A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lit up the night sky over Florida Tuesday (Dec. 3) in a landmark communications satellite mission that catapulted the private spaceflight company into the commercial launch business.
The upgraded Falcon 9 rocket launched into space from SpaceX's pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a mission to deliver the 3.2-ton SES-8 communications satellite into orbit. The liftoff at 5:41 p.m. EST (2241 GMT) marked SpaceX's first entry into the large commercial satellite market and its first launch into a geostationary transfer orbit needed for such a mission.
The launch also marked the first flight of SpaceX's enhanced Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from Florida and came after two aborted attempts last week due to technical glitches, making the third time the charm for the upgraded rocket design. [See photos of SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch of the SES-8 satellite]A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket streaks toward space carrying the commercial SES-8 communications satellite. The mission launched Dec. 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and is SpaceX's first commercial launch into a geostationary transfer orbit.
"Restart was good, apogee raised to 80k km (50k miles). Yes!!!" Musk wrote on Twitter.
The 6, 918-lb. (3, 138 kilograms) SES-8 satellite was placed in a transfer orbit that ranges between 183 miles (295 kilometers) above Earth at its nearest point and 49, 709 miles (80, 000 km) at its highest point. The satellite is a hybrid Ku-and Ka-band spacecraft built to provide high-definition telecommunications services to SES World Skies customers across the South Asia and Pacific region.
The smooth launch is a landmark achievement for SpaceX's plans to provide reliable and affordable launch services to commercial satellite operators and government space agencies.
SpaceX has already demonstrated the dependability of its baseline Falcon 9 rocket with the repeated launch success of its unmanned Dragon space capsule. Today's mission marked SpaceX's seventh Falcon 9 launch since 2010, all of them successful.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company has a .6 billion deal with NASA to launch its unmanned Dragon capsule on 12 cargo delivery missions to the International Space Station; two of these missions have already flown. The company is also developing a manned version of Dragon to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The second stage engine on SpaceX's upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket glows red with the blue airglow of Earth's atmosphere in the background during the company's launch of the SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Dec. 3, 2013.
But to launch commercial satellites, SpaceX upgraded the 224.4-foot (68.4 meters) Falcon 9 rocket to boost its capabilities. The rocket's nine-engine first stage was modified with new SpaceX Merlin 1D engines that provide more thrust than their predecessors. The rocket has a larger 17-foot (5.1 m) payload fairing to fit even the largest satellites inside, and boasts a triple redundant avionics system for reliability, company officials said.
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