SpaceX launched a commercial communications satellite into orbit with a NASA Earth science instrument aboard early Friday morning (April 7).
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:30 am EDT (0430 GMT), carrying the Intelsat 40e satellite into geostationary transfer orbit.
The Falcon 9 first stage is making its fourth flight, and it will likely launch again in the future; the booster successfully landed on the company’s drone ship A Shortfall Of Gravitas in the Atlantic Ocean under nine minutes after liftoff.
The rocket’s upper stage, meanwhile, deployed Intelsat 40e on schedule, about 32.5 minutes after launch.
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Intelsat 40e is an advanced geostationary satellite that will provide high-throughput connectivity to the company’s government and enterprise customers across North and Central America.
The satellite, developed by Colorado-based Maxar Technologies, also carries NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) as a hosted payload.
Intelsat 40e will be stationed at 91 degrees West in a geostationary orbit (GEO), about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth’s equator. From there, the satellite will perform its primary communications role but will also allow TEMPO to take hourly snapshots of air pollution in North America.
Spacecraft in geostationary orbit effectively appear in a fixed position above the Earth, whereas those in low Earth orbit complete approximately 16 orbits every 24 hours, and can only pass over a specific area once. everyday.
TEMPO will measure ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared light spectra to detect levels of key pollutants including ozone in the lower troposphere, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide.
“We have several other missions that are making observations of atmospheric constituents and atmospheric composition,” said Karen St. Germain, director of the Earth Science Division at NASA headquarters, during an April 5 press briefing with reporters. “The real unique difference here in TEMPO will be the geostationary look.”
It will also provide higher resolution data than other missions, St. Germaine.
TEMPO was developed by Ball Aerospace and has a primary mission of 20 months, but may continue to operate beyond this. Intelsat 40e itself carries two large solar arrays to provide power and is designed to operate for at least 15 years.
The hosted payload approach was praised by both Maxar and NASA officials on the media call.
“The TEMPO program is truly a win-win-win for the key entities involved,” said Aaron Abell, TEMPO project manager at Maxar. “This allows unused capacity in Maxar’s heritage satellite design to be used for government missions. It reduces the cost of accessing space for the government as well as reducing the cost for Intelsat, as it is paid them for their support of TEMPO’s mission.”
“The total cost to NASA is about $210 million,” said Kevin Daugherty, TEMPO project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. “Of that, just over $90 million is for the development of the instrument itself. And the rest is for both paying our contractors for hosting TEMPO and then putting it together, but also some engineering support and governance that happens.”
Daugherty added that NASA is working on a “lessons learned session” to look at how best to implement and approach future partnerships with commercial actors.
Friday’s launch was SpaceX’s 23rd of the year, and the Falcon 9 touchdown was the company’s 184th orbital rocket landing overall to date.
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