A few hours ago the new version of SpaceX rocket Falcon 9 successfully placed into geostationary orbit a communications satellite. Launched from the Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC -40) at Cape Canaveral, the Falcon 9 version 1.1 passed a key test for commercial launch contracts and the second of three certifications necessary to carry out flight missions for the U.S. Air Force.
The Falcon 9 rocket v1.1 could very well be called v2.0 because the differences from the previous version are significant. The new version is bigger but it’s not just a matter of size because it uses the Merlin 1D engines, also a new version. The configuration of the engines in the first stage of the rocket has changed: there are still 9 of them but now there are 8 in a circular configuration and the ninth in the center while in the previous version they were placed in rows of 3 engines.
The Falcon 9 rocket v1.1 can carry bigger cargos in orbit but the really important test consisted in bringing a satellite in a geostationary orbit. This version of Falcon 9 had already made a test flight on September 29, 2013, where several satellites were placed in a polar orbit. At that point, a test of re-ignition of the upper stage had been made but it was unsuccessful.
After that tests flight some changes were made to the upper stage of the rocket to prevent the problem from happening again and yesterday the second burn, which was necessary to bring the SES-8 satellite to a geostationary orbit, was successful. The second burn is necessary because to carry a load to a geostationary orbit it’s necessary to reach first a lower orbit, called parking orbit, then go up again to carry the load into its final orbit.
After having delayed the launch several times over the past few days, finally it was successful. Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, was understandably pleased to have passed this milestone in the history of his company and of commercial space launches in general.
Elon Musk has already signed a contract with NASA for the transport of supplies to the International Space Station and is getting various commercial contracts to launch satellites but that’s not enough for him. SpaceX is continuing to develop new versions of its rockets and its Dragon spacecraft to be able to recycle an increasing amount of their components and thus make space travel cheaper.