Stunning Imagery Shows 1st Nighttime Falcon 9 Launch off Pad 39A; EchoStar XXIII Photo/Video Gallery

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar XXIII TV satellite for Brazil from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Photo from camera at the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The opening volley of March Launch Madness started brilliantly as showcased by stunning imagery of the inaugural nighttime launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 off historic pad 39A under moonlit skies along the Florida Space Coast on Thursday, March 15.

The 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket thundered to life at 2:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, March 16 on a commercial liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and successfully delivered the high capacity EchoStar XXIII TV broadcast satellite to geosynchronous orbit for Brazil.

Check out the expanding spectacular gallery of launch photos and videos gathered from my space journalist colleagues, myself and spectators ringing the space coast.

Besides being the first night launch of a Falcon 9 from pad 39A, the mission also goes down as the first fully commercial launch from pad 39A.

Overall the EchoStar XXIII launch counts as only the second Falcon 9 ever to blast off from pad 39A.

The inaugural Falcon 9 blastoff successfully took place last month on Feb. 19 on a contracted cargo resupply mission for NASA that delivered over 2.7 tons of science experiments, crew supplies and research gear to the International Space Station (ISS) on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon spaceship – as I reported here.

SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk leased historic pad 39A from NASA back in April 2014 for launches of the firms Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy carrying both robotic vehicles as well as humans on missions to low Earth orbit, the Moon and ultimately the Red Planet.

Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying EchoStar 23 TV satellite to orbit from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT, as seen from the KSC press site. Credit: Julian Leek

Watch this video compilation from Jeff Seibert:

Video Caption: Echostar-23 launch on a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch of the Echostar-23 satellite is the first commercial launch to take place from historic Pad 39A. Credit: Jeff Seibert

After a short delay due to wind issues, the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D first stage engines ignited at 2:00 a.m. EDT March 16, generating 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust to propel the commercial EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite off pad 39A and on its way to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for EchoStar Corporation.

The satellite was deployed approximately 34 minutes after launch.

If all goes well, March features a triple header of launches with launch competitor and arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) planning a duo of nighttime blastoffs from their Delta and Atlas rocket families.

With Falcon away, the launch dates have been rescheduled for Saturday, March 18 and Friday, March 24 respectively.

Indeed the potential for a grand slam of launches also exists with another Falcon 9 blastoff at the very end of this month – if all goes well. But first we have to get through the Delta and Atlas launches and deal with finicky Florida weather.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket streaks to orbit with EchoStar XXIII TV satellite in this long exposure photo taken in front of NASA’s countdown clock under moonlit skies at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX announced that this was the last launch of an expendable Falcon 9.

Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying EchoStar 23 TV satellite to orbit from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT, as seen from the turn basin at the KSC press site. Credit: Jeff Seibert

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

Ken Kremer

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar 23 TV satellite from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Photo from camera inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Composite panoramic view of seaside Launch Complex 39A with SpaceX hangar and Falcon rocket 9 raised vertical to deliver the EchoStar 23 telecom satellite to geostationary orbit overnight March 16, 2017. Pad 39B at center. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 launches the EchoStar 23 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A with countdown clock in foreground at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as display shows liftoff progress to geosynchronous orbit after post midnight blastoff on March 16 at 2:oo a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar XXIII as seen through the trees from a house in Titusville, FL. Credit: Wesley Baskin
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar XXIII as seen through the trees from a house in Titusville, FL. Credit: Wesley Baskin

High Winds Scrub Legless SpaceX Falcon 9 Liftoff Reset to March 16 – Live Webcast

The countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center shows the progress of the SpaceX Falcon launch attempt with the EchoStar 23 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A after midnight March 14. Liftoff has been rescheduled for March 16 at 1:35 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – High winds halted SpaceX’s early morning attempt to launch a legless Falcon 9 rocket and the EchoStar XXIII commercial communications satellite soon after midnight Tuesday, Mar. 14, from the Florida Space Coast amidst on and off rain showers and heavy cloud cover crisscrossing central Florida all afternoon Monday, Mar. 13 and into the overnight hours.

SpaceX then decided to reschedule the EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite launch for post-midnight Thursday, March 16, at 1:35 a.m. EDT.

Tuesday’s launch scrub was called some 40 minutes prior to the scheduled opening of the two and a half hour long launch window at 1:34 a.m. EDT.

“Standing down due to high winds; working toward next available launch opportunity,” SpaceX tweeted just as engineers had started fueling the two stage rocket poised for blastoff from historic launch pad 39A from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

After further evaluating when to schedule a second attempt, SpaceX then stuck to their original plan of a 48 hour turnaround.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying EchoStar 23 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad on March 13, 2017 ahead of liftoff slated for 14 Mar 2017 at 1:34 a.m. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

If all goes well, March features a triple header of launches with launch competitor and arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) planning a duo of nighttime blastoffs from their Delta and Atlas rocket families. The exact dates are in flux due to the postponement of the SpaceX Falcon 9. They had been slated for March 17 and 21 respectively.

Since continuing high winds have plagued the space coast region all day today and the weather is forecast to improve significant tomorrow, a two day delay to Thursday seemed rather prudent – solely from a weather standpoint.

“After standing down due to high winds, SpaceX is now targeting Thursday, March 16th for the EchoStar XXIII launch.” SpaceX officials announced via their website and social media.

“The launch window opens at 1:35 am ET and weather conditions are expected to be 90% favorable.”

The two and a half hour launch window closes at 4:05 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 20 minutes prior to the 1:35 a.m. liftoff time.

The SpaceX webcast will be available starting at about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 1:14 a.m. EDT.

Watch at: SpaceX.com/webcast

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying EchoStar 23 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad on March 13, 2017 ahead of liftoff slated for 16 Mar 2017 at 1:35 a.m. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The two stage Falcon rocket will deliver the commercial EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for EchoStar Corporation.

The satellite will be deployed approximately 34 minutes after launch.

The EchoStar 23 launch counts as only the second Falcon 9 ever to blastoff from pad 39A – which SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk leased from NASA back in April 2014.

The inaugural Falcon 9 blastoff successfully took place last month on Feb. 19, as I reported here.

The nighttime lunge to space should offer spectacular viewing. But unlike most recent SpaceX missions, the first stage will not be recovered via a pinpoint propulsive landing either on land or on a barge at sea.

Because of the satellite delivery to GTO, there are insufficient fuel reserves to carry out the booster landing.

“SpaceX will not attempt to land Falcon 9’s first stage after launch due to mission requirements,” officials said.

Therefore the first stage is not outfitted with either landing legs or grid fins to maneuver it back to a touchdown.

However, SpaceX has announced that this Falcon 9 will be the last expendable first stage.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying EchoStar 23 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad on March 13, 2017 ahead of liftoff slated for 14 Mar 2017 at 1:34 a.m. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Musk hopes to dramatically cut the cost of access to space by recovering and recycling the boosters for reuse with a new paying customer.

Indeed the SES-10 payload is already slated to fly on the first ‘flight proven’ rocket sometime in the next few weeks.

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

Ken Kremer

NASA Premiers New Countdown Clock for Orion’s First Launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Just in the nick of time, NASA powered up its new countdown clock at the Press Site to tick down towards blastoff of the first launch of the agency’s new Orion crew capsule on Dec. 4 that will carry a new generation of explorers to exciting new destinations further into deep space than ever before.

Without any fanfare, NASA premiered the new digital clock today, Monday, Dec. 1, to replace the world famous analog clock – seen by countless billions across the globe – that was recently retired and detailed in my story – here.

Check out and compare the new and old countdown clocks in my exclusive photos herein.

“We were in a race against time to remove the old clock and replace it with the new clock over the Thanksgiving holiday period,” said NASA Kennedy Space Center spokesman George Diller in an exclusive interview with Universe Today on Monday.

“The plan was to have it ready in time for the first launch of Orion on Dec. 4,” Diller told me.

A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

A team was working during the holiday.

Why replace the old clock?

“It was getting harder and harder to find the spare parts needed to fix the clock”.

“The original clock was designed in the 1960s”, Diller explained. It has been counting down launches, both manned and unmanned, for more than four decades.

“The clock has been in use since the Apollo 12 moon landing mission in November 1969.”

NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s 135th, and final, shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011, at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was used continuously throughout the remaining Apollo launches and then for all 135 shuttle launches until the final shuttle mission STS-135 blastoff in July 2011. Since then it has been used exclusively on a plethora of unmanned NASA science launches and resupply missions to the International Space Station.

The old countdown clock was last used in September 2014 during the SpaceX CRS-4 launch to the ISS, which I attended along with the STS-135 launch.

The clock and adjacent US flag are officially called “The Press Site: Clock and Flag Pole” and were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Jan. 21, 2000.

In the past few days workers dismantled and hauled off the old clock and installed the new one in place.

But the original base was left in place. The new clock is about the same length as the historic one, with a screen nearly 26 feet wide by 7 feet high.

While not true high-definition, the video resolution will be 1280 x 360.The new countdown clock sports a widescreen capability utilizing the latest breakthroughs in outdoor LED display technology, says NASA.

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th, and final, mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011, at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T-Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The display can provide images from multiple sources, as well as the countdown launch time. It was cool to see the new clock in action today.

As currently envisaged, the historic Countdown Clock was moved to the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC).

It will be placed on permanent display for the public to see for the first time at the KSCVC main entrance sometime early next year, Diller explained.

The new countdown clock in contact view with the VAB, Launch Control Center (LCC), US Flag and SLS Mobile Launcher at the Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida used for the first time with Orion’s first launch on Dec. 4, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
The new countdown clock in contact view with the VAB, Launch Control Center (LCC), US Flag, and SLS Mobile Launcher at the Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be used for the first time with Orion’s first launch on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA TV will provide several hours of live Orion EFT-1 launch coverage with the new countdown clock – starting at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 4.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he’ll be onsite at KSC in the days leading up to the historic launch on Dec. 4.

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

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

Dec 1-5: “Orion EFT-1, SpaceX CRS-5, Antares Orb-3 launch, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Iconic Kennedy Space Center Countdown Clock Retires

Iconic Kennedy Space Center Countdown Clock seen here retires
NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story updated and more photos[/caption]

In another sign of dramatically changing times since the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, the world famous Countdown Clock that ticked down to numerous blastoffs at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site and was ever present to billions of television viewers worldwide, has been retired.

Years of poor weather and decades of unforgiving time have visibly taken their toll on the iconic Countdown Clock beloved by space enthusiasts across the globe – as I have personally witnessed over years of reporting on launches from the KSC Press Site.

It was designed in the 1960s and has been counting down launches both manned and unmanned since the Apollo 12 moon landing mission in November 1969. And it continued through the final shuttle mission liftoff in July 2011 and a variety of unmanned NASA launches since then.

The countdown clock’s last use came just two months ago in September 2014 during the SpaceX CRS-4 launch to the ISS, which I attended along with the STS-135 launch.

The clock is located just a short walk away from another iconic NASA symbol – the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) – which assembled the Apollo/Saturn and Space Shuttle stacks for which it ticked down to blastoff. See photo below.

A new clock should be in place for NASA’s momentous upcoming launch of the Orion crew capsule on its inaugural unmanned test flight on Dec. 4, 2014.

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Because of its age, it has become harder to replace broken pieces.

“Maintaining the clock was becoming problematic,” NASA Press spokesman Allard Beutel told Universe Today.

It displays only time in big bold digits. But of course in this new modern digital era it will be replaced by one with a modern multimedia display, similar to the screens seen at sporting venues.

“The new clock will not only be a timepiece, but be more versatile with what we can show on the digital display,” Beutel told me.

The countdown clock is a must see for journalists, dignitaries and assorted visitors alike. Absolutely everyone, and I mean everyone !! – wants a selfie or group shot with it in some amusing or charming way to remember good times throughout the ages.

And of course, nothing beats including the countdown clock and the adjacent US flag in launch pictures in some dramatic way.

Indeed the clock and flag are officially called “The Press Site: Clock and Flag Pole” and are were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Jan. 21, 2000.

The clock was officially powered down for the last time at 3:45 p.m. EDT on Nov. 19, 2014.

Famous KSC Press Site Countdown Clock and US Flag with VAB during SpaceX CRS-5 launch in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Famous KSC Press Site Countdown Clock and US Flag with VAB during SpaceX CRS-4 launch in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“The countdown clock at Kennedy’s Press Site is considered one of the most-watched timepieces in the world and may only be second in popularity to Big Ben’s Great Clock in London, England. It also has been the backdrop for a few Hollywood movies,” noted a NASA press release announcing the impending shutdown of the iconic clock.

“It is so absolutely unique — the one and only — built for the world to watch the countdown and launch,” said Timothy M. Wright, IMCS Timing, Countdown and Photo Services. “From a historical aspect, it has been very faithful to serve its mission requirements.”

The famous landmark stands nearly 6 feet (70 inches) high, 26 feet (315 inches) wide is 3 feet deep and sits on a triangular concrete and aluminum base.

Each numerical digit (six in all) is about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. Each digit uses 56 40-watt light bulbs, the same ones found at the local hardware store. There are 349 total light bulbs in the clock, including the +/- sign (nine) and pair of colons (four), according to a NASA statement.

The new clock will be about the same size.

Fortunately for space fans, there is some good news!

The Countdown Clock will be moved to the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) and placed on permanent display for public viewing.

Details soon!

Space Shuttle Discovery awaits blast off on her final mission from Pad 39 A on the STS-133 mission, its 39th and final flight to space on February 24, 2011.  Prelaunch twilight view from the countdown clock at the KSC Press Site. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Discovery awaits blast off on her final mission from Pad 39 A on the STS-133 mission, its 39th and final flight to space on February 24, 2011. Prelaunch twilight view from the countdown clock at the KSC Press Site. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer