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article imageSpaceX shakes up commercial satellite market with launch

By Rob Edens     Dec 6, 2013 in Science
Cape Canaveral - SpaceX, the first private company to send a cargo payload to the International Space Station, has achieved yet another milestone this week in deploying its first communications satellite.
As the 244-foot Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base Tuesday on its journey to over 22,000 miles above the earth's surface, satellite operators around the world closely monitored the launch, which could, "shake the industry to its roots," says Martin Halliwell, the chief technology officer satellite operator SES.
The 6,918-pound satellite, which will broadcast high-definition television to the Asia-Pacific region for the Luxembourg-based SES satellite operator, is expected to be in place next week once the spacecraft settles in a geo-stationary orbit, where its speed matches that of the earth's rotation.
The launch had been delayed twice in late November due to technical glitches and nerves were on edge as engineers tracked progress. SpaceX announced the rocket's progress over the company's Twitter account.
A small crowd also gathered on nearby Cocoa Beach Pier to watch the Falcon 9's 1.3 million pounds of thrust push the rocket out of earth's atmosphere against the Florida sunset.
A half-hour into flight, SpaceX announced that the mission had successfully completed a critical step, when the upper stage engine reignited for a second burn. "Spacecraft separation confirmed!," the company announced on Twitter.
During a failed September test-flight of an earlier version of the Falcon 9, the rocket failed to complete this step, necessitating weeks of work to resolve the issue, which was traced back to a frozen igniter fluid line.
Tuesday’s launch marked the seventh launch for the Falcon 9 family, but was the first successful launch of the upgraded version that the company calls the Falcon 9 v1.1. The rocket's baseline model has proven itself through multiple successful launches of the company’s its unmanned Dragon space capsule.
The company won a $1.6 billion deal with NASA in 2008 to launch its Dragon capsule on a dozen cargo delivery missions to the International Space Station, two of which have already been completed. SpaceX is also developing a manned version to ferry astronauts.
The Falcon 9 family of rockets are named after the "Star Wars’" series Millennium Falcon spaceship flown by character Hans Solo, while the Dragon spacecraft owe their name to the fictional Puff the Magic Dragon, according to SpaceX.
Elon Musk at SpaceX control center
Elon Musk at SpaceX control center
Emily Shanklin
Elon Musk, the eccentric founder and CEO of SpaceX, founded the company in 2002 with the goal of developing affordable and reliable rockets and spacecraft. The billionaire, who made most of his money from selling his tech start-up PayPal, is also founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, a pioneering manufacturer of high-performance electric cars.
SpaceX, which charges just $56.7 million for no-frills launches, has over 40 missions scheduled with many of the world's largest commercial satellite companies. Now that is has proven itself in the market, it will pose serious competition to international competitors. The company intends to launch its next commercial satellite, Thaicom 6, later this month.
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation congratulated SpaceX for its accomplishment in a press release, saying that the accomplishment, “heralds U.S. resurgence in the commercial satellite launch market,” which has long been dominated by European and Russian companies.
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