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

Digital Society Boosted by Stunning SpaceX Launch Delivering Inmarsat Mobile Broadband Satellite to Orbit – Photo/Video Gallery

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite blasts off to geostationary orbit at twilight at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The worlds emerging ‘Digital Society’ gained a big boost following SpaceX’s stunningly beautiful twilight launch of a Falcon 9 that successfully delivered the huge 6.7 ton mobile Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite to orbit for London-based Inmarsat on Monday, May 15.

SpaceX blasted the “largest and most complicated communications satellite ever built to orbit” for Inmarsat, the Inmarset CEO Rupert Pearce told Universe Today in a post launch interview at the Kennedy Space Center on May 15.

Inmarsat-5 F4 will eventually serve upwards of “hundreds of millions” of government, military, commercial and everyday customers on land, at sea and in the air as part of the firm’s satellite constellation forming the Global Xpress (GX) network, he explained.

“This has obviously been an absolutely exceptional performance from SpaceX,” Peace elaborated.

The twilight sendoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the commercial Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 communications satellite for High-Speed mobile broadband provider Inmarsat occurred at 7:21 p.m. EDT (or 23:21 UTC) on Monday evening, May 15, from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida which successfully delivered Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite to orbit. Credit: Julian Leek

The spectacular liftoff events were captured by journalists and tourists gathered from around the globe to witness history in the making with their own eyeballs.

Check out this expanding gallery of eyepopping photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself – for views you won’t see elsewhere.

Click back as the gallery grows !

The Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite is designed to provide high speed broad band service to government, military, maritime and aviation users and ship and airplane customers numbering in the millions to tens of millions of customers now and potentially hundreds of millions of customers in the future.

It was the heaviest payload ever launched by a Falcon 9.

I asked CEO Peace to explain the customer based expected for the Global Xpress (GX) network.

“We expect to reach millions to tens of millions of customers,” Pearce told me.

“At the moment we are making huge strides with the first three satellites – serving governments around the world; most notably the US government and US defense department.”

“And serving the maritime industry. And serving the aviation industry.”

“We are looking at a world where suddenly passengers want wifi on the aircraft they are flying on. So we could be talking about hundreds of millions of customers [passengers] on aircraft being served by that satellite in the years to come.”

The new I-5 F4 satellite joins a constellation of 3 others already in orbit as part of a US$1.6 billion investment forming the firms transformational Global Xpress (GX) network.

“Inmarsat Global Xpress has been in operation delivering seamless, high-speed broadband connectivity across the world since December 2015,” says Inmarsat.

“Inmarsat GX is the world’s first globally available, broadband connectivity service and was created to enable communities across the world to benefit from the emerging digital society.”

Check out these exquisite videos from a wide variety of vantage points including remote cameras at the pad, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral media viewing sites and public viewing locations off base.

Video Caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of the Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite from Pad 39A. The I-5 F4 is the fourth Ka-band, mobile broadband satellite launched for the Global Xpress constellation, it was built by Boeing Network and Space Systems. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Video Caption: Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 15, 2017 from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center carrying Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite to geosynchronous orbit for the Global Xpress constellation – as seen in this remote video taken at the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully delivered the gigantic bus sized 7 meter long Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) under brilliant blue and nearly cloudless twilight skies from the Florida Space Coast.

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 15 May 2017 at 7:20 p.m. EDT that delivered commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite to geostationary orbit from Launch Complex 39A from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The 6,100 kg (13,400 lbs) Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 communications satellite was built by Boeing at their satellite operations facility in El Segundo, CA for Inmarsat.

TInmarsat 5 F4 counts as the sixth SpaceX launch of 2017.

And SpaceX continues tracking on an absolutely torrid launch pace. Monday’s liftoff took place just 2 weeks after the prior successful SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff on May 1 of the super secret NROL-76 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO – as I reported here.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida which successfully delivered Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite to orbit. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of the Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite from Pad 39A on 15 May 2017. Credit: Jeff Seibert
SpaceX Falcon 9 soars skyward with Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite after liftoff from pad 39A at KSC on 15 May 2017. Credit: Jillian Laudick
15 May 2017 blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida carrying Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite to geostationary orbit – as seen from ITL Causeway with USAF/SpaceX satellite processing facility. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite blasts off to geostationary orbit at twilight at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite blasts off to geostationary orbit at twilight at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets skyward with Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite after liftoff from pad 39A at KSC on 15 May 2017 as seen from Titusville, FL residential neighborhood. Credit: Melissa Bayles
SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets skyward with Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite after liftoff from pad 39A at KSC on 15 May 2017 as seen from Titusville, FL residential neighborhood. Credit: Melissa Bayles
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite stands raised erect poised for twilight liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida which successfully delivered Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite to orbit. Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite accelerates to orbit leaving exhaust trail in its wake after twilight launch at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
All 9 Merlin 1D first stage engines firing beautifully as SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over down range successfully carrying Inmarsat 5F4 #I5F4 to geostationary transfer orbit at twilight after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite stands raised erect poised for twilight liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

We Will Launch on Reusable Rocket After Exceptional SpaceX Performance – Inmarsat CEO Tells Universe Today

All 9 Merlin 1D first stage engines firing beautifully as SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over down range successfully carrying Inmarsat 5F4 #I5F4 to geostationary transfer orbit at twilight after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following SpaceX’s “exceptional performance” launching an immensely powerful broadband satellite on their maiden mission for Inmarsat this week on a Falcon 9 rocket, the company CEO told Universe Today that Inmarsat was willing to conduct future launches with SpaceX – including on a “reusable rocket in the future!”

“This has obviously been an absolutely exceptional performance from SpaceX, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce told Universe Today in a post launch interview at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday, May 15.

“They have now earned themselves an immensely loyal customer.”

SpaceX is the first and thus far only company in history to successfully recover and refly a previously flown orbit class ‘flight-proven’ liquid fueled first stage rocket – during the SES-10 launch in March 2017.

The twilight blastoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 communications satellite for commercial High-Speed mobile broadband provider Inmarsat occurred at 7:21 p.m. EDT (or 23:21 UTC) on Monday evening, May 15, from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“They hit the ball out of the park with this launch for us,” Inmarsat CEO Pearce told me regarding the new space company founded by billionaire CEO Elon Musk.

The never before used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully delivered the gigantic bus sized 6100 kg Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) under brilliant blue and nearly cloudless twilight skies from the Florida Space Coast. Read my launch report here.

The first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1 D engines fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellants and generating 1.7 million pounds.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite blasts off to geostationary orbit at twilight at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite is designed to provide high speed broad band service to government, military, maritime and aviation users and ship and airplane customers numbering in the millions to tens of millions of customers now and potentially hundreds of millions of customers in the future. It was the heaviest payload ever launched by a Falcon 9.

Pearce says he “has every confidence in SpaceX.”

Inmarsat is a leading provider of mobile satellite communications, providing global connectivity more than 35 years – on land, at sea and in the air, says the firm.

I asked CEO Pearce; What does the future hold regarding further Inmarsat launches with SpaceX?

“They [SpaceX] have now just gained and earned themselves an immensely loyal customer [from Inmarsat], CEO Pearce replied.

“We will be looking to do further launches with them.”

The 7 meter long Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite was deployed approximately 32 minutes after Monday’s launch when it will come under the command of the Boeing and Inmarsat satellite operations teams based at the Boeing facility in El Segundo.

Would you consider a used rocket, a previously flown booster?

“I’m sure we will be using a ‘reused rocket’, Pearce stated. “And we will be launching on a ‘reusable rocket’ in the future.”

“We will be looking to support them in any way we can with their new innovation programs.”

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida which successfully delivered Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite to orbit. Credit: Julian Leek

In contrast to virtually all Falcon 9 launches in the past 18 months, no attempt was made to recover the first stage booster.

For this launch there was basically no choice but to make the first stage ‘expendable’ because Inmarsat-5 F4 is heaviest ever payload launched on a Falcon 9.

The satellites heavy weight with a launch mass of approx. 6,100 kg (13,400 lbs) means the rocket needs all its thrust to get the satellite to orbit and thus precludes the chance to land the first stage at sea or land.

Thus there are no landing legs or grid gins attached to the skin of this Falcon 9.

“This rocket that went today was not reusable. That was just a creature of its time,” Pearce elaborated.

“We will stay at the cutting edge with SpaceX!”

To date, SpaceX has successfully recovered 10 first stage boosters either by land or by sea on an ocean going platform.

Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pierce during post launch interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today discusses SpaceX Falcon 9 launch carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite to geostationary orbit after liftoff at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The Inmarsat-5 F4 (I-5 F4) will become part of the firms Global Xpress network “which has been delivering seamless, high-speed broadband connectivity across the world since December 2015,” says Inmarsat.

“Once in geostationary orbit, the satellite will provide additional capacity for Global Xpress users on land, at sea and in the air.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

I-5 F4 was built by Boeing at their satellite operations facility in El Segundo, CA for Inmarsat.

The new satellite will join 3 others already in orbit.

Inmarsat has invested approximately US$1.6 billion in the Global Xpress constellation “to establish the first ever global Ka-band service from a single network operator.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite accelerates to orbit leaving exhaust trail in its wake after twilight launch at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Inmarsat 5 F4 counts as the sixth SpaceX launch of 2017.

And SpaceX is on an absolutely torrid launch pace. Monday’s liftoff comes just 2 weeks after the last successful SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff on May 1 of the super secret NROL-76 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO – as I reported here.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 Inmarsat-5 F4 (I-5 F4) mission artwork. Credit: SpaceX/Inmarsat
Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 (I-5 F4) satellite undergoes prelaunch processing for liftoff on SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite blasts off to geostationary orbit at twilight at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX Blasts Biggest High Speed Communications Satellite to Orbit for Inmarsat

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite blasts off to geostationary orbit at twilight at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX blasted the “largest and most complicated communications satellite ever built to orbit” for London based Inmarset at twilight this evening, May 15, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center aboard an expendable Falcon 9 rocket.

In fact the Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite is so powerful that it has the potential to reach “hundreds of millions of customers” the Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pierce told Universe Today in a post launch interview at the Kennedy Space Center.

“This is the largest and most complicated [communications] satellite ever built,” Pearce explained beside NASA’s countdown clock at the KSC press site.

Blastoff of the Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 communications satellite for commercial High-Speed mobile broadband provider Inmarsat took place right on time early Monday evening, May 15 at 7:21 p.m. EDT (or 23:21 UTC) from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The newly built 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully delivered the huge 6100 kg Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) under brilliant blue twilight skies from the Florida Space Coast.

“Satellite deployment success!” Inmarsat announced.

“#I5F4 has been released & is flying high on its way to geostationary orbit! Safe journey! Thanks for a great launch SpaceX!”

All 9 Merlin 1D first stage engines firing beautifully as SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over down range successfully carrying Inmarsat 5F4 #I5F4 to geostationary transfer orbit at twilight after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Why launch such the largest and most complicated satellite ever? I asked Inmarsat CEO Pearce.

“We set a very high bar for the service offerings we want to offer for that satellite that just went up and is now on its way to in orbit testing,” Inmarsat CEO Pearce told me.

“That satellite will deliver mobile broadband for a third of the Earth at 50 megabits per second.”

“And by the end of next year those data rates will go up to over 300 megabits per second.”

“To get that kind of data speed you need very high processing powers, you need to deploy the new Ka band – which although it is still relatively unproven is looking like a very exciting new capability for space assets.”

The integrated Falcon 9/Inmarsat-5 F4 were rolled out to the KSC launch pad on Sunday to begin final preparations and were erected at the pad this morning for Monday’s liftoff.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida which successfully delivered Inmarsat-5 F4 broadband satellite to orbit. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

The first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1 D engines fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellants and generating 1.7 million pounds.

The 7 meter long satellite was deployed approximately 32 minutes after launch when it will come under the command of the Boeing and Inmarsat satellite operations teams based at the Boeing facility in El Segundo.

It will now be “manoeuvred to its geostationary orbit, 35,786km (22,236 miles) above Earth, where it will deploy its solar arrays and reflectors and undergo intensive payload testing before beginning commercial service.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite accelerates to orbit leaving exhaust trail in its wake after twilight launch at 7:20 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The Inmarsat-5 F4 (I-5 F4) will become part of the firms Global Xpress network “which has been delivering seamless, high-speed broadband connectivity across the world since December 2015,” says Inmarsat.

“Once in geostationary orbit, the satellite will provide additional capacity for Global Xpress users on land, at sea and in the air.”

I-5 F4 was built by Boeing at their satellite operations facility in El Segundo, CA for Inmarsat.

The new satellite will join 3 others already in orbit.

Inmarsat has invested approximately US$1.6 billion in the Global Xpress constellation “to establish the first ever global Ka-band service from a single network operator.”

Inmarsat 5 F4 counts as the sixth SpaceX launch of 2017.

And SpaceX is on an absolutely torrid launch pace. Monday’s liftoff comes just 2 weeks after the last successful SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff on May 1 of the super secret NROL-76 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO – as I reported here.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Inmarsat 5 F4 broadband satellite stands raised erect poised for twilight liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 15 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 (I-5 F4) satellite undergoes prelaunch processing for liftoff on SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat
SpaceX Falcon 9 Inmarsat-5 F4 (I-5 F4) mission artwork. Credit: SpaceX/Inmarsat

SpaceX Continues Torrid 2017 Launch Pace With Commercial High-Speed Inmarsat Broadband Satellite on May 15

Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 (I-5 F4) satellite undergoes prelaunch processing for liftoff on SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX is all set to continue their absolutely torrid launch pace in 2017 with a commercial High-Speed broadband satellite for Inmarsat on May 15 following Thursday’s successful completion of a critical static hot-fire test of the first stage. Watch our video below.

The static fire test of all 9 Merlin 1 D first stage engines comes just 10 days after the last successful SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff of the super secret NROL-76 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO – as I reported here.

The positive outcome for the static fire test of the first stage engines of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday afternoon, May 11, paves the path to a Monday evening liftoff of the Inmarsat-5 F4 mission from the Florida Space Coast.

Blastoff of the Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 communications satellite for commercial broadband provider Inmarsat is slated for Monday evening, May 15 at 7:20 p.m. EDT (2320 GMT) from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete,” SpaceX confirmed via social media only minutes after finishing the key test at 12:45 p.m. EDT (1645 GMT).

“Targeting launch of Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 from Pad 39A on Monday, May 15.”

The launch window extends for 50 minutes until 8:10 p.m. EDT.

Watch this cool video of Thursday’s engine test as seen from the National Wildlife Refuge near Playalinda Beach on the Atlantic Ocean.

Video Caption: Static fire test of Falcon 9 booster for Inmarsat 5 F4 launch. Testing of the 9 Merlin 1D engines of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster on Pad 39A in preparation for launch of the Inmarsat 5 F4 satellite on May 15, 2017 from pad 39A at KSC. Credit: Jeff Seibert

“The countdown begins!” Inmarsat confirmed on the company website.

“Static fire test complete & we are go for launch! #I5F4 will fly with SpaceX on 15 May 19:20 EDT / 00:20 BST.”

The weather forecast is currently 80% GO for favorable conditions at launch time.

The never used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 will deliver Inmarsat-5 F4 to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

The Inmarsat-5 F4 (I-5 F4) will become part of the firms Global Xpress network “which has been delivering seamless, high-speed broadband connectivity across the world since December 2015,” says Inmarsat.

I-5 F4 was built by Boeing at their satellite operations facility in El Segundo, CA for Inmarsat.

For the purposes of the engine test only the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 were rolled up the pad and erected.

Following the conclusion of the hot fire test the Falcon 9 was rolled back off the pad to the huge SpaceX processing hangar located just outside the pad perimeter fence.

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-10 telecomsat poised atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center ahead of liftoff on 30 Mar 2017 on world’s first reflight of an orbit class rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The Falcon 9 rocket and Inmarsat payload have now been mated to the payload adapted and encapsulation inside the nose cone following the test. The integrated rocket and payload eill soon be rolled about a quarter mile up the ramp at pad 39A to undergo final prelaunch preparations.

“The #I5F4 satellite has been successfully mated to the payload adaptor and attach fitting and encapsulated into the payload fairing in preparation for our SpaceX launch on 15 May,” Inmarsat stated.

“It’s an emotional time for our Inmarsat and The Boeing Company engineers – the satellite will not be seen again before it is launched into geostationary orbit, nearly 36,000km from Earth!”

“Catch all the live action here: www.inmarsat.com/i5f4 #GlobalXpress #makingadifference”

Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 (I-5 F4) satellite undergoes prelaunch processing for liftoff on SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat

Inmarsat 5 F4 will be the sixth SpaceX launch of 2017 following the NROL-76 launch on May 1.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office successfully launches shortly after sunrise from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 1st stage accomplished successful ground landing at the Cape nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Static fire test of Falcon 9 completed on May 11. SpaceX targeting launch of Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 from Pad 39A on Monday, May 15. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX to Launch 1st NRO SpySat Sunday after Static Fire Success

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 25 Apr. 2017 as seen from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch the NROL-76 super secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on 30 April 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

MERRITT ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, FL – Elon Musk’s SpaceX is primed for another significant space first; the firms first launch of a spy satellite for the US governments super secret spy agency; the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO – following today’s successful static hotfire test of the Falcon 9 launchers first stage booster.

Tuesday’s hotfire test to took place shortly after 3 p.m. this afternoon, April 25, at SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The successful test paves the path for launch of the NROL-76 classified payload for the NRO atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket this Sunday morning, April 30 from pad 39A.

“Static fire test complete,” SpaceX confirmed via social media just minutes after finishing the brief test at 3:02 p.m. EDT (1902 GMT).

“Targeting Falcon 9 launch of NROL-76 on Sunday, April 30.”

The engine test is conducted using only the first two stages of the rocket – minus the expensive payload in case anything goes wrong as like occurred during the catastrophic AMOS-6 static fire disaster last September.

The test is routinely done so that SpaceX engineers can confirm the readiness of the rocket and all its systems to safely and successfully launch the specified payload to its intended orbit.

Furthermore this launch is also notable because it features the next land landing by a SpaceX Falcon 9 first booster back at the Cape for only the fourth time in history – which also makes for an extremely thrilling experience – and unforgettable space enthusiasts event.

So by all means try to witness this launch from the Florida Space Coast in person, if at all possible.

The breakfast time launch window on Sunday, April 30 opens at 7 a.m. EDT. It extends for two hours until 9.a.m. EDT.

The long range weather outlook currently looks favorable with lots of sun and little rain. But that can change on a moment’s notice in the sunshine state.

The brief engine test lasting approximately three seconds took place at 3:02 p.m. today, Tuesday, April 25, with the sudden eruption of smoke and ash rushing out the flame trench to the north and into the air over historic pad 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during a picture perfect sunny afternoon – as I witnessed from the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville, FL.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 25 Apr. 2017 as seen from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch the NROL-76 super secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on 30 April 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

During today’s static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages are fueled with densified liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown is carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition with the rocket firmly clamped down and held in place.

The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad.

This is only the fourth Falcon 9 static fire test ever conducted on Pad 39A.

Pad 39A has been repurposed by SpaceX from its days as a NASA shuttle launch pad.

Watch this video of the April 25 static fire test from colleague Jeff Seibert:



Video Caption: Static fire test of the Falcon 9 core in preparation for NROL-76 launch scheduled for April 30, 2017. A Falcon 9 booster undergoes a captive static fire test as a step in the launch preparation for the first dedicated NRO launch by SpaceX. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Following the engine test, the propellants are drained and the rocket is rolled off the pad and back into the huge SpaceX processing hanger at the pad perimeter.

The NROL-76 classified surveillance satellite will be bolted on top. The rocket will be rolled back to pad 39A in advance of Sunday’s planned blastoff.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 25 Apr. 2017 as seen from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch the NROL-76 super secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on 30 April 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Until now launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA) and its predecessors have held a virtual monoploy on the US military’s most critical satellite launches.

Worlds 1st ever reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The last first stage booster during the SES-10 launch of the first recycled rocket landed on a droneship barge at sea last month.

NROL-76 will be the fifth SpaceX launch of 2017.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Flawless Capture and Berthing of SpaceX Dragon Supply Ship at ISS

The SpaceX Dragon is captured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon is captured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following a flawless post midnight blastoff two mornings ago, a pair of NASA astronauts executed a flawless capture of the newest SpaceX Dragon supply ship at the International Space Station early this morning, July 20, carrying 2.5 tons of priceless research equipment and gear for the resident astronauts and cosmonauts.

As the orbiting outpost was traveling 252 statute miles over the Great Lakes, NASA’s veteran Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and newly arrived NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins used the station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) Canadian-built robotic arm to reach out and capture the Dragon CRS-9 spacecraft at 6:56 a.m. EDT.

“Good capture confirmed after a two day rendezvous,” said Houston Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, as Dragon was approximately 30 feet (10 meters) away from the station.

“We’ve captured us a Dragon,” radioed Williams.

“Congratulations to the entire team that put this thing together, launched it, and successfully rendezvoused it to the International Space Station. We look forward to the work that it brings.”

The SpaceX Dragon is seen attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module just before orbital sunrise. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon is seen attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module just before orbital sunrise. Credit: NASA TV

The events unfolded live on a NASA TV webcast for all to follow along.

Furthermore, today’s dramatic Dragon arrival coincides with a renowned day in the annuls of space history. Today coincides with the 40th anniversary of humanity’s first successful touchdown on the surface of Mars by NASA’s Viking 1 lander on July 20, 1976. It paved the way for many future missions.

And Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to land on another celestial body – the Moon – on July 20, 1969 during NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.

Williams was working from a robotics work station in the station’s domed cupola. Rubins was Williams backup. She just arrived at the station on July 9 for a minimum 4 month stay, after launching to orbit on a Russian Soyuz on July 6 with two additional crew mates.

Ground controllers then used the robotic arm to maneuver the Dragon cargo spacecraft closer to its berthing port on the Earth facing side of the Harmony module, located at the front of the station.

Some three hours after the successful grappling, Dragon was joined to the station and bolted into place for initial berthing on the Harmony module at 10:03 a.m. EDT as the station flew about 252 statute miles over the California and Oregon border.

Controllers then activated four gangs of four bolts in the common berthing mechanism (CBM) to complete the second stage capture of the latching and berthing of Dragon to the station with a total of 16 bolts to ensure a snug connection, safety and no pressure leaks.

Crew members Williams and Rubins along with Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi are now working to install power and data cables from the station to Dragon. They plan to open the hatch tomorrow after pressurizing the vestibule in the forward bulkhead between the station and Dragon.

Dragon reached the station after a carefully choreographed orbital chase and series of multiple thruster firings to propel the cargo ship from its preliminary post launch orbit up to the massive million pound science outpost with six resident crew members from the US, Russia and Japan.

Among the 5000 pounds of equipment on board is the first of two identical docking adapters essential for enabling station dockings next year by NASA’s new commercial astronaut taxis. This mission is all about supporting NASA’s ‘Journey to Mars’ by humans in the 2030s.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in its upgraded, full thrust version and the Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship took place barely 48 hours ago at 12:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 18, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Dragon reached its preliminary orbit about 10 minutes after launch and then deployed a pair of solar arrays.

SpaceX also successfully executed a spellbinding ground landing of the Falcon 9 first stage back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 40.

The dramatic ground landing of the 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage at LZ -1 took place about 9 minutes after liftoff. It marks only the second time a spent orbit class booster has touched down intact and upright on land.

Moments before dramatic touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage at Landing Zone-1 (LX-1) accompanied by sonic booms after launching Dragon CRS-9 supply ship to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 12:45 a.m., bound for the International Space Station (ISS).   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Moments before dramatic touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage at Landing Zone-1 (LX-1) accompanied by sonic booms after launching Dragon CRS-9 supply ship to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 12:45 a.m., bound for the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Among the wealth of over 3900 pounds (1790 kg) of research investigations loaded on board Dragon is an off the shelf instrument designed to perform the first-ever DNA sequencing in space and the first international docking adapter (IDA) that is absolutely essential for docking of the SpaceX and Boeing built human spaceflight taxis that will ferry our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in some 18 months.

Other science experiments on board include OsteoOmics to test if magnetic levitation can accurately simulate microgravity to study different types of bone cells and contribute to treatments for diseases like osteoporosis, a Phase Change Heat Exchanger to test temperature control technology in space, the Heart Cells experiments that will culture heart cells on the station to study how microgravity changes the human heart, new and more efficient three-dimensional solar cells, and new marine vessel tracking hardware known as the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that will aid in locating and identifying commercial ships across the globe.

The ring shaped IDA-2 unit is stowed in the Dragon’s unpressurized truck section. It weighs 1029 lbs (467 kg), measures about 42 inches tall and sports an inside diameter of 63 inches in diameter – so astronauts and cargo can easily float through. The outer diameter measures about 94 inches.

“Outfitted with a host of sensors and systems, the adapter is built so spacecraft systems can automatically perform all the steps of rendezvous and dock with the station without input from the astronauts. Manual backup systems will be in place on the spacecraft to allow the crew to take over steering duties, if needed,” says NASA.

View of International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2) being processed inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at NASA Kennedy Space Center for eventual launch to the ISS in the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon on the CRS-9 mission. It will be connected to the station to provide a port for Commercial Crew spacecraft carrying astronauts to dock to the orbiting laboratory as soon as 2017.  The identical IDA-1 was destroyed during SpaceX CRS-7 launch failure on June 28, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2) being processed inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at NASA Kennedy Space Center for eventual launch to the ISS in the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon on the CRS-9 mission. It will be connected to the station to provide a port for Commercial Crew spacecraft carrying astronauts to dock to the orbiting laboratory as soon as 2017. The identical IDA-1 was destroyed during SpaceX CRS-7 launch failure on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“It’s a passive system which means it doesn’t take any action by the crew to allow docking to happen and I think that’s really the key,” said David Clemen Boeing’s director of Development/Modifications for the space station.

“Spacecraft flying to the station will use the sensors on the IDA to track to and help the spacecraft’s navigation system steer the spacecraft to a safe docking without astronaut involvement.”

CRS-9 counts as the company’s ninth scheduled flight to deliver supplies, science experiments and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station (ISS).

The CRS-9 mission is for the crews of Expeditions 48 and 49 to support dozens of the approximately 250 science and research investigations in progress under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Dragon will remain at the station until its scheduled departure on Aug. 29 when it will return critical science research back to Earth via a parachute assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

Watch for Ken’s continuing CRS-9 mission coverage where he reported onsite 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

SpaceX Nails Mesmerizing Midnight Launch and Land Landing of Falcon 9 Carrying Critical ISS Science and Docking Port

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 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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In a breathtaking feat mesmerizing hordes of thrilled spectators, SpaceX nailed today’s (July 18) back to back post midnight launch and landing of the firms Falcon 9 first stage tasked to carry a cargo Dragon loaded with over two tons of critical science, supplies and a crew docking port to the space station for NASA.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in its upgraded, full thrust version and the Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship took place right on time at 12:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 18, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX simultaneously successfully delivered over 5000 pounds (2200 kg) of research supplies to orbit for NASA in a commercial cargo Dragon ship, as the primary mission goal – and soft landed the approximately 60,000 pound Falcon 9 first stage on land, as the experimental secondary mission goal.

“The Falcon 9 first stage we landed is in excellent shape,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today at the 2 a.m. EDT post launch and landing media briefing early this morning.

See my launch and landing streak shot and photos herein, including deployment of the four landing legs in the final seconds before propulsive touchdown.

The twin accomplishments will have far reaching implications for the exploration and exploitation of space for all humanity.

“Each commercial resupply flight to the space station is a significant event. Everything, from the science to the spare hardware and crew supplies, is vital for sustaining our mission,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s International Space Station Program manager.

“With equipment to enable novel experiments never attempted before in space, and an international docking adapter vital to the future of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, we’re thrilled this Dragon has successfully taken flight.”

The CRS-9 mission is to support the resident six-person crew of men and women currently working on the station from the US, Russia and Japan.

The propulsive soft landing of the 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 40.

The dramatic ground landing at LZ -1 took place about 9 minutes after liftoff.

Moments before dramatic touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage at Landing Zone-1 (LX-1) accompanied by sonic booms after launching Dragon CRS-9 supply ship to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 12:45 a.m., bound for the International Space Station (ISS).   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Moments before dramatic touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage at Landing Zone-1 (LX-1) accompanied by sonic booms after launching Dragon CRS-9 supply ship to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 12:45 a.m., bound for the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The first and second stages separated about two and a half minutes after liftoff and were easily visible to any eyewitness watching – backdropped by the sunshine states dark skies.

As the second stage soared to orbit, the first stage reignited a first stage engine for a series of burns targeting a return to the Cape.

We spotted the first engine firing about two mintues before landing, as it descended directly overhead of myself and everyone in the Cape Canaveral region.

For a few moments it looked like it was headed right towards us, but then steered away as planned with engines blazing to slow the boosters descent to make a gentle landing at LZ-1.

Finally the Falcon landed, obscured by a big vapor cloud and sonic booms roaring around the space coast – and waking many local residents. Several folks told me they were suddenly woken by the shocking booms reverberating inside their homes.

Some area residents even called 911 not knowing the true nature of the noises.

Streak shot of launch and landing of SpaceX Falcon CRS-9 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida to the ISS on July 18, 2016 at 12:45 a.m. EDT. View from Satellite Beach, FL.  Credit: John Krauss/johnkraussphotos.com
Streak shot of launch and landing of SpaceX Falcon CRS-9 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida to the ISS on July 18, 2016 at 12:45 a.m. EDT. View from Satellite Beach, FL. Credit: John Krauss/johnkraussphotos.com

Among the wealth of over 3900 pounds (1790 kg) of research investigations loaded on board Dragon is an off the shelf instrument designed to perform the first-ever DNA sequencing in space, and the first international docking adapter (IDA) that is absolutely essential for docking of the SpaceX and Boeing built human spaceflight taxis that will ferry our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in some 18 months.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Dragon CRS-9 resupply mission to the  International Space Station (ISS) at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Dragon CRS-9 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CRS-9 counts as the company’s ninth scheduled flight to deliver supplies, science experiments and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station (ISS).

The CRS-9 mission is for the crews of Expeditions 48 and 49 to support dozens of the approximately 250 science and research investigations in progress under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Dragon reached its preliminary orbit about 10 minutes after launch. Then it deployed a pair of solar arrays and began a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station.

If all goes well, Dragon is scheduled to arrive at the orbiting outpost on Wednesday, July 20, after a 2 day orbital chase.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams will then reach out with the station’s 57.7-foot-long Canadian-built robotic arm to grapple and capture the private Dragon cargo ship working from a robotics work station in the station’s cupola. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will serve as Williams backup. She just arrived at the station last week on July 9 for a minimum 4 month stay, after launching to orbit on a Russian Soyuz on July 6 with two additional crew mates.

Ground commands will be sent from Houston to the station’s arm to install Dragon on the Earth-facing bottom side of the Harmony module for its stay at the space station. The crew expects to open the hatch a day later after pressurizing the vestibule in the forward bulkhead between the station and Dragon.

Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture July 20 will begin at 5:30 a.m. on NASA TV, with installation coverage set to begin at 9:45 a.m.

CRS-9 marks only the second time SpaceX has attempted a land landing of the 15 story tall first stage booster.

The history making first time successfully took place at Landing Zone 1 (LZ 1) on Dec. 22, 2015 as part of the ORBCOMM-2 mission. Landing Zone 1 is built on the former site of Space Launch Complex 13, a U.S. Air Force rocket and missile testing range.

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

Altogether SpaceX has successfully landed and recovered 5 first stage booster intact and upright.

The International Docking Adapter-2 was tested in the Space Station Processing Facility prior to being loaded for launch into space on the SpaceX CRS-9 mission set for July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Fl.  Credits: NASA
The International Docking Adapter-2 was tested in the Space Station Processing Facility prior to being loaded for launch into space on the SpaceX CRS-9 mission [set for July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Fl. Credits: NASA

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-9 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Here’s my launch pad video of the blastoff:

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship bound for the International Space Station on July 18, 2016 at 12:45 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from Mobius remote camera positioned at the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about 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:

July 18, 26-28: “SpaceX launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy and Atlas V spy satellite launches, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

An illustration of how the IDA will look when attached to the International Space Station. Credits: NASA
An illustration of how the IDA will look when attached to the International Space Station.
Credits: NASA
Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to the ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to the ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Xenon Propulsion Pair of Telecom Satellites Roars Skyward from SpaceX’s Sunshine State Launch Base – Gallery

Successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of ABS/Eutelsat-2 launch on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of ABS/Eutelsat-2 launch on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — Nearly perfect weather greeted the blastoff of a nearly identical pair of xenon propulsion commercial telecom satellites carried to orbit today, Wednesday, June 15, by an upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Florida space coast.

The secondary and experimental goal of soft landing the first stage booster on an ocean going platform for later reuse was not successful – but also not unexpected due to the high energy of the rocket required to deliver the primary payload to orbit.

Note: check out the expanding gallery of launch photos and videos from my space colleagues and myself.

Liftoff of the 229 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 took place at the opening of Wednesday’s launch window at 10:29 a.m. EDT (2:29 UTC) under mostly sunny skies with scattered clouds, thrilling crowds along the beaches and around the coastal areas.

Wednesday’s blastoff came just 4 days after this weekends (June 11) launch from the Cape of the world’s most powerful rocket – the Delta 4 Heavy – which delivered a huge spy satellite to orbit for the NRO in support of US national defense.

Successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of ABS/Eutelsat-2 launch on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of ABS/Eutelsat-2 launch on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The goal of the launch was to deliver the Boeing-built EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellites to orbits for Latin American and Asian customers.

“Ascent phase & satellites look good,” SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk tweeted.

However the 156 foot tall first stage booster descended too quickly due to insufficient thrust from the descent engines and crashed on the droneship.

“But booster rocket had a RUD on droneship,” Musk noted. RUD stand for rapid unscheduled disassembly” which means it exploded on impact.

“Looks like thrust was low on 1 of 3 landing engines. High g landings v sensitive to all engines operating at max,” Musk elaborated.

The crash follows three straight landing successes – mostly recently on May 27. See my onsite coverage here of the boosters return to Port Canaveral on the ICISLY droneship.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Eutelsat/ABS 2A on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Eutelsat/ABS 2A on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

The satellites are based on Boeing’s 702SP series program and were the first all-electric propulsion satellites when Boeing introduced it in 2012, a Boeing spokesperson Joanna Climer told Universe Today.

Liftoff occurred from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on time at 10:29 a.m. EDT (2:29 UTC).

The crackling roar of 1.5 million pounds of thrust generated by nine Merlin 1 D engines was so load that even spectators watching some 20 miles away in Titusville, Fl heard it load and clear – eager onlookers told me with a smile of delight !

Folks enthusiastically shared experiences upon returning from my press site viewing area located less than 2 miles away from the launch pad !

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Eutelsat/ABS 2A on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Eutelsat/ABS 2A on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

The Falcon 9 launch was carried live on a SpaceX webcast that started about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 10:09 a.m. EDT at SpaceX.com/webcast

The webcast offered a detailed play by play of launch events and exquisite live views from the ground and extraordinary views of many key events of the launch in progress from the rocket itself from side mounted cameras looking up into space and back down to the ground.

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off carrying ABS/Eutelsat-2 satellites on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off carrying ABS/Eutelsat-2 satellites on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Falcon 9 delivered the roughly 5000 pound commercial telecommunications satellites to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for Eutelsat based in Paris and Asia Broadcast Satellite of Bermuda and Hong Kong.

They were deployed at about 30 minutes and 35 minutes after liftoff.

Eutelsat 117 West B will provide Latin America with video, data, government and mobile services for Paris-based Eutelsat.

ABS 2A will distribute direct-to-home television, mobile and maritime communications services across Russia, India, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region for Asia Broadcast Satellite of Bermuda and Hong Kong.

There are only minor differences between the two satellites. They were vertically stacked for launch and encased inside the Falcon 9 nose cone, or payload fairing using a Boeing-patented and customized interface configuration – as seen in the photo herein.

The telecom sats are “very similar, but not identical,” Climer told Universe Today.

Two Boeing built satellies named Eutelsat SA 117 West B and ABS 2A are due to launch on June 15, 2015 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket  from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX
Two Boeing built satellies named Eutelsat SA 117 West B and ABS 2A are due to launch on June 15, 2015 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX

“They vary slightly in mass, but have similar payload power. The satellite on top weighs less than the one on the bottom.”

They were tested at the Boeing Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif., to ensure they could withstand the rigors of the launch environment. They have a design lifetime of a minimum of 15 years.

The satellites have no chemical thrusters. They will maneuver to their intended orbit entirely using a use xenon-based electric thruster propulsion system known as XIPS.
XIPS stands for xenon-ion propulsion system.

By using xenon electric propulsion thrusters, Boeing was able to save a lot of weight in their manufacture. This also enabled the satellites to fly together, in tandem rather than on two separate launches and at a much cheaper price to Eutelsat and ABS.

“XIPS uses the impulse generated by a thruster ejecting electrically charged particles at high velocities. XIPS requires only one propellant, xenon, and does not require any chemical propellant to generate thrust,” according to Boeing officials.

“XIPS is used for orbit raising and station-keeping for the 702SP series.”

Watch these incredible launch videos showing many different vantage points:

Close up view of the top umbilicals during the launch of the Eutelsat and ABS satellites on June 15, 2016 on SpaceX Falcon 9 booster #26 from Pad 40 of CCAFS. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Video Caption: SpaceX launch of Eutelsat and ABS Launch on 15 June 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with Eutelsat 117W/ABS-2A electric propulsion comsats on June 15, 2016 at 10:29 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from Mobius remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Wednesday’s launch was the sixth of this year for SpaceX.

Later this year, SpaceX hopes to relaunch one of the recovered first stage boosters that’s seems fit to fly.

Two others which landed harder will be used for long life testing.

One of my very attentive readers, Marie Bieniek, apparently spotted one of the recovered boosters being trucked back on US 19 North of Crystal River, Fl earlier this week, headed for SpaceX facilities possibly in Texas or California.

She was just driving along the Florida roads on Rt. 19 on Monday, Jun 13 when suddenly a Falcon appeared at about 11 AM! She kindly alerted me – so see her photo below.

An apparent SpaceX Falcon 9 recovered booster is spotted on US 19 North of Crystal River, Fl on June 13, 2016. Credit: Marie Bieniek
An apparent SpaceX Falcon 9 recovered booster is spotted on US 19 North of Crystal River, Fl on June 13, 2016. Credit: Marie Bieniek

The SpaceX rockets 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.

SpaceX Falocn 9 streaks to orbit across the Florida skies after Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsat  launch  on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falocn 9 streaks to orbit across the Florida skies after Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsat launch on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

Ken Kremer

Up close view of nose cone carrying two comsats atop SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Lane Hermann
Up close view of nose cone carrying two comsats atop SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann
Predawn view of SpaceX Falcon 9 and Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsats pn the morning of launch on June 15, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Predawn view of SpaceX Falcon 9 and Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsats pn the morning of launch on June 15, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of nose cone carrying Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsats atop SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of nose cone carrying Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsats atop SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Diagram of the Xenon propulsion system aboard the Boeing-built EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellites.  Credit: Boeing
Diagram of the Xenon propulsion system aboard the Boeing-built EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellites. Credit: Boeing

………….

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

June 16: “SpaceX launches, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Logo for EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellite mission launch. Credit: SpaceX
Logo for EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellite mission launch. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Scores Double Whammy with Nighttime Delivery of Japanese Comsat to Orbit and 2nd Successful Ocean Landing

Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit after blastoff on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: SpaceX
Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit after blastoff on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX scored a double whammy of successes this morning, May 6, following the stunning nighttime launch of a Japanese comsat streaking to orbit on the firm’s Falcon 9 rocket and nailing the breathtaking touchdown of the spent first stage just minutes later – furthering the goal of rocket reusability

Under clear Florida starlight, the upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 soared to orbit on 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 this morning from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.

The spectacular launch and dramatic landing were both broadcast in real time on a live launch webcast from SpaceX.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

Today’s Falcon launch was the 4th this year for SpaceX and took place less than 4 weeks after the last launch (on an ISS cargo mission for NASA) and sea based barge landing.

Barely nine minutes after liftoff the 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage carried out a propulsive soft landing on an ocean going platform located some 400 miles off the east coast of Florida.

“First stage landing on drone ship in Atlantic confirmed,” said a SpaceX official during the webcast, which showed a glowing body approaching the horizon.

“Woohoo!!” tweeted SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk.

This marked the second successful landing at sea for SpaceX following the prior history making touchdown success last month.

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

“Yeah, this was a three engine landing burn, so triple deceleration of last flight. That’s important to minimize gravity losses.”

Falcon 9 first stage touchdown on ocean platform after successful JCSAT-14 launch on May 6, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 first stage touchdown on ocean platform after successful JCSAT-14 launch on May 6, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceX

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.

After a brief reignition of the second stage, the spacecraft successfully separated from the upper stage and was deployed some 32 minutes after liftoff – as seen via the live SpaceX webcast.

“The Falcon 9 second stage delivered JCSAT-14 to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit,” said SpaceX.

Via a fleet of 15 satellites, Tokyo, Japan based SKY Perfect JSAT provides high quality satellite communications to its customers.

The JCSAT-14 communications satellite was designed and manufactured by Space Systems/Loral for SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation.

It will succeed and replace the JCSAT-2A satellite currently providing coverage to Asia, Russia, Oceania and the Pacific Islands.

JCSAT-14 is equipped with C-band and Ku-Band transponders that will extend JCSAT-2A’s geographical footprint across the Asia-Pacific region.

The JCSAT-14 communications satellite from SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation stands ready for encapsulation in the Falcon 9 payload fairing. Credit: SpaceX
The JCSAT-14 communications satellite from SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation stands ready for encapsulation in the Falcon 9 payload fairing. Credit: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 soft landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship positioned some 400 miles (650 kilometers) off shore in the Atlantic Ocean.

Prior to the launch, SpaceX officials had rated the chances of a successful landing as “unlikely” due to “this launch mission’s GTO destination, the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating.”

“Rocket reentry is a lot faster and hotter than last time, so odds of making it are maybe even, but we should learn a lot either way,” said Musk.

Nevertheless, despite those difficulties, the landing turned out to be another stunning success for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s vision of radically slashing the cost of sending rocket to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reusing them.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

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

Ken Kremer

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: SpaceX
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceX
Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann
SpaceX JCSAT-14 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX JCSAT-14 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX