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For its second launch in less than two hours, SpaceX flew a repurposed Falcon 9 rocket from Florida earlier today to launch two satellites into medium Earth orbit, or MEO. This orbit is 8,000 kilometers above Earth, and today’s launch marks another orbit where SpaceX has begun to regularly exceed the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) it uses for its Starlink spacecraft. It was SpaceX’s 58th launch of the year, allowing it to comfortably go through a launch cadence of one launch per week this year, before the year is out. The two satellites are part of SES SA’s O3b satellite constellation, which provides Internet connectivity to customers at remote locations — similar to SpaceX’s Starlink network.
SES’s O3b satellites aim to significantly improve the global connectivity footprint
Because they use MEO, the new satellites can cover more area than Starlink satellites, which fly lower and are primarily designed for consumer and residential use. According to SES, the spacecraft is capable of supporting up to 10,000 packets, which then allows many more users to be able to connect to it than a low-Earth orbit satellite network can. However, because it takes longer for the signal to travel to and back from the satellite, performance tends to be slower. SES satellites are capable of providing services ranging from 50 Mbps to several gigabits per second to network operators and other customers.
Of the last nine launches, SpaceX has targeted non-low Earth orbit for six. Others saw it fly the standard LEO configuration for a NASA launch that occurred less than twelve hours before today’s launch, a cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and a OneWeb satellite launch for polar low-Earth orbit located at high latitudes. The latest is the latest in a trend of launches that has seen satellite internet companies targeting the region to provide coverage to remote areas such as the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and Antarctica.
After the Falcon 9 took off from Space Force Station Cape Canaveral today and landed its first stage for eight successful flights, the second stage spent hours in the coast stage before it could deploy satellites. This is due to O3b’s altitude and the fact that the second stage relies mostly on momentum generated by firing its engine early in launch to get to its destination rather than firing the engines all the way.
The second stage engine stopped about eight minutes after launch and then continued its trip until an hour and forty minutes later when the engine ran for thirty seconds. This launch occurred at the highest point of the second-stage orbit, 6,991 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. At this point, the missile was traveling at 14,281 kilometers per hour.
After about five minutes, the first satellite separated, continuing its journey on its own into its 8,000-kilometer orbit. Six minutes later, the second satellite successfully separated, nearly two hours after it took off. SpaceX’s next launch is scheduled for less than 24 hours later at 4:32 PM ET. This is a relatively record-breaking launch that will see the company launch its latest batch of Starlink satellites as it builds the satellite constellation while developing its largest Starship rocket in Boca Chica, Texas.