SpaceX rocket launches Sirius XM digital radio satellite, makes successful night-time landing at sea

CAP CANAVERAL, Florida – EspaceX launched a veteran Falcon 9 rocket on its third space trip Sunday, June 6 to transport a massive radio satellite into orbit for Sirius XM before returning to Earth.

The two floors Falcon 9 The rocket lifted off at 12:26 a.m. EDT (04:26 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 40 here at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, marking the company’s 18th launch of the year. He wore the SXM-8 digital radio satellite in orbit for the Sirius XM client.

About 9 minutes later, the first stage of the booster returned to Earth, landing on one of SpaceX’s two drones, called “Just Read The Instructions” stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The launch took place at the start of a window of almost 2 hours.

“We hit Falcon 9,” SpaceX’s Jessie Anderson said during the launch webcast. “Today marks the 87th successful overall recovery of an orbital-class rocket.”

Related: See the evolution of SpaceX rockets in pictures

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Sirius XM SXM-8 satellite lights up the midnight sky in early June 6, 2021 as it launches from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The mission marked SpaceX’s second launch in just three days from the Florida Space Coast, as another Falcon 9 took off from Pad 39A to the nearby Kennedy Space Center on Thursday afternoon (June 3). Its payload: a cargo capsule in the shape of a rubber ball bound for the International Space Station which arrived at the laboratory in orbit on Saturday morning to deliver 7,300 pounds. (3,311 kilograms) of scientific equipment and supplies.

Forecasters from Space Delta’s 45th Weather Squadron predicted only a 60% chance of favorable launch conditions due to residual clouds left behind by some late-night storms on Saturday. Despite the uncertain outlook, SpaceX was able to get started on time.

The cloud layer provided cool imagery as the sky glowed orange as the rocket climbed through the cloud layers en route to orbit.

A triple spaceship

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket thruster that launched the SXM-8 Sirius XM satellite is seen just after boarding the Just Read The Instructions drone ship after a successful launch. (Image credit: SpaceX)

For this mission, the 70m-high Falcon 9 successfully put the Sirius XM-8 (SXM-8) high-power broadcasting satellite into orbit. Built by Maxar Technologies for Sirius XM, it is one of two satellites launched by SpaceX to replace obsolete ones currently in orbit.

The rocket’s first stage thruster, now with three successful launches and landings under its belt, landed on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone, which was waiting in the Atlantic. This is the 87th salvage of a first stage booster for the California-based rocket maker.

Another historic booster is the rocket featured in the pre-dawn launch on Sunday. Known as the B1061, this flight-proven thruster carried two different astronaut crews to the space station, marking the first time humans have flown on a reused thruster. This historic mission took off from Kennedy Space Center on April 23. The first flight of the rocket, dubbed Crew-1, launched in November 2020.

The Sirius XM 8 satellite awaiting launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral space station. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)

For this third flight, he changed his cargo, carrying a 15,432 pounds. (7,000 kg) in orbit for Sirius XM. The satellite will deliver more than 8,000 watts of content to Sirius subscribers in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. This is the second such satellite that SpaceX has launched on behalf of Sirius, the first (SXM-7) having been launched in December 2020.

This satellite has been declared lost after experiencing a payload failure earlier this year during an orbit climb maneuver. Sirius confirmed the failure in January and, in a recent earnings report in April, said it had $ 225 million in insurance coverage for the satellite that covered the launch and operations of the first year. Sirius expects to file a claim for its lost satellite and is looking to build another satellite to replace SXM-7.

The company says the loss will not affect its satellite radio service and that SXM-7 was to replace the XM-3 satellite launched in 2005. Sirius expected SXM-7 and SXM-8 to replace the XM-3 and XM satellites. -4, but these satellites remain operational and still have several years of life expectancy. (There is also a spare in orbit, XM-5, which can refill if needed.)

Officials did not disclose whether any changes were made to the SXM-8 after the loss of the other satellite.

The Sirius XM SXM-8 satellite is deployed to orbit after its successful launch by SpaceX on June 6, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Both were based on Maxar Technologies‘SSL-1300 satellite bus and were designed to operate in the S-band spectrum. It is equipped with two large solar panels as well as batteries for in-orbit storage. Large deployable S-band antennas, built by L3, broadcast the signal to Sirius clients.

SiriusXM’s SXM-8 satellite launch continues a series of busy launches for SpaceX.

In May, the company launched four different Starlink missions, bringing the total number of its own broadband satellites launched to 1,737.

Sunday’s flight marks the second so far in June, with two more on the schedule later this month. One of these missions will launch an improved GPS III satellite for the US Space Force. And it will be the first military payload to fly on a reused rocket.

To prepare for this flight, SpaceX tested the veteran booster early Thursday morning (June 3), before launching a Dragon cargo mission on a nearby launch pad. After the test, the rocket was brought back to the hangar to be coupled with its payload.

SoaceX will attempt to retrieve the rocket payload fairings after they drop during flight. The shell-shaped material is designed to protect the payload as the rocket flies through the atmosphere.

To facilitate this kind of reuse, SpaceX has deployed two ships that typically carry Dragon capsules. GO Searcher and GO Navigator are in the designated recovery area, waiting to collect any falling fairings.

The company used to rely on a pair of boats fitted with nets to retrieve the fairings, either by grabbing them in the air or scooping them out of the water. However, SpaceX has since refined its recovery techniques and improved payload fairings to better withstand a dip in the ocean.

As a result, the company abandoned its in-flight strategy and instead opted to retrieve the fairings from the water after each flight.

The next step for SpaceX is the launch of an improved GPS satellite for the US military. This mission is scheduled to take off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on June 17.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.


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