SES-8 Satellite Launch Scrubbed Due To SpaceX Rocket Malfunction
November 26, 2013

SES-8 Satellite Launch Scrubbed Due To SpaceX Rocket Malfunction

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Update: Nov. 26, 2013 (6:00 a.m.)

SpaceX has postponed the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Monday due to a technical issue.

During the 65-minute launch window, SpaceX made three attempts to get the rocket off the ground, but on each attempt, mission controllers were met with a glitch.

Monday’s launch attempt was to put an SES-owned TV satellite into geostationary transfer orbit some 22,000 miles above the Earth. It was already being called SpaceX’s most challenging launch yet and after a September test launch malfunction, tensions were likely high during yesterday’s attempts.

While the cause of Monday’s errors was not immediately clear, SpaceX noted that another launch window will open on Thursday, Nov. 28, beginning at 5:38 p.m. EST.


Main Story: Nov. 25, 2013 (7:47 a.m.)

SpaceX is preparing for its next big mission this evening when it will, for the first time, attempt to launch a telecom satellite into orbit. A successful launch could prove the Elon Musk-owned company’s worth as both a private and commercial powerhouse in the space launch game.

The launch window for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 opens today at 5:37 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket will be carrying a Luxembourg-based SES-8 satellite that will serve television customers in India and parts of Southeast Asia.

The launch of a satellite is not only a first for SpaceX, but will also be its most challenging. The Falcon 9 rocket must show its capabilities in launching the SES-8 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit more than 22,000 miles over Earth’s equator.

Today’s launch of an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, known as version 1.1, also comes after a September 29 test launch of the same rocket design in California. While that test was successful, an optional restart of the rocket’s upper stage engine, which will be necessary for the latest mission, failed to activate.

SpaceX later determined that an igniter line froze and believes that added insulation will prevent a repeat of the issue.

"We've done everything we can possibly think of to maximize the reliability of this launch," Musk, CEO and chief designer at SpaceX, told BBC’s Jonathan Amos in an interview

"There's no stone that hasn't been turned over at least twice to maximize the probability of success. Being a rocket, there's still some chance of failure, but whatever happens we can be at peace that we've done everything we could think of, and SES's technical team has looked at it and they concur," Musk added.

While Falcon 9 has successfully sent several spacecraft to the International Space Station, which sits at about 250 miles over Earth, this new mission will be exponentially more challenging for SpaceX and its Falcon 9.

Musk said on a Twitter post that the upcoming flight "will be toughest mission to date."

SES, which already has 54 satellites in orbit over Earth, made it evident why it chose SpaceX to send up number 55. If the mission proves successful, it could launch SpaceX into a new class as a lower-cost option in putting man-made commercial objects into space. Until today, overseas companies like Arianespace have held the prime real estate in such launches.

"Let me put this very clearly and maybe not too dramatically: The entry of SpaceX into the commercial market is a game-changer," said Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer for SES, as cited by USA Today. "It's going to really shake the industry to its roots."

"This launch is obviously very important to the future of SpaceX," Musk said during a pre-launch reception on Sunday. "We're very appreciative that SES would place a bet on SpaceX here."

One difference from past Falcon 9 launches, the latest mission will not see SpaceX trying to recover the Falcon 9 booster. It will, however, rely on a ship in the Atlantic to gather data on the booster’s atmospheric re-entry to help in the support of future recovery efforts, perhaps as soon as the next scheduled launch, which comes just before Christmas.

While the cost of this mission has also not been revealed, SES said it did receive a discount for taking the leap of faith with Falcon 9. Generally, SpaceX advertises similar launches online with a price tag of around $56.5 million.

Halliwell said the discount offered by SpaceX allows SES to pursue emerging markets that are growing in their need for modern technologies, such as cable TV and broadband Internet, but generally have lower revenue streams.

"If you then put that complex, expensive satellite on top of a very expensive launch vehicle, than the entire business case starts to become unraveled," Halliwell explained to USA Today’s James Dean.

The SES-8 satellite, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., is meant to serve Southeast Asia for at least 15 years, bringing TV signals to homes throughout India, Vietnam and other emerging markets. This satellite will fly in a close orbit to another SES-owned satellite and will serve as a bridge to a larger one planned to serve the same region.

Halliwell noted that SES already has three more launches contracted out to SpaceX and also remarked that this would likely be the “first of many, many successful launches that we're going to have out of the Cape here, and I think it's going to be very good for the entire district."

As SpaceX tries to build a reputation for itself as a contender in the satellite launch market, Arianespace is vying to maintain its stance as a power player in the sector by looking at better performance in its rocket designs as well as working on a new Ariane 6 variant of its rocket system, hoping to bring launch costs down, according to BBC News.