SpaceX launches Es’hail-2 satellite, ties launch record

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WASHINGTON — SpaceX matched its personal best with its 18th launch this year, delivering the Es’hail-2 communications satellite to geostationary transfer orbit for Qatari operator Es’hailSat.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket took off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:46 p.m. Eastern. The satellite separated from the rocket 32 minutes later.

The Falcon 9 booster used for the mission landed on SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You less than nine minutes after liftoff, paving the way for a third launch with the same booster. SpaceX previously used this Block 5 booster for the July launch of Telesat’s Telstar 19 Vantage satellite.

Es’hail-2 was built by Mitsubishi Electric, representing a rare win on the international market for a company whose main satellite customer has been the Japanese government.

Es’hail-2 carries Ku-band capacity for television broadcasting and Ka-band capacity for connectivity to businesses and government users. It also supports the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation’s first geostationary communications capability.

Es’hailSat said that Es’hail-2, based on the DS-2000 platform, features “sophisticated anti-jamming capabilities” for its Ka-band payload — a feature of importance in the Middle East where intentional signal jamming is more common.

Es’hail-2 is Es’hailSat’s second satellite, following the 2013 launch of Es’hail-1 on a European Ariane 5 rocket. Though Es’hailSat originally split the Es’hail-1 satellite with fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris, the company bought Eutelsat’s half in August for 135 million euro ($156.1 million).

SpaceX is targeting 22 missions total for 2018, seeking to surpass last year’s personal best by four missions. Though impressive in contrast to other commercial launch providers — this year has seen eight launches from Arianespace and zero from International Launch Services — it falls short of the roughly 30 launches SpaceX envisioned at the end of last year.

SpaceX’s remaining 2018 missions, all using Falcon 9 rockets, are Spaceflight Inc.’s “SmallSat Express,” the U.S. Air Force’s first GPS 3 satellite, NASA’s CRS-16 resupply mission to the International Space Station, and the last 10 Iridium Next satellites for Iridium.