SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Thai Communications Sat

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On Monday, Space Exploration Technologies kicked off what it expects to be a very busy year with a successful rocket launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Liftoff of the firm’s eighth Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a communications satellite for Thailand and surrounding areas, occurred at 5:06 p.m. EST. Thirty-one minutes later, the Thaicom 6 satellite, designed to beam high-definition and digital TV signals and provide other communications services, was released into a temporary parking orbit that stretches more than 55,900 miles from Earth.

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Ultimately, Thaicom 6, which cost about $160 million to build and launch, will be positioned into an operational orbit about 22,300 miles above the planet.

The launch marked the second time a Falcon 9 rocket  delivered a commercial communications satellite into orbit, a further sign that SpaceX’s cut-rate launch services will  reshape the global satellite launch industry.

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The flight also marked the third mission of the company’s upgraded Falcon 9 booster, a milestone that could clear it to enter a lucrative competition to fly U.S. military satellites.

Privately owned SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, also has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly cargo to the International Space Station. Its next flight, slated for February, will be its third of 12 planned station resupply runs.