November 12, 2012
Credit: Credit: SpaceX
PARIS — Satellite messaging services provider Orbcomm will be the second customer to launch atop the new Falcon 9 rocket that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is developing to deliver commercial telecom satellites to geostationary orbit.
During a Nov. 8 conference call with investors, Orbcomm Chief Executive Marc Eisenberg said the New Jersey-based company has full confidence in SpaceX despite the total loss last month of its prototype second-generation, messaging-service satellite, OG2.
The precursor to what will be a constellation of 18 low Earth-orbiting spacecraft flew as a secondary payload on NASA’s Oct. 7 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), but was placed into the wrong orbit following the loss of one of the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1C engines.
SpaceX is working on a complete overhaul of the medium-lift rocket, dubbed Falcon 9 v1.1, that will feature new and more powerful Merlin 1D engines, extended fuel tanks, a wider payload fairing and a new configuration for the rocket’s nine engines.
Eisenberg says Orbcomm expects to launch eight OG2 satellites by mid-2013 as the primary mission on the second flight of Falcon 9 v1.1, with plans to loft another 10 spacecraft the following year.
“Had our prototype been the primary payload for this past launch, we believe we would have been successful,” Eisenberg says, noting that the Falcon 9’s primary mission to ISS was successful despite the engine loss. “We intend to launch the remainder of the OG2 satellites with SpaceX.”
Safety concerns for the ISS during the Oct. 7 mission meant Orbcomm’s OG2 satellite was deployed into an elliptical orbit at 193 km by 325 km, significantly lower than the intended orbit of 325 km by 750 km.
“At this altitude there was significantly more atmosphere causing aerodynamic drag on the satellite, causing it to spin and fall toward Earth,” Eisenberg said. For 53 hr. following the launch, Orbcomm, satellite contractor Sierra Nevada Corp. and Boeing worked to stabilize and raise the satellite’s orbit, “but these efforts proved ineffective as our spacecraft was not designed for this environment,” he said.
“With the prototype behind us, we’re now in full manufacturing mode,” he said, adding that Orbcomm has contracted with a third-party manufacturer to develop new payload rings capable of carrying four OG2 satellites each.