SpaceX has a busy month ahead of it! When Elon Musk tweeted that he was going to need a bigger rocket hangar, he wasn’t kidding. Three are already back home from their successful missions to orbit and back, and now there are four more Falcon 9 rockets ready to take to the skies before the end of June. Mission Control, we are go for launch!
But first, let’s relive those prior landings for just a moment, shall we?
May 6, 2016
April 8, 2016
December 21, 2015
Next up for SpaceX is the 25th Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida scheduled for May 26th at 5:40 pm.
The payload for this launch will be the Thaicom 8 satellite, a commercial communications satellite built by Orbital ATK, and its mission is to provide Ku-band communications coverage for Thailand, India, and Africa. SpaceX previously launched another satellite in this series on January 6, 2014 called Thaicom 6. Want a little trivia on the Thaicom 6 mission? It was the final qualification launch that enabled SpaceX to be able to compete for U.S. Air Force launch contracts.
What is Ku-band?
Ku-band is a radio frequency used mostly for satellite communications, a certain section of which is designated for broadcasting services. To put things into perspective of other “bands”, it has the same purpose as the Ka-band (higher frequency) or C-band (lower frequency), but is more susceptible to weather conditions. For reference, DirecTV satellites use both Ka and Ku-band frequencies, their HDTV being broadcast almost entirely on the Ka-band.
If all goes well, this will be another Falcon 9 mission to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), just like the mission that launched and landed on May 6, 2016. GTO launches fly to 35,790 km above the Earth, pretty high in comparison to the maximum 528 km orbit of the space shuttle program. This means that when Falcon 9 returns, it will be coming in hot and fast again, needing a lot of counter thrust to stick the landing on Of Course I Still Love You, one of SpaceX’s floating autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS). Both successful water landings have been on this same ASDS.
SpaceX’s last landing was not actually expected to be successful, making the moment it happened so great, “Woohoo!!” was Elon’s first reaction on Twitter. One wonders what the expected outcome is for this landing given the new notch on their belt…
What else is coming up for Falcon 9?
Admittedly, other than the challenging aspects of the landing, the May 26th Falcon 9 mission is pretty routine and not very unique to SpaceX. Most other commercial space companies provide similar launch services for these types of satellites. However, over the next month or so we will see SpaceX resupply the International Space Station, carry one of only two existing satellites with an all-electric propulsion system, and deliver 87 small payloads and CubeSats into orbit via a specialized satellite deployer only three U.S. space companies are certified to carry.
This is gonna be good. Stay tuned!
Author’s note: I have to assert bragging rights on the May 26th launch because yours truly will get to see it after attending the 44th Annual Space Congress. I’m very excited!