The 22-story rocket lifted off from its seaside launch pad at Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:41 p.m. EST/2241 GMT.
Two previous launch attempts last week were scuttled by technical
glitches, including a last-second abort on Thursday. Engineers later
discovered oxygen inside the rocket's ground-based engine igniter
Perched on top of the rocket was a 7,000-pound (3,175 kg)
communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES S.A., which
operates a 54-satellite fleet, the world's second-largest.
"I'd like to thank SES for taking a chance on SpaceX," company
founder and chief executive Elon Musk posted on Twitter an hour
before the launch. "We've given it our all."
About 30 minutes after liftoff, the satellite, known as SES-8 and
worth more than $100 million, was in an elliptical orbit that
reached more than 50,000 miles from Earth, about a quarter of the
way to the moon.
From there, SES-8 will maneuver itself down to a circular,
22,369-mile (36,000-km) high orbit to provide television, broadband
and other communications services to customers in India, China,
Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia.
The delivery of the SES-8 satellite "confirms the upgraded Falcon 9
launch vehicle delivers to the industry's highest performance
standards," Musk said in a statement after the launch.
"We appreciate SES's early confidence in SpaceX and look forward to
launching additional SES satellites in the years to come," he said.
SES-8 is the first commercial communications satellite to be
launched from Cape Canaveral in four years.
In the 1980s, the United States dominated the commercial launch
industry, now worth about $6.5 billion a year, a report by the
Satellite Industry Association trade organization showed.
The global satellite industry overall had revenues of nearly $190
billion in 2012, including nearly $90 billion in television services
alone, the trade group said.
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"It's an extremely important satellite for us," Martin Halliwell,
chief technology officer of SES, told reporters before the launch.
"We know that as we go forward into these very significant growth
markets that it's absolutely critical that we have a cost-effective
and efficient way to get to orbit. That's really what SpaceX has
brought us," Halliwell said.
Previous SES satellites were launched primarily aboard Russian
Proton and European Ariane rockets, which cost far more than the
approximately $55 million the company paid for its ride on SpaceX's
Falcon booster, he said.
Halliwell would not say exactly how much SpaceX undercut the
competition, but did say SES received a discount by agreeing to fly
on Falcon 9's first mission to high orbits used by communications
In addition to a September 29 test flight of an upgraded Falcon 9,
older versions of the rocket flew five times successfully, including
three missions for NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space
Station, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth.
SpaceX's launch schedule includes nearly 50 missions, worth about $4
billion. About 75 percent of the flights are for commercial
The company needs one more successful launch of its upgraded Falcon
rocket to be eligible to compete to carry the U.S. military's
largest and most expensive satellites, a market now monopolized by
United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
[By IRENE KLOTZ]
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)