The 224-foot-tall rocket lifted off its seaside launch pad at 5:06
p.m. (2206 GMT), soaring through overcast skies as it headed toward
the satellite's drop-off point more than 55,000 miles above Earth,
or about one-quarter of the way to the moon.
From that position, the 6,649-pound (3,016 kg) Thaicom 6 satellite
is expected to lower itself to about 22,300 miles above Earth and
shift the angle of its orbit so that it can be permanently stationed
to beam high-definition and digital television services to customers
in Thailand and surrounding areas.
The satellite, built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp, also
is equipped to provide other communications services for customers
in Southeast Asia and Africa, including Madagascar, Thaicom's
Including launch services and insurance, the Thaicom 6 satellite
cost about $160 million, and so far, about two-thirds of the
satellite's capacity has been sold, according to Thaicom.
Monday's launch was the second in just over a month for Space
Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX.
In December, the California-based firm, owned and operated by
technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is also chief executive of
electric car maker Tesla Motors, launched its first commercial
communications satellite, staking a claim in a global satellite
launch industry. The industry is worth about $6.5 billion a year, a
study by the Satellite Industry Association trade group shows.
So far, privately owned SpaceX has sold about 50 commercial launches
worth about $40 billion. About 25 percent of the flights are for
NASA, which hired SpaceX, along with Orbital Sciences, to fly cargo
to the International Space Station, a $100 billion research complex
that flies about 250 miles above Earth.
SpaceX's next flight, slated for late February, will be the third of
12 station resupply missions under its $1.6 billion NASA contract.
Orbital Sciences, which holds a separate $1.9 billion NASA contract,
is preparing to launch the first of its eight station cargo runs on
Wednesday. The company's Antares rockets fly from a commercial
spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia.
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With Monday's launch, Falcon 9 rockets have flown eight times, all
successfully, though on its first cargo flight to the station, in
October 2012, one of the rocket's nine first-stage engines shut down
prematurely. Other motors compensated, and the rocket was able to
deliver its Dragon cargo ship to the intended orbit without a
SpaceX is working on three parallel programs to expand its business
and cut costs, including reusing its first-stage boosters. However,
a proposed demonstration to restart the engine so it could cushion
the splashdown into the ocean was not attempted on the Thaicom 6
mission, said SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin.
HEAVY-LIFT FALCON MISSION
In addition, the company is working on a 27-engine, heavy-lift
Falcon rocket as well as a version of its Dragon cargo capsule that
can carry astronauts and other passengers to the space station.
A Falcon Heavy demonstration mission from SpaceX's second launch
site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is slated for 2014,
the company's website shows.
Monday's successful flight also could clear SpaceX to enter a
lucrative competition to launch U.S. military reconnaissance and
communications satellites, a service now exclusively provided by
United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
(Editing by Kevin Gray, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)
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