SpaceX Falcon rocket lifts off with Thaicom digital TV satellite
Cape Canaveral: A Space Exploration Technologies` Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Monday to put a commercial communications spacecraft into orbit for Thai satellite operator Thaicom.
The 224-foot-tall rocket lifted off its seaside launch pad at 5:06 p.m. (2206 GMT), soaring through overcast skies as it headed toward the satellite`s drop-off point more than 55,000 miles above Earth, or about one-quarter of the way to the moon.
From that position, the 6,649-pound (3,016 kg) Thaicom 6 satellite is expected to lower itself to about 22,300 miles above Earth and shift the angle of its orbit so that it can be permanently stationed to beam high-definition and digital television services to customers in Thailand and surrounding areas.
The satellite, built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp, also is equipped to provide other communications services for customers in Southeast Asia and Africa, including Madagascar, Thaicom`s website shows.
Including launch services and insurance, the Thaicom 6 satellite cost about $160 million, and so far, about two-thirds of the satellite`s capacity has been sold, according to Thaicom.
Monday`s launch was the second in just over a month for Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX.
In December, the California-based firm, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is also chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Motors, launched its first commercial communications satellite, staking a claim in a global satellite launch industry. The industry is worth about $6.5 billion a year, a study by the Satellite Industry Association trade group shows.
So far, privately owned SpaceX has sold about 50 commercial launches worth about $40 billion. About 25 percent of the flights are for NASA, which hired SpaceX, along with Orbital Sciences, to fly cargo to the International Space Station, a $100 billion research complex that flies about 250 miles above Earth.
SpaceX`s next flight, slated for late February, will be the third of 12 station resupply missions under its $1.6 billion NASA contract.
Orbital Sciences, which holds a separate $1.9 billion NASA contract, is preparing to launch the first of its eight station cargo runs on Wednesday. The company`s Antares rockets fly from a commercial spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia.
With Monday`s launch, Falcon 9 rockets have flown eight times, all successfully, though on its first cargo flight to the station, in October 2012, one of the rocket`s nine first-stage engines shut down prematurely. Other motors compensated, and the rocket was able to deliver its Dragon cargo ship to the intended orbit without a problem.
SpaceX is working on three parallel programs to expand its business and cut costs, including reusing its first-stage boosters. However, a proposed demonstration to restart the engine so it could cushion the splashdown into the ocean was not attempted on the Thaicom 6 mission, said SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin.
HEAVY-LIFT FALCON MISSION
In addition, the company is working on a 27-engine, heavy-lift Falcon rocket as well as a version of its Dragon cargo capsule that can carry astronauts and other passengers to the space station.
A Falcon Heavy demonstration mission from SpaceX`s second launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is slated for 2014, the company`s website shows.
Monday`s successful flight also could clear SpaceX to enter a lucrative competition to launch U.S. military reconnaissance and communications satellites, a service now exclusively provided by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
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