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For its second launch in less than two hours, SpaceX flew a reused Falcon 9 rocket from Florida earlier today to launch two satellites into medium Earth orbit or MEO. This orbit is 8,000 kilometers above the Earth, and today's launch marks another one where SpaceX has regularly started to go beyond the low Earth orbit (LEO) that it uses for its Starlink spacecraft. It was SpaceX's 58th launch for the year, allowing it to comfortably pass a launch cadence of one launch for each week of this year, before the year has ended. The two satellites are part of SES S.A.'s O3b satellite constellation, which offers Internet connectivity to customers in remote locations - similar to SpaceX's Starlink network.
SES' O3b Satellites Aim To Vastly Improve Global Connectivity Footprint
Since they use an MEO, the new satellites can cover a larger area than the Starlink satellites, which fly lower and are designed primarily for consumer and residential use. According to SES, the spacecraft is capable of supporting up to 10,000 beams, which then allows a much larger number of users to be able to connect to them than a typical low Earth orbit satellite network can. However, since it takes longer for the signal to travel to and back from the satellite, performance tends to be slower. The SES satellites are capable of delivering services ranging from 50 Megabits per second to multiple gigabits per second to network operators and other customers.
Out of its last nine launches, SpaceX has targeted a non low Earth orbit for six. The others have seen it fly to a standard LEO configuration for a NASA launch which took place less than twelve hours before today's launch, a cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and a OneWeb satellite launch for polar LEO located at higher latitudes. The last one is the latest in a trend of launches that have seen satellite internet firms target the region to provide coverage to remote areas such as the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and Antarctica.
After the Falcon 9 lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station today and its first stage landed for an eight successful flight, the second stage spent hours in the coast phase before it was able to deploy the satellites. This is because of the O3b's altitude and the fact that the second stage mostly relies on the momentum generated through its engine's firing earlier in the launch to reach its destination instead of firing the engines all the way.
The second stage's engine shut off roughly eight minutes after launch, and then it continued on its journey up until an hour and forty minutes later when the engine started up for a short thirty second burn. This firing took place at the highest point of the second stage's orbit, at 6,991 kilometers above the Earth's surface. At this point, the rocket was traveling at 14,281 kilometers per hour.
Roughly five minutes later the first satellite separated, in order to continue its journey to the 8,000 kilometer orbit on its own. Six minutes later, the second satellite also successfully separated, roughly two hours after liftoff. SpaceX's next launch is set to take place less than 24 hours later at 4:32 pm eastern time. This is a relatively standard launch which will see the company launch its latest batch of Starlink satellites as it builds out the satellite constellation while developing the largest Starship rocket at Boca Chica, Texas.