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SpaceX launches its 50th Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a 'bus-sized' Spanish communications satellite into orbit (and it weighs a record six tonnes!)

March 6, 2018 2:40 PM
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SpaceX carried out the 50th launch of its signature Falcon 9 rocket early today, a swift ascent to a milestone which many aerospace firms take far longer to attain.

It was carrying to orbit a Hispasat Spanish-language communications satellite 'almost the size of a city bus,' according to tweet from CEO Elon Musk.

The craft weighs six tonnes (6.6 tons), making it the largest geostationary satellite that the firm has taken into space.

The launch of the Falcon 9 took place on schedule at 12:33 am EST (5.33 am GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

About 33 minutes into the flight, the satellite was deployed into geo-stationary orbit, SpaceX said in a live webcast.

The satellite will expand television, broadband and telecommunications services in Europe and Northwest Africa.

The Falcon 9 first flew in 2010, and since then has become the California-based company's workhorse for sending supplies to the International Space Station, as well as launching both commercial satellites and secretive government payloads.

Powered by nine Merlin engines, the Falcon 9's first stage has also mastered the art of landing upright on solid ground or on floating platforms in the ocean after launch.

These 'recycled' rocket launches are part of SpaceX's goal to cut the cost of space flight and re-use expensive rocket parts instead of tossing them in the ocean after each launch.

But SpaceX did not attempt to land Falcon 9's booster Tuesday due to unfavourable weather in the recovery area off Florida's Atlantic coast, said a company statement.

SpaceX's 50 launches are 'double the maximum number of flights the Atlas V (2014 and 2015) and space shuttle (1985) performed during their most prolific years, according to ArsTechnica.

Elon Musk's grand visions for space exploration include sending tourists into orbit around the Moon and eventually colonising Mars.

Last month SpaceX launched its monster Falcon Heavy rocket - three times as powerful as the Falcon 9 - for the first time, propelling Musk's own Tesla roadster with a spacesuit-clad dummy at the wheel into orbit near Mars.

The Falcon 9 rocket launched today delivered Hispasat 30W-6, a Spanish commercial communications satellite, to a geostationary transfer orbit, which is a halfway point en route to the satellite's final destination.

SpaceX said in a statement that Hispasat 30W-6 will serve as a replacement for the Hispasat 30W-4 satellite.

The Hispasat 30W-6 is expected to have a useful life of 15 years, the firm noted.

In previous launches, SpaceX has attempted to land the first stage of Falcon rockets on the autonomous spaceport drone ship, named Of Course I Still Love You, that's located in the Atlantic Ocean.

The firm has had mixed success with recovering reusable cores in the past.

The Falcon Heavy's central core didn't make it back to the autonomous drone ship after the Tesla Roadster launch last month, missing its target by about 328 feet (100 metres).

SpaceX didn't attempt to recover a reusable booster after it launched the first of nearly 12,000 'Starlink' satellites last month, which were perched atop one of its Falcon 9 rockets.

The company also uses a claw boat, called 'Mr. Steven', that's outfitted with massive metal claws that are rigged to the net, as a means of gently recovering Falcon 9 payload fairings.

So far, the company has flown three successful Falcon 9 missions in 2018 and has several more planned in the next few months.

On March 29, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will launch 10 mobile communications satellites using a recycled first stage rocket.

Then, on April 2, the firm will launch the 16th Dragon spacecraft into space, as it attempts to complete its 14th cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station.

The last time SpaceX launched its flight-proven Dragon capsule was last December, when the Dragon carried roughly 4,800 pounds of cargo and material to the ISS, including barley for Budweiser's beer-brewing experiments.

But it's taken a while before SpaceX became one of private spaceflight's biggest success stories.


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