SpaceX Ramps Up; Reused SpaceX BulgariaSat-1 Booster Arrives in Port as Next Falcon 9 Test Fires for July 2 Intelsat Launch – Gallery

What a magnificent space sight to behold ! Cruise Ships and Recycled Rockets float side by side in Port Canaveral after recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage from BulgariaSat-1 launch from KSC on 23 June floats into port atop droneship on 29 June 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The launch cadence at Elon Musk’s SpaceX is truly ramping up with Falcon 9 boosters rapidly coming and going in all directions from ground to space as the firm audaciously sets its sight on a third commercial payload orbital launch on July 2 in the span of just 9 days from its East and West Coast launch bases.

It was a magnificent sight to behold !! Seeing commercial passenger carrying cruise ships and commercial recycled rockets that will one day carry paying passenger to space, floating side by side in the busy channel of narrow Port Canaveral, basking in the suns glow from the sunshine state.

The doubly ‘flight-proven’ SpaceX Falcon 9 booster portends a promising future for spaceflight that Elon Musk hopes and plans will drastically slash the high cost of rocket launches and institute economic savings that would eventually lead to his dream of a ‘City on Mars!’ – sooner rather than later.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster leaning atop OCISLY droneship upon which it landed after 23 June launch from KSC floats into Port Canaveral, FL, on 29 June 2017, hauled by tugboat as seen from Jetty Park Pier. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Thursday, June 29, serves as a perfect example of how SpaceX is rocking the space industry worldwide.

First, the reused first stage Falcon 9 booster from last Friday’s (June 23) SpaceX launch of the BulgariaSat-1 HD television broadcast satellite floated magnificently into Port Canaveral early Thursday morning atop the diminutive oceangoing droneship upon which it safely touched down upright on a quartet of landing legs some eight minutes after launch.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster leaning atop OCISLY droneship upon which it landed after 23 June launch from KSC floats into Port Canaveral, FL, on 29 June 2017, hauled by tugboat as seen from Jetty Park Pier. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Second, SpaceX engineers then successfully conducted a late in the day static hot fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage engines and core that will power the next launch of the Intelsat 35e commercial comsat to orbit this Sunday, July 2.

So the day was just chock full of nonstop SpaceX rocketry action seeing a full day of rocket activities from dawn to dusk.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster and Canaveral Lighthouse together- Twice used SpaceX Falcon 9 which launched BulgariaSat-1 into orbit from KSC on 23 June floats into Port Canaveral with Cape Canaveral LIghthouse seen between landing legs in the distance as OCISLY drone ship crew on which she landed are working on deck on June 29, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Thursday’s nonstop Space Coast action spanning from the north at the Kennedy Space Center and further south to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Port Canaveral was the culmination of space launch flow events that actually began days, weeks and months earlier.

The 156 foot- tall Falcon 9 booster had successfully landed on the tiny rectangular shaped “Of Course I Still Love You” or OCISLY droneship less than nine minutes after liftoff on Friday, June 23 on the BulgariaSat-1 flight.

That mission began with the picture perfect liftoff of the BulgariaSat-1 communications satellite for East European commercial broadband provider BulgariaSat at 3:10 p.m. EDT, or 19:10 UTC, June 23, with ignition of all nine of the ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 first stage engines on SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

BulgariaSat is an affiliate of Bulsatcom, Bulgaria’s largest digital television provider.

The 15 story tall first stage touched down with a slight tilt of roughly eight degrees as a direct result of the extremely demanding landing regime.

Then after spending several post landing and launch days at sea due to stormy weather along the Florida Space Coast and to accommodate local shipping traffic and SpaceX planning needs, the booster at last neared shore from the south off the coast of Melbourne, FL.

Accompanied by a small armada of support vessels it was slowly towed to port by the Elsbeth III.

The SpaceX flotilla arrived at last at the mouth of Port Canaveral and Jetty Park Pier jutting into the Atlantic Ocean at about 830 a.m. EDT – offering a spectacular view at to a flock of space enthusiasts and photographers including this author.

SpaceX Booster arrival on 30 June 2017. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

I highly recommend you try and see a droneship arrival if all possible.

The leaning boosters – of which this is only the second – are even more dramatic!

Because the Falcon 9 barely survived the highest ever reentry force and landing heat to date, Musk reported.

The rectangularly shaped OCISLY droneship is tiny – barely the size of a moderately sized apartment complex parking lot.

Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Falcon 9’s first stage for the BulgariaSat-1 mission previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of this year.

Some two minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff the first and second stages separated.

As the second stage continued to orbit, the recycled first stage began the daunting trip back to Earth on a very high energy trajectory that tested the limits of the boosters landing capability.

“Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today’s launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn’t make it back,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk wrote in a prelaunch tweet.

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage carried out two burns, the entry burn and the landing burn using a trio of the Merlin 1D engines.

Ultimately the 15 story tall booster successfully landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” or OCISLY droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles (600 km) offshore and east of Cape Canaveral.

“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” Musk tweeted shortly after the recycled booster successfully launched and landed for its second time.

Up close view of blackened Aluminum grid fins on twice used SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage which just sailed into Port Canaveral on 29 June after launching BulgariaSat-1 23 June 2017 from pad 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The fins are being replaced by more resilient units made of Titanium as demonstrated 1st during the recent Iridium 2 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

BulgariaSat-1 and Iridium-2 counted as the eighth and ninth SpaceX launches of 2017.

Including those two ocean platform landings, SpaceX has now successfully recovered 13 boosters; 5 by land and 8 by sea, over the past 18 months.

Both landing droneships are now back into their respective coastal ports.

It’s a feat straight out of science fiction but aimed at drastically slashing the cost of access to space as envisioned by Musk.

Watch my BulgariaSat-1 launch video from KSC pad 39A

Video Caption: Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 23, 2017 from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center carrying BulgariaSat-1 TV broadband satellite to geosynchronous orbit for BulgariaSat, which is Bulgaria’s 1st GeoComSat – as seen in this remote video taken at the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite BulgariaSat-1 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

BulgariaSat-1 Blazes to Orbit on Used SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket as Breakthrough Booster Lands 2nd Time on Oceanic Platform

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In another breakthrough milestone aimed at slashing the high cost of rocketry, the innovators at billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched a ‘used’ rocket for only the second time in history – that blazed a path to orbit with its BulgariaSat-1 commercial television comsat payload Friday afternoon, June 23, from the Kennedy Space Center and just minutes later landed upright and intact on an oceanic platform waiting offshore in the vast currents of the Atlantic ocean.

“This is really a great day for us,” Maxim Zayakov, CEO of BulgariaSat and Bulsatcom told Universe Today during pre and post launch interview’s onsite at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Everything is seeming to be a good success so far.”

To top that, SpaceX is targeting a bicoastal weekend doubleheader of launches signaling a remarkably rapid turnaround capability. Another Falcon 9 is scheduled for blastoff on Sunday, June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 2025 UTC) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on the Iridium-2 mission, less than 48 hours apart – which would set a new launch turnaround record for SpaceX.

The picture perfect liftoff of the BulgariaSat-1 communications satellite for East European commercial broadband provider BulgariaSat began at 3:10 p.m. EDT, or 19:10 UTC, June 23, with ignition of all nine of the ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 first stage engines on SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Launch 2nd recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – as seen from the countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

BulgariaSat is an affiliate of Bulsatcom, Bulgaria’s largest digital television provider.

“Everything went down just as we expected,” BulgariaSat CEO Zayakov told me. “Of course there was a lot of excitement. And there are a lot of excited and scared feelings [with launches].”

“At the end of the day it not only worked out just as expected with the launch but the satellite also already reported in telemetry that she is doing fine,” Zayakov elaborated.

BulgariaSat-1 is the first geostationary communications satellite orbited for the nation of Bulgaria.

“We will start using it as soon as we can, in about one and a half months.”

Liftoff of used SpaceX Falcon 9 at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017 delivering BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

The used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying BulgariaSat-1 soared off historic pad 39A into brilliant mid-afternoon blue skies drenching the Florida Space Coast with beloved sunshine to the delight of hordes of spectators gathered from across the globe – including a Bulgarian TV crew witnessing their first launch.

History’s first ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster was successfully launched by SpaceX this past March for Luxembourg based telecommunications giant SES on the SES-10 mission – likewise from pad 39A.

Some 35 minutes after blastoff, BulgariaSat-1 was successfully separated as planned from the Falcon 9 second stage and deployed to its targeted initial geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

“So now she is on her way to the orbital position. The solar arrays deployed about 30 minutes after spacecraft separation from the second stage.”

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida- as seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Would you launch with Space X again?

“Yes looking to the future we would be happy to use SpaceX again in the future, certainly why not. SpaceX is definitely up there,” Zayakov replied.

BulgariaSat-1 will be located at the Bulgarian orbital position at 1.9 degrees East longitude and will provide reliable satellite communications solutions to broadcast, telecom, corporate and government customers.

How many customers will be served? I asked Zayakov.

“BulgariaSat-1 will serve about 800,000 customers in Bulgaria and about another million subscribers elsewhere in eastern Europe and the Balkans,” Zayakov elaborated.

The BulgariaSat-1 geostationary comsat will provide direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services to Southeastern Europe, including Serbia, the Balkans and other European regions.

You could not have asked for better weather as the recycled Falcon 9 roared to life for the second time with a paying customer and put on a long and exciting space spectacle for those lucky and fortunate enough to witness history with their own eyeballs first hand and follow along for several minutes as the rocket accelerated magnificently to orbit and arched over to the African continent in the nearly cloudless sky.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the BulgariaSat-1 mission previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of this year.

Some two minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff the first and second stages separated.

As the second stage continued to orbit, the recycled first stage began the daunting trip back to Earth on a very high energy trajectory that tested the limits of the boosters landing capability.

“Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today’s launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn’t make it back,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk wrote in a prelaunch tweet.

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage carried out two burns, the entry burn and the landing burn using a trio of the Merlin 1D engines.

Ultimately the 15 story tall booster successfully landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” or OCISLY droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles (600 km) offshore and east of Cape Canaveral.

“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” Musk tweeted shortly after the recycled booster successfully launched and landed for its second time.

The 156 foot tall first stage may have touched down with a slight tilt.

The OCISLY droneship is expected back into Port Canaveral in a few days.

The 8,100 pounds (3,700 kilograms) BulgariaSat-1 satellite was built by SSL in Palo Alto, Calif. It has a design lifetime for a 15-year mission.

BulgariaSat-1 is equipped with 2 Ku-band FSS transponders and 30 Ku-band BSS transponders for fixed satellite services and advanced television services such as high definition television.

With BulgariaSat-1 now safely in orbit, a period of critical testing and checkout is on tap next.

“It takes about ten days to arrive and stabilize at the final orbital slot,” Zayakov stated. “Then after those 10 days it takes about another 20 to 30 days to actually do all the orbital checkouts and orbital tests required to make sure that the satellite is performing fine and that we can start using it for broadcasts.”

“So in about one and a half months we will be ready to start using BulgariaSat-1.”

“We will start using it as soon as we can!”

2 enthusiastic ‘Thumbs Up’ from Maxim Zayakov, CEO of BulgariaSat, during interview with Universe Today at KSC countdown clock following June 23, 2017 launch of BulgariaSat-1 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The BulgariaSat-1 launch had originally been slated for this past Monday, June 19 but was delayed four days to fix a valve in the payload fairing.

“Postponing launch to replace fairing pneumatic valve,” Musk tweeted last Sunday. “It is dual redundant, but not worth taking a chance.”

And everything went off without a hitch!

BulgariaSat-1 counts as the eighth SpaceX launch of 2017.

Payload fairing encapsulating BulgariaSat-1 comsat launching atop used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite BulgariaSat-1 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Photo of BulgariaSat-1 undergoing launch processing. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 BulgariaSat-1 mission patch logo. Credit: SpaceX/BulgariaSat

2nd SpaceX Recycled Falcon 9 Rocket Launching 1st Bulgarian GeoComSat June 23, Plus Potential Weekend Launch ‘Doubleheader’ – Watch Live

Flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrives at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida slated for launch of BulgariaSat-1 on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – For only the second time in history, SpaceX will launch a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 rocket this Friday afternoon and the payload this time for this remarkable and science fictionesque milestone is the first geostationary communications satellite for the nation of Bulgaria.

Blastoff of the BulgariaSat-1 communications satellite for commercial broadband provider BulgariaSat is slated for early Friday afternoon, June 23 at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

BulgariaSat is an affiliate of Bulsatcom, Bulgaria’s largest digital television provider. The geostationary comsat will provide direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services to Southeastern Europe, including the Balkans and other European regions.

Flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 poised for launch of BulgariaSat-1 on June 23, 2017 at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 will deliver BulgariaSat-1 to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 15 June 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch BulgariaSat-1on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

All systems are GO at this point!

And if all goes well there is a definite possibility of a weekend bicoastal launch double header by SpaceX – says SpaceX billionaire founder and CEO Elon. The next Falcon 9 mission is scheduled for blastoff on Sunday, June 25 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, barely 48 hours apart.

SpaceX is maintaining a blistering launch pace this year.

The Falcon 9 booster arrived just hours after launch of the Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission for NASA on June 3 – as I witnessed the recycled rockets arrival at pad 39A first hand later the same day (see photos).

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 5:07 p.m. EDT on June 3, 2017, on Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX successfully launched history’s first ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster this past March for Luxembourg based telecommunications giant SES on the SES-10 mission – likewise from pad 39A.

Recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 skyrockets to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A as it zooms past US Flag by the countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The late lunchtime liftoff time for BulgariaSat-1 offers a very convenient opportunity for everyone to enjoy an eyewitness view, regardless of whether you live locally or if have the availability to take a quick trip to the Florida Space Coast.

And the current weather outlook is excellent say forecasters.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC

Watch the SpaceX broadcast live at: SpaceX.com/webcast

The recycled Falcon 9’s launch window extends for a full two hours until 4:10 p.m. EDT, June 23, or 20:10 UTC.

Fridays weather forecast is currently 90% GO for favorable conditions at launch time. That’s about as good as it gets for the notoriously fickle central Florida region.

The concern is for the Cumulus Cumulus Cloud Rule according to Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.

In case of a scrub for any reason on Friday, June 23, the backup launch opportunity is Saturday, June 24, at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC. Likewise it extends for two hours.

Saturdays’ weather forecast also quite good, dropping only slightly to 80% GO. The concern is for the Cumulus Cumulus Cloud Rule.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the BulgariaSat-1 mission previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of this year. Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt a landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

The satellite was built by SSL in Palo Alto, Calif. It has a design lifetime for a 15-year mission.

“We selected SSL to manufacture our first satellite early on, based on its history of success and reliability,” says Maxim Zayakov, chief executive officer of Bulgaria Sat. “SSL has been an excellent partner in helping us bring this project to fruition.”

BulgariaSat-1 will be equipped with 2 Ku-band FSS transponders and 30 Ku-band BSS transponders for fixed satellite services and advanced television services such as high definition television.

Photo of BulgariaSat-1 undergoing launch processing. Credit: SpaceX

The historic pad 39A was previously used to launch NASA’s Apollo Saturn Moon rockets and Space Shuttles.

The path to launch was cleared following the successful completion of a critical static hot-fire test of the first stage last Thursday, June 15.

The hot fire test lasted about seven seconds as I witnessed from Banana River Lagoon and Rt. 1 in Titusville, which provides numerous excellent viewing locations.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 15 June 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch BulgariaSat-1on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The BulgariaSat-1 launch had originally been slated for this past Monday, June 19 but was delayed four days to fix a valve in the payload fairing.

Payload fairing encapsulating BulgariaSat-1 comsat launching atop used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite BulgariaSat-1 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about the upcoming SpaceX launch of BulgariaSat 1, recent SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 resupply launch to ISS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

June 22-24: “SpaceX BulgariaSat 1 launch, SpaceX CRS-11 and CRS-10 resupply launches to the ISS, Inmarsat 5 and NRO Spysat, EchoStar 23, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 BulgariaSat-1 mission patch logo. Credit: SpaceX/BulgariaSat

SpaceX Falcon 9 Set for Post-Midnight Blastoff and Landing on Aug. 14 – Watch Live

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015.   First stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape ten minutes later for the first time in history.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Scarcely three weeks after the mesmerizing midnight launch and landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that delivered over two tons of science and critical hardware to the space station for NASA, the innovative firm is set to repeat the back to back space feats – with a few big twists – during a post midnight launch this Sunday, Aug.14 of a Japanese telecom satellite.

In less than 24 hours, a freshly built SpaceX Falcon 9 is set to transform night into day and launch the JCSAT-16 communications satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

And some nine minutes later, the 15 story Falcon 9 first stage is scheduled to make a pinpoint soft landing on a tiny, prepositioned drone ship at sea in the vast Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing  rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has successfully soft landed 5 first stage boosters over the past eight months – two by land and three by sea.

Nighttime liftoffs are always a viewing favorite among the general public – whether visiting from near or far. And this one is virtually certain to offer some spectacular summer fireworks since the weather looks rather promising – if all goes well.

Sunday’s launch window opens at 1:26 a.m. EDT and extends two hours long for the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket. The window closes at 3:26 a.m. EDT.

The commercial mission involves lofting the JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for SKY Perfect JSAT – a leading satellite operator in the Asia – Pacific region. JCSAT-16 will be positioned 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above the equator.

Sunday’s launch is the second this year for SKY Perfect JSAT. The JCSAT-14 satellite was already launched earlier this year on May 6.

You can watch the launch live via a special live webcast from SpaceX.

The SpaceX webcast will be available starting at about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 1:06 a.m. EDT at SpaceX.com/webcast

The weather currently looks very good. Air Force meteorologists are predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at launch time in the wee hours early Sunday morning.

The primate concerns are for violations of the Cumulus Cloud and Think Cloud rules.

The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing will support SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch of JCSAT-16.

In cases of any delays for technical or weather issues, a backup launch opportunity exists 24 hours later on Monday morning with a 70 percent chance of favorable weather.

The rocket has already been rolled out to the launch pad on the transporter and raised to its vertical position.

The path to launch was cleared following the successful Aug. 10 hold down static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage Merlin 1-D engines. SpaceX routinely performs the hot fire test to ensure the rocket is ready.

Watch this crystal clear video of the Static Fire Test from USLaunchReport:

Video Caption: SpaceX – JCSAT-16 – Static Fire Test 08-10-2016. On a humid, windless evening at 11 PM, JCSAT-16 gave one good vapor show. Credit: USLaunchReport

Via a fleet of 15 satellites, Tokyo, Japan based SKY Perfect JSAT provides high quality satellite communications to its customers.
The JCSAT-16 communications satellite was designed and manufactured by Space Systems/Loral for SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation.

JCSAT-16 satellite will separate from the second stage and will be deployed about 32 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The staging events are usually broadcast live by SpaceX via stunning imagery from onboard video cameras.

A secondary objective is to try and recover the first stage booster via a propulsive landing on an ocean-going platform.

This booster is again equipped with 4 landing legs and 4 grid fins.

Following stage separation, SpaceX will try to soft land the first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship positioned about 400 miles (650 km) off shore of Florida’s east coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

But SpaceX officials say landings from GTO mission destinations are extremely challenging because the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating.

If all goes well with the supersonic retropropulsion landing on the barge, the booster will arrive back into Port Canaveral a few days later.

Pelican Navy stands watch and greets SpaceX Naval Fleet and Falcon 9 rocket float by on barge approaching mouth of Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Pelican Navy stands watch and greets SpaceX Naval Fleet and Falcon 9 rocket float by on barge approaching mouth of Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea this year on the an ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27.

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

Ken Kremer

Up closse view of SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket returns late at night to Port Canaveral, Florida on May 9, 2016.  Credit:  Julian Leek
Up closse view of SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket returns late at night to Port Canaveral, Florida on May 9, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

Mission patch for SpaceX JCSAT-16 launch. Credit: SpaceX
Mission patch for SpaceX JCSAT-16 launch. Credit: SpaceX

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Learn more about SpaceX missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Aug 12-14: “SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Mars at Closest Earth Approach Over SpaceX Recovered Falcon 9 at Sea – Photo

Mars Close Approach over recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 atop droneship at sea on June 1, 2016 as seen from Jetty Park Pier in Port Canaveral, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mars Close Approach over recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 atop droneship at sea on June 1, 2016 as seen from Jetty Park Pier in Port Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL, FL – As you may have heard its Mars opposition season. What you may not have heard is that Mars made its closest Earth approach high in the Sunshine states nighttime skies coincidentally at the same time as a sea landed SpaceX Falcon 9 was visible just offshore floating on the horizon below.

Rather miraculously this regular natural occurrence of the dance of the planets Earth and Mars making a close embrace as they orbit around our Sun, was taking place simultaneously with a most unnatural event – namely the return of a used SpaceX Falcon 9 landed on a platform at sea that was briefly hugging the Florida coastline.

And better yet you can see them celebrating this first-of-its-kind celestial event together in the photo above of ‘Mars Close Approach over Falcon’ – captured by this author around 11 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 1 from the rock wall along Jetty Park Pier in Port Canaveral, Fl.

By sheer coincidence, the Red Planet was making its closest approach to Earth of this orbital cycle just as the most recently launched and recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster was arriving just offshore of Cocoa Beach and the Florida Space Coast earlier this week.

As luck would have it, when I ventured out to watch the boosters hoped for nighttime arrival from Jetty Park Pier in Port Canaveral on Wednesday, June 1, I noticed that Mars and the floating Falcon 9 were lined up almost perfectly.

Mars is visible at the head of the large constellation Scorpius.

The Falcon 9 was standing atop the droneship upon which it had landed on May 27 while it was stationed approximately 420 miles (680 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, surrounded by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 began its rapid journey to space and back roaring to life at 5:39 p.m. EDT last Friday, May 27, from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, ascending into sky blue sunshine state skies.

The Falcon 9 was carrying the Thaicom-8 telecommunications satellite to orbit.

On Wednesday night, June 1, Mars was high in the southern night sky, shining brightly almost directly over the spent Falcon 9 booster sailing some 3 miles (5 km) offshore of Cocoa Beach.

Thankfully the weather gods even cooperated by delivering crystal clear nighttime skies.

So with Mars at Opposition and Falcon 9 in view and while awaiting the droneship bringing the booster into Port Canaveral I took some exposure shots of this first totally unique opportunity.

Mars Close Approach took place on May 30, 2016. That is the point in Mars’ orbit when it comes closest to Earth.

The Red Planet was only 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers) from Earth.

“Mars reaches its highest point around midnight — about 35 degrees above the southern horizon, or one third of the distance between the horizon and overhead,” according to a NASA description and the graphic shown below.

 Mars closest approach to Earth this cycle is May 30, 2016.  That is the point in Mars' orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers).  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars closest approach to Earth this cycle is May 30, 2016. That is the point in Mars’ orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars is currently visible for much of the night.

Mars oppositions happen about every 26 months when Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth.

The 156 foot tall Falcon 9 booster had landed atop the specially designed SpaceX ‘droneship’ named “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” less than 9 minutes after the May 27 blastoff.

Incredible sight of pleasure craft zooming past SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 as it arrives at the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL,  atop droneship platform on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Incredible sight of pleasure craft zooming past SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 as it arrives at the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL, atop droneship platform on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Thaicom-8 mission marked the third time SpaceX nailed a booster landing on an ocean going platform.

But unlike the prior two sea landings, this booster came to rest at noticeable tilt.

This caused SpaceX some headaches and concern it might fall over and be destroyed in transit before reaching land.

So the booster didn’t make it back into port Wednesday night as onlookers had hoped. And SpaceX did not announce a return schedule.

It actually would up station keeping and hugging the shoreline for nearly 2 extra days while workers stabilized the booster.

Tow boat passing in front of the used SpaceX rocket waiting offshore. Credit: Julian Leek
Tow boat passing in front of the used SpaceX rocket waiting offshore. Credit: Julian Leek

The 15 story tall spent first stage was secured with multiple tie downs to the droneships deck.

Up close view of base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 atop droneship during arrival on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 atop droneship during arrival on June 2, 2016 shows ties down securing booster to deck. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As I witnessed and reported here, the booster finally sailed triumphantly into the mouth of Port Canaveral around lunchtime on Thursday, June 2.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster moving along the Port Canaveral channel atop droneship platform with cruise ship in background nears ground docking facility on June 2, 2016 following Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 booster moving along the Port Canaveral channel atop droneship platform with cruise ship in background nears ground docking facility on June 2, 2016 following Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Mars and the recovered Falcon 9 actually tie in rather neatly.

The SpaceX rockets launch and recovery technology are all being developed so they will one day lead to establishing a ‘City on Mars’ – according to the SpaceX’s visionary CEO and founder Elon Musk.

Musk aims to radically slash the cost of launching future rockets by recycling them and using them to launch new payloads for new paying customers.

Musk hopes to launch humans to Mars by the mid-2020s.

And this author is also a well known Mars lover.

NASA’s Opportunity rover discovers a beautiful Martian dust devil moving across the floor of Endeavour crater as wheel tracks show robots path today exploring the steepest ever slopes of the 13 year long mission, in search of water altered minerals at Knudsen Ridge inside Marathon Valley on 1 April 2016. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 4332 (1 April 2016) and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s Opportunity rover discovers a beautiful Martian dust devil moving across the floor of Endeavour crater as wheel tracks show robots path today exploring the steepest ever slopes of the 13 year long mission, in search of water altered minerals at Knudsen Ridge inside Marathon Valley on 1 April 2016. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 4332 (1 April 2016) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pad.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, ULA Atlas rocket, Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

June 8/9: “SpaceX, ULA, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Targets Thursday May 26 for Thai Comsat Launch and Tough Sea Landing – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands poised for launch on May 26 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, similar to this file photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands poised for launch on May 26 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, similar to this file photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. – Just three weeks after SpaceX’s last launch from their Florida launch base, the growing and influential aerospace firm is deep into commencing their next space spectacular – targeting this Thursday, May 26, for launch of a Thai comsat followed moments later by a sea landing attempt of the booster on a tough trajectory.

SpaceX is slated to launch the Thaicom-8 telecommunications satellite atop an upgraded version of the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Thursday at 5:40 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX is rapidly picking up the pace of rocket launches for their wide ranging base of commercial, government and military customers that is continuously expanding and reaping contracts and profits for the Hawthorne, Calif. based company.

This commercial mission involves lofting Thaicom-8 to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for Thaicom PLC, a leading satellite operator in Asia.

This also counts as the second straight GTO launch and the second straight attempt to land a rocket on a sea based platform from the highly demanding GTO launch trajectory.

Will this mission make for 3 successful Falcon 9 1st stage booster landings in a row? Tune in and find out !!

Engineers have a two-hour window to launch the Falcon 9 and deliver Thaicom to orbit.

Thaicom-8 was built by aerospace competitor Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, VA. It will support Thailand’s growing broadcast industry and will provide broadcast and data services to customers in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.

The Falcon 9 launch is the 5th this year for SpaceX.

You can watch the launch live via a special live webcast from SpaceX.

The SpaceX webcast will be available starting at about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 5:20 a.m. EDT at SpaceX.com/webcast

The two stage Falcon 9 rocket has a two-hour launch window that extends until Thursday, May 26 at 7:40 p.m. EDT.

Thaicom-8 communications satellite built by Orbital ATK will launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 26, 2016.  The satellite has delivered to the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida in late April 2016.  Credit: Orbital ATK
Thaicom-8 communications satellite built by Orbital ATK will launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 26, 2016. The satellite has delivered to the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida in late April 2016. Credit: Orbital ATK

The path to liftoff was cleared late last night the company completed the customary pre-launch static fire test of the rocket’s first stage upgraded Merlin 1D engines for several seconds at pad 40.

The nine engines on the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket generate approximately 1.5 million pounds of thrust.

Engineers monitored the test and after analyzing results declared the Falcon 9 was fit to launch Thursday afternoon.

The weather currently looks very good. Air Force meteorologists are predicting a 90 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at launch time Thursday morning with a minor concern for ground winds.

The backup launch opportunity is Friday, May 27. The weather outlooks is somewhat less promising at a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions.

After the Falcon 9 rocket delivers the satellite into its targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit it will enter a 30-day testing phase, says Orbital ATK.

Following in-orbit activation and after reaching its final orbital slot, Orbital ATK will then turn over control of the satellite to Thaicom to begin normal operations.

THAICOM 8’s orbital location will be positioned at 78.5 degrees east longitude and the satellite is designed to operate for more than 15 years.

Thaicom-8 is a Ku-band satellite that offers 24 active transponders that will deliver broadcast and data services to customers in Thailand, Southeast Asia, India and Africa.

Thaicom-8 has a mass of approximately 6,800 pounds (3,100 kilograms). It is based on Orbital ATK’s flight-proven GEOStar-2TM platform.

“We built and delivered this high-quality communications satellite for Thaicom PLC two months ahead of schedule, demonstrating our ability to manufacture reliable, affordable and innovative products that exceed expectations for our customer,” said Amer Khouri, Vice President of the Commercial Satellite Business at Orbital ATK.

“As one of Asia’s leading satellite operators, we are grateful for Thaicom’s continued confidence and look forward to more successful partnerships in the future.”

Thaicom-8 will join Thaicom-6 already in orbit. It was also designed, manufactured, integrated and tested by Orbital ATK. at the firm’s state-of-the-art satellite manufacturing facility in Dulles, Virginia.

Thaicom PLC commissioned Thaicom-8 in 2014, shortly after SpaceX launched the THAICOM 6 satellite into orbit in January 2014.

Thaicom-8 mission patch artwork.  Credit: SpaceX
Thaicom-8 mission patch artwork. Credit: SpaceX

The secondary test objective of SpaceX is to land the Falcon 9 rockets first stage on an ocean going barge several hundred miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) barge is named “Of Course I Still Love You.”

However with this mission’s GTO destination, the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating and a successful landing will be difficult.

Having said that and despite those hurdles, the last GTO mission landing attempt did succeed brilliantly following the May 6 JCSAT-14 launch.

Tune in to the SpaceX webcast Thursday afternoon to catch all the exciting action !!

Composite image of first stage booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace.  Inset: Trio of SpaceX boosters inside pad 39A hangar. Credit: SpaceX.  Composite:  Ken Kremer
Composite image of first stage booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace. Inset: Trio of SpaceX boosters inside pad 39A hangar. Credit: SpaceX. Composite: Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pad.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, ULA Atlas rocket, Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

May 25/26: “SpaceX, ULA, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Jun 2 to 5: “ULA, NRO, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Amazing Time-lapse Shows Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Moving To Land After Port Canaveral Arrival

First stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was moved by crane on May 11, 2016 from the drone ship OCISLY to a work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
First stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was moved by crane on May 10, 2016 from the drone ship OCISLY to a work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The recovered SpaceX first stage booster that nailed a spectacular middle-of-the-night touchdown at sea last week sailed back to Port Canaveral, Florida, late Monday and was transferred by crane on Tuesday from the drone ship to land – as seen in an amazing time-lapse video and photos, shown above and below and obtained by Universe Today.

The exquisite up close time-lapse sequence shows technicians carefully hoisting the 15-story-tall spent booster from the drone ship barge onto a work pedestal on land some 12 hours after arriving back in port.

The time-lapse imagery (below) of the booster’s removal from the drone ship was captured by my space photographer friend Jeff Seibert on Tuesday, May 10.

Video Caption: 20X time-lapse of the first stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch being transferred on May 10, 2016 from the autonomous drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY) to a work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving at the dock. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Towards the end of the video there is a rather humorous view of the technicians climbing in unison to the bottom of the hoisted Falcon.

“I particularly like the choreographed ascent by the crew to the base of the Falcon 9 near the end of the move video,” Seibert told Universe Today.

The move took place from 11:55 AM until 12:05 PM, Seibert said.

First stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch hoisted by crane on May 10, 2016 from drone ship to work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
First stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch hoisted by crane on May 11, 2016 from drone ship to work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The booster was towed into the space coast port around 11 p.m. Monday night, as seen in further up close images captured by my space photographer friend Julian Leek.

Leek also managed to capture a stunningly unique view of the rocket floating atop the barge when it was still out at sea and some 5 miles off shore waiting to enter the port at a safe time after most of the cruise ships had departed – as I reported earlier here.

SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket returns late at night to Port Canaveral, Florida on May 9, 2016.  Credit:  Julian Leek
SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket returns late at night to Port Canaveral, Florida on May 9, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

The 156 foot tall booster safely soft landed on the drone ship named “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” barely nine minutes after liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 last week on a mission to deliver the Japanese JCSAT-14 telecom satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

The upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 soared to orbit on May 6, roaring to life with 1.5 million pounds of thrust on a mission carrying the JCSAT-14 commercial communications satellite, following an on time liftoff at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.

The first stage then carried out a propulsive soft landing on the ocean going platform located some 400 miles off the east coast of Florida.

To date SpaceX has recovered 3 Falcon 9 first stages. But this was the first one to be recovered from the much more demanding, high velocity trajectory delivering a satellite to GTO.

The first rocket was flying faster and at a higher altitude at the time of seperatoin from the second stage and thus was much more difficult to slow down and maneuver back to the ocean based platform.

Thus SpaceX officials and CEO Elon Musk had been openly doubtful of a successful outcome for this landing attempt.

“First landed booster from a GTO-class mission (final spacecraft altitude will be about 36,000 km),” tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk.

The commercial SpaceX launch lofted the JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for SKY Perfect JSAT – a leading satellite operator in the Asia – Pacific region.

Up closse view of SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket returns late at night to Port Canaveral, Florida on May 9, 2016.  Credit:  Julian Leek
Up close view of SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket returns late at night to Port Canaveral, Florida on May 9, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

The landing counts as another stunning success for Elon Musk’s vision of radically slashing the cost of sending rocket to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reusing them.

The next step is to defuel the booster and remove the landing legs. Thereafter it will be tilted and lowered horizontally and then be placed onto a multi-wheeled transport for shipment back to SpaceX launch facilities at Cape Canaveral for refurbishment, exhaustive engine and structural testing.

The newly recovered first stage will join a fleet of two others recovered last December and in April.

“May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar,” tweeted Musk.

If all goes well the recovered booster will eventually be reflown.

The next SpaceX commercial launch is tentatively slated for the late May/early June timeframe.

Up close look at grid fins from recovered first stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Up close look at grid fins from recovered first stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket lurking off Port Canaveral waiting to enter the port.  Copyright:  Julian Leek
SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket lurking off Port Canaveral waiting to enter the port. Copyright: Julian Leek
Recovered Falcon 9 first stage stands upright after drone ship landing following SpaceX launch of JCSAT-14 on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: SpaceX
Recovered Falcon 9 first stage stands upright after drone ship landing following SpaceX launch of JCSAT-14 on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceX

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of JCSAT-14 on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Sensational Photos Show ‘Super Smooth’ Droneship Touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster – SpaceX VP

Remote camera photo from "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission. Credit: SpaceX
Remote camera photo from “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has released a slew of up close photos showing the sensational “super smooth” touchdown last week of a Falcon 9 booster on a tiny droneship at sea located several hundred miles (km) off the East coast of Florida.

“This time it really went super smooth,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today at the NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum (NEAF) held in Suffern, NY. “The rest is history almost.”

The dramatic propulsive descent and soft landing of the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage took place last Friday, April 8 about 9 minutes after blasting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:43 p.m. EDT on the Dragon CRS-8 resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).

The breathtaking new photos show the boosters central Merlin 1D engine refiring to propulsively slow the first stage descent with all four landing legs unfurled and locked in place at the bottom and all four grid fins deployed at the top.

Why did it all go so well, comparing this landing to the prior attempts? Basically the return trajectory was less challenging due to the nature of the NASA payload and launch trajectory.

“We were more confident about this droneship landing,” Koenigsmann said at NEAF.

“I knew the trajectory we had [for CRS-8] was more benign, although not super benign. But certainly benigner than for what we had before on the SES-9 mission, the previous one. The [droneship] landing trajectory we had for the previous one on SES-9 was really challenging.”

“This one was relatively benign. It was really maybe as benign as for the Orbcomm launch [in December 2015] where we had the land landing.”

Read my Orbcomm story here about history’s first ever successful land landing of a spent SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

Timelapse sequence shows dramatic landing of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage on "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship as captured by remote camera on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Timelapse sequence shows dramatic landing of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage on “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship as captured by remote camera on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

The diminutive ocean landing platform measures only about 170 ft × 300 ft (52 m × 91 m). SpaceX formally dubs it an ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship’ or ASDS.

The ocean going ship is named “Of Course I Still Love You” after a starship from a novel written by Iain M. Banks.

It was stationed some 200 miles off shore of Cape Canaveral, Florida surrounded by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.

Remote camera photo from "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship of Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Remote camera photo from “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship of Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

“The CRS-8 launch was one of the easiest ones we ever had.”

The revolutionary rocket recovery event counts as the first successful droneship landing of a rocket in history and is paving the way towards eventual rocket recycling aimed at dramatically slashing the cost of access to space.

The final moments of the 15 story tall boosters approach and hover landing was captured up close in stunning high resolution imagery recorded by multiple remote cameras set up right on the ocean going platform by SpaceX photographer Ben Cooper.

Landing the booster on land rather than at sea was actually an option this time around. But SpaceX managers wanted to try and nail a platform at sea landing to learn more and validate their calculations and projections.

“As Elon Musk said at the post-landing press conference of Friday, we could have actually come back to land- to land this one on land,” Koenigsmann elaborated.

“But we decided to land on the drone ship first to make sure that on the droneship we had worked everything out!”

“And that’s exactly what happened. So I felt this was only going out a little bit on the limb,” but not too much.”

Remote camera photo from "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship of Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Remote camera photo from “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship of Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

Before the CRS-8 launch, Koenigsmann had rated the chances of a successful landing recovery rather high.

Three previous attempts by SpaceX to land on a droneship at sea were partially successful, as the stage made a pinpoint flyback to the tiny droneship, but it either hit too hard or tipped over in the final moments when a landing leg failed to fully deploy or lock in place.

“Everything went perfect with the launch,” Koengismann said. “We just still have to do the post launch data review.”

“I am really glad this went well.”

Droneship touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage on "Of Course I Still Love You" as captured by remote camera on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Droneship touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage on “Of Course I Still Love You” as captured by remote camera on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

This recovered Falcon 9 booster finally arrived back into Port Canaveral, Florida four days later in the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 12 at about 1:30 a.m. EDT.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moved by crane from drone ship to an upright storage cradle on land at Port Canaveral,  Florida on April 12, 2016.  Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moved by crane from drone ship to an upright storage cradle on land at Port Canaveral, Florida on April 12, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

The primary goal of the Falcon 9 launch on April 8 was carrying the SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter to low Earth orbit on a commercial resupply delivery mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).

Dragon arrived at the station on Sunday, April 10, loaded with 3 tons of supplies, science experiments and the BEAM experimental expandable module.

Landing on the barge was a secondary goal of SpaceX and not part of the primary mission for NASA.

Watch this launch video from my video camera placed at the pad:

Video Caption: Spectacular blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL at 4:43 p.m. EST on April 8, 2016. Up close movie captured by Mobius remote video camera placed at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The recovered booster will be cleaned and defueled, says SpaceX spokesman John Taylor.

SpaceX engineers will conduct a series of 12 test firings to ensure all is well operationally and that the booster can be re-launched.

SpaceX hopes to refly the recovered booster in a few months, perhaps as early as this summer.

Droneship touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage on "Of Course I Still Love You" as captured by remote camera on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Droneship touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage on “Of Course I Still Love You” as captured by remote camera on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX, NASA Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, ISS, Orbital ATK, ULA, Boeing, Space Taxis, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Apr 17: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs”- 1:30 PM at Washington Crossing State Park, Nature Center, Titusville, NJ – http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster successfully lands on droneship after blastoff on Dragon CRS-8 mission to ISS for NASA on April 8, 2016.  Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 booster successfully lands on droneship after blastoff on Dragon CRS-8 mission to ISS for NASA on April 8, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of Flight Reliability at NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum, NY, discusses SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon launches. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of Flight Reliability at NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum, NY, discusses SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon launches. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Jason-3 Sea Level Rise Reconnaissance Satellite Successfully Blasts off on SpaceX Falcon 9; Hard Landing on Barge

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen as it launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, , Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will help continue U.S.-European satellite measurements of global ocean height changes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen as it launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will help continue U.S.-European satellite measurements of global ocean height changes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the NASA/NOAA/European Jason-3 sea level rise reconnaissance satellite a short while ago today, Sunday, Jan. 17, from Vandenberg Air Force Base into a polar orbit around the Earth.

The launch was a complete success with all first and second stage rocket firings and the Jason-3 deployment occurring precisely as planned and on time. Continue reading “NASA Jason-3 Sea Level Rise Reconnaissance Satellite Successfully Blasts off on SpaceX Falcon 9; Hard Landing on Barge”

SpaceX Trying Ambitious 2nd Rocket Recovery Landing in 4 Weeks

SpaceX is on course to move ahead with an ambitious spaceflight agenda, trying a 2nd rocket recovery landing of their Falcon 9 booster in barely 4 weeks time and upcoming this Sunday, Jan. 17, says Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX.

Musk confirmed that SpaceX plans to launch and subsequently land the first stage of its next Falcon 9 rocket on a “droneship” at sea in the Pacific Ocean this weekend. Continue reading “SpaceX Trying Ambitious 2nd Rocket Recovery Landing in 4 Weeks”