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The competition heats up: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched its first two-satellite payload to geosynchronouse orbit on Sunday.
The satellites were unusual in that they both have replaced all their chemical engines with ion engines, thus saving weight and cost.
While the satellites will need six to seven times longer to reach the desired orbit, the cost savings is enormous. “The advantage of that, of course, is you don’t carry liquid chemical fuel, which is very heavy,” Betaharon said. “This particular satellite, each of them weigh around 2,000 kilograms. Typically, if you get a satellite like that from other manufacturers, or even from Boeing using chemical propulsion, they would weigh something around 3,500 to 4,000 kilograms, or in some cases maybe more. That’s why, because it’s lower mass, we managed to put two of them on one rocket, which right away reduces your launch costs in half.”
When ABS and Eutelsat signed up for Falcon 9 launch services several years ago, the rocket cost about $60 million. “We paid under $30 million for each satellite, which is almost unheard of,” Betaharon said.
More information about the new satellite designs can be found here.
Nonetheless, the combined weight of the two satellites plus the need to get them to geosynchronous orbit forced SpaceX to forgo another attempt to land its first stage vertical. The rocket needed the fuel to get the satellites where they had to go.