Tonight's SpaceX Launch Is A Big Commercial Space Gambit

Elon Musk's little space company just keeps getting bigger.

By now we're used to reading headlines about SpaceX and its missions to the International Space Station, or its plans to fly astronauts into orbit. Today, shortly after 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time, SpaceX is trying something perhaps even bigger than all that: It is launching a Falcon 9 rocket to put a communications satellite called SES-8 into an orbit and take up a geostationary position above India and the East. When it's in position, the satellite will serve up TV signals to SES's mostly Indian customers.

Today's launch is technically very tricky, and though the satellite will adjust its velocities itself to achieve a final orbit, SpaceX's systems have to get it on a precise trajectory that requires several restarts of the rocket in space. SpaceX's chief offering is that its prices are much lower than its competition.

This kind of launch is a bold step for SpaceX, because if it works, it places the company on an even more level footing with established commercial space launchers like Europe's Ariane, or the U.S.'s Atlas and Delta family.

The launch window is open between 5:37 p.m. and 6:42 p.m., Florida time.

[Image: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]

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