The 13,000+ Pound Satellite Keeping SpaceX From Landing Its Rocket Tonight (UPDATE)
Inmarsat satellites

It’s nearly 23 feet tall. 133-feet across (when solar arrays are deployed). And tips the scales with a launch mass of nearly 13,500 pounds. The Inmarsat-5 F4 is a whole lot of satellite.

UPDATE: The launch and payload deployment went smoothly. Fast forward to the 10-minute mark below to see the launch.

Later this evening, SpaceX plans to launch the hefty satellite atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 7:21 pm ET from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That’s when a 49-minute launch window opens. If technical or weather problems pop up, SpaceX will give it another go at the same time tomorrow.

Weather isn’t too big of a concern right now with launch probability sitting at 90%. There is a 10% chance the Cumulus Cloud Rule could come into play.

Did You Know: The cumulus cloud rule is designed to help prevent the threat of triggering lightning strikes as the rocket punches through higher electric fields in the atmosphere. Here’s a neat PDF showing the Falcon 9 launch weather criteria.

No first stage Falcon 9 landing today

It’s going to be a traditional rocket launch today. No first stage landing at KSC or on the drone ship. The heavy satellite is one reason. But it’s also where it’s going that makes a landing today not possible.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will sling the Inmarsat-5 F4 into a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) 22,236 miles above Earth. Here, the satellite will follow the Earth around as it stays above the same location. These type of orbits are especially useful for communications satellites like the Inmarsat.

32 minutes after launch, the satellite will deploy, and teams from Boeing and Inmarsat will take over. Inmarsat-5 F4 won’t be pressed into service immediately, either. First, its solar arrays and reflectors will be fully deployed. After all that checks out, the satellite will begin a lengthy payload testing before it begins its mission.

That mission is to deliver high-speed broadband connectivity on the Global Xpress network for 15 years. The network is the first ever global Ka-band service from a single operator.

For SpaceX, today’s scheduled launch comes just two weeks after their last mission. That mission launched the secretive NROL-76 satellite. While we didn’t catch the entire launch (payload deployment), the camera work following the first stage back to land more than made up for it. Launch starts around 12:00.

The folks at SpaceX aren’t about to slow down after today’s launch. Customers are lined up and ready to go. Three launches are scheduled in June starting on June 1 with the launch of CRS-11 to the International Space Station. SpaceX will also make some history as it reuses one of its Dragon capsules for this launch. Two more satellite launches are set for June.

Live coverage of this evening’s launch kicks off 15 minutes before launch. I’ve embedded the webcast above and here’s a link too just in case.

Top image: Inmarsat 5-F1 and F2 (identical to F4). Credit: Boeing

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