SpaceX on Wednesday launched its 23rd Falcon 9 rocket so far this year, boosting a sophisticated Egyptian communications satellite into orbit to extend television service to the Middle East and Africa while providing high-speed connectivity over Egypt.
Using a first-stage booster making its seventh flight, Falcon 9 sprung to life at 5:04 p.m. EDT and soared skyward from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station atop a flaming exhaust jet.
With its nine first-stage engines generating a combined thrust of 1.7 million pounds, the slender rocket hurtled east over the Atlantic Ocean and quickly disappeared from view.
As expected, the first stage propelled the rocket out of the lower atmosphere and then fell back, returning to a precise landing on an off-shore drone. Seconds before touchdown, the second stage reached its initial “parking” orbit.
After a second engine fired 18 minutes later, the 4.1-tonne Nilesat 301 communications satellite was launched on a “handover” course to its operational outpost 22,300 miles above the equator. Satellites in such geosynchronous orbits rotate at the Earth’s rate, allowing the use of fixed antennas on the ground.
Built by Thales Alenia Space, Nilesat 301 has a 15-year lifespan and will work with a similar but older satellite launched in 2010 to provide high-speed data relay and television in the Middle East and Africa.
“The capabilities of the new satellite also include the provision of broadband internet services to cover the Arab Republic of Egypt and remote areas…for new projects, infrastructure projects, new urban communities and oilfields in the Mediterranean east, especially the Zohr field,” Nilesat said on its website.
Nilesat 301 will also work in concert with an Egyptian government satellite, TIBA-1, which was launched in 2019.
“Thus, Egypt will be able to provide satellite internet service through two satellites to ensure the security and continuity of this service,” the company said.
SpaceX had planned to launch its 25th resupply mission to the International Space Station this Friday, but the flight is now on hold as engineers work to identify an apparent propellant leak in the Cargo Dragon spacecraft. NASA says the launch is on hold until at least June 28 and possibly later.
In the meantime, SpaceX is reportedly preparing another Falcon 9 for launch sometime next week or so to carry a Globalstar data relay and messaging satellite into orbit. In total, the company is on track to launch more than 50 Falcon 9 flights this year.