With Tuesday’s blast-off of its modified Falcon 9, SpaceX has put its feet firmly into the marketplace for geostationary satellites. An upgraded version was needed because previous flights have taken satellites and cargoes into low Earth orbits, including trips to the International Space Station. This time the aim had to be for 22,500 miles high, rather than the 120-140 mile range of low flights. The satellite, designated SES-8, was for the Luxembourg-based SES company which operates over 50 satellites to beam signals down to over 6,000 TV stations. The new 3.2 tonne SES-8 will provide services to developing markets including China, India and Vietnam. It carries its own propulsion system to modify its initially eccentric orbit into a circular one 22,500 miles high and 95 degrees East.
SpaceX has low-cost advantages over both the European Space Agency using Ariane 5, and International Launch Services using Russia’s Proton rocket. Analysts were predicting a real shake-up of the market as SpaceX gears up to double production of its Falcon 9 rockets from 12 to 24 per year. It has a large backlog of customers waiting for places aboard its flights, in a market estimated to be worth $190bn per year.
In the early days of spaceflight, everyone thought it would always have to be confined to governments because of the cost. No-one guessed that software and internet billionaires would indulge in a passion for boys’ toys by developing private spaceflight. Author Robert Heinlein came close, though, with “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”
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