December 6, 2022

Live coverage: SpaceX launches Egyptian satellite

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Egyptian Nilesat 301 communications satellite. Follow us on Twitter.

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SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday from Cape Canaveral with a telecom satellite for Egypt’s Nilesat. The Falcon 9 lifted off with the Nilesat 301 telecom payload at 5:04 p.m. EDT (2104 GMT), and the first stage booster landed on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

The 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, beginning a 33-minute mission to place the roughly 9,000-pound (4.1-metric ton) Nilesat 301 spacecraft into an elongated transfer orbit ranging tens of thousands of miles above Earth.

Nilesat 301 is destined for an operating position in geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator at 7 degrees west longitude, where it will provide TV broadcast and internet services over Egypt and other parts of Africa and the Middle East. The spacecraft will use its own propulsion system for the final maneuvers to reaching its operational orbit.

The launch Wednesday was the 23rd Falcon 9 launch of the year, and the first with a satellite heading toward geostationary orbit, a popular location for TV broadcasting and data relay spacecraft. It was also the first truly commercial launch into a geostationary transfer orbit worldwide this year.

The geostationary satellite launch market was once a lucrative business for launch providers, including SpaceX. But the satellite market has shifted to smaller spacecraft, including constellations flying in lower-altitude orbits, to beam broadband signals to consumers.

SpaceX operates the Starlink network, the world’s largest fleet of satellites, and other companies are in the process of developing and deploying their own constellations.

The Nilesat 301 communications satellite undergoes a solar array deployment test. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Nilesat 301’s launch was the first of up to six Falcon 9 rocket flights scheduled for June.

SpaceX loaded a million pounds of densified, super-chilled kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Falcon 9 in the final 35 minutes of the countdown Wednesday. The Falcon 9 transitioned to internal power and pressurized its propellant tanks before igniting nine Merlin main engines at T-minus 3 seconds.

After passing an automated health check, computers commanded four hold-down clamps to open, clearing the way for the Falcon 9 lift off from pad 40 with 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

Launch occurred 5:04 p.m. EDT (2104 GMT) Wednesday at the opening of a 2-hour, 29-minute window. Forecasters from the U.S. Space Force predicted a 60% chance of favorable weather for launch Wednesday, with the primary concern associated with threatening clouds from nearby thunderstorms.

But the storms held off just long enough to allow the Falcon 9 to take off with Nilesat 301.

Once it departed the pad, the Falcon 9 arced toward the east from Cape Canaveral over the Atlantic Ocean and exceeded the speed of sound in about one minute. The first stage booster shut off its engines and separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage at T+plus 2 minutes, 37 seconds.

The booster stage coasted through space for a few minutes before plunging back into the atmosphere for a vertical, rocket-assisted landing on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic nearly nine minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9’s first stage — tail number B1062 — flew for the seventh time. It debuted with the launch of a U.S. military GPS satellite on Nov. 5, 2020, and has since launched another GPS payload, the Inspiration4 and Axiom’s Ax-1 private astronaut missions, and two missions carrying Starlink internet satellites into orbit.

On its previous six flights, the booster carried 104 satellites and eight people toward orbit.

The Falcon 9’s upper stage ignited its single Merlin engine two times, first to reach a temporary parking orbit, then to propel Nilesat 301 into an elongated transfer orbit stretching tens of thousands of miles above Earth. Deployment of Nilesat 301 from the Falcon 9’s upper stage occurred about 33 minutes into the mission.

Built in France by Thales Alenia Space, Nilesat 301 will support Ultra HD television broadcasts and internet connectivity, replacing the Nilesat 201 spacecraft launched in 2010. The spacecraft is owned by Nilesat, a company controlled by Egyptian government organizations.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1062.7)

PAYLOAD: Nilesat 301 communications satellite

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: June 8, 2022

LAUNCH WINDOW: 5:04-7:33 p.m. EDT (2104-2333 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: 60% probability of acceptable weather

BOOSTER RECOVERY: “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship

LAUNCH AZIMUTH: East

TARGET ORBIT: Geostationary transfer orbit

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Liftoff
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:34: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:37: Stage separation
  • T+02:45: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+03:24: Fairing jettison
  • T+06:28: First stage entry burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+06:50: First stage entry burn ends
  • T+08:05: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 1)
  • T+08:19: First stage landing burn ignition (one engine)
  • T+08:42: First stage landing
  • T+26:56: Second stage engine restart
  • T+28:02: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 2)
  • T+33:13: Nilesat 301 separation

MISSION STATS:

  • 157th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 165th launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
  • 7th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1062
  • 137th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 88th Falcon 9 launch from pad 40
  • 143rd launch overall from pad 40
  • 99th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
  • 1st SpaceX launch for Nilesat
  • 81st Thales Alenia Space-built satellite launched by SpaceX
  • 23rd Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 23rd launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 23rd orbital launch based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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