SpaceX sent the Es’hail-2 telecommunications satellite into orbit today, then brought the Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster back down for an at-sea landing.
The Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after a trouble-free countdown. The only break from SpaceX’s recent routine was the fact that the launch came during daylight hours, at 3:46 p.m. ET (12:46 p.m. PT).
Minutes after launch, the Falcon 9’s second stage separated from the first stage and continued the push to geostationary transfer orbit. That freed up the first stage to go through an autonomous sequence of commands and touch down on SpaceX’s drone ship, “Of Course I Still Love You,” which was standing by hundreds of miles from shore in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the second go-round for that particular first stage. The first go-round came in July when the booster helped launch the Telstar 19 Vantage satellite and came back down for recovery and refurbishment.
Getting Es’hail-2 to its proper place in geostationary orbit requires a series of orbital maneuvers, which started a little more than a half-hour after launch with a second-stage engine burn and satellite deployment.
The Japanese-built Es’hail-2 satellite is the second in a series of spacecraft designed to provide satellite TV and secure communication services across the Middle East and North Africa. Both Es’hail satellites are operated by Qatar’s state-owned Es’hailSat telecom venture.
Es’hail-2 also carries two amateur-radio transponders that will facilitate conventional analog ham radio as well as experimental digital communications, including amateur television.
Today’s launch was the 18th for SpaceX this year. matching last year’s record with more than a month still to go. It was also SpaceX’s first-ever launch during the month of November.
There’s a busy week of liftoffs ahead, including a Russian Progress cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station that’s due to start on Friday, a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply mission that’s currently set for launch early Saturday, and a West Coast SpaceX launch on Monday that’s aimed at delivering more than 60 small satellites to orbit as part of a dedicated-rideshare mission facilitated by Seattle-based Spaceflight.