SpaceX Rockets Bus-Sized Satellite Into Orbit With 50th Falcon 9 Launch
SpaceX celebrated the 50th launch of its Falcon 9 rocket early yesterday morning by successfully deploying a six-ton Hispasat 30W-6 satellite into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).
In a tweet the day before, SpaceX founder Elon Musk described the satellite, owned by Spanish communications company HISPASAT, as being the largest ever flown by SpaceX.
Falcon 9 flight 50 launches tonight, carrying Hispasat for Spain. At 6 metric tons and almost the size of a city bus, it will be the largest geostationary satellite we've ever flown.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 5, 2018
The 30W-X is intended to replace an older model currently in orbit. A SpaceX press release noted that the new satellite "will be located at 30º W and serve as a replacement for the Hispasat 30W-4 (former Hispasat 1D) satellite, providing television, broadband, corporate networks and other telecommunications solutions." Unlike Mr. Musk's flying Tesla, the satellite will expand broadband and reinforce communications in Europe and Africa.
Although the satellite is not mentioned as part of the much larger Starlink program, its placement does underscore the ever-growing problem of "space junk," the potential hazards of which are about to be illustrated by the falling of China's Tiangong-1 space station to an unknown location on Earth next month. Other concerns voiced by critics include the possibility of inter-planetary contamination by Musk's Tesla Roadster, which was launched into orbit last month with the inaugural launch of the much-vaunted Falcon Heavy. While we've yet to hear from any Martian environmental groups, it should be a matter of no small concern for those seeking seeking life on Mars or those with dreams of becoming pilots in the U.S. Space Corps.
Not everyone is terribly concerned about space litter or Martian contamination in the face of increased connectivity and innovation, however. HISPASAT CEO Carlos Espinós praised the launch in a statement, saying,
Unlike previous launches, no attempt was made to recover any of the exceptionally expensive falling debris from the Falcon 9 launch. Although the flight was unaffected, SpaceX reported that they "did not attempt to land Falcon 9's first stage after launch due to unfavorable weather conditions in the recovery area off the Atlantic Coast." Perhaps "Mr. Stevens" is busy with Spring Training. We may never know.
Watch the launch in full below: