SpaceX Successfully Launches SiriusXM Radio Satellite

SpaceX has successfully launched a new radio satellite for the subscription radio services SiriusXM. The December 13 launch marks the seventh launch for this particular Falcon 9 rocket and SpaceX’s 25th launch of the Falcon 9 for the year.

The rocket’s first stage landed on the drone barge “Just Read the Instructions” in a move that has become almost routine for SpaceX’s Falcon 9. (Landing a Starship is an entirely different matter, apparently, although SpaceX officials have called the test of the SN8 prototype a mostly successful one.) SpaceX has not yet announced whether it will use the stage for an eighth time.

The new satellite is an update for SiriusXM-7 (SXM-7). SXM-7 and its sister satellite, SXM-8, will replace the XM-3 and XM-4 crafts that were launched in 2005 and 2006. SiriusXM ordered the satellites in 2016 and they were built by MAXAR Technologies (formerly Space System/Loral) around the SSL-1300 satellite bus. They will operate on the S-band spectrum with a massive unfurlable antenna reflector that will enable receipt of the signal without a dish-type antenna.

SXM-8 will be sent into orbit in a future launch slated for early 2021. Once in orbit, the satellites are expected to be operational for up to 15 years.

Although the launch had been aborted on December 11, the December 13 launch went off without any hitches. It marked the 102nd operational flight of the Falcon 9 model. With this launch, the Falcon 9 showed off its ability to launch heavy satellites into a geostationary orbit. The SXM-7 satellite has a mass of about 7,000 kilograms — the heaviest of any geostationary satellite.

Next up on the launch schedule is the classified NROL-108 mission, which is set to launch from Pad LC-39A at Florida’s Space Coast on December 17. After that, the launch schedule includes a launch for NROL and Turksat 5B on December 31. The Turksat mission is apparently a controversial one due to accusations that it could be used to target Armenian civilians with weaponized drones in an ongoing dispute between Turkey and Armenia. The satellite is privately owned, but its capacity could be leased to the Turkish government. Protests have failed to convince SpaceX to renege on the contract, however.

These launches will cap a successful year for SpaceX, with highlights that include the launches of the crewed Demo-2 and Crew-1 Crew Dragons to the International Space Station for NASA. SpaceX was the first aerospace company to launch actual crews under NASA’s Commercial Crew program. With these successes, SpaceX may also start launching privately funded missions, including a future one that will be commanded by retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria.

The launch of the next SiriusXM satellite, SXM-8, is scheduled to occur on January 30. In the meantime, SXM-7 is currently on its way to its final destination in a geostationary orbit.