With 2013 now but a memory, America’s space program is wasting no time kicking off the new year, with the first U.S. space launch scheduled to blast out of Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday, Jan. 3, courtesy of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). The company is scheduled to launch a commercial telecommunications satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) for Asian satellite operator Thaicom Public Limited Company (PLC).
The 7,330-pound hybrid C-band and Ku-band satellite, identified as Thaicom-6, will launch from Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) atop SpaceX’s new upgraded 224-foot-tall Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket. The mission will be the third launch of the new rocket and will loft Thaicom-6 skyward no earlier than 5:50 p.m. EST, with the launch window extending until 7:17 p.m. EST.
The satellite, which was manufactured and tested by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va., was designed based on Orbital’s very successful GEOStar-2 satellite platform, which can accommodate all types of commercial communications payloads and is compatible with all major commercial launchers.
Last Saturday, SpaceX successfully conducted a Static Fire test on their rocket at Cape Canaveral, hoisting it vertical atop its launch pad and putting the vehicle and launch pad systems through a full countdown scenario which ended with firing of the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines. The launch dress rehearsal, according to SpaceX, went as expected, and the team at Cape Canaveral is continuing with work to support a launch attempt in 48 hours.
Once launched, the satellite will be placed in a GTO and will be operated at 78.5 degrees East Longitude. Thaicom-6 is equipped with 18 C-band and 8 Ku-band transponders to provide service coverage to the growing satellite television market in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Southern Africa (including Madagascar).
“This deal highlights the confidence that satellite operators have in SpaceX capabilities, and is the latest example of the effect SpaceX is having on the international commercial launch market,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk when the deal between SpaceX and Thaicom was announced in 2011. “Asia is a critical market and SpaceX is honored to support its growing launch needs with a reliable US-based solution.”
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is offering launch viewing to the public from the Apollo/Saturn V viewing area, which is roughly 6 miles from SLC-40 and offers the closest public viewing for this particular launch. There is an additional charge to be transported to that viewing area, in addition to the regular admission cost to the Visitor Complex. Off site, the alternative free viewing locations would be along the Indian River on HWY-1 in Titusville or along the 528 next to Port Canaveral, although both locations are significantly farther than the viewing being offered by the KSC Visitor Complex.
SpaceX launched their first GEO communications satellite, the SES-8 geostationary communications satellite, for SES World Skies into orbit less than a month ago, and in doing so proved they can do more than just deliver to low-Earth orbit.
“The Falcon 9 will serve our unique needs at Thaicom. This dedicated launch vehicle is both cost-effective and best-matched to our requirements,” said Arak Chonlatanon, CEO of Thaicom Plc. “We look forward to working closely with the SpaceX team to ensure that the Thaicom 6 satellite will be successfully launched.”
Friday’s forecast from the 45th Space Wing calls for a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions expected at T-0, with the only real concern being a chance of strong winds gusting over 30mph, which would violate launch commit criteria. In the event of a 24-hour scrub, the forecast for a Saturday, Jan. 4 launch attempt remains the same.
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