SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon CRS-6 set for April 13 Launch to ISS and Historic Landing Attempt

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Now just a day away, all systems are “GO” for blastoff of the next SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon CRS-6 cargo capsule on Monday, April 13, on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and a near simultaneous historic attempt to soft land the boosters first stage on a barge in a remote area of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of miles offshore from the US eastern seaboard.

In advance of Mondays launch attempt, SpaceX engineers successfully completed the practice countdown dress rehearsal and required static fire engine test this afternoon, Saturday, April 11, to ensure everything is ready with the rocket and first Stage Merlin 1-D engines for a safe and successful mission to the orbiting outpost.

The Dragon capsule has already been loaded with most of the cargo bound for the space station and was mated to the Falcon 9 booster earlier this week.

Although it is raining heavily now around the Florida Space Coast region along with multiple tornado warning threats, NASA and SpaceX officials are hopeful that weather conditions will clear sufficiently to permit Monday’s planned launch.

U.S. Air Force weather forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron currently rate the chances of favorable conditions at launch time as 60 percent GO for liftoff of the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission (CRS-6) to the ISS.

Static fire engine test completed on April 11, 2015 in advance of April 13 launch attempt to the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX
Static fire engine test completed on April 11, 2015 in advance of April 13 launch attempt to the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX and NASA are targeting blastoff of the Falcon 9 and Dragon CRS-6 spacecraft for Monday, April 13, slated at approximately 4:33 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA Television plans live launch coverage starting at 3:30 p.m EDT: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

SpaceX also plans live launch coverage beginning at 4:15pm EDT: www.spacex.com/webcast

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that the rocket must liftoff at the precisely appointed time. Any delays due to weather or technical factors will force a scrub.

If all goes well with Mondays launch attempt, the Dragon spacecraft will rendezvous with the Earth orbiting outpost Wednesday, April 15, after a two day orbital chase.

In the event of a scrub for any reason, the backup launch day is 24 hours later on Tuesday, April 14, at approximately 4:10 p.m.

The Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs and grid fins to enable the landing attempt, which is a secondary objective of SpaceX. Cargo delivery to the station is the overriding primary objective and the entire reason for the CRS-6 mission.

The SpaceX plan is to direct the spent 1st stage on a precision guided rocket assisted descent from high altitude to accomplish a pinpoint soft landing onto a tiny platform in the middle of a vast ocean.

The ocean-going barge is known as the ‘autonomous spaceport drone ship’ (ASDS). It is being positioned some 200 to 250 miles offshore of the Carolina’s in the Atlantic Ocean along the rockets flight path flying along the US Northeast coast to match that of the ISS.

The ASDS measures only 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 6, 2015. File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

This marks the 2nd attempt by SpaceX to recovery the 14 story tall Falcon 9 first stage booster on the ASDS barge.

The first attempt in January during the CRS-5 mission was largely successful, as I wrote earlier at Universe Today, despite making a ‘hard landing’ on the ASDS. The booster did make it to the drone ship, positioned some 200 miles offshore of the Florida-Carolina coast, northeast of the launch site in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket broke into pieces upon hitting the barge.

Overall CRS-6 is the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission and the seventh trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the station since 2012.

CRS-6 marks the company’s sixth operational resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Dragon is packed with more than 4,300 pounds (1915 kilograms) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the six person Expedition 43 and 44 crews serving aboard the ISS.

Dragon cargo vessel ready for mating to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for CRS-6 mission launch to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for April 13, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Dragon cargo vessel ready for mating to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for CRS-6 mission launch to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for April 13, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

The ship will remain berthed at the ISS for about five weeks.

The ISS cannot function without regular deliveries of fresh cargo by station partners from Earth.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of the CRS-6 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Dragon cargo vessel being mated to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for CRS-6 mission launch to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for April 13, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Dragon cargo vessel being mated to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for CRS-6 mission launch to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for April 13, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

………….

Learn more about SpaceX, Mars rovers, Orion, Antares, MMS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Apr 11-13: “SpaceX, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, MMS, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Apr 18/19: “Curiosity explores Mars” and “NASA Human Spaceflight programs” – NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club

NOAA/NASA/USAF Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Launching Feb. 8 to Monitor Solar Winds

The long awaited Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR science satellite is slated to blast off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sunday, Feb. 8, from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a mission to monitor the solar wind and aid very important forecasts of space weather at Earth.

DSCOVR is a joint mission between NOAA, NASA, and the U.S Air Force (USAF) that will be managed by NOAA. The satellite and science instruments are provided by NASA and NOAA.

Update Feb 8: Hold, Hold, Hold !!! 6:10 PM 2/8/15 Terminal Count aborted at T Minus 2 min 26 sec due to a tracking issue. NO launch of Falcon 9 today. rocket being safed now. next launch opportunity is Monday. Still TBD.

The rocket is provided by the USAF. SpaceX will try to recover the first stage via a guided descent to a floating barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

The weather outlook is currently very promising with a greater than 90 percent chance of favorable weather at launch time shortly after sunset on Sunday which could make for a spectacular viewing opportunity for spectators surrounding the Florida Space coast.

Liftoff atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is targeted for at 6:10:12 p.m. EST on Feb. 8, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40.

There is an instantaneous launch window, meaning that any launch delay due to weather, technical or other factors will force a scrub to Monday.

The launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

NASA’s DSCOVR launch blog coverage of countdown and liftoff will begin at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room. Solar wind instruments at right. DSCOVER will launch in February 2015 atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/AmericaSpace
NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room. Solar wind instruments at right. DSCOVER will launch in February 2015 atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/AmericaSpace

“DSCOVR is NOAA’s first operational space weather mission to deep space,” said Stephen Volz, assistant administrator of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the pre-launch briefing today (Feb. 7) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The mission of DSCOVR is vital because its solar wind observations are crucial to maintaining accurate space weather forecasts to protect US infrastructure from disruption by approaching solar storms.

“DSCOVR will maintain the nation’s solar wind observations, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of NOAA’s space weather alerts, forecasts, and warnings,” according to a NASA description.

“Space weather events like geomagnetic storms caused by changes in solar wind can affect public infrastructure systems, including power grids, telecommunications systems, and aircraft avionics.”

DSCOVR will replace NASA’s aging Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite which is nearly 20 years old and far beyond its original design lifetime.

The couch sized probe is being targeted to the L1 Lagrange Point, a neutral gravity point that lies on the direct line between Earth and the sun located 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) sunward from Earth. At L1 the gravity between the sun and Earth is perfectly balanced and the satellite will orbit about that spot just like a planet.

L1 is a perfect place for the science because it lies outside Earth’s magnetic environment. The probe will measure the constant stream of solar wind particles from the sun as they pass by.

Diagram of the five Lagrange points associated with the sun-Earth system, showing DSCOVR orbiting the L-1 point. Image is not to scale.  Credit:  NASA/WMAP Science Team
Diagram of the five Lagrange points associated with the sun-Earth system, showing DSCOVR orbiting the L-1 point. Image is not to scale. Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team

This will enable forecasters to give a 15 to 60 minute warning of approaching geomagnetic storms that could damage valuable infrastructure.

DSCOVR is equipped with a suite of four continuously operating solar science and Earth science instruments from NASA and NOAA.

It will make simultaneous scientific observations of the solar wind and the entire sunlit side of Earth.

Three instruments will help measure the solar wind on the DSCOVR mission: (shown from left to right), the Faraday cup to monitor the speed and direction of positively-charged solar wind particles, the electron spectrometer to monitor electrons, and a magnetometer to measure magnetic fields.  Credit: NASA/DSCOVR
Three instruments will help measure the solar wind on the DSCOVR mission: (shown from left to right), the Faraday cup to monitor the speed and direction of positively-charged solar wind particles, the electron spectrometer to monitor electrons, and a magnetometer to measure magnetic fields. Credit: NASA/DSCOVR

The 750-kilogram DSCOVR probe measures 54 inches by 72 inches.

I saw the DSCOVR spacecraft up close at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland last fall during processing in the clean room.

NOAA/NASA/USAF Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room.  Probe will launch in February atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NOAA/NASA/USAF Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room. Probe will launch in February atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

A secondary objective of the rocket launch for SpaceX is to conduct their second attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage booster on an ocean going barge. Read my articles about the first attempt in January 2015, starting here.

It was originally named ‘Triana’ (aka Goresat) and was conceived by then US Vice President Al Gore as a low cost satellite to take near continuous views of the Earth’s entire globe to feed to the internet as a means of motivating students to study math and science. It was eventually built as a much more capable Earth science satellite as well as to conduct the space weather observations.

But Triana was shelved for purely partisan political reasons and the satellite was placed into storage and the science was lost until now.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The team is ready for the launch of NASA's DSCOVR spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. L/R Mike Curie KSC NASA News Chief, Stephen Volz, assistant administrator NOAA, Tom Berger, director of NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center Boulder Colorado,Steven Clark, NASA Joint Agency Satellite Division, Col. D. Jason Cothern, Space Demonstration Division chief at Kirkland AFB NM. Hans Koenigsmann, VP of mission assurance at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, Mike McAlaneen, launch weather officer 45th Space wing Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Credit: Julian Leek
The team is ready for the launch of NASA’s DSCOVR spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. L/R Mike Curie KSC NASA News Chief, Stephen Volz, assistant administrator NOAA, Tom Berger, director of NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center Boulder Colorado,Steven Clark, NASA Joint Agency Satellite Division, Col. D. Jason Cothern, Space Demonstration Division chief at Kirkland AFB NM. Hans Koenigsmann, VP of mission assurance at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, Mike McAlaneen, launch weather officer 45th Space wing Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

Drone Ship at Sea Preparing for Bold SpaceX Rocket Recovery Landing Attempt

Aiming to one day radically change the future of the rocket business, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has a bold vision unlike any other in a historic attempt to recover and reuse rockets set for Jan. 6 with the goal of dramatically reducing the enormous costs of launching anything into space.

Towards the bold vision of rocket reusability, SpaceX dispatched the “autonomous spaceport drone ship” sailing at sea towards a point where Musk hopes it will serve as an ocean going landing platform for the first stage of his firm’s Falcon 9 rocket after it concludes its launch phase to the International Space Station (ISS).

“Drone spaceport ship heads to its hold position in the Atlantic to prepare for a rocket landing,” tweeted Musk today (Jan. 5) along with a photo of the drone ship underway (see above).

The history making and daring experimental landing is planned to take place in connection with the Tuesday, Jan. 6, liftoff of the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon cargo freighter bound for the ISS on a critical resupply mission for NASA.

No one has ever tried such a landing attempt before in the ocean says SpaceX. The company has conducted numerous successful soft landing tests on land. And several soft touchdowns on the ocean’s surface. But never before on a barge in the ocean.

The “autonomous spaceport drone ship” departed the port of Jacksonville, FL, on Saturday, heading to a point somewhere around 200 to 250 miles or so off the US East coast in a northeasterly direction coinciding with the flight path of the rocket.

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket will attempt precison landing on this autonomous spaceport drone ship soon after launch set for Dec. 19, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket will attempt precision landing on this autonomous spaceport drone ship soon after launch set for January 6, 2015, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-5 mission is slated to blast off at 6:20 am EST, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Falcon 9 and Dragon have gone vertical in advance of the 6:20am ET launch on Jan. 6, 2015. Credit: SpaceX.
Falcon 9 and Dragon have gone vertical in advance of the 6:20 am ET launch on Jan. 6, 2015. Credit: SpaceX.

The absolute overriding goal of the mission is to safely deliver NASA’s contracted payload to the ISS, emphasized Hans Koenigsmann, VP of Mission Assurance, SpaceX, at a media briefing today (Jan. 5) at the Kennedy Space Center. Landing on the off shore barge is just a secondary objective of SpaceX, not NASA, he repeated several times.

The Dragon CRS-5 spacecraft is loaded with over 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing, and assorted research gear for the six person crew serving aboard the ISS.

Koenigsmann estimated the odds of success at the landing attempt at about 50% at best according to an estimate from Musk himself.

“It’s an experiment. There’s a certain likelihood that this will not work out right, that something will go wrong.”

The two stage Falcon 9 and Dragon stands 207.8 feet (63.3 meters) tall and is 12 feet in diameter. The first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1D engines that generate 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level and rises to 1.5 million pounds of thrust as the Falcon 9 climbs out of the atmosphere, according to a SpaceX fact sheet.

The first stage Merlins will fire for three minutes until the planned engine shutdown and main engine cutoff known as MECO, said Koenigsmann.

The rocket will be in space at an altitude of over 100 miles zooming upwards at 1300 m/s (nearly 1 mi/s).

Then, a single Merlin 1D will be commanded to re-fire for three separate times to stabilize and lower the rocket during the barge landing attempt.

Four hypersonic grid fins had been added to the first stage and placed in an X-wing configuration. They will be deployed only during the reentry attempt and will be used to roll, pitch, and yaw the rocket in concert with gamboling of the engines.

It will take about nine minutes from launch until the first stage reaches the barge, said Koenigsmann. That’s about the same time it takes for Dragon to reach orbit.

He added that, depending on the internet connectivity, SpaceX may or may not know the outcome in real time.

Testing operation of Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) launching on next Falcon 9 flight, CRS-5.   Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
Testing operation of Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) launching on next Falcon 9 flight, CRS-5. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

Here’s a description from SpaceX:

“To help stabilize the stage and to reduce its speed, SpaceX relights the engines for a series of three burns. The first burn—the boostback burn—adjusts the impact point of the vehicle and is followed by the supersonic retro propulsion burn that, along with the drag of the atmosphere, slows the vehicle’s speed from 1300 m/s to about 250 m/s. The final burn is the landing burn, during which the legs deploy and the vehicle’s speed is further.”

“To complicate matters further, the landing site is limited in size and not entirely stationary. The autonomous spaceport drone ship is 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet. While that may sound huge at first, to a Falcon 9 first stage coming from space, it seems very small. The legspan of the Falcon 9 first stage is about 70 feet and while the ship is equipped with powerful thrusters to help it stay in place, it is not actually anchored, so finding the bullseye becomes particularly tricky. During previous attempts, we could only expect a landing accuracy of within 10km. For this attempt, we’re targeting a landing accuracy of within 10 meters.”

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, briefs reporters, including Universe Today, in Cocoa Beach, FL, prior to a previous SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

The cargo delivery is the entire point of the CRS-5 mission.

The official CRS-5 Mission Patch
The official CRS-5 Mission Patch

The weather odds have improved to 70% GO from 60% GO reported Major Perry Sweat, 45th Weather Squadron rep, USAF, at the briefing today at the Kennedy Space Center.

Following the catastrophic failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter on Oct. 28 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Antares launches are on hold.

Therefore the US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX.

NASA Television live launch coverage begins at 5 a.m. EST on Jan. 6 at: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/

SpaceX also will webcast the launch at: http://www.spacex.com/webcast/

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 6, 2015. File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 6, 2015. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com