SES Announces SpaceX Falcon (Heavy?) Launch for 2016

Thaicom-6  Credit: SpaceX

Thaicom-6
Credit: SpaceX

Update: As the original version of this story suggested, SES  did not book a Falcon Heavy.

Leading satellite Comsat operator SES announced today that it has awarded a construction contract for its SES-10 satellite to Airbus Defense and Space, previously known as Astrium.   Of greater interest however, is the fact that the 5,300 kg bird will be carried to orbit by a Falcon 9 in 2016.  Although the SES press announcement does not specifically state that the rocket will be a Falcon Heavy, Space News is reporting that the new super booster will  in fact perform the launch.  SpaceX has not yet released a statement, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Airbus announcement does not address the subject either.  (Airbus builds the Ariane V) At 5,300 kg, the SES-10 spacecraft will exceed the Falcon 9’s official lift capacity to Geostationary Transfer Orbit by 450 kg, but it is worth recalling that in the press conference prior to the SES-8 mission on December 3rd, Elon Musk suggested there is considerable margin remaining in the Merlin 1-D engines powering the Falcon 9 V 1.1.  Assuming however, that the flight is to take place aboard the Falcon Heavy, it is highly significant for several reasons. Although Intelsat was the first customer to reserve a launch for the new booster, the specific flight has not been defined and is listed as “2017.”   SpaceX already has two launches on tap, an inaugural test flight which should at least see all components at Vandenberg by the end of this year, and separate flight to be conducted under the Air Force OSP-3 program in 2015.  If confirmed, the SES-10 launch would be the first actual commercial flight for the Falcon Heavy, cementing the historical role played by SES in bringing SpaceX to the world stage as a premier comsat launch provider. Also, if SpaceX and the Air Force follow a similar course in qualifying the Falcon Heavy for EELV launches as they have done with the Falcon 9 V1.1  in requiring 3 flights under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), then the SES announcement secures a critical third flight well before the next round of purchasing begins in the EELV program.  In short, the company could well be in a position to challenge ULA for every launch beginning in 2018. Finally, there is this.  If the Falcon Heavy successfully completes three flights prior to the next Presidential Inauguration in January 2017, it will have provided an invaluable piece of data should an incoming Administration choose to re-examine the assumptions underlying the nation’s very questionable plans for human space exploration.

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