Update November 15th, 4:25PM ET: After a smooth launch, SpaceX successfully deployed the Es’hail-2 satellite into orbit 32 minutes after takeoff. The company also landed its Falcon 9 rocket on one of its drone ships following liftoff, bringing its total number of successful booster landings to 31.
Original: After a month-long break from spaceflight, SpaceX is slated to perform another rocket launch and landing out of Florida this afternoon, sending up a communications satellite for the country of Qatar. It will mark SpaceX’s 18th mission in 2018, which will tie the company’s record in 2017 for the most launches done in a year. SpaceX still has a handful of missions planned for this year, making it pretty likely that the company will set a new all-time high soon.
For this mission, SpaceX is employing another one of its used rockets, a Falcon 9 booster that launched the Telstar 19 VANTAGE satellite in July. After that mission, the rocket landed on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean, and the company hopes to pull off the same feat following today’s launch. If successful, this particular Falcon 9 booster could be capable of flying a third time in the near future.
SpaceX has yet to fly a booster three times, but that’s about to change. After today’s launch, the company’s next scheduled flight is the SSO-A mission, a ride-share that will send up more than 60 small satellites into low Earth orbit. Multiple SpaceX executives have said that the flight will use a rocket that has already flown twice. It’s a feat made possible now that SpaceX is flying its latest Falcon 9 upgrade, the Block 5, which is designed to make the vehicles easier to reuse after flight with less refurbishment.
But first, today’s satellite needs to fly. The payload is the Es’hail-2 satellite, which is meant to provide communications services to the Middle East and North Africa. It’s primarily meant to be used for government and commercial purposes, however, amateur radio operators can also use this satellite. Es’hail-2 has two transponders on board that can connect to amateur radios from South America to Asia. It’s not the only satellite with this capability, but Es’hail-2 is going to a particularly high orbit 22,000 miles up. That will make it the first satellite at this altitude to link amateur radios from Brazil to India.
SpaceX is launching Es’hail-2 out of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The company has a launch window that lasts from 3:46PM ET to 5:29PM ET. So far, the weather is looking iffy, with a 60 percent chance that conditions will be favorable. SpaceX’s coverage of the launch will go live 15 minutes before liftoff; check back to watch this rocket go to space for the second time.