Galaxy 33 & 34 | Falcon 9 Block 5

Lift Off Time
October 08, 2022 – 23:05 UTC | 19:05 EDT
Mission Name
Galaxy 33 & 34, two telecommunication satellites
Launch Provider
(What rocket company launched it?)
SpaceX
Customer
(Who paid for this?)
Intelsat
Rocket
Falcon 9 Block 5, B1060-14; 113.29 day turnaround time
Launch Location
Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, USA
Payload mass
Unknown, ~3,500 kg each
Where did the satellites go?
Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO)
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
Yes
Where did the first stage land?
~663 km downrange on A Shortfall of Gravitas

Tug: Kurt Crosby; Support: Bob
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
The fairing halves were recovered from the water ~760 km downrange by Bob
Were these fairings new?
No, both fairing halves were flying for the fifth time
This was the:
– 180th Falcon 9 launch
– 117th Falcon 9 flight with a flight-proven booster
– 121st re-flight of a booster
– 43rd re-flight of a booster in 2022
– 146th booster landing
– 72nd consecutive landing (a record)
– 46th launch for SpaceX in 2022 (a record)
– 99th SpaceX launch from 
SLC-40
– 132nd orbital launch attempt of 2022
(128th successful)
Where to watch
Official Replay

How Did It Go?

SpaceX successfully launched two communication satellites to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) for Intelsat. The Galaxy 33 & 34 satellites were launched from SpaceX’s launch pad Space Launch Complex 40, at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, in Florida, USA. Following deployment from the second stage, the satellites will spend the coming months raising their orbits to their operational orbit in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO). It is expected that the satellites will be operational by November 2022.

What are the Galaxy 33 & 34 satellites?

The Galaxy 33 & 34 satellites are replacements for Intelsat’s aging satellites in 133º and 129º GEO slots, respectively. Each of these satellites are C-band-only communication satellites, allowing the satellites to service North America with television broadcasting.

The satellites are thought to be based on the GEOStar-3 satellite Bus and is equipped with the IHI BT-4 propulsion module. Built by the Japanese company IHI aerospace, the BT-4 is a pressure-fed engine that runs on N2O4 and Hydrazine. It produces 500 N of thrust in a vacuum with an ISP of ~320 seconds. This engine is also used on Cygnus and HTV — two ISS resupply vehicles.

The Galaxy 33 satellite being prepared for shipping (Credit: Intelsat)

These satellites are a part of Intelsat order of six new satellites: four of which will be built by Maxar Technologies and two which will be built by Northrop Grumman. If all of these satellites are operational by December 5, 2023, Intelsat will receive $4.87 billion from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in the FCC’s attempts to clear the 300 MHz spectrum, which is used in cellular 5G networks.

The satellites have an expected lifespan of 15 years, and they are powered by two deployable solar arrays and batteries. While neither Intelsat or Maxar have released the mass of the satellite, it is expected that the satellite masses roughly 3,500 kg based on previous satellites and the Falcon 9’s performance.

What Is Falcon 9 Block 5?

The Falcon 9 Block 5 is SpaceX’s partially reusable two-stage medium-lift launch vehicle. The vehicle consists of a reusable first stage, an expendable second stage, and, when in payload configuration, a pair of reusable fairing halves.

First Stage

The Falcon 9 first stage contains 9 Merlin 1D+ sea level engines. Each engine uses an open gas generator cycle and runs on RP-1 and liquid oxygen (LOx). Each engine produces 845 kN of thrust at sea level, with a specific impulse (ISP) of 285 seconds, and 934 kN in a vacuum with an ISP of 313 seconds. Due to the powerful nature of the engine, and the large amount of them, the Falcon 9 first stage is able to lose an engine right off the pad, or up to two later in flight, and be able to successfully place the payload into orbit.

The Merlin engines are ignited by triethylaluminum and triethylborane (TEA-TEB), which instantaneously burst into flames when mixed in the presence of oxygen. During static fire and launch the TEA-TEB is provided by the ground service equipment. However, as the Falcon 9 first stage is able to propulsively land, three of the Merlin engines (E1, E5, and E9) contain TEA-TEB canisters to relight for the boost back, reentry, and landing burns.

Second Stage

The Falcon 9 second stage is the only expendable part of the Falcon 9. It contains a singular MVacD engine that produces 992 kN of thrust and an ISP of 348 seconds. The second stage is capable of doing several burns, allowing the Falcon 9 to put payloads in several different orbits.

For missions with many burns and/or long coasts between burns, the second stage is able to be equipped with a mission extension package. When the second stage has this package it has a grey strip, which helps keep the RP-1 warm, an increased number of composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) for pressurization control, and additional TEA-TEB.

falcon 9 block 5, launch
Falcon 9 Block 5 launching on the Starlink V1.0 L27 mission (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 Booster

The booster that supported the Galaxy 33 & 34 mission is B1060, which had supported thirteen previous flights. Hence, its designation for this mission was B1060-14; this changed to B1060-15 upon successful landing.

B1060’s missionsLaunch Date (UTC)Turn Around Time (Days)
GPS III SV03June 30, 2020 20:10N/A
Starlink V1.0 L11September 3, 2020 12:4664.69
Starlink V1.0 L14October 24, 2020 15:3151.11
Türksat-5AJanuary 8, 2021 02:1575.45
Starlink V1.0 L18February 4, 2021 06:1927.17
Starlink V1.0 L22March 24, 2021 08:2848.09
Starlink V1.0 L24April 29, 2021 03:4438.50
Transporter-2June 30, 2021 19:3162.66
Starlink Group 4-3December 2, 2022 23:12155.15
Starlink Group 4-6January 19, 2022 02:0247.22
Starlink Group 4-9March 3, 2022 14:3543.52
Starlink Group 4-14April 21, 2022 17:5149.14
Starlink Group 4-19June 17, 2022 16:0956.93
Galaxy 33 & 34October 8, 23:05113.29

Following stage separation, the Falcon 9 conducted two burns. These burns softly touched down the booster on SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas.

falcon 9 booster, landing, drone ship
Falcon 9 landing on Of Course I Still Love You after launching Bob and Doug (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 Fairings

The Falcon 9’s fairing consists of two dissimilar reusable halves. The first half (the half that faces away from the transport erector) is called the active half, and houses the pneumatics for the separation system. The other fairing half is called the passive half. As the name implies, this half plays a purely passive role in the fairing separation process, as it relies on the pneumatics from the active half.

Both fairing halves are equipped with cold gas thrusters and a parafoil which are used to softly touch down the fairing half in the ocean. SpaceX used to attempt to catch the fairing halves, however, at the end of 2020 this program was canceled due to safety risks and a low success rate. On Galaxy 33 & 34, SpaceX attempted to recover the fairing halves from the water with their recovery vessel Bob.

In 2021, SpaceX started flying a new version of the Falcon 9 fairing. The new “upgraded” version has vents only at the top of each fairing half, by the gap between the halves, whereas the old version had vents placed spread equidistantly around the base of the fairing. Moving the vents decreases the chance of water getting into the fairing, making the chance of a successful scoop significantly higher.

All times are approximate

HR/MIN/SECEVENT
00:38:00SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load
00:35:00RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway
00:35:001st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway
00:16:002nd stage LOX loading underway
00:07:00Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
00:01:00Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks
00:01:00Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins
00:00:45SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
00:00:03Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
00:00:00Falcon 9 liftoff

Galaxy 33 & 34 Launch, Landing, and Deployment

All times are approximate

HR/MIN/SECEVENT
00:01:12Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
00:02:331st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:02:371st and 2nd stages separate
00:03:25Fairing deployment
00:06:271st stage entry burn begins
00:06:481st stage entry burn completes
00:08:152nd stage engine cutoff (SECO)
00:08:181st stage landing burn begins
00:08:401st stage landing
00:26:192nd stage engine restarts (SES-2)
00:27:062nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
00:32:57Galaxy 33 deploys
00:38:07Galaxy 34 deploys

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