Early on the morning of Thursday 16 March, SpaceX achieved their third successful launch of 2017, making it one launch per month as the first quarter of the year draws to a close. The company launched their Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral launch pad in Florida to deliver the communications satellite EchoStar XXIII into Geostationary Transfer Orbit.
After being postponed for two days due to weather, the rocket was eventually launched at 2am Eastern time and is now orbiting 22,000 miles above the Earth. The rocket provides broadcast services for Brazil. This was the second successful launch from Launch Complex 39A which was built in the 1960’s to support the Apollo program (the first successful moon mission) and then the space shuttle program from 1980 – 2011. A 20-year lease was signed for the complex by SpaceX in 2014 by which time the company were able to update the site to support its rockets and spacecraft.
As with previous missions, SpaceX was not able to reserve enough fuel to land the first stage of the rocket. Weighing 12,300 pounds, the satellite proved too heavy for the rocket to achieve both a take off and a controlled landing. The company are aiming to land the first stage of their rockets in other missions, however, as they hope this will bring down the cost and prices for it’s customers.
The next SpaceX launch is scheduled for March 27 where the company will work alongside Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES to launch the SES-10 communications satellite. This will be the first time the company have attempted to launch a reused rocket. “Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid re-usability,” Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said in August 2016.
SpaceX are also hoping to launch their Falcon Heavy rocket later this year, one which is capable of lifting bigger payloads. The company hope that this launch will pave the way for much bigger missions, such as flying two passengers around the Moon and sending a cargo capsule to Mars in the near future.