A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket thundered into orbit during the overnight hours on September 7 on a successful mission to deliver the commercial AsiaSat 6 communication satellite to orbit for Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Ltd.
Launch occurred right on time at 1 a.m. EDT Sunday morning from SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As the count reached T-0, the Falcon’s nine Merlin 1D first stage engines roared to life and quickly reached full thrust before the rocket was released to begin its climb to orbit. Trailing a brilliant yellow and red flame, the rocket quickly raced skyward through high-altitude clouds from a storm system lighting up the sky to the east over the Atlantic ocean, far enough away to not be a concern for the launch.
Burning highly-refined kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants, the first stage burned for approximately three minutes before shutting down its engines and separating from the second stage for the remainder of the flight.
The Falcon’s upper stage conducted two burns over the next twenty minutes to place the 10,000 pound AsiaSat 6 into a highly-elliptical geostationary transfer orbit. The satellite was released from the upper stage at 1:32 am. Ground controllers in Hong Kong established communications from the satellite 55 minutes after launch to mark the 12th success in as many tries for SpaceX’s mainstay Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
AsiaSat 6 will spend the next few weeks maneuvering to its final geostationary orbit 22,300 miles high over the equator at 120 degrees East. It will undergo on-orbit checkout before being placed into active service. Hong Kong-based AsiaSat hopes to have the new satellite operational by mid-October.
“This year marks a major milestone for AsiaSat. The addition of AsiaSat 6 to AsiaSat’s expanding fleet of five in-orbit satellites including the new AsiaSat 8 significantly enhances our capability to offer a wider range of transponder capacity to our clients,” said William Wade, President and Chief Executive Officer of AsiaSat.
“We thank the SpaceX, Space Systems/Loral and the AsiaSat team for their dedication and professionalism in achieving this successful launch. We look forward to offering more quality satellite services on AsiaSat 6 to serve the fast growing demand in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Complementing the Ku-Band AsiaSat 8 satellite launched by SpaceX just last month, AsiaSat 6 carries 28 C-Band transponders and will serve East and Southeast Asian markets. AsiaSat 6 is based on the Space Systems/Loral 1300 platform and has a design life of 15 years.
Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Limited serves over two-thirds of the world’s population with its six satellites, AsiaSat 3S, AsiaSat 4, AsiaSat 5, AsiaSat 7 and the newly launched AsiaSat 6 and AsiaSat 8. The AsiaSat satellite fleet provides services to both the broadcast and telecommunications industries. Over 450 television and radio channels are now delivered by the company’s satellites offering access to over 710 million TV households across the Asia-Pacific region.
Under a lease agreement with AsiaSat, Thailand’s Thaicom communications company is leasing up to 50 percent of the spacecraft’s capacity under the moniker Thaicom 7. Doing split duty, AsiaSat 6 will provide c-Band telecommunications services to China while Thaicom 7 will primarily serve the data needs of Thailand and Southeast Asia.
“The successful launch of THAICOM-7 is a great success. I would like to thank our partners and team for a job well done,” said Mrs. Suphajee Suthumpun, Chairman of the Executive Committee and CEO, Thaicom PLC. “Our new bird will help fulfill the increasing demand in satellite capacity in Thailand and in the Asia Pacific region. THAICOM-7 will help strengthen the company’s servicing capacity, as well as allow it to expand into new markets overseas.”
“Satellites THAICOM-5 and THAICOM-6 which serve Thailand are now at full capacity; the launch of THAICOM-7 will provide additional satellite capacity to serve Thailand’s fast growing broadcasting industry,” added Mrs. Suphajee. “Thaicom is committed to developing and delivering premium satellite services and innovative solutions on an end-to-end basis.”
Thaicom has launched six satellites into the orbit; three satellites are in operations. THAICOM-5 and THAICOM-6 are a “Hot Bird” broadcasting satellite for Thailand and SE Asia, boarding more than 600 TV channels, coverage over Thailand , SE Asia and Africa (by the name “Africom-1”). THAICOM-4 (IPSTAR) is the world’s first broadband satellite and is providing broadband services to 14 countries across Asia-Pacific region. With the unique performance and technology of THAICOM-4, the Company has provided its solutions to many countries in the region to enable the broadband connectivity everywhere, also to recover communication networks at the time of disasters.
The mission was originally scheduled to launch on August 26, but SpaceX pushed back the date following the explosion of a test rocket at the company’s facility near McGregor, Texas. A prototype Falcon 9 Reusable first stage exploded shortly after lifting off from the test facility’s launch pad.
The problem was identified as a non-redundant blocked sensor port that caused the rocket to veer off course and automatically destroy itself. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the operational Falcon 9 rockets would not suffer the same fate because the hardware is triplicated and two working sensors would override a the faulty one and allow the flight to continue.
Nevertheless, the company delayed the AsiaSat 6 mission in order to “triple check” the rocket’s systems and ensure an added level of due diligence to ensure mission success for Falcon 9, which has a near-perfect track record in all of its launches to date.
Keeping up a fairly rapid launch pace, the next Falcon 9 is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral on September 19, when the vehicle is slated to deliver a cargo-carrying Dragon spacecraft on the CRS-4 mission to resupply the International Space Station. A few days before, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is targeted to blast off with the top-secret CLIO mission.
(Matthew Travis, Zero-G News)