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SpaceX launches satellite for Qatar

18 November 2018
SpaceX launches satellite for Qatar

Thursday's launch will shuttle the Es'hail-2 telecommunications satellite, which will serve the Middle East and North Africa region.

At 20:46 GMT, Thursday, on a cloudy day, the 229-foot tall rocket ignited its nine Merlin engines from NASA's Kennedy Space Center making it the first launch since May. The satellite separated from the rocket 32 minutes later.

Weather forecasts cite a 40 percent chance that rain showers or high-level winds could disrupt the 3:46 p.m. liftoff, which would push the launch further into its window until 5:29 p.m. Both Es'hail satellites are operated by Qatar's state-owned Es'hailSat telecom venture.

Such reuse is key to SpaceX's effort to slash the cost of spaceflight, a breakthrough that could help humanity achieve ambitious exploration feats such as the settlement of Mars, company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.

Smoothly accelerating as the rocket gulped propellant and lost weight, the Falcon 9 arced away to the east over the Atlantic Ocean, rapidly gaining altitude and slowly fading from view, leaving a crackling roar in its wake. This will mark the first ham radio relay in a high geostationary orbit, allowing for one-hop communication over a huge section of the globe.

An artist's impression of the Es'hail 2 communications satellite in orbit. This was the second go-round for that particular first stage. If all goes well, the Es'hail 2 will enter service at the end of January. And 9 in the title refers to the number of engines in the rocket. Since May, all launches by SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have taken place late at night or predawn hours.

SpaceX has five more Falcon 9 rocket launches on the docket for 2018, which would bring its total to a SpaceX-record 22 for the year, if they pull it off. It's also the 31st time the company has managed to land a rocket back on Earth after flying to space.