CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A SpaceX rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday to put the world’s first all-electric communications satellites into orbit. The 22-story-tall Falcon 9 booster soared off its seaside launch pad at 10:50 a.m. ET, the third flight in less than two months for the California-based launch company.
Perched on top of the rocket were a pair of satellites, built by Boeing and owned by Paris-based Eutelsat Communications and Bermuda-based ABS. Eutelsat and ABS shared satellite manufacturing and launch costs.
The satellites are designed to reach and maintain their orbits using lightweight, all-electric engines rather than conventional chemical propulsion systems. That enabled the two spacecraft to be launched aboard one medium-sized Falcon 9 rocket. The disadvantage of electric propulsion is that it will take the satellites months to reach their operational orbits about 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above Earth.
Eutelsat’s spacecraft will become part of a 35-member network providing a range of mobile, Internet, video and other communications services. The new satellite expands the company’s reach into the Americas. ABS, which currently has six satellites, will position its new spacecraft to serve customers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
SpaceX has been testing a procedure to land the first stage of its two-stage Falcon 9 rockets on an oceangoing drone ship after liftoff, but the company said it couldn't perform such a test this time because of the fuel requirements for the double-satellite launch.