SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket with a debut payload of two satellites on Sunday night from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex. The unmanned Falcon 9 is carrying two Boeing-built communications satellites, which will be used to improve television, Internet and mobile phone connectivity across the world.
The satellites will be used by French satellite provider Eutelsat and Asia Broadcast Satellite, SpaceX said in a statement. The satellites, which are the first fully electrically-powered ones to be launched, are powered by xenon-ion thrusters, making them much smaller than conventional satellites, which enabled the company to load two satellites on to one rocket. The mission aims to deliver both of them into geosynchronous orbit above the Earth.
“They’re small physically, but they have big capacity,” Boeing spokeswoman Joanne Climer told The Virginia Gazette.
The xenon-ion propulsion engine harnesses magnetic fields instead of rocket fuel for propulsion. In 2013, NASA announced it had set a world record by continuously running an engine for 48,000 hours, or five years, making it the longest-running space propulsion system, GizMag reported.
Boeing has previously launched satellites using electric propulsion, but they had carried rocket engines to supplement them, Spaceflight Now reported.
As the payload would be delivered at an altitude of over 23,000 miles, taking enough fuel proved a challenge, SpaceX said, adding that it did not equip the rocket with landing legs and does not intend to try landing the first-stage booster rocket as it had tried to in the past. The fuel, which would have been used for landing maneuvers, would instead be used to reach high orbit.
Eutelsat’s satellite will provide video, data, government and mobile service throughout the Americas, replacing an older satellite and providing superior signals, space news website NASA Spaceflight reported. Asia Broadcast Satellite’s payload will distribute television programming, Internet, and mobile and maritime communications around the world.
Previous attempts to launch the Falcon 9 have faced setbacks, with SpaceX delaying its launch several times. In January, a rocket crashed into a drone ship after losing power to its fins. This is the sixteenth Falcon X launch that SpaceX has conducted since the vessel debuted in 2010.