Update: The launch has been delayed, and is now scheduled for no earlier than Friday, May 27th at 5:39pm ET. Stay tuned for updates
SpaceX hopes to safely bring another Falcon 9 rocket home tonight after launching a Thai telecommunications satellite over 20,000 miles above Earth, into a high-elliptical orbit known as geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The rocket is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral at 5:40 PM EST. As usual, SpaceX will webcast the event for those who can’t attend .
This launch marks SpaceX’s twenty-fifth flight, and it isn’t the first time the aerospace company has delivered a payload so far from Earth. Earlier this month, SpaceX brought the JCSAT-14 satellite to a GTO before the first stage rocket decoupled, began its descent, and attempted to land hundreds of miles off the Florida coast on an autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) named “Of Course I Still Love You.”
Prior to that launch, both Elon Musk and SpaceX shared doubts about the rocket’s ability to return home safely – the mission’s high-elliptical orbit meant high velocity that would make landing much more challenging. Reentry heat would would be far higher than previous returns, and the additional fuel used to achieve velocity would inhibit controlled engine burns. However, despite extreme reentry heating and limited fuel, the rocket stuck its landing.
SpaceX is surely more confident after this year’s two safe drone ship landings and last year’s successful land landing. That means if this evening’s rocket does safely return home, SpaceX’s will have to find storage room for four rockets. Still, a series of failed attempts –and even a failed launch– last year mean it’s never a sure bet.
This launch’s payload is Thailand’s Thaicom 8 telecommunications satellite, which –if successful– will be the second Thaicom satellite SpaceX has deployed into orbit.