* Rocket carries communications satellite owned by SES
* Seventh flight of company's Falcon 9 booster
* SpaceX has backlog of nearly 50 launches, worth $4 billion
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Dec 3 An unmanned Falcon 9
rocket developed by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX,
blasted off on Tuesday to put its first commercial satellite
into orbit, staking a potentially game-changing claim in a
global industry worth nearly $190 billion a year.
The 22-story rocket lifted off from its seaside launch pad
at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:41 p.m.
Two previous launch attempts last week were scuttled by
technical glitches, including a last-second abort on Thursday.
Engineers later discovered oxygen inside the rocket's
ground-based engine igniter system.
Perched on top of the rocket was a 7,000-pound (3,175 kg)
communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES S.A.
, which operates a 54-satellite fleet, the world's
"I'd like to thank SES for taking a chance on SpaceX,"
company founder and chief executive Elon Musk posted on Twitter
an hour before the launch. "We've given it our all."
About 30 minutes after liftoff, the satellite, known as SES-8
and worth more than $100 million, was in an elliptical orbit
that reached more than 50,000 miles (80,000 km) from Earth,
about a quarter of the way to the moon.
From there, SES-8 will maneuver itself down to a circular,
22,369-mile (36,000-km) high orbit to provide television,
broadband and other communications services to customers in
India, China, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia.
The delivery of the SES-8 satellite "confirms the upgraded
Falcon 9 launch vehicle delivers to the industry's highest
performance standards," Musk said in a statement after the
"We appreciate SES's early confidence in SpaceX and look
forward to launching additional SES satellites in the years to
come," he said.
SES-8 is the first commercial communications satellite to be
launched from Cape Canaveral in four years.
In the 1980s, the United States dominated the commercial
launch industry, now worth about $6.5 billion a year, a report
by the Satellite Industry Association trade organization showed.
The global satellite industry overall had revenues of nearly
$190 billion in 2012, including nearly $90 billion in television
services alone, the trade group said.
"It's an extremely important satellite for us," Martin
Halliwell, chief technology officer of SES, told reporters
before the launch.
"We know that as we go forward into these very significant
growth markets that it's absolutely critical that we have a
cost-effective and efficient way to get to orbit. That's really
what SpaceX has brought us," Halliwell said.
Previous SES satellites were launched primarily aboard
Russian Proton and European Ariane rockets, which cost far more
than the approximately $55 million the company paid for its ride
on SpaceX's Falcon booster, he said.
Halliwell would not say exactly how much SpaceX undercut the
competition, but did say SES received a discount by agreeing to
fly on Falcon 9's first mission to high orbits used by
In addition to a Sept. 29 test flight of an upgraded Falcon
9, older versions of the rocket flew five times successfully,
including three missions for NASA to deliver cargo to the
International Space Station, which orbits about 250 miles (about
400 km) above Earth.
SpaceX's launch schedule includes nearly 50 missions, worth
about $4 billion. About 75 percent of the flights are for
The company needs one more successful launch of its upgraded
Falcon rocket to be eligible to compete to carry the U.S.
military's largest and most expensive satellites, a market now
monopolized by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing
and Lockheed Martin.