Monday, July 22

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch SES’s Astra 1P television satellite from Cape Canaveral – Spaceflight Now

SES’s Astra 1P satellite is encapsulated in a pair of payload fairings ahead of its planned launch onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on June 18, 2024. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is preparing to launch a satellite to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) on behalf of one of its oldest customers: Luxembourg-based SES. The prolific launch company aims to bounce back from an unusually quiet period in its launch cadence, accented by a last-second abort as the engines on another one of its Falcon 9 rockets began to fire.

Liftoff of the mission is set for 5:35 p.m. EDT (2135 UTC). The mission is set to be the 45th orbital flight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2024.

Spaceflight Now will have live coverage beginning about an hour prior to liftoff.

The Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission, tail number B1080 in the SpaceX fleet will launch for a ninth time. It previously supported the launches of two private astronaut missions for Axiom Space (Ax-2 and Ax-3), the European Space Agency’s Euclid observatory and four Starlink missions.

About 8.5 minutes after liftoff, B1080 will land on the SpaceX droneship, ‘Just Read the Instructions.’ If successful, this will make the 84th booster landing for JRTI and the 250th droneship landing for SpaceX to date.

Weather will once again play a role in whether this mission is able to move forward as planned. A forecast issued Monday by the 45th Weather Squadron shows a 55 percent chance of favorable weather, but notes that liftoff winds, cumulus clouds and the possibility of lightning are all potential threats. Meteorologists are also tracking upper-level wind shear between low and moderate levels of impact.

A 24-hour backup scenario on Wednesday would fare worse from a weather perspective. The odds of favorable weather drop to 45 percent and the booster recovery weather also deteriorates as well.

Astra 1P in Thermal Vacuum Chamber. Image: Thales Alenia Space

SpaceX is working its way through a rare stretch of time without a Falcon 9 launch. Its last launch will be 10 days prior, if it manages to launch the Astra 1P satellite on June 18.

The last time there was a gap of this many days was between the launches of Starlink 7-8 on Dec. 8, 2023, and Starlink 6-34 on Dec. 19, 2023. Since the latter mission, SpaceX launched 64 orbital missions, one of which was a Falcon Heavy rocket.

Kiko Dontchev, the vice president of Launch at SpaceX, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) about the ignition scrub during the Starlink 10-2 launch attempt on Friday. Without going into detail, he said that what prevented the launch was “a real issue,” which would require SpaceX to “go inspect the hardware in detail on this vehicle.”

“This will be the first week we’ve gone without a Falcon Launch in a long time. Unplanned downtime due to weather or unexpected issues happens, it’s how we respond that matters,” Dontchev wrote. “The launch business takes grit and when things go wrong, our true form comes to life. Bring it on!!!”

Welcome back, SES

Onboard what will now become SpaceX’s 61st Falcon 9 launch of 2024 is the Astra 1P satellite, which is also referred to as SES-24. The Luxembourg-based telecommunications company is a long-time customer of SpaceX’s launch services.

In fact, the first payload that a Falcon 9 launched to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) was SES-8 on Dec. 3, 2013 on the seventh of the rocket.

The forthcoming Astra 1P satellite continues a legacy of television satellites in the Astra 19.2°E group that goes back to Astra 1A, which launched in 1988. There are currently four satellites in use within this orbital position: Astra 1KR, Astra 1L, Astra 1M and Astra 1N.

ASTRA 1P integration of RF hardware in the North half module in Toulouse clean room. Image: Thales Alenia Space

Astra 1KR and Astra 1L were manufactured by Lockheed Martin, while Astra 1M and Astra 1N were built by Astrium (now Airbus Defene and Space). In 2021, SES contracted Thales Alenia Space to manufacture Astra 1P and Astra 1Q.

Both Astra 1P and Astra 1Q will feature direct-to-home (DTH) functionality, but the latter will also be “customizable on orbit and can be deployed easily to other orbital positions.”

“Our prime TV neighborhood at 19.2°E is one of our most valuable assets and has been key to enabling renowned European broadcasters to grow their TV audiences in the last 30 years. These two satellites will have the resiliency, reliability and redundancy that our video customers need, and will be able to deliver continued premium services well into 2040,” said Steve Collar, CEO of SES, in a 2021 statement. “Additionally, thanks to advanced satellite technology, we will be future-proofing our investment and injecting a high degree of flexibility into ASTRA 1Q to ensure we are meeting the evolving needs of all the markets we serve.”

Astra 1P and 1Q artist rendition Graphic: SES