A huge new satellite broadcast SiriusXM radio shows in North America, and a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket orbited the Cape of Canaveral on Sunday to pick up the aging transmitter launched more than 15 years ago.
The SiriusXM SXM 7 spacecraft, built by Maxar in Palo Alto, California, is the first of two new-generation digital broadcasting satellites to begin joining the company’s fleet in the coming months.
The roughly 15,000 pounds (nearly 7 metric tons) satellite took off on Sunday at 12:30 (EST) (1730 GMT) on top of the Falcon 9 rocket from bench 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The 229-foot-high (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket, rushing toward the sky on the eastern orbit of the Florida space coast, exceeded the speed of sound in about a minute and then released its first-grade reminder, more than two and a half minutes to flight.
By restarting Merlin’s main engines, the first phase led back to a targeted vertical landing on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship, located hundreds of miles east of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean. This successful recovery marked the seventh journey into space and back for the SpaceX reminder, known in the company’s missile kit as B1051.
Two SpaceX boats were also sent down to recover two halves of the Falcon 9 shellfish-like payload, which was clogged from the rocket’s nose a few minutes after takeoff.
The single-use upper stage of the Falcon 9, meanwhile, was launched into orbit with the help of the SXM 7 satellite. The first burn of the upper section placed the spacecraft in a preliminary parking orbit, and the resumption of the mission in about 26 minutes propelled the commercial satellite into an elliptical “asynchronous” transfer orbit.
The missile aimed at an orbit over the highest point on Earth over 20,000 kilometers (20,000 kilometers). According to SpaceX, Falcon 9 has put its satellite passengers on the right track.
The rocket’s live video stream showed the 27-foot-tall (8-meter) SXM 7 spacecraft separating from the Falcon 9’s upper ridge over Africa.
Maxar, the manufacturer of the spacecraft, confirmed that the satellite was healthy after Sunday’s launch.
Maxar said the satellite extended its power-generating solar cells shortly after arriving in space. As expected, Maxar’s ground teams also made contact with the satellite.
“Then the SXM 7 will start shooting its engines to begin its journey to the final geostationary orbit,” Maxar said.
The maneuvers give the SXM 7 a boost towards an operating perch that spans more than 22,000 miles (almost 36,000 kilometers) in a geostationary orbit. On this orbit, the spacecraft orbits the Earth at the same speed as the planet orbits, giving the SXM 7 a fixed view of America 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“The satellite will provide a continuous, reliable service to SiriusXM’s audio-entertainment and information services to U.S. consumers and will expand SiriusXM’s coverage in Canada and the Caribbean for years to come,” SiriusXM said in a statement. “The SXM 7 provides the highest orbital density of commercial orbits, sending more than 8,000 watts of content to the continental United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, increasing SiriusXM’s signal performance and availability.”
Going into geostationary orbit, the SXM 7 satellite – based on the Maxar 1300 series spacecraft design – decomposes a large S-band antenna-made reflector made by L3Harris that transmits radio signals to receivers of moving vehicles.
The SXM 7 is expected to replace the XM 3 radio satellite at 85 degrees west longitude. Boeing’s XM 3 satellite was launched in 2005 aboard the Sea Launch Zenit 3SL rocket.
The launch of the SXM 7 was scheduled for earlier this year, but a problem with Maxar’s spacecraft test delayed the mission. SpaceX scrubbed the launch attempt on Friday to test additional ground systems.
SiriusXM said on Sunday that it has five satellites in its active fleet, the XM 3 being the oldest still operating.
The launch of the twin satellites SXM 7 and SXM 8 next year – also on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket – will extend SiriusXM’s services until at least 2036, the company said in a statement.
The launch of the SiriusXM SXM 7 satellite marks a busy week for SpaceX.
On December 6, SpaceX launched its first upgraded Cargo Dragon spacecraft from Bench 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The automated supply vessel – a new form based on sporty developments and the SpaceX man-certified Crew Dragon capsule – arrived at the International Space Station on Monday, December 7, for a successful docking.
Meanwhile, SpaceX teams in South Texas on Wednesday launched a high-altitude test with the company’s next-generation Starship vehicle. A prototype of the 164-foot-tall (50-meter) rocket flew to aircraft heights with methane-powered Raptor engines and then conducted a guided descent to the landing site at the SpaceX test facility in Boca Chicago, Texas, near U.S.-Mexico. border.
The Starship rocket performed a dramatic flip maneuver to land, but the vehicle broke out in a fireball when it crashed. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, hailed the test flight as a success.
The reusable starship could eventually carry more than 100 tons of cargo into space and transport people to the Moon, Mars and other deep space voyages.
With the launch of SXM 7, SpaceX has so far completed 25 successful Falcon 9 missions in 2020.
There is one more launch left on SpaceX’s schedule this year. The Falcon 9 missile is to be deceived from the 39A socket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center no earlier than 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) on Thursday morning, under a certified payload from the National Intelligence Agency, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency.
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