so getting data on that with a water landing would still have value.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I think he said more like “they will give the customer all of the vehicle’s performance”. Judging from Gwynne Shotwell’s ISPCS comments, we should expect 1st stage return even on GTO missions. Also, if there were doubt that this could be achieved, they only need build a launch site on Puerto Rico; which they may do anyway.