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SpaceX Falcon 9 Lofts Its Heaviest Satellite Into Orbit

Falcon 9 rocket launches Inmarsat 5 from Kennedy Space Center. Photo: Joey Roulette.
Falcon 9 rocket launches Inmarsat 5 from Kennedy Space Center. Photo: Joey Roulette.

SpaceX successfully sent a communications satellite into orbit Monday from the Kennedy Space Center. It’s the private company’s sixth successful flight this year.

Weighing in at over six tons and about the size of a double-decker bus, the communications satellite operated by British commercial company Inmersat is SpaceX's largest payload to head to Geostationary Transfer Orbit -- an orbit that keeps the satellite focused on one spot above the Earth.

The launch is another milestone for SpaceX -- it's the second launch in only fourteen days from Launch Complex 39A, part of SpaceX's ambitious launch schedule of sending payloads into orbit every two weeks.

Because of the satellite’s high orbit and weight, there wasn't enough fuel to attempt to land the first stage booster. Recent launches have seen successful returns of the first stage of the rocket. SpaceX reused one of those boosters earlier this year and hopes reusability will lower the cost of access to space.

The satellite launched Monday joins three more just like it in space, finishing a $1.6 billion investment into a high-speed broadband constellation providing connectivity to devices on land, at sea and in the air.

About 30 minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39-A, SpaceX’s Launch Director announced a successful deployment of the satellite.

Ahead of Monday's launch, SpaceX loaded the liquid oxygen fuel later than usual. A SpaceX spokesperson said fueling the rocket closer to launch, about 35 minutes before liftoff, is a new procedure for the Falcon 9 rocket. Last year, an explosion during fueling destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and its payload, grounding the fleet for months.

The next SpaceX launch is sending supplies to the International Space Station, slated for early June.

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to Central Florida in 2005 to attend the University of Central Florida. He began working at WMFE as a college intern where he discovered his love for public radio.