Like most commercial communications spacecraft, many of the Air Force’s national security satellites operate in geosynchronous orbit some 36,000 km above the Earth, making SpaceX’s ability to deliver payloads to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) key to competing with ULA.
However, last month’s upper-stage engine anomaly did not stop SpaceX’s first GTO customer, Luxembourg-based fleet operator SES, from shipping its SES-8 communications satellite to Cape Canaveral, Fla., last week in preparation for launch atop the next Falcon 9.
“Since SES is the next customer on the Falcon 9 manifest, SES’s engineering team is working closely with SpaceX to understand why SpaceX’s new-version Falcon 9 didn’t perform as planned during its Sept. 29 flight, which was to demonstrate reignition of its upper stage,” SES spokesman Yves Feltes says. The mission also proved the company’s nine new core-stage Merlin 1D engines in a new “Octaweb” configuration, considerably longer fuel tanks and a wider payload fairing. However, “the ability of the Falcon 9 upper stage to perform a second ignition and burn is a necessary feature for launches into geostationary transfer orbit and is therefore required for the SES-8 mission,” Feltes said.
Shanklin says engineers are still reviewing data from the Sept. 29 mission and the company is now planning an early November launch of SES-8.
Built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., the 3,200-kg (7,000-lb.) spacecraft originally was scheduled to launch in the first quarter of this year.
“We are still reviewing the data, but we believe we understand the issue and we are confident we will be able to make the necessary adjustments before the next flight,” Shanklin said Oct. 9.
Feltes said the U.S. government shutdown has thus far not affected the SES-8 mission, and a new launch date will be announced “as soon as available.”