A little over a month after launching the SES-8 satellite on its first ever geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) mission, and its inaugural launch from Cape Canaveral, a second Falcon 9 V1.1 is poised for a liftoff on Monday. It will kick off what promises to be a year like none other for the Hawthorne, California based company, one which could bring lasting change to the launch industry.
The upcoming flight, which according to industry website Nasaspaceflight.com has been moved from 5:57 p.m. EST Friday to “no earlier than” Monday, January 6 due to an unspecified issue with the payload fairing, will carry Thaicom 6, a 7,330 lb. communications satellite to an orbital slot at 78.5 degrees East longitude. Built by Orbital Sciences Corporation and based on its GeoStar-2 platform, Thaicom 6 hosts 18 C band transponders and 8 Ku-band transponders, and will be operated by Thaicom Public Company Limited to provide C band services through one beam to Southeast Asia and much of the surrounding Pacific waters, and as well as to Africa from a second C-band beam. Ku-band services will be provided to Southeast Asian mainland.
Next up for SpaceX after the Thaicom-6 mission is the CRS-3 mission for NASA, currently scheduled for February 22nd. Following the NASA launch, SpaceX will begin working down its considerable backlog in earnest, starting with the first of a number of scheduled flights to loft a new generation of Orbcomm satellites. What may hold the most interest however, is two launches which will not be going anywhere close to orbit. The first is a pad escape test for the new DragonRider spacecraft, and the second is an in-flight abort test of the same, to be conducted at the moment of maximum aerodynamic stress. Completing both tests prior to an anticipated late 2014 decision regarding the next and final phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew program is a high priority, and one which could provide the winning edge.
Also, on the manifest for 2014, which SpaceX defines as the year the booster arrives at the launch site, is the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy, scheduled to take place out of Vandenberg.
By the time its all said and done, 2014 may mark the year that what is going up may not be nearly as important as what is coming back down, namely an intact Falcon 9 first stage. With three NASA re-supply flights on the agenda for the New Year, SpaceX will have several opportunities to test its new technology, and just possibly turn the launch industry upside down, sending expectations soaring for the future of space launch.