SpaceX launches third pre-flown rocket with EchoStar-SES satellite, lands booster

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WASHINGTON — SpaceX completed its third launch with a previously used first stage booster Oct. 11, carrying a geostationary satellite for customers EchoStar and SES.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 6:53 p.m. Eastern from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at the beginning of a 2-hour launch window. EchoStar-105/SES-11 separated from the rocket’s upper stage roughly 36 minutes into the mission as planned.

The Falcon 9 booster, separating from the rocket’s upper stage about 2 and a half minutes after liftoff, returned to SpaceX’s drone ship “Off Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. The same booster first flew on a February mission to the International Space Station with a Dragon capsule.

EchoStar-105/SES-11 was originally set to launch in late 2016, but suffered a year-long delay because of SpaceX’s September 2016 Falcon 9 explosion. The satellite will cover the Americas, including Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, from the 105 degrees west orbital location.

SpaceX is now halfway toward its goal of launching up to six pre-flown first stages this year. Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer, said in March that the company would likely use as many as six pre-flown boosters in 2017 to ease pressure on rocket manufacturing for the year.

Luxembourg-based SES, which was the first customer to dare to use a pre-flown Falcon 9 later that month, said it would fly up to three such missions this year. Newcomer satellite operator Bulgaria Sat was the second, with BulgariaSat-1 in June. SES has one more satellite launching this year — a joint venture satellite with the Luxembourg government called GovSat-1 — but has not yet said if it will fly new or pre-flown. The other two pre-flown boosters will launch with the first flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy later this year

SpaceX has now launched 15 times this year and landed 18 boosters overall. The company’s previous mission was less than three days ago, launching 10 Iridium Next satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

EchoStar-105/SES-11 is a 5,200-kilogram telecommunications satellite from European manufacturer Airbus Defence and Space with 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders. Englewood, Colorado-based EchoStar is leasing the Ku-band payload for 10 years, branded as EchoStar-105, while SES uses the C-band payload as SES-11.

EchoStar’s half of the satellite is designed for television broadcast, government and enterprise communications. The company has the option to renew annually after the the 10-year lease has elapsed.

SES-11 is a broadcast-focused payload that replaces the 13-year old AMC-18, and is designed to support high definition and Ultra-HD television.