by Jeff Cunningham
On Friday, May 25, at 5:40 pm ET, 9:40 pm UTC, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a communications satellite for one of Asia’s leading providers into space. Following stage separation, the first stage will attempt another landing (the fourth, if successful) aboard the drone barge platform Of Course I Still Love You.
The satellite, Thaicomm 8, will provide broadcast and data services to south and southeast regions of Asia. Much like other high-performance satellites serving other parts of the world, this necessitates placing it in a geosynchronous orbit– essentially, it moves at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation, so to an observer on the ground, it appears to be a stationary star in the sky. This makes communications way easier, because all you do is point your dish or antenna at a fixed spot in the sky and you’ll pretty much always have contact, as opposed to other satellites that whizz by without stopping to say “Ni hao.”
The tradeoff is that to achieve this orbit (called “GEO” for short), you have to get your spacecraft really high up– like, higher than the space shuttle, International Space Station, or Soyuz can reach. That in turn means that any rocket heading there will have to shoot off of its launch pad at a much faster speed and thus use more fuel, leaving less available in the tank to do something like land. It’s easy to understand why SpaceX prefers to be “cautiously optimistic” when it comes to “experimental landings” for this particular type of mission.
If successful, in addition to broadening coverage over Asia, the landed first stage will add to the body of data that SpaceX has collected about reusable rockets– it’s easy to forget that no one’s ever done this before, so they’re blazing some serious trails at hypersonic speeds.
If for some reason the launch attempt must be delayed, or “scrubbed,” they will re-attempt the next day at around the same time. You can watch a live feed of the launch with commentary and translation of all the rocket talk at SpaceX’s YouTube channel.