Brevard County has no shortage of great places to watch a launch. Here’s where to go and how to make the most of your experience. Wochit
Fourteen months ago, the space industry watched with fascination as European satellite operator SES prepared to become the first customer to launch on a used SpaceX rocket.
Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer at Luxembourg-based SES, had high confidence in the Falcon 9 rocket’s flight-worthiness but knew there was no precedent for a large, orbital rocket flying for a second time.
“In the back of your mind, well, it’s never been done before, is this all going to come apart at the seams?” Halliwell told FLORIDA TODAY in March near the historic launch’s anniversary. “Obviously it was successful, and now it’s becoming the norm for SpaceX flights.”
Early this Friday, SES plans to launch for the fourth time on what SpaceX calls a “flight proven” Falcon 9 booster, the 13th time overall that SpaceX will reuse a rocket.
Liftoff is targeted for 12:29 a.m. Friday, June 1, at the opening of a more than two-hour window at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40.
Lingering storm clouds are expected to limit the chance of acceptable launch weather to 40%, according to the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.
The Falcon 9 booster blasted off for the first time last September from Kennedy Space Center, when it helped place the Air Force’s X-37B space plane in orbit.
12,000 pound spacecraft
Atop the 230-foot rocket this time is a communications satellite Halliwell has called a “brute.”
At roughly 12,000 pounds, the SES-12 spacecraft built in France by Airbus Defense and Space is not the heaviest of its kind, but is big and tall.
“It’s basically two satellites in one,” said Halliwell, describing broadcasting and broadband satellites “smashed together into one bus.”
According to Airbus, the satellite is the biggest and most powerful yet to rely entirely on electric propulsion to reach and hold its final orbit high over the equator.
Using electric propulsion cuts the weight usually reserved for chemical fuels, making mass more available for mission-related payloads.
But providing a fraction of the thrust, the all-electric satellite will take months instead of days or weeks to settle into its orbit and begin serving the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions.
The new satellite will join one SES satellite in orbit and replace another.
SpaceX will not try to land the Falcon 9 booster for a second time.
Landing the rocket at sea after lifting such a heavy satellite would have been a challenge anyway. But SpaceX also is phasing out older-model Falcon 9s after two flights in favor of an upgraded version the company says will be able to launch 10 or more times.
Customers experience some nerves before any launch, Halliwell said, and the first re-flight of a Falcon 9 last year was no different.
“Have we done everything? Is the spacecraft OK? You’ve got a thousand different systems you want to check,” he said. “Ironically, it was one of the smoothest missions we’ve ever had with SpaceX. It was a great experience at the end of the day.”
Contact Dean at 321-242-3668 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow on Twitter at @flatoday_jdean and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SpaceTeamGo.
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Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9 (re-flight)
Mission: SES-12 communications satellite
Launch Time: 12:29 a.m. EDT Friday
Launch Window: To 2:57 a.m. EDT Friday
Launch Complex: 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Weather: 40 percent “go”
Join floridatoday.com for countdown updates and chat at 11:30 p.m. Thursday, including streaming of SpaceX’s launch webcast starting about 15 minutes before liftoff.