The first U.S. space launch of 2014 is in the books with the successful delivery of the Thaicom-6 telecommunications satellite to orbit earlier this evening, courtesy of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). Liftoff occurred right on time at 5:06 p.m. EST atop the company’s new 224-foot-tall Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket, lighting up Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Florida’s Space Coast for miles around under overcast skies.
The 7,330-pound hybrid C-band and Ku-band Thaicom-6 satellite, which was launched for Asian satellite operator Thaicom Public Limited Company (PLC), was manufactured and tested by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va. The satellite 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.
Once in a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) the spacecraft will be operated at 78.5 degrees East Longitude, providing service coverage to the growing satellite television market in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Southern Africa (including Madagascar).
Thaicom 6′s gallium arsenide solar arrays will produce up to 3.7 kW of electrical power for the three-axis-stabilized satellite, with maneuvering capability for station-keeping provided by hydrazine thrusters. Last week, Thaicom Public Company Limited—the Bangkok-headquartered subsidiary of Shin Corporation and principal operator of the new satellite—announced that it had acquired a 66-percent booking on Thaicom 6′s capacity. It was also noted that the satellite would provide “higher quality of the digital TV and more high-definition channels.”
“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.”
Originally targeted for launch on 20 December, the final preparations for the Thaicom 6 launch were pushed to the right as a result of the delayed SES-8 mission, which suffered two scrubbed attempts in late November. Tonight’s liftoff was the third launch of the uprated Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket, which first flew last September, carrying Canada’s CASSIOPE scientitic payload into low-Earth orbit. This success was followed by SpaceX’s first mission to geostationary transfer orbit on 3 December, which delivered the SES-8 communications satellite. The new booster is powered by nine Merlin-1D engines on its first stage and a single Merlin-1D Vacuum engine on its second stage.
With Thaicom-6 now a memory, SpaceX turns its focus to readying another Falcon-9 at Cape Canaveral to launch their Dragon spacecraft on its fifth flight, which is the third operational cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station under NASA contract. The mission, CRS-3 (Commercial Resupply Mission 3), is scheduled to launch no earlier than Feb. 22, 2014. A launch window has not been released.
Meanwhile, Orbital Sciences Corporation is preparing to launch their Cygnus spacecraft atop the company’s Antares rocket on a supply delivery mission to the International Space Station this week. That mission, identified ORB-1, is scheduled to launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility this Wednesday, Jan. 8, at 1:32 p.m. EST.
Stay with AmericaSpace for full coverage of Orbital’s launch to deliver fresh supplies to the ISS, as we have boots on the ground at Wallops to bring our viewers exclusive content you won’t find anywhere else!
This article was authored by AmericaSpace writers Mike Killian and Ben Evans.
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