SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has conducted its third flight of the year on Thursday, March 16, 2017. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rumbled from Kennedy Space Center early Thursday and delivered a commercial communications satellite into orbit.
The 229-foot rocket lifted off into a clear, dark sky at 2 a.m. and deployed the EchoStar 23 satellite 34 minutes later on its way to an orbit 22,300 miles over the equator.
The rocket needed all its fuel to lift the more than 12,300-pound satellite to a high orbit, so SpaceX did not try to land the Falcon booster, which was not equipped with landing legs.
The launch was SpaceX's second from historic pad 39A at KSC, from which astronauts first launched to the surface of the moon on Apollo 11 in 1969.
After launching International Space Station supplies for NASA last month, Thursday's mission was the first launch from the NASA spaceport of a commercial rocket carrying a commercial satellite.
Englewood, Colorado-based EchoStar Corp. will use EchoStar 23 to provide deliver direct-to-home television service to Brazil. Built by Space Systems Loral, the satellite is designed to operate for at least 15 years.
The mission continued SpaceX's rebound from a Falcon 9 explosion last September during a test on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40.
SpaceX changed how it loads high-pressure helium tanks, and the Falcon returned to flight in January with a launch of Iridium Communications satellites from California.
Falcon 9 now has launched successfully three times this year and 30 times overall since its debut in 2010. SpaceX hopes to continue launching as often as every two or three weeks.
The company's next mission, possibly in late March or early April, will be among its most closely watched. It will be the first re-launch of a Falcon booster recovered from a previous mission, tasked this time with lifting a commercial communications satellite for Luxembourg-based SES.
A successful flight would prove that Falcon rockets can be reused - an essential advance, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes, needed to lower launch costs and one day send people to Mars.
The EchoStar mission lifted off on its second attempt. Strong winds scrubbed a first try on Tuesday, and pushed backThursday's targeted liftoff time by 25 minutes.
The Eastern Range could see smoke and fire again as soon asSaturday evening, with United Launch Alliance targeting a 7:44 p.m. launch of a military communications satellite on a Delta IV rocket.
ULA hopes to follow that next week with a launch of space station supplies on an Atlas V rocket. The mission is scheduled for around 9 a.m. next Friday, March 24, but would move up a day toThursday, March 23, if the range becomes available.