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SpaceX launches SiriusXM satellite

WorldView-3 image of F9

WASHINGTON — SpaceX successfully placed into orbit a Maxar-built satellite for for SiriusXM Satellite Radio June 6, six months after the launch of a similar satellite that later malfunctioned in orbit.

The Falcon 9 lifted off at 12:26 a.m. Eastern from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The rocket’s first stage, which previously launched the Crew-1 and Crew-2 commercial crew missions for NASA, landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean 8 minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff.

The rocket’s upper stage deployed its payload, the SXM-8 satellite, into a geostationary transfer orbit 32 minutes after liftoff.

SXM-8, which weighed nearly 7,000 kilograms at launch, is effectively identical to SXM-7, which launched in December 2020 on another Falcon 9. While that launch was successful, Maxar and SiriusXM disclosed in January that the spacecraft suffered “failures of certain SXM-7 payload units.” The companies didn’t disclosed details about the failures.

SiriusXM, in its quarterly financial results published April 28, took a $220 million charge to its net income because of what it now called the failure of the satellite. “The evaluation of SXM-7 concluded that the satellite will not function as intended, which we considered to be a triggering event,” the company stated in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). “SXM-7 was determined to be a total loss.”

While the company took a $220 million, it noted that it has insurance on the satellite valued at $225 million. SiriusXM said it planned to file a claim on SXM-7 in the second quarter. “At this time, we are unable to reliably estimate the timing and amount of insurance recoveries,” it stated in the SEC filing.

Maxar, in a May 3 quarterly report filed with the SEC, took a change of $28 million associated with the loss of SXM-7. “After exhausting efforts to fully recover the satellite and further discussions with Sirius XM, in April 2021, we made the determination to record the cumulative adjustment to revenue,” the company stated. That charge included $25 million in final milestone payments for the satellite it will not receive and $3 million to cover costs associated with efforts to recover the satellite.

SiriusXM played down the effect of the loss of SXM-7, which, along with SXM-8, were intended to replace the XM-3 and XM-4 satellites that have been in orbit since the mid-2000s. SiriusXM said in its SEC filings than it believes that XM-3 and XM-4 can continue to operate for several more years, and it has in orbit XM-5, a spare satellite launched in 2010.

Sean Sullivan, chief financial officer of SiriusXM, said in an April 28 earnings call that the company has released a request for proposals for a replacement satellite. He did not disclose the schedule for acquiring or launching that replacement satellite.

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SpaceX launches SiriusXM satellite

Falcon 9 SXM-7 launch

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched a new spacecraft for satellite radio company SiriusXM Dec. 13 as the company nears the end of a record-setting year.

The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. SpaceX scrubbed a previous launch attempt two days earlier at just 30 seconds before liftoff because of a potential, but unspecified, issue with ground systems.

The rocket’s upper stage deployed the SXM-7 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit 31 minutes after liftoff. The rocket’s first stage successfully landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. That stage made its seventh flight, having previously launched the Demo-1 commercial crew test flight, the Radarsat Constellation Mission and four sets of Starlink satellites.

SXM-7 is one of two new digital audio radio service satellites that SiriusXM ordered from Space Systems Loral (now Maxar Technologies) in 2016. The satellite, weighing nearly 7,000 kilograms at launch, will generate more than 20 kilowatts of power and deploy a large antenna that will broadcast programming for SiriusXM subscribers in North America and the Caribbean.

The satellite is intended to replace XM-3, a satellite launched in 2005 and operating at 85 degrees west in geostationary orbit. A second satellite, SXM-8, will launch in 2021 to replace XM-4 at 115 degrees west.

The launch is the 24th orbital mission in 2020 for SpaceX, the most launches the company has performed in a single year. The SXM-7 launch, though, was only the third where the primary customer was neither the U.S. government nor SpaceX itself. Fourteen Falcon 9 launches have been of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. Five have been for NASA, including commercial crew and cargo missions to the International Space Station and the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean science satellites, while two have carried GPS satellites for the U.S. Space Force. SpaceX also performed a suborbital Falcon 9 launch in January as an in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft for NASA.

Besides SXM-7, the only Falcon 9 launches for customers other than the U.S. government and SpaceX have been the July launch of the ANASIS-2 military communications satellite for South Korea and the August launch of the SAOCOM 1B radar imaging satellite for CONAE, Argentina’s space agency.

One more Falcon 9 launch is scheduled for this year, carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office on a mission designated NROL-108. That launch is scheduled for no earlier than Dec. 17.

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