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SpaceX launches high-power Spanish communications satellite

SpaceX launched a high-power Spanish communications satellite Monday that will serve government and corporate users in the Americas, Greenland and along Atlantic Ocean air and maritime shipping corridors.

"One of the main target markets for this satellite is mobility, in particular in-flight connectivity and maritime (services)," Ignacio Sanchis, chief commercial officer of satellite owner Hispasat, told Spaceflight Now.

"We will also be providing connectivity services for governments and corporations in the fields of energy, oil and gas, etc., as well as telcos and mobile network operators in extending their cellular networks," Sanchis added.

A time exposure captures the launch of Hispasat's Amazonas Nexus communications satellite atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, arcing above a full moon as the California rocket builder chalked up its ninth flight so far this year. William Harwood/CBS News

Using a first stage making its sixth flight, the 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 roared to life at 8:32 p.m. EST and quickly shot away from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, arcing over a full moon as it disappeared from view high above the Atlantic Ocean.

Thirty-six minutes later, after dropping off the first stage and carrying out two upper stage engine firings, the rocket released Hispasat's Amazonas Nexus relay station into an elliptical orbit. Along the way, the first stage flew itself to touchdown on an off-shore landing barge.

The Amazonas Nexus satellite's on-board electric thrusters will be used over the next few weeks to circularize the orbit at an altitude of 22,300 miles above the equator. In such geosynchronous orbits, spacecraft take 24 hours to complete one orbit and thus appear to hang stationary in the sky. That, in turn, allows the use of stationary antennas on the ground.

An artist's concept of the Amazonas Nexus communications satellite in orbit showing its coverage of the Americas, Greenland and large swaths of the Atlantic Ocean. Hispasat

Built by Thales Alenia Space, the 4.5-ton Amazonas Nexus is a "high-throughput satellite," or HTS, featuring a next-generation Digital Transparent Processor, a "technological breakthrough," the company says, that will allow the satellite to be upgraded in orbit for different applications.

"Amazonas Nexus is the most advanced satellite of Hispasat's fleet," Sanchis said. "It's a very powerful HTS satellite, which incorporates (a) leading edge digital processor. So it provides a great deal of flexibility for reconfiguration of the payload."

Once checked out and stationed at 61 degrees west longitude, the satellite will serve all of the Americas, Greenland and air- and sea-corridors, focusing on mobile users and providing connectivity aboard ships, aircraft and in rural areas.

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