SpaceX Falcon 9 Koreasat 5A launch
SpaceX's Falcon 9 Koreasat-5A launch. Credit: SpaceX webcast

WASHINGTON — SpaceX’s Oct. 30 launch of the Koreasat-5A telecommunications satellite doubled the number of Falcon 9 missions completed in a single year and ties the company with United Launch Alliance’s record of 16 launches in one year.

The successful mission took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:34 p.m. Eastern, deploying the satellite 36 minutes after liftoff. The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage booster overcame choppier waters from tropical storm Philippe to land on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” nine minutes later in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Hawthorne, California-based launch services provider has now matched ULA’s most active year — 2009 — where the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture launched five Atlas 5s, eight Delta 2s and three Delta 4s (including one Delta 4 Heavy).

SpaceX and ULA now compete head-to-head in ULA’s core market of government and defense missions, with SpaceX increasingly gaining share of a previously monopolized market. Lower prices have helped SpaceX expand its U.S. government customer base. Two NASA contracts awarded last week — Sentinel-6A for a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission and Landsat-9 for a ULA Atlas 5 mission — were worth $97 million and $153.8 million respectively.

In the commercial sector, SpaceX charges $62 million for a normal Falcon 9 mission, and now commands a substantial share of global business. SpaceX has topped the maximum annual launch records of Russia’s Proton rocket — 14 missions, six of which were government-led — and Arianespace — 12 missions split between six Ariane 5, three Soyuz and three Vega.

One notable difference is that Arianespace launches two satellites on most Ariane 5 missions, while the vast majority of Falcon 9s launch one satellite at a time. Proton is also capable of dual-launches, but has only done so for Russian government missions, not commercial.

SpaceX has more missions on its manifest before 2017 is complete, including the recently announced secretive Zuma mission, a space station resupply mission, an Iridium launch and the Falcon Heavy debut.  

For Koreasat, a new maritime presence

Koreasat-5A is the second satellite launched this year for South Korean satellite operator KT Sat, following an Ariane 5 dual launch of Koreasat-7 and Brazil’s SGDC satellite in May. The new spacecraft replaces Koreasat-5, which is only 11 years old, but lost capacity early due to a solar array drive mechanism malfunction. Most geostationary telecom satellites last for 15 years.

The solar glitch didn’t stop KT Sat from returning to that manufacturer, Thales Alenia Space, for both Koreasat-7 and Koreasat-5A.

Unique to Koreasat-5A is an expanded maritime footprint over the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and East China Sea. KT Sat has for years desired to have a larger international presence, and views connecting boats as a way to further that goal. In August KT Sat forged a distribution agreement with Tokyo-based Hun’s Corp. to bring the operator’s maritime VSAT product, MVSAT, to the Japanese market.

KT Sat also signed a capacity lease with Mongolian broadcaster DDish TV for an eighth of the capacity on Koreasat-5A.

Koreasat-5A reaches Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and the Middle East from 113 degrees east, carrying 12 Ku-band 36MHz transponders and 24 Ku-band 54MHz transponders. The satellite supports television broadcasts, internet access and network backhaul. KT Sat’s total fleet consists of Koreasat-6, Koreasat-7, the ABS-2/Koreasat-8 condosat, Koreasat-5A, and, for as long as it lasts, Koreasat-5.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...