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Sunday, February 24, 2019

SpaceX Launches Indonesian Satellite and Israeli Moon Mission

Falcon 9 launch on February 21, 2019. Credit: SpaceX

On Thursday, February 21, SpaceX launched the Nusantara Satu satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 8:45 p.m. EST, or 1:45 UTC on February 22. Falcon 9 also delivered the Beresheet lunar spacecraft and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 spacecraft to orbit. Deployments occurred at approximately 33 and 44 minutes after liftoff.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the Nusantara Satu mission previously supported the Iridium-7 mission in July 2018 and the SAOCOM 1A mission in October 2018. Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

SSL built the Nusantara Satu satellite for PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), a leading Asian provider of satellite-based telecommunication services. Nusantara Satu is Indonesia’s first high-throughput satellite that will serve to improve internet connectivity in the region. Additionally, the satellite’s C-band and Ku-band transponders will be used for voice and data communications and video distribution throughout the Indonesian archipelago. In order to bring a secondary payload to orbit, SSL designed Nusantara Satu using its next-generation electric propulsion system. The launch demonstrates SSL’s ability to take small rideshare satellites to geostationary orbit efficiently and economically.

SpaceIL’s lunar spacecraft Beresheet (Hebrew for “in the beginning”), which competed in the Google Lunar XPrize, will be the smallest spacecraft to ever land on the Moon, at only 1,322 lbs, or 600 kgs. Upon deployment, it will travel to the Moon using its own power, a voyage that will take nearly two months. Once it arrives, Beresheet will be Israel’s first spacecraft and the world’s first privately-funded spacecraft to reach the Moon. Its mission is to transmit photos and video of its new home and conduct scientific measurements.

“This launch for us, the people who worked on the development and building of the spacecraft, is like a birth after a long pregnancy,” said Ehud Hayan, a space systems engineer at Israel Aerospace Industries. “When the spacecraft leaves the rocket, that’s it. Once it’s in space, we can’t do any more tests or adjustments. It’s the first time it will be working alone, starting its functions. And once everything starts working, the motors are going and the pictures are streaming, you’ll feel as if there’s something alive.”

Hayan said the launch is usually one of the most stressful parts of a space operation, but because they have outsourced the launch to the commercial space company SpaceX, the Israeli engineers couldn’t do anything except sit back and watch the launch, hoping for the best.

“We had a successful launch, we were injected into a good orbit, separated well, and have good communications,” said Dr. Ofer Doron, the general manager of the Space Division at Israel Aerospace Industries, after Beresheet separated from Falcon 9.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 experimental small spacecraft, developed and integrated by Blue Canyon Technologies, will carry out a one-year mission. The S5 mission leverages commercial advances and services in a rapid demonstration of small satellite capabilities. 

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