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What it really takes to launch a satellite

Published on: Apr 26, 2016

The journey to launch a satellite

The voyage to launch a satellite is one that is carefully planned months in advance in order to make sure the final countdown takes place as intended. This starts by ensuring the satellite arrives at its destination – usually through shipping on large Antonov airplanes. This, however, was not the case with SES-9 – the largest SES satellite dedicated to serving the Asia Pacific region, which will provide coverage to over 20 countries in the region.

SES-9’s voyage commenced at the Boeing Satellite Development Centre in El Segundo, California three months prior to launch and took place by road in a specially modified container over the course of one week – where it eventually arrived in Cape Canaveral. This was no ordinary road trip – the shipment had to comply with stringent regulations in each state it passed through, this included an SES colleague conducting inspections prior and during packing as well as being present during final preparations to approve packaging and handling in conjunction with Boeing’s procedures.

T-minus two months

Upon arrival at Cape Canaveral SES-9 was carefully removed from its shipping container and tested by Boeing engineers for a week. Throughout its in-orbit maneuvering SES-9 will use an electrical propulsion system running on Xenon (Xe) gas. The gas was preloaded when the satellite was El Segundo, however, for orbit raising SES-9 required both Oxidizer and Fuel which required one SES propulsion engineer’s support, The Oxidizer and Fuel were added upon campaign launch in early January.

T-minus 10 days

With launch date fast approaching, each morning was started with a meeting between SpaceX and Boeing which allowed for the coordination of activities which started with mating operations. Throughout this process the aspect that remained critical was to be able to understand what each team’s needs were – which were at the heart of a successful and smooth integration of the SES-9 satellite with the Falcon 9 rocket. If these needs were not in equilibrium a solution that was acceptable to both parties had to be found – which was challenging yet exceptionally rewarding. T-minus 8 days

SES-9 was placed on the adapter – which is the mechanical interface between the satellite and Falcon 9. This contains the release device to detach the satellite once in orbit.

T-minus 3 days

With time drawing close to launch SES-9 was encapsulated into the fairing at SpaceX’s payload processing facility where it was shipped a distance of approximately 5km on a transporterto SpaceX’s launch site – space launch Complex 40 (SLC-40). This took nearly an hour and was integrated to the second stage of Falcon 9.

T-minus 2 days

A programme took the teams through what their respective roles were for launch day – this included prep for go-live on the actual day.

Falcon 9 is placed on the Launchpad and lifted to a vertical position prior to launch.

T-minus 2 hours

Launch team SES-9 is at the console as the satellite is ready to be put into its launch configuration. The weather is monitored and the Technical Bridge opened to connect the SES Launch Team at Cape Canaveral with the SES Mission Team in El Segundo, the SES Engineering Teams in the SES control centres as well as many of our SES colleagues who all helped to monitor the launch progress and work on any last minute issues that could have arisen.

This was followed with the final countdown and a successful lift-off.

Facts about SES-9

  • SES-9 was built by Boeing Satellite Systems International. It is designed to operate 15 years in geostationary orbit.
  • SES-9 features a 12.7 kilowatt payload.
  • SES-9 will deliver high-speed broadband services and mobile backhaul to remote regions enabling the deployment of communication networks.
  • SES-9 can meet the demands of maritime connectivity as it has dedicated mobility beams, which provide coverage to 26,000 vessels expected to sail worldwide on high traffic maritime routes this year in areas such as the Suez Canal and Strait of Malacca.
  • SES-9 will be co-located with SES-7. Co-location improves the levels of both security and reliability for customers of both satellites.


@ 2016 SES Africa Connected