SpaceX is set to launch a satellite aimed at providing communications for all of the Americas–including shipping corridors and Greenland. The Amazonas Nexus mission is scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) on Sunday, Feb. 5. The launch window opens at 5:32 PM EDT (22:32 UTC) and extends for four hours until 9:32 PM EDT (02:32 UTC on Feb. 6).
Space Launch Delta 45 forecasted a 30% chance of acceptable weather at the opening of the window, improving to 55% by the end of the window. A 90% chance of favorable weather is forecasted for a backup launch opportunity 24 hours later.
The 4,500 kg satellite will be launched into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) before maneuvering itself into a geostationary orbit (GEO) at a position of 61 degrees west. This mission will mark the first Amazonas satellite launched on a Falcon 9, with previous launches flying on either Ariane 5 or Proton-M.
The Amazonas Nexus spacecraft is owned and operated by the Spanish communications company Hispasat. Formed in 1989, the company has already launched 13 satellites into space. According to the company, they currently transmit 1,250 television channels and radio stations to more than 30 million customers. The satellites are also used to provide broadband to mobile phones.
This particular spacecraft is a high throughput satellite, which means it utilizes Ku and Ka bands simultaneously. As a result, it can handle more data compared to other spacecraft operating in the same spectrum.
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The other major development aboard this satellite is that it features the latest generation “Digital Transparent Processor.” According to Hispasat, this means that the spacecraft doesn’t have a single fixed customer or market. Hispasat says that with digitally processed signals, it can make changes on orbit and adapt to the needs of different markets and customers based on what data is needed.
The satellite will join five other Amazonas satellites in orbit. Amazonas Nexus is designed to replace Amazonas 2, which launched aboard an Ariane 5 in 2009. All Amazonas satellites are located at either 36 degrees west or 61 degrees west.
Amazonas Nexus, according to Hispasat, will provide coverage for all of North and South America, the North and South Atlantic Ocean corridors, and Greenland. The main target is to connect companies in remote areas, on the water, and in the air.
The satellite is built by Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales and Leonardo in Europe. The company has already built two previous satellites for Hispasat, including Hispasat 1C and 1D.
The spacecraft is based on the Spacebus NEO platform. According to Thales Alenia Space, the bus uses electric propulsion, provides 20 kW of spacecraft power with two deployable solar arrays, and has an expected lifespan of 15 years.
While built by Thales Alenia Space, Spacebus NEO was developed under a European Space Agency (ESA) Partnership Project managed jointly by ESA and the French Space Agency CNES.
Ahead of launch, the US Space Force’s Space Systems Command announced that a hosted payload, named Pathfinder 2, would be launching on board the Amazonas Nexus satellite.
The booster Amazonas Nexus will fly on is B1073, which will be making its sixth flight. The booster previously launched SES-22, three Starlink missions, and HAKUTO-R M1. The latter mission landed at Landing Zone 2 at CCSFS on Dec. 11, which means there will be less than two months between flights for this booster.
The first stage is expected to land on the drone ship Just Read the Instructions, which recently underwent maintenance at Port Canaveral. It is located 620 km east of the launch site ahead of the booster landing. The SpaceX support ship Bob is also downrange in an attempt to recover the protective payload fairings, which are jettisoned during the flight and parachute back to the Atlantic Ocean. Bob was already out at sea retrieving fairings for the Starlink 5-3 mission, so the ship could potentially return to Port Canaveral with four fairing halves instead of just two.
This mission is expected to follow a traditional Falcon 9 countdown. 35 minutes before liftoff, equipment at the launch pad begins to load the Falcon 9 with RP-1 fuel, a type of refined kerosene. At the same time, liquid oxygen (LOX), the oxidizer for the Falcon fleet of rockets, begins loading into the first stage.
This is then followed by LOX load onto the second stage at T-16 minutes from liftoff. Seven minutes before launch, the engines are chilled to prime them ahead of the supercooled cryogenics that rapidly flows through them at liftoff.
At T-1 minute, Falcon 9 goes into “startup”, meaning the onboard computers have full control of the countdown as the propellant tanks are pressurized for flight. At T-3 seconds, the command is given to ignite the nine Merlin 1D engines at the base of the first stage followed by liftoff at T0.
A little over a minute into the flight, Falcon 9 experiences the maximum dynamic pressure on the vehicle, known as Max-Q.
Almost two and a half minutes into the mission, a series of events in quick succession begins. The first stage engines experience main engine cutoff (MECO), followed four seconds later by the separation of the first and second stages. About seven seconds after that, the second stage engine starts in what is known as SES-1. Just after three and a half minutes into the flight, the fairing halves separate and begin their journey back towards the Atlantic Ocean for recovery so they can be used again on an upcoming flight.
The first stage will then perform two burns, with the second gently landing the vehicle on top of Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean nearly eight minutes after taking off. Just as the landing is happening, the Merlin Vacuum engine will experience second-stage engine cutoff, or SECO-1, shutting down the single engine. It will light up once more at T+26 minutes 41 seconds for a burn lasting just over a minute.
35 minutes after launch, Hispasat’s Amazonas Nexus will deploy into GTO.
This launch marks SpaceX’s eighth Falcon 9 launch this year, and the ninth overall launch of 2023 when including Falcon Heavy.
(Lead image: Falcon 9 and Amazonus Nexus vertical at SLC-40 before launch. Credit: SpaceX)
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