SpaceX launches Hispasat’s Amazonas Nexus satellite

by Sawyer Rosenstein

SpaceX has launched the Amazonas Nexus satellite for Hispasat on a Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Liftoff occurred at 8:32 PM EST on Monday, Feb. 6 (01:32 UTC on Tuesday, Feb. 7) under extremely favorable weather conditions.

Amazonas Nexus will provide communications for all of the Americas — including Greenland as well as maritime shipping corridors — and marks the first time an Amazonas satellite was launched on a Falcon 9, with previous missions flying on either Ariane 5 or Proton-M. 

The 4,500 kg satellite was launched into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and will now maneuver itself into a geostationary orbit (GEO) at the 61 degrees West GEO slot.

The Amazonas Nexus spacecraft is owned and operated by the Spanish communications company Hispasat. Formed in 1989, the company has already launched 13 satellites and currently transmits over 1,250 television channels and radio stations to more than 30 million customers.

Amazonas Nexus will join the overall fleet as a high throughput satellite, which means it utilizes the Ku and Ka bands simultaneously. As a result, it can handle more data compared to other spacecraft operating in the same spectrum.

Another significant development is its Digital Transparent Processor, which allows Hispasat to make operational changes on orbit and adapt to the needs of different markets and customers based on what data is needed.

Amazonas Nexus joins five other Amazonas satellites in orbit and is designed to replace Amazonas 2, which launched aboard an Ariane 5 in 2009. All Amazonas satellites are located at either 36 degrees West or 61 degrees West.

Specifically, Amazonas Nexus will provide coverage for all of North and South America, the North and South Atlantic Ocean corridors, and Greenland. The main target is to connect companies in remote areas, on the water, and in the air.

Artist rendering of the Amazonas Nexus satellite in orbit. (Credit: Hispasat)

The satellite was built by Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales and Leonardo in Europe. The company had previously built two satellites for Hispasat, including Hispasat 1C and 1D. 

Amazonas Nexus was built on a Spacebus NEO platform that uses electric propulsion, provides 20 kW of spacecraft power via two deployable solar arrays, and has an expected lifespan of 15 years. 

While integrated by Thales Alenia Space, Spacebus NEO was developed under a European Space Agency (ESA) Partnership Project managed jointly by ESA and the French Space Agency CNES.

Ahead of the launch, the US Space Force’s Space Systems Command disclosed that a hosted payload, named Pathfinder 2, would launch on board Amazonas Nexus.

Teams in front of the Amazonas Nexus satellite at the construction facility in France. (Credit: Hispasat)

The booster for Amazonas Nexus was B1073-6, which previously launched SES-22, three Starlink missions, and HAKUTO-R M1. The latter mission landed at Landing Zone 2 at CCSFS on Dec. 11, giving this booster less than two months between flights.

The first stage landed on the drone ship Just Read the Instructions, which recently underwent maintenance at Port Canaveral, 620 km east of the launch site. The SpaceX support ship Bob was also downrange to recover the protective payload fairings, which were jettisoned during the flight and parachuted back to the Atlantic Ocean. Bob was already out at sea retrieving fairings for the Starlink 5-3 mission and could potentially return to Port Canaveral with four fairing halves instead of just two.

The mission followed a traditional Falcon 9 countdown. At T-35 minutes before liftoff, equipment at the launch pad began to load both stages of Falcon 9 with RP-1 fuel, a type of refined kerosene. At the same time, liquid oxygen (LOX), the oxidizer for the Falcon fleet of rockets, began loading into the first stage.

At T-1 minute, Falcon 9 entered “startup,” meaning the onboard computers have full control of the countdown as the propellant tanks are pressurized for flight. At T-3 seconds, the command was given to ignite the nine Merlin 1D engines at the base of the first stage, leading to liftoff at T0.

A little over a minute into the flight, Falcon 9 experienced the maximum dynamic pressure on the vehicle, known as Max-Q.

Almost two and a half minutes into the mission, a series of events happened in quick succession. The first stage engines experienced main engine cutoff (MECO), followed four seconds later by separation of the first and second stages. About seven seconds after that, the second stage engine started.

Three and a half minutes into the flight, the fairing halves separated and began their journey back towards the Atlantic Ocean for recovery so they can be used again on an upcoming flight.

The first stage then performed two burns, with the second gently landing the vehicle on top of Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean nearly eight and a half minutes after taking off.

Meanwhile, the Merlin Vacuum engine experienced second stage engine cutoff, or SECO-1, a little more than eight minutes and 10 seconds into the mission.

The second stage lit its engine once more at T+26 minutes 41 seconds for a burn lasting just over a minute that raised the orbit’s apogee to the desired altitude for the mission.

Thrity-five minutes after launch, Hispasat’s Amazonas Nexus was deploy into GTO.

This launch marked SpaceX’s eighth Falcon 9 launch this year, and the ninth overall launch of 2023 when including Falcon Heavy.

(Lead image: Falcon 9 lofts Amazonas Nexus into a geostationary transfer orbit on Feb. 6, 2023. Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF)

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