Looking to start 2014 with a roar, SpaceX is gearing up to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Thai communication satellite January 6 from Cape Canaveral. The launch comes just over one month since the last Falcon 9 mission, also a commercial launch from Florida and signifies the intensity with which SpaceX is solidifying the company’s position as the leading U.S. commercial satellite launch provider.
Flying for the third time in its upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 configuration, the rocket is scheduled to liftoff at the beginning of a launch window that opens at 5:06 p.m. EST. SpaceX will have just over two hours to get the vehicle off the ground before the window closes at 7:08 p.m. As with all Falcon launches from Cape Canaveral to date, the rocket will fly from Space Launch Complex 40 on the Air Force Station.
The 224-foot tall Falcon 9 is carrying the THAICOM 6 communication satellite for Thaicom, Plc. of Thailand. Serving the Asia Pacific broadcast market, deployment of the 6,649 pound spacecraft from the Falcon second stage will occur at 31 minutes into flight.
The orbital parameters for the THAICOM 6 mission are similar to those of the previous Falcon 9 flight which was the first geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) mission for the launch vehicle. That launch, on December 3 of last year, successfully deployed the SES-8 communication satellite into GTO.
Falcon’s job is to place THAICOM 6 into a geostationary transfer orbit with an inclination of 22.5 degrees to the Earth’s Equator and a perigee of 183 miles. Transfer orbit apogee is targeted at 55,923 miles high – approximately one quarter of the way to the Moon. Eventually, THAICOM 6 is destined for a geosynchronous orbit above the Equator at 78.5 degrees East Longitude.
Manufactured by Orbital Sciences Corporation, the satellite is based on Orbital’s Star 2.3 model. It contains 26 transponders including 18 C-band transponders and 8 Ku-band transponders. THAICOM 6 will serve the broadcast industry with higher quality digital TV and more high definition channels than currently available. At present, the Company has acquired over 66% booking on THAICOM 6’s capacity. THAICOM 6 will also strengthen THAICOM’s Hotbird platform on 78.5 Degrees East.
Thaicom Public Company Limited was the first satellite provider in the Asia Pacific region to offer Ku-band and Digital Direct-to-Home broadcasting services, and was the world’s first operator to employ MPEG-2 DVB compression since 1994. Thaicom also developed and launched the world’s first Internet Protocol (IP) satellite, IPSTAR.
Launch of the $160 million THAICOM 6 comes about a year later than Thaicom, Plc announced when the company signed a launch contract with SpaceX. In order to provide coverage to meet regulatory deadlines for televisions stations to broadcast in digital, Thaicom purchased an existing satellite already in orbit to meet the gap.
Something not to watch for during today’s launch: recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage.
During the maiden flight of Falcon 9 v1.1, also the first launch from the rocket’s west coast launch site at Vandenberg AFB, CA, SpaceX attempted to recover the first stage with a soft water landing in the Pacific. The rocket re-lit its engines after separating from the second stage and guided itself through the atmosphere toward the ocean. However, as the rocket descended, airflow over the body caused the rocket to start spinning about its longitude. Centrifugal forces pushed the fuel away from the propellant feed lines, causing the engines to shut down and the rocket to crash into the water.
At the time, SpaceX said the company might attempt a second water landing during the THAICOM 6 mission. That possibility has since been nixed, as the company wants to use the full power of Falcon to ensure the payload is successfully carried to its GTO destination.
Currently, the weather forecast is generally favorable, with an 80% probability of acceptable conditions for launch. The primary concerns are for thick clouds and excessive ground winds as a strong cold front approaches Florida and will move through the area during the afternoon and evening. The forecast for Tuesday is also favorable and predicts 90% probability of good weather and the only concern being the potential for high winds.
Article by: Matthew Travis
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