SpaceX to launch retired Falcon 9 booster on Intelsat mission – Spaceflight Now

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket will launch Intelsat’s Galaxy 31 and 32 geostationary communications satellites. follow us on Twitter.

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SpaceX will launch one of its reusable Falcon 9 rocket boosters for the last time on Saturday in a rare expendable mission for Intelsat, devoting all of the launcher’s thruster to launching a pair of broadcast satellites into orbit. Intelsat says it paid SpaceX an additional fee for the consumable mission.

The Falcon 9 rocket has a two-hour launch window Saturday opening at 11:06 a.m. EST (1606 GMT) for liftoff from pad 40 at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral, Florida. Forecasters from the US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 90% chance of good weather for the launch on Saturday.

The launch was delayed from November 8 due to Hurricane Nicole.

The two Intelsat communications satellites atop the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket are heading into geosynchronous orbit to begin missions expected to last more than 18 years and provide video streaming services in North America . The Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites were built by Maxar and are part of Intelsat’s program to replace older communications satellites as the Federal Communications Commission converts a segment of spectrum to C-band for use by telecommunications services. 5G cellular network.

Intelsat launched the Galaxy 33 and 34 satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket on Oct. 8, the first two of seven new C-band satellites that are part of the transition program. The company has three new C-band broadcast satellites under construction for launches on Falcon 9 and Ariane 5 rockets in the coming months.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Cape Canaveral and head east over the Atlantic Ocean, targeting a “super synchronous” transfer orbit for the deployment of the Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites. The transfer orbit elliptical will extend from a few hundred miles above Earth to nearly 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) in altitude, according to Jean-Luc Froeliger, senior vice president of space systems at Intelsat.

Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites are stacked on top of each other for launch, with Galaxy 32 expected to deploy first from the rocket’s top position at T+ plus 33 minutes and 31 seconds. Five minutes later, Galaxy 31 will separate from the Falcon 9 upper stage.

Intelsat has decided to pay extra money to SpaceX to get the full lift capacity of Falcon 9, reducing the amount of fuel the Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites must burn to reach their final operating positions in geostationary orbit. . SpaceX typically reserves a portion of the thruster’s thruster for landing maneuvers, but on this mission all of the rocket’s fuel will be burned during ascent through space. The reusable first-stage booster, designated B1051, will make its 14th and final flight.

The booster made its debut on March 2, 2019, with the first unmanned test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, a precursor to SpaceX’s latest astronaut missions. It was relaunched in June 2019 with Canada’s Radarsat Constellation Mission. Later in its career, the booster launched SiriusXM’s SXM 7 radio broadcast satellite and flew 10 missions carrying SpaceX’s own Starlink internet satellites.

Most recently, the Falcon 9 booster was launched on July 17 as part of a Starlink mission.

Both satellites are based on the design of Maxar’s 1300 series satellites, and this is the first time that two large communications built by Maxar have been launched on the same rocket in a stacked configuration. The two-satellite stack weighs about 14,500 pounds, or 6.6 metric tons, fully fueled for launch, according to Froeliger.

The Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites will use their own thrusters to jump from the elliptical transfer orbit achieved by the Falcon 9 rocket to a circular geostationary orbit directly above the equator, consuming fuel that might otherwise be used for station keeping throughout their missions.

“SpaceX won’t be able to reuse the first stage, so you have to pay a premium for an expendable launcher,” Froeliger said at a press conference Monday ahead of the upcoming launch. “The expendable launch vehicle was needed for this mission due to the characteristics of Maxar satellites. This is the first time Maxar has run a stack of two 1300s together. And in order for us to achieve a good orbital lifespan of over 15 years, we had to upgrade to an expendable Falcon 9, and there’s a premium to be paid.

“You pay extra when it’s consumable,” Froeliger said in a previous interview with Spaceflight Now. pay because you are paying for the consumable.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stands vertically on Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral awaiting liftoff with Intelsat’s Galaxy 31 and 32 communications satellites. The Falcon 9 first stage will be dedicated to this mission and flies without landing legs or grid fins. Credit: Steven Young/Spaceflight Now

During Saturday morning’s countdown, the Falcon 9 launch vehicle will be filled with one million pounds of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants in the final 35 minutes before liftoff.

Once teams have verified that technical and weather parameters are all “green” for launch, the nine Merlin 1D main engines of the first stage thruster will ignite using an ignition fluid called triethylaluminum/ triethylborane, or TEA-TEB. Once the engines reach full throttle, the hydraulic grippers will open to release the Falcon 9 for its ascent into space.

The nine main engines will produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust for more than two and a half minutes, propelling Intelsat’s Falcon 9 and Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites into the upper atmosphere. Then the booster stage will shut down and separate from the Falcon 9 upper stage to begin an uncontrolled drop into the Atlantic.

The booster is not equipped with SpaceX’s recovery hardware, such as titanium grid fins or landing legs. And SpaceX did not deploy any of its drones for the expendable mission.

SpaceX is expected to attempt to recover the payload fairing from the Falcon 9 rocket after the two nose cone shell halves parachuted into the sea below Cape Canaveral. The payload fairing will be jettisoned from the rocket approximately three and a half minutes into flight, shortly after the Falcon 9’s upper stage engine fires.

For Saturday’s mission, the Falcon 9 rocket will fire its upper-stage engine twice to inject the two Intelsat spacecraft into an elliptical geostationary transfer orbit. The satellites will deploy from the rocket 33 minutes and 38 minutes after liftoff.

Galaxies 31 and 32 will deploy their solar arrays and begin maneuvers with their own propulsion systems to circularize their orbits into geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) above the equator.

Intelsat will operate the Galaxy 31 satellite in a slot at 121 degrees west longitude, replacing the Galaxy 23 satellite launched in 2003. Galaxy 32 will replace the Galaxy 17 satellite, launched in 2007, at 91 degrees west longitude.

The orbital maneuvers required to place the Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites into their circular geostationary orbit will take approximately two weeks. After in-orbit testing, Froeliger said the Galaxy 31 is expected to enter commercial service in January, followed by the Galaxy 32 in February.

“Our customer base is made up of media, so anyone who uses TV in the United States, you can bet there’s a high probability that your channel is on one of these two satellites, or on another Galaxy satellite that we we have over the United States,” said Frœliger. “These satellites are replacing older satellites that are fuel-powered, and they’re being replaced with somewhat newer technology, so they will have higher power allowing the customer to use smaller receiving antennas and have better performance, especially in bad weather.”

The Galaxy 31 (bottom) and Galaxy 32 (top) satellites stacked together at Cape Canaveral inside SpaceX’s payload processing facility. Credit: Intelsat

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1051.14)

PAYLOAD: Galaxy 31 and 32 communication satellites

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

RELEASE DATE: November 12, 2022

LAUNCH WINDOW: 11:06 a.m. – 1:06 p.m. EST (1606-1806 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: 90% chance of acceptable weather conditions



TARGET ORBIT: Geostationary transfer orbit


    • T+00:00: Takeoff
    • T+01:12: Maximum air pressure (Max-Q)
    • T+02:43: First stage main engine shutdown (MECO)
    • T+02:46: Stage Separation
    • T+02:53: Second stage engine ignition
    • T+03:32: Fairing jettison
    • T+08:05: Second stage motor shutdown (SECO 1)
    • T+26:50: Second stage motor restart
    • T+28:00: Second stage motor shutdown (SECO 2)
    • T+33:31: Galaxy Separation 32
    • T+38:41: Galaxy Separation 31


  • 185th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 194th launch of the Falcon family of rockets since 2006
  • 14th launch of the Falcon 9 booster B1051
  • Launch of the 158th Falcon 9 from the Space Coast of Florida
  • Launch of the 103rd Falcon 9 from pad 40
  • 158th total launch from pad 40
  • 126th flight of a repurposed Falcon 9 booster
  • 3rd SpaceX launch for Intelsat
  • Launch of the 51st Falcon 9 in 2022
  • 52nd launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 49th orbital launch attempt based at Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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