After a delay caused by Hurricane Nicole, SpaceX is ready to launch its 52nd mission of 2022 with the Intelsat Galaxy-31 & 32 satellites using a flight-proven Falcon 9 to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Falcon 9 first-stage booster B1051-14 will be making its final flight on this mission.
Falcon 9 will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) on Nov. 12 during a two-hour launch window that opens at 11:06 AM EST (16:06 UTC).
Galaxy-31 & 32 is SpaceX’s third overall mission for Intelsat. The near-identical satellites are Intelsat’s third and fourth satellites to clear the C-band 300-400 MHz range for the FCC’s 5G Rollout. This mission will be SpaceX’s first expendable Falcon 9 flight since Crew Dragon’s In-Flight Escape Demonstration in January 2020.
B1051: A Historic Booster
With SpaceX recently completing its 51st launch of 2022, this year has marked many firsts for the company. To achieve these firsts, SpaceX has used flight-proven boosters to keep up with its busy cadence and prove reusability. One booster has continued to prove to SpaceX that boosters with high-flights work and can work as well as its younger siblings; B1051-14 will be making its last flight on this mission.
B1051 is one of the fleet leaders of the Falcon 9 fleet, having previously supported 13 missions. The booster first supported the uncrewed SpaceX Demo-1 mission in March 2019, carrying the first Dragon 2 spacecraft to the ISS. A few months later, in June 2019, SpaceX moved B1051 to Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) to support the RADARSAT Constellation mission after B1050 made an unexpected splashdown.
B1051 made its third flight on the Starlink v1.0 L3 mission from SLC-40 in January 2020. It became the third Falcon 9 booster to launch from all three launch sites. With SpaceX losing two first-stage boosters in the first quarter of 2020, the company was down to three active boosters (B1049, B1051, and B1059). B1051 made its fourth flight in April from LC-39A on the Starlink v1.0 L6 mission to return SpaceX to regular flights.
In August and October 2020, B1051 made its fifth and sixth flights on two Starlink missions. In December, B1051 marked a milestone in the Falcon 9 fleet supporting the commercial SiriusXM-7 mission on its seventh flight. This flight was the first time a booster with more than four flights supported a commercial mission and the first booster to support five missions in a single year.
In March 2020, older booster B1049 became the fleet leader, becoming the first booster to launch and land five, six, and seven times. At the beginning of 2021, B1051 took over as fleet leader during the Starlink v1.0 L16 mission. This flight had many milestones, including the first eighth flight of a booster, the fastest turnaround at 38 days, and the first flight of a new booster milestone not preceded by a static fire test. It supported the first ninth flight of a booster two months later on Starlink v1.0 L21.
Two months later, B1051 made history again, becoming the first Falcon 9 to reach ten flights on Starlink v1.0 L27. As the first booster to reach this milestone, it proved a Falcon 9 could support 10+ flights without significant refurbishment. After completing this flight, B1051 underwent major inspections and moved to VSFB. In December 2021, B1051 supported the first 11th flight of a Falcon 9 on Starlink Group 4-4 from VSFB. Following the flight, SpaceX transported B1051 back to CCSFS for the final time.
In March 2022, it supported the first 12th flight of a booster on the Starlink Group 4-12 mission. B1051 was overtaken as the fleet leader on Jun. 17, with B1060 becoming the first booster to support 13 flights. B1051 held the title of fleet leader for one year, four months, and 28 days, the longest time a booster has held the title of fleet leader in the SpaceX fleet.
A month after B1060 became the fleet leader, B1051 supported its 13th flight on Starlink Group 4-22. After supporting 4-22, SpaceX took B1051 off the SpaceX drone ship Just Read the Instructions (JRTI) at Port Canaveral and moved it to HangarX to prepare for its final flight. B1051 had its recovery hardware removed and a second stage installed for its next flight. The booster will have a turnaround of 118 days.
B1060-14 was the first booster with more than ten flights to support a commercial mission. B1051 will be the second to support a commercial mission with 14 flights and the first expendable Falcon 9 mission since January 2020.
B1051-14 was seen earlier today on @NASASpaceflight‘s Space Coast Live stream (see blue square, orange rocket was the star of the day today) headed to SLC-40 for its 14th and final launch. The booster will be expended on the Galaxy 31&32 mission.https://t.co/bWDuxt2jVs pic.twitter.com/OYkvEkbtG2
— Alejandro Alcantarilla Romera (Alex) (@Alexphysics13) November 4, 2022
SpaceX transported B1051 to the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at SLC-40 on Nov. 4. At the HIF, B1051 was integrated on the Strongback Transporter/Erector (T/E), and the encapsulated payloads were attached shortly after. The SpaceX teams rolled out the Falcon 9 to SLC-40 for launch and raised the rocket vertical on Nov. 11.
Intelsat’s Galaxy-31 & 32 Satellites
Galaxy-31 & 32 are two near-identical satellites owned and operated by the commercial satellite operator Intelsat. The company was founded in 1964 as the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, or Intelsat, to own and manage international broadcasting services with multiple participating countries. Intelsat launched its first satellite in 1965, Intelsat I (Early Bird), as the world’s first commercial communication satellite.
In the following decades, Intelsat began launching satellites using primarily Atlas and Delta rockets to provide global commercial telecommunication services. As Intelsat’s satellites grew larger, Intelsat started to launch its satellites on Ariane, Titan, Proton, Chang Zheng, Zenit, and Falcon launch vehicles.
During the launch of Intelsat-6 3 (Intelsat 603), the Commercial Titan III solid motor kick stage failed to separate from the second stage, leaving the satellite in a useless low Earth orbit (LEO). Intelsat would task NASA to boost the satellite to a GTO. NASA completed the mission using Space Shuttle Endeavour on its first flight during STS-49. Intelsat 603 completed 23 years in orbit before it was retired.
In the 1980s, the Hughes Space and Communications Company, later merging with PanAmSat, started the Galaxy communications satellite fleet. The Galaxy communications satellites provided telecommunication services to the United States. Intelsat became privatized in 2001 and merged with PanAmSat five years later.
Since then, Intelsat has continued to launch satellites to expand its global coverage. Recently, Intelsat scored a historic first with Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV)-1 and the 19-year-old Intelsat 901 satellite. After lasting six years longer than its 13-year lifespan, Intelsat moved the Intelsat 901 orbit into a graveyard orbit, with Intelsat-37e taking its place. The MEV-1 launched in October 2019 to rendezvous with the 901 satellite.
MEV-1 docked with Intelsat 901 on Feb. 25, 2020, becoming the first time two commercial satellites docked and mission extension services were offered to a geostationary satellite. MEV-1 moved the satellites to replace the aging Intelsat 907 satellite for five years. A second MEV docked with the Intelsat 10-01 satellite in 2021.
On Nov. 7, 2022, Intelsat announced an order for the Intelsat-45 satellite from SWISSto12. Intelsat will be the first commercial satellite operator to use the SWISSto12 HummingSat satellite bus. SWISSto12, under a partnership with ESA, will use HummingSat to create a satellite just a tenth of the size of conventional satellites to launch as a rideshare payload with satellites going to GEO. Intelsat-45 will provide Ku-band satellite services with a launch in 2025.
Along with satellite operator SES, Intelsat has been launching satellites to clear the 300-400 MHz C-band spectrum above the United States per the FCC’s plan to roll out 5G services. As a part of Intelsat’s plan to clear that spectrum, the company ordered seven satellites from manufacturers Maxar and Northrop Grumman. Intelsat ordered six satellites, four from Maxar and two from Northrop Grumman, in 2020. The company ordered a seventh satellite from Maxar a few months later. Maxar has built nearly 60 satellites for Intelsat since the 1970s.
Intelsat selected SpaceX to launch five of the seven satellites. For this mission, Intelsat requested Galaxy 31 & 32 to be launched to a higher transfer orbit, requiring an expendable mission. Falcon 9 (B1037) supported its first Intelsat launch in 2017 in an expendable configuration on the Intelsat-35e mission. Galaxy 31 & 32 will be the third overall launch for Intelsat by SpaceX and its second expandable launch for Intelsat.
The two satellites ordered from Northrop Grumman are based on the GEOStar-3 satellite bus and were named Galaxy 33 & 34. Galaxy 33 & 34 were launched on a Falcon 9 (B1060-14) on Oct. 8, 2022. The duo is currently in GEO conducting testing to begin operation.
Galaxy-31, 32, 35, 36, and 37 are the five satellites ordered from Maxar using the Maxar 1300-class satellite platform. Galaxy 37 is a larger satellite and will launch solo on a Falcon 9 in 2023. Galaxy-31 & 32 are the first two Maxar satellites to be launched. Galaxy-35 & 36 will launch on an Ariane 5 with a third satellite in December 2022.
Galaxy-31 & 32 will launch in a dual-stacked configuration, allowing the two satellites to launch simultaneously. Recently, SES-20 & 21 launched using an Atlas V 531 in a similar configuration as Galaxy-31 & 32. SES is also clearing out the same C-band spectrum for the FCC.
Galaxy 31 and 32 have arrived in Florida!
This launch continues Intelsat’s Galaxy fleet refresh plan. G-31 and G-32 are third and fourth in a total of seven new Galaxy satellites launching in the next six months. This launch follows G-33 and G-34 launched last month. pic.twitter.com/rwXLeZGCNf
— Intelsat (@INTELSAT) October 28, 2022
Maxar delivered the two satellites to CCSFS in October 2022. SpaceX encapsulated the two satellites in Falcon 9’s 5.2-meter payload fairing and moved them to the HIF for integration.
Launch operations begin at T-38 minutes with an electronic go/no-go poll for propellant loading and launch. If the “go” is given, the auto-launch sequence begins, and RP-1 loading begins on both stages and LOX loading on the first stage.
RP-1 loading on the second stage is completed around 20 minutes before launch. LOX loading begins on stage 2 four minutes later. At T-7 minutes, the Falcon 9 first stage chills its engines with liquid oxygen to ensure there are no thermal shocks to the engines at ignition. The T/E retracts to the launch position of 88.2 degrees at T-4 minutes and 30 seconds.
Propellant loading is complete at T-2 minutes. Two significant events occur simultaneously a minute later: the flight computers enter “startup,” and the propellant tanks begin to pressurize to flight levels. The launch director gives the final “go” for launch 45 seconds before liftoff.
At T-3 seconds, the nine first-stage engines are commanded to ignite. A second later, the engines ignite and begin a final health check. Once the engines are verified to be healthy and producing full thrust, the hydraulic hold-down clamps and the T/E retract, allowing liftoff.
Shortly after liftoff, Falcon 9 will begin a pitch maneuver due east to follow its proper flight profile. One minute and 12 seconds into the flight, Falcon 9 passes Max-Q.
Once propellant levels are depleted, B1051 will shut down its nine first-stage engines around two minutes and 43 seconds into the flight. Three seconds later, the second stage separates, and its single Merlin Vacuum (MVac) ignites for Second Engine Start (SES)-1. B1051 will safe its flight termination system and splashdown in the Atlantic ocean, ending its nearly four-year life.
With the vehicle outside the densest part of the Earth’s atmosphere, Falcon 9’s payload fairing separates three minutes and 32 seconds into the flight.
After reaching a low Earth parking orbit, the second-stage engine shuts down just eight minutes into the flight. After an ~18-minute coast in orbit, SES-2 takes place for its second and last burn. This 70-second burn will place the vehicle into a GTO. Once the burn is complete, Falcon 9 will coast for five minutes before releasing Galaxy-32. Another five-minute coast will take place before Galaxy-31 is released.
Once in GEO, Galaxy-31 will be located 121 degrees West — replacing Galaxy-23 — with Galaxy-32 at 91 degrees West — replacing Galaxy-17. The two satellites will provide customers with C-band broadcasting communication services.
SpaceX still has more launches planned for November. NET mid-November, Falcon 9 will launch the Eutelsat-10B satellite to GTO on B1049-11’s final flight. In mid-November, Falcon 9 will launch the CRS-26 mission using the new Dragon C211 capsule. Falcon 9 will also launch the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lunar lander around the same time as CRS-26.
In late November, SpaceX will launch its first of three batches of OneWeb satellites. Finally, a Starlink mission is expected sometime in November.
Next year, SpaceX will launch two Intelsat satellites. One is the Galaxy-37 satellite, and the other is Intelsat-40e/TEMPO. Intelsat-40e is a part of the Intelsat Epic satellite series with a hosted NASA payload called Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument to study pollution above the United States.
(Lead photo: Falcon 9 B1051-14 vertical at SLC-40 with Galaxy-31 & 32. Credit: Thomas Burghardt for NSF)
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