Thaicom 6 launch to kick off SpaceX's busy 2014 manifest
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: December 20, 2013
With a busy manifest next year stacked with up to 10 launches for NASA and commercial customers, SpaceX is targeting Jan. 3 to launch the Thaicom 6 telecommunications satellite from Cape Canaveral.
The launch of Thaicom 6 on a Falcon 9 rocket is set for Jan. 3 at 5:57 p.m. EST (2257 GMT), according to SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force, which runs a network of tracking, communications and safety assets supporting all launches from Cape Canaveral.
The launch window extends for 86 minutes.
It will be the second Falcon 9 launch in a month, following a successful mission to deliver the SES 8 television broadcasting satellite to orbit Dec. 3.
Thaicom 6 was mired behind the launch of SES 8, which was delayed nearly one year as SpaceX completed development of its next-generation Falcon 9 rocket.
The upgraded Falcon 9, known as the Falcon 9 v1.1, uses upgraded Merlin 1D engines configured in a circular arrangement dubbed the "octaweb" and employs larger propellant tanks and more redundant avionics systems.
In May, Thaicom announced it acquired an unidentified satellite already in orbit to provide interim communications capacity from the 78.5 degrees east position while waiting for the launch of Thaicom 6.
Fearing Thaicom 6 would not be launched to meet regulatory deadlines, Thaicom said the newly-acquired in-orbit satellite would ensure digital terrestrial television stations waiting to use Thaicom 6 complied with "must-carry" regulations requiring broadcasting by a certain date.
Engineers are readying SpaceX's Complex 40 launch pad for a quick turnaround. If the mission lifts off as scheduled Jan. 3, it would mark the fastest turnaround of a launch pad at Cape Canaveral since 1999, when Delta 2 rockets were in the midst of launching a constellation of communications satellites for Globalstar.
Based in the Bangkok metropolitan region, Thaicom booked the launch with SpaceX in June 2011, becoming the second geostationary satellite operator to reserve a Falcon launch. SES of Luxembourg, the world's second-largest commercial telecom satellite operator, announced the contract for SES 8's launch March 2011.
When Thaicom announced Thaicom 6 in 2011, officials said the project was a $160 million investment for the company, including the spacecraft, launch services and insurance. Thaicom 6's operator says it has sold more than 60 percent of the satellite's capacity, as of the end of September.
The successful Dec. 3 launch of the SES 8 spacecraft demonstrated SpaceX could loft payloads into high-altitude orbits used by most communications satellites. The flight propelled SES 8 to an altitude of more than 50,000 miles, requiring an in-flight restart of the rocket's Merlin 1D upper stage engine.
After a failed attempt to reignite the upper stage engine on a demonstration launch in September, SpaceX added insulation to the engine's igniter fluid lines to prevent them from freezing, a phenomenon on which engineers blamed the restart anomaly in September.
A mix of missions for NASA and commercial satellites are on SpaceX's docket for 2014. Here is a list of Falcon launches slated for next year:
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