Falcon 9 launches Telstar 18 Vantage satellite

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PARIS — SpaceX ended a rare extended gap in launch activity Sept. 10 with the successful launch of a communications satellite for Telesat, the second payload for that satellite operator in less than two months.

The Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. Eastern, 77 minutes into a four-hour launch window because of thunderstorms in the vicinity of the launch site that delayed fueling of the rocket.

The Falcon 9’s payload, the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite for Telesat, separated from the upper stage 32 minutes after liftoff, entering its planned geostationary transfer orbit. The first stage made a successful landing on the company’s “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

The satellite, built by Space Systems Loral, weighed about 7,000 kilograms at liftoff. The high-throughput satellite (HTS) is the second Telesat spacecraft launched by SpaceX this summer, after the July 22 launch of Telstar 19 Vantage on another Falcon 9 Block 5 from the same launch pad.

The satellite will operate from 138 degrees east in GEO, replacing the existing Telstar 18. The spacecraft will provide C-band capacity over the Asia Pacific region. It will also provide Ku-band HTS spots over Indonesia and Malaysia as well as five additional Ku-band beams.

The biggest customer for Telstar 18 Vantage will be another satellite operator, APT Satellite of Hong Kong. That company paid $118.8 million for 57.5 percent of the satellite’s capacity. APT Satellite will rebrand that capacity as Apstar-5C, using it to replace the existing Apstar-5 satellite.

The launch was the 16th of the year for SpaceX, but also the first for the company in more than a month, since the Aug. 7 launch of the Merah Putih satellite for Telkom Indonesia. That gap between launches was the longest since late 2017, when a month and a half passed between Falcon 9 launches of Koreasat 5A and a Dragon cargo resupply mission.

SpaceX’s launch schedule for the rest of the year is backloaded, with only one launch scheduled through the beginning of November. However, several missions are currently planned for the final two months of the year, including the final launch of 10 Iridium Next satellites, an uncrewed demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and the first GPS 3 satellite. The Falcon Heavy could also make its second launch before the end of the year, either carrying the Arabsat-6A communications satellite or the Space Test Program 2 payload for the U.S. Air Force.