SpaceX launched its 23rd Falcon 9 rocket so far this year Wednesday, propelling a sophisticated Egyptian communications satellite into orbit to expand television service across the Middle East and Africa while providing broadband connectivity over Egypt.
Using a first stage booster making its seventh flight, the Falcon 9 thundered to life at 5:04 p.m. EDT and vaulted skyward from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station atop a jet of flaming exhaust.
With its nine first stage engines generating a combined 1.7 million pounds of thrust, the slender rocket arced away to the east over the Atlantic Ocean and quickly disappeared from view.
As planned, the first stage boosted the rocket out of the lower atmosphere and then fell away, flying itself back to a pinpoint landing on an off-shore droneship. A few seconds before touchdown, the second stage reached its initial "parking" orbit.
After a second engine firing 18 minutes later, the 4.1-ton Nilesat 301 communications satellite was released on a "transfer" trajectory toward its operational outpost 22,300 miles above the equator. Satellites in such geosynchronous orbits rotate in step with Earth, allowing the use of stationary antennas on the ground.
Built by Thales Alenia Space, Nilesat 301 has a 15-year design life and will work with a similar but older satellite launched in 2010 to provide high-speed data relay and television across the Middle East and Africa.
"The capabilities of the new satellite also include providing broadband internet services to cover the Arab Republic of Egypt and remote areas ... for new projects, infrastructure projects, new urban communities and oil fields in the eastern Mediterranean, especially the Zohr field," Nilesat said on its website.
Nilesat 301 also will work in concert with an Egyptian government satellite, TIBA-1, which was launched in 2019.
"Thus, Egypt will be able to provide satellite internet service through two satellites to ensure the security and continuity of this service," the company said.
SpaceX had planned to launch its 25th resupply mission to the International Space Station this Friday, but the flight is now on hold while engineers work to pinpoint an apparent propellant leak in the Cargo Dragon spacecraft. NASA says launch is off until at least June 28 and possibly later.
In the meantime, SpaceX is reportedly readying another Falcon 9 for launch in the next week or so to carry a Globalstar data relay and messaging satellite into orbit. All told, the company is on track to launch more than 50 Falcon 9 flights this year.