launched its second commercial communications satellite — Thaicom 6 — with an upgraded Falcon 9 on Jan. 6. But the company fell silent immediately after the . spacecraft was to have deployed, raising the possibility that the new rocket’s troublesome upper stage failed to perform as advertised.
The company later reported in a brief Twitter message that the spacecraft had deployed into its target orbit. Reporters at Cape Canaveral said SpaceX representatives left the press site about 10 min. after the scheduled spacecraft deployment without revealing the status of the mission.
Last month SpaceX successfully launched another Orbital Sciences satellite — SES-8 — its first launch of a commercial satellite to geostationary orbit (GEO). But in September 2013 a failure of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D vacuum engine to restart after reaching orbit on a test mission raised questions about the company’s ability to place satellites in GEO.
That failure was traced to frozen igniter fluid lines. The company said the problem wasn’t detected during prelaunch tests because the air at ground level was too warm to freeze the fluid.
Liftoff of the Falcon 9/Thaicom 6 mission came at 5:06 p.m. EST, and the company said in its Twitter message that the spacecraft deployed on time at 5:37 p.m. The deployment confirmation was issued at 6:02 p.m. EST.
The mission sent the 3,300-kg (7,300-lb.) Orbital Sciences Corp.-built spacecraft on its way to a supersynchronous transfer orbit of 295 km x 90,000 km altitude and an inclination of 22.5 deg. First-stage separation occurred 5 min. after liftoff, followed by second-stage engine cutoff at about 10 min. into the flight.
Thaicom 6’s highly eliptical transfer orbit called for two burns of the Falcon 9 upper stage. The mission was conducted for Bangkok-based fleet operator Thaicom.
Accurate orbital insertion of Thaicom 6 is crucial to SpaceX, which is counting on three successful Falcon 9 v1.1 missions — including two to be launched consecutively — to obtain U.S. government certification to launch sensitive national security payloads.
Once spacecraft telemetry is established, Orbital and Thaicom will spend several days maneuvering the hybrid Ku- and C-band satellite to its final position at 78.5 deg. east, where it will be co-located with Thaicom 5 to provide communications coverage to Southeast Asia, Africa and Madagascar.
The launch follows a successful Dec. 3 mission of the upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, which lofted the SES 8 satellite for SpaceX’s first GTO customer, Luxembourg-based SES, the world’s second-largest fleet operator by revenue.