more than a week late because of technical snags, including a dramatic
Thanksgiving Day launchpad abort, SpaceX successfully launched an upgraded Falcon 9
rocket carrying a communications satellite Tuesday, the opening salvo in
a closely watched bid to win a share of the commercial launch market with
low-cost assembly-line boosters.
a clear twilight sky, the 224-foot-tall rocket's nine Merlin 1D first stage
engines roared to life with a rush of flame at 5:41 p.m. EST (GMT-5), throttled up
to nearly a million pounds of thrust and quickly pushed the booster skyward
trailing a brilliant jet of fiery exhaust.
It was only the second flight of an upgraded
Falcon 9, featuring stretched propellant tanks, a new flight computer and more
efficient engines, and the company's first flight with a non-government
commercial satellite on board.
accelerating as it consumed its load of liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel, the
slender rocket arced away to the east as it climbed out of the dense lower
atmosphere, leaving a crackling roar in its wake and putting on a spectacular
evening sky show visible for miles around.
inside a protective nose cone fairing was a 24-transponder GEOStar 2 relay
station built by Orbital Sciences Corp. and owned by SES World Skies, a
Luxembourg-based company that operates a fleet of more than 50 communications
Halliwell, the chief technology officer of SES, said the company decided to
risk a satellite on the first launch of an upgraded Falcon 9 because of a growing
need for an alternative, less expensive rocket to offset higher satellite costs
and lower revenue streams in emerging markets.
such, the flight represented a major milestone for both SpaceX and SES, an
attempt to shake up the status quo with low-cost rockets built in-house at
SpaceX's Hawthorne, Calif., factory with state-of-the-art technology and