(Another) Giant Leap For SpaceX: Geostationary Orbit

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Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, already in the history books for becoming the first private company to fly to the International Space Station, took another giant leap on Tuesday in its quest to upend the space launch industry.

This time, the company aimed to put a commercial communications satellite into an orbit that reaches more than 50,000 miles above Earth.  With its cut-rate pricing, the entry of SpaceX in the commercial satellite delivery business is a game-changer.

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“This is really rocking the industry,”  Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer of SES, told reporters before SpaceX’s first launch attempt last week.

SES owns the 3.5-ton communications satellite carried into orbit by SpaceX’s upgraded Falcon 9 rocket  on Tuesday. After two delays due to technical glitches, the rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:41 p.m. EST.

“There are a lot of people who hope that SpaceX is going to fail,” Halliwell said.

SES, which now has 55 satellites in orbit, operates the world’s second largest fleet.

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The company’s previous launches were primarily on Russia’s Proton and Europe’s Ariane rockets, which charge significantly more than the approximate $55 million the company paid SpaceX.

“If you look toward Ariane, if you look toward Proton, I think they’re shaking in their shoes. I really do,  because if this is a success, the whole industry is going to be turned upside-down,” Halliwell said.

In addition to 10 more cargo runs to the space station for NASA, SpaceX has a backlog of about 40 other satellites awaiting rides to orbit.

“We appreciate SES’s early confidence in SpaceX and look forward to launching additional SES satellites in the years to come,” Musk said in a statement after launch.

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SpaceX also intends to compete for the lucrative business of launching the U.S. military’s communications and spy satellites, a service now exclusively provided by a partnership of aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

SpaceX needs one more successful launch of its upgraded Falcon 9 to be eligible to compete for those contracts.

Image credit: SpaceX