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SpaceX Falcon 9 launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rises from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, sending an Inmarsat satellite into space. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket today launched the Inmarsat-5 F4 telecommunications satellite to a geostationary transfer orbit ranging beyond 22,000 miles in height – so high that there was no chance to bring the first-stage booster back for a landing.

The rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at the beginning of the launch window, at 7:21 p.m. ET (4:21 p.m. PT).

Over the past year, SpaceX has made Falcon 9 booster landings seem almost routine. But missions aimed at putting satellites in geostationary orbits typically require so much oomph that there’s not enough fuel for a controlled descent.

Instead, the first stage tumbled back down to crash harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX didn’t even bother to install landing legs on the rocket.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9’s second stage continued skyward to power Inmarsat’s 6.7-ton, bus-sized spacecraft into a low-Earth parking orbit. A later engine burn successfully put Inmarsat-5 F4 into its proper orbit for spacecraft separation.

The Boeing-built satellite is the fourth of its breed, beefing up Inmarsat’s Global Xpress broadband data network, servicing customers on land, at sea and in the air.

The three earlier satellites in the $1.6 billion constellation were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by Russian rockets. When the third satellite was launched in 2015, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said his company was switching to SpaceX because of the “unacceptably high failure rate” of Russia’s Proton rockets.

Inmarsat started out as an international maritime satellite service provider, but the London-based company has branched out into fields ranging from in-flight Wi-Fi to connected cars.

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