For the second time in a week, weather worries caused a delay in SpaceX’s launch of the EchoStar 23 communications satellite – but this time, liftoff took place less than a half-hour later than planned.
Tonight’s Falcon 9 rocket launch sent the satellite on its way from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was the first time a purely commercial satellite launch took place at a pad that once served as the sending-off point for Apollo moon trips and space shuttle flights.
SpaceX had intended to launch the 6-ton satellite for Colorado-based EchoStar early Tuesday ET (late Monday PT), but high winds forced a delay.
This time around, the launch opportunity opened at 1:35 a.m. ET Thursday (10:35 p.m. PT today), but high-altitude winds during the countdown led SpaceX to add another 25 minutes to the wait. The winds settled down, and liftoff occurred at 2 a.m. ET (11 p.m. PT).
Once EchoStar 23 settles into geostationary orbit, it will provide video and data services for customers in Brazil.
Because of the satellite’s heft, and because it had to be sent to such a high orbit, more than 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface, SpaceX determined that there wouldn’t be enough fuel remaining to try landing the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage. Instead, the booster fell into the Atlantic Ocean after stage separation.
That’s typical for expendable rockets, but over the past year, SpaceX’s landing attempts have become so routine that what used to be typical is now worthy of note.
SpaceX is aiming to lower the cost of access to space by retrieving and reusing its boosters. Last year the company’s president, Gwynne Shotwell, said such reuse could bring about a 30 percent reduction in price, which is already low by industry standards ($62 million, according to SpaceX’s online menu).
Later this month, the company plans to launch a previously flown booster for the first time, with the aim of putting the SES 10 communication satellite into orbit.