SpaceX to Fly Orbcomm, not SES, on First Test of Upgraded Booster

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will loft 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites into orbit instead of a SES spacecraft in a December launch that will be the rocket’s first flight since a catastrophic failure in June destroyed a Dragon cargo ship bound for the International Space Station. The launch will be the first test of upgrades to the Falcon 9 that will allow the rocket to lift heavier payloads.

In a statement, SpaceX said that unlike the geosynchronous SES 9 communication satellites, the OG2 spacecraft do not require a relight of the Falcon 9’s second stage following orbital insertion. Changing the order of the launches will allow SpaceX to test the second stage after the OG2 satellites have been deployed.

“This on-orbit test, combined with the current qualification program to be completed prior to launch, will further validate the second stage relight system and allow for optimization of the upcoming SES-9 mission and following missions to  geosynchronous transfer orbit,” SpaceX said.  “This change does not affect the timeline for SpaceX’s return-to-flight mission which is still targeted to take place in the next 6-8 weeks. The SES-9 launch is currently targeted for late December 2015.”

“We are excited to launch our eleven OG2 satellites aboard SpaceX’s newly upgraded Falcon 9 rocket and have full confidence in SpaceX and their dedication to th is launch,” said Marc Eisenberg, ORBCOMM’s Chief Executive Officer, in a press release. “We look forward to completing the deployment of our next generation constellation and delivering a higher level of performance, coverage and reliability through our modernized and upgraded OG2 network to our customers around the world.”