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SpaceX to launch AsiaSat craft from Cape Canaveral

Posted: February 8, 2012

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- SpaceX and AsiaSat announced Wednesday a contract for two Falcon 9 rockets to launch communications satellites for the Hong Kong-based telecommunications firm in the first half of 2014.

File photo of a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad. Commercial flights of the Falcon 9 require a payload fairing, which has not yet been tested in flight. Credit: SpaceX/Roger Gilbertson
The AsiaSat 6 and AsiaSat 8 communications satellites will lift off from SpaceX's launch site in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The spacecraft will launch into geosynchronous transfer orbit, or GTO, aboard two Falcon 9 rockets. The satellites will use on-board engines to reach circular orbits 22,300 miles above the equator, where they will serve customers across the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.

"SpaceX is proud to be the choice of AsiaSat, a pioneer in advancing satellite communications in Asia," said Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and CEO. "We are producing the most advanced launch vehicles in the world, and the international launch market has responded -- commercial launches now represent over 60 percent of our upcoming missions."

Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., inked a contract to build the AsiaSat 6 and AsiaSat 8 satellites in November.

AsiaSat is the third telecommunications company to book specific payloads for GTO missions on the Falcon 9 rocket. Thaicom, an operator affiliated with the government of Thailand, last year reserved a Falcon 9 launch for its Thaicom 6 satellite in 2013. In March 2011, SES contracted with SpaceX for a 2013 launch of the SES 8 communications craft.

"We are pleased to have SpaceX as our launch partner for the two upcoming missions," said William Wade, president and CEO of AsiaSat. "We look forward to the timely and successful launches of AsiaSat 6 and AsiaSat 8, thereby expanding our fleet from four to six satellites in 2014 to provide more high quality and comprehensive satellite services in the Asia-Pacific region."

SpaceX struck a deal with Iridium in 2010 to launch up to 72 mobile communications satellites into low Earth orbit on multiple Falcon 9 rockets beginning in 2015.

The commercial Falcon 9 missions require the development of the booster's 17-foot-diameter payload fairing, a clamshell-like device that protects spacecraft on the launch pad and during the rocket's flight through the lower atmosphere.

The fairing is jettisoned once the rocket reaches the thin upper atmosphere.

SpaceX is developing the payload fairing in-house, and the company expects to fly the nose shroud on a Falcon 9 rocket later this year, according to Kirstin Brost, a SpaceX spokesperson.

The Falcon 9 rocket's two successful missions so far have carried Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX's capsule to deliver cargo and crews to the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft does not launch with the Falcon 9's 17-foot-fairing.

The SES 8 contract, which included an option for another satellite launch in 2015, stipulates that SpaceX must test the fairing and an upgraded Merlin engine before the SES payload can lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket.