SpaceX launched its second heavyweight Telstar telecommunications satellite from Florida tonight, and brought the Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster down for a landing on a drone ship hundreds of miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
The mission to put the 15,600-pound Telstar 18 Vantage satellite into geostationary transfer orbit for Canadian-based Telesat was nearly a carbon copy of SpaceX’s successful Telstar 19V launch in July, with a bit of added suspense due to the weather.
Concerns about thunderstorms and lightning near the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station delayed the launch for 77 minutes, but the Falcon 9 rose without a hitch at 12:45 a.m. ET Monday (9:45 p.m. PT Sunday).
Minutes after launch, the rocket’s second stage separated from the first stage and sent the satellite onward to orbit. Meanwhile, the first stage maneuvered itself toward the landing ship, christened “Of Course I Still Love You,” slowed its supersonic descent, and made a problem-free touchdown on the deck.
SpaceX has been experimenting with techniques to recover and reuse the two halves of the Falcon 9’s nose cone, or fairing, as part of an effort to achieve millions of dollars in additional cost savings. No such recovery attempt was made this time, however.
A little more than a half-hour after launch, the Falcon 9’s second stage relit its rocket engine to adjust its orbit. Then it deployed the satellite, marking the end of SpaceX’s role in Telstar 18V’s mission.
“A great launch and deployment,” launch commentator John Insprucker said.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the satellite will get into position over the Asia-Pacific region and add to Telesat’s broadband coverage in C-band and Ku-band frequencies. Its transponders will provide wide-ranging broadband coverage across Asia and reaching all the way to Hawaii, and focused beams for customers in Southeast Asia, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand and the North Pacific Ocean.
The next-generation Telstar spacecraft rank among the heaviest commercial telecom satellites ever sent into orbit, and have a design life of 15 years.
Tonight’s launch represented SpaceX’s 60th successful Falcon 9 launch since the rocket’s debut in 2010 (with one failure in 2015, plus a launch-pad loss of rocket and payload in 2016). SpaceX’s next launch is due to put Argentina’s SAOCOM 1A Earth-monitoring satellite into orbit in October.