July 14, 2024
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SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch SES's Astra 1P television satellite from Cape Canaveral – Spaceflight Now

SES's Astra 1P satellite is encapsulated in a pair of payload fairings ahead of its planned launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on June 18, 2024. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is preparing to launch a satellite into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) on behalf of one of its oldest customers: Luxembourg-based SES. The prolific launch company is looking to recover from an unusually quiet period in its launch cadence, punctuated by a last-second interruption when the engines of another of its Falcon 9 rockets began firing.

The mission is scheduled to lift off at 5:35 pm EDT (2135 UTC). The mission will be the 45th orbital flight from Florida's Space Coast in 2024.

Spaceflight Now will have live coverage approximately one hour before takeoff.

The Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission, tail number B1080 in the SpaceX fleet, will launch for the ninth time. It previously supported the launches of two private astronaut missions for Axiom Space (Ax-2 and Ax-3), the European Space Agency's Euclid observatory, and four Starlink missions.

About 8.5 minutes after liftoff, B1080 will land on the SpaceX spacecraft, “Just read the instructions.” If successful, this will mark the 84th booster landing for JRTI and the 250th drone landing for SpaceX to date.

Once again, the weather will influence whether this mission can move forward as planned. A forecast issued Monday by the 45th Weather Squadron shows a 55 percent chance of favorable weather, but notes that blow-off winds, cumulus clouds and the possibility of lightning are potential threats. Forecasters are also tracking upper-level wind shear between low and moderate impact levels.

A 24-hour backup scenario on Wednesday would be worse from a meteorological perspective. The chances of favorable weather drop to 45 percent and the recovery climate also deteriorates.

Astra 1P in Vacuum Thermal Chamber. Image: Thales Alenia Space

SpaceX is making its way through a rare period of time without the launch of the Falcon 9. Its last launch will be 10 days early, if it manages to launch the Astra 1P satellite on June 18.

The last time there was a gap of so many days was between the launches of Starlink 7-8 on December 8, 2023 and Starlink 6-34 on December 19, 2023. Since this last mission, SpaceX has launched 64 orbital missions. one of which was a Falcon Heavy rocket.

Kiko Dontchev, SpaceX's vice president of launch, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) about the power-on issue during the Starlink 10-2 launch attempt on Friday. Without going into details, he said that what prevented the launch was “a real problem,” which would require SpaceX to “go and inspect the hardware of this vehicle in detail.”

“This will be the first week we will go without a Falcon launch in a long time. Unplanned downtime occurs due to weather or unexpected issues, what matters is how we respond,” Dontchev wrote. “The pitching business requires determination and when things go wrong, our true form comes to life. Go ahead!!!”

Welcome back, SES

Aboard what will now become SpaceX's 61st Falcon 9 launch in 2024 is the Astra 1P satellite, also known as SES-24. The Luxembourg-based telecommunications company is a long-time customer of SpaceX launch services.

In fact, the first payload a Falcon 9 launched to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) was SES-8 on December 3, 2013, the rocket's seventh.

The upcoming Astra 1P satellite continues a legacy of television satellites from the Astra 19.2°E group dating back to Astra 1A, which was launched in 1988. There are currently four satellites in use within this orbital position: Astra 1KR, Astra 1L , Astra 1M and Astra 1N.

Integration of ASTRA 1P RF hardware in the North half module of the Toulouse clean room. Image: Thales Alenia Space

Astra 1KR and Astra 1L were manufactured by Lockheed Martin, while Astra 1M and Astra 1N were manufactured by Astrium (now Airbus Defene and Space). In 2021, SES contracted Thales Alenia Space to manufacture Astra 1P and Astra 1Q.

Both Astra 1P and Astra 1Q will feature direct-to-home (DTH) functionality, but the latter will also be “customizable in orbit and can be easily deployed to other orbital positions.”

“Our privileged television area at 19.2°E is one of our most valuable assets and has been key in allowing renowned European broadcasters to increase their television audiences over the last 30 years. These two satellites will have the resiliency, reliability and redundancy our video customers need and will be able to provide continuous premium services until 2040,” said Steve Collar, CEO of SES, in a 2021 statement. “In addition, thanks to advanced satellite technology , we will future-proof our investment and inject a high degree of flexibility into ASTRA 1Q to ensure we meet the changing needs of all the markets we serve.”

Artist's interpretation Astra 1P and 1Q Graphic: SES

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