SpaceX Launched RazakSAT. Wait, What?

26 October 2012 by Troy McConaghy, posted in Spaceflight

SpaceX Entrance

SpaceX was in the news recently when their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft brought supplies to the International Space Station. The supplies included materials to support over 100 experiments. Can you name the first successful SpaceX launch with a science-oriented payload?

Their first rocket was the Falcon 1 and its first three launches were failures. Launch 4 delivered Ratsat, a nonfunctional boilerplate spacecraft, to low earth orbit (LEO). The fifth Falcon 1 launch delivered a satellite named RazakSAT to LEO.


RazakSAT was launched into in a near-equatorial low earth orbit on July 14, 2009. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, told Spaceflight Now, "We nailed the orbit to well within target parameters… pretty much a bullseye."

"We nailed the orbit to well within target parameters… pretty much a bullseye."

RazakSAT launch

The Falcon 1 launch that carried RazakSAT to LEO


RazakSAT is Malaysia's second remote sensing satellite. (The first was Tiung SAT.)

While the RazakSAT launch went well, things took a turn for the worse… For example, there were problems pointing the camera. According to the Malaysian Auditor-General's report, one image was supposed to capture an area in Sungai Buhloh and Subang, but the camera "missed by 37km and captured Kuala Selangor [instead]."

"[the camera] missed by 37km and captured Kuala Selangor [instead]."

Oh dear. Surely some images must have turned out okay, right? By August, 2010 there were 1,328 high-resolution images. Unfortunately, they "could not be used for the project's stated objective of providing remote information for land development, forestry and fish migration."

Maybe they fixed pointing problems in August, 2010? Nope. According to the report, "…the RazakSAT satellite failed to function fully on August 30, 2010…" and I gather it hasn't worked properly since. (It was supposed to work for three years or more.)

I would summarize the RazakSAT mission like so: "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that RazakSAT got into the right orbit. The bad news is that RazakSAT didn't work, and then it died."

Just to be clear: SpaceX didn't design or operate RazakSAT. They just launched it. They did their job; someone else did not.

The fifth Falcon 1 launch was also the last Falcon 1 launch. It has been "retired." (I'm not sure what that means. Is it collecting a pension and playing bridge in Arizona?) There's an upgraded design called Falcon 1e, but all missions that had been scheduled to launch on a Falcon 1 or Falcon 1e are now launching on a Falcon 9.

I'll write more about the Falcon 9 in the future.

Photo Credits

The photo of the SpaceX entrance is by brunosan on Flickr and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The photo of the RazakSAT launch was provided for the media on the SpaceX website.

About this Blog

Outer Spacing is a blog about space exploration and development. It's written by Troy McConaghy (@TroyMc on Twitter).


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