Elon Musk's SpaceX is set to launch a used Falcon 9 rocket this afternoon in what will be the spaceflight company's 18th mission of 2018, just one mission short of a new record. In an increasingly routine feat, the booster's first stage fell away and flew itself back to a pinpoint touchdown on an off-shore drone ship, the company's 31st successful recovery.
The launch was witnessed by HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defence Affairs Dr Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah and Qatar's ambassador to the US Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani with other dignitaries and officials.
Despite cloudy weather, the Falcon's 9's nine Merlin 1C first stage engines flashed to life at 3:46 p.m. EST (GMT-5), throttled up to full thrust and quickly pushed the 229-foot-tall rocket straight up from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center atop a brilliant jet of flaming exhaust.
The payload was a communications satellite for the Middle East, Africa and Europe. It will provide business and government sectors with secure communications across the Middle East and North Africa region. The spacecraft has a design life in excess of 16 years.
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As its name implies, the satellite is the second Es'hail craft to launch, but it is the first dedicated exclusively to Qatari communications.
An artist's impression of the Es'hail 2 communications satellite in orbit.
Qatar's earlier Es'hail-1 satellite was deployed in August 2013 in partnership with Eutelsat, a French telecommunications operator.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 successfully landed on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean and could potentially be recycled for a third launch. The satellite will use its own power to achieve a geostationary orbit. SpaceX may have four additional flights before the end of December.