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

Flawless SpaceX Falcon 9 Takes Rousing Night Flight Delivery of EchoStar TV Sat to Orbit

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket streaks to orbit 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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Under stellar moonlit Florida skies, a private SpaceX Falcon 9 took flight overnight and flawlessly delivered the commercial EchoStar 23 television satellite to geosynchronous orbit after high winds delayed the rockets roar to orbit by two days from Tuesday. Breaking News: Check back for updates

The post midnight spectacle thrilled spectators who braved the wee hours this morning and were richly rewarded with a rousing rush as the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket thundered to life at 2:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, March 16 from historic Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and sped to orbit.

Rising on the power of 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust generated by nine Marlin 1D first stage engines, the two stage Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered the commercial EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for EchoStar Corporation.

The satellite was deployed approximately 34 minutes after launch.

Thus began March Launch Madness !!

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 earlier postponement of the SpaceX Falcon 9. They have been rescheduled for March 18 and 24 respectively.

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

EchoStar 23 will be stationed over Brazil for direct to home television broadcasts and high speed voice, video and data communications to millions of customers for EchoStar.

It was designed and built by Space Systems Loral (SSL).

“EchoStar XXIII is a highly flexible, Ku-band broadcast satellite services (BSS) satellite with four main reflectors and multiple sub-reflectors supporting multiple mission profiles,” according to a description from EchoStar Corporation.

EchoStar XXIII will initially be deployed in geosynchronous orbit at 45° West. The Satellite End of Life (EOL) Power is 20 kilowatts (kW).

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

The entire launch sequence was broadcast live on a SpaceX hosted webcast that began about 20 minutes before the revised liftoff time of 2:00 a.m. from the prelaunch countdown, blastoff and continued through the dramatic separation of the EchoStar 23 private payload from the second stage.

The EchoStar 23 launch counts as only the second Falcon 9 ever to blast off from pad 39A.

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar 23 TV satellite from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Credit: Julian Leek

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.

Composite panoramic view of seaside Launch Complex 39A with SpaceX hangar and Falcon 9 rocket 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 inaugural Falcon 9 blastoff successfully took place last month on Feb. 19, as I reported here.

However unlike most recent SpaceX missions, the legless Falcon 9 first stage will not be recovered via a pinpoint propulsive landing either on land or on a barge at sea.

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

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.

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

March Launch Madness: Triple Headed Space Spectacular Starts Overnight with SpaceX March 14 – Watch Live

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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – It’s March Madness for Space fans worldwide! A triple header of space spectaculars starts overnight with a SpaceX Falcon 9 launching in the wee hours of Tuesday, March 14 from the Florida Space Coast.

Indeed a trio of launches is planned in the next week as launch competitor and arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) plans a duo of nighttime blastoffs from their Delta and Atlas rocket families – following closely on the heels of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launching a commercial telecommunications satellite.

Of course it’s all dependent on everything happening like clockwork!

And there is no guarantee of that given the unpredictable nature of the fast changing weather on the Florida Space Coast and unknown encounters with technical gremlins which have already plagued all 3 rockets this month.

Each liftoff has already been postponed by several days this month. And the rocket launch order has swapped positions.

At any rate, SpaceX is now the first on tap after midnight tonight on Tuesday, March 14.

The Delta IV and Atlas V will follow on March 17 and March 21 respectively – if all goes well.

So to paraphrase moon walker Buzz Aldrin;

‘Get Your Ass to the Florida Space Coast – Fast !’

The potential for a grand slam also exists at the very end of the month. But let’s get through at least the first launch of Falcon first.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands at launch pad 39a poised to liftoff with EchoStar 23 TV sat on the Kennedy Space Center ahead of liftoff slated for 14 Mar 2017 at 1:34 a.m. Credit: Julian Leek

Liftoff of the two stage SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite is now slated for a post midnight spectacle next Tuesday, Mar. 14 from launch pad 39A on the Kennedy Space Center at the opening of the launch window at 1:34 a.m. EDT.

The two and a half hour launch window closes at 4:04 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 20 minutes prior to the 1:34 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 14 Mar 2017 at 1:34 a.m. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Following a successful static fire test last week on Mar. 9 of the first stage boosters engines, the SpaceX Falcon 9 was integrated with the EchoStar 23 direct to home TV satellite and rolled back out to pad 39A

The Falcon 9 rocket was raised erect into launch position by the time I visited the pad this afternoon, Monday March 13, to set up my cameras.

The weather outlook is not great at this moment, with rain and thick clouds smothering the coastline and central Florida.

The planned Mar. 14 launch comes barely three weeks after the Falcon’s successful debut on Feb. 19 on the NASA contracted Dragon CRS-10 mission that delivered over 2.5 tons of cargo to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Raindrops keep falling on the lens, as inaugural SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon disappears into the low hanging rain clouds at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after liftoff from pad 39A on Feb. 19, 2017. Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission is delivering over 5000 pounds of science and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Launch Complex 39A was repurposed by SpaceX from launching Shuttles to Falcons. It had lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

SpaceX bilionaire CEO Elon Musk announced last week that he wants to launch a manned Moonshot from pad 39A by the end of next year using his triple barreled Falcon Heavy heavy lift rocket – derived from the Falcon 9.

The second launch of the trio on tap is a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying the WGS-9 high speed military communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force.

Liftoff of the ULA Delta is slated for March 17 from Space Launch Complex-37 at 7: 44 p.m. EDT.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The S.S. John Glenn is scheduled to as the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 spacecraft for NASA on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launch no earlier than March 21 from Space launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 spacecraft named the SS John Glenn for Original 7 Mercury astronaut and Sen. John Glenn, undergoes processing inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 9, 2017 for launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 EchoStar 23 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX

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Learn more about SpaceX EchoStar 23 and CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, 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 at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Mar 13-15: “SpaceX EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Mar 9, 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. Liftoff with EchoStar 23 comsat is planned for 14 March 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX Conducts Successful Static Fire Test Permitting Post Midnight Spectacle with EchoStar 23 Comsat on March 14

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Mar 9, 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. Liftoff with EchoStar 23 comsat is planned for 14 March 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SPACE VIEW PARK/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a pair of back to back postponements presumably due to technical gremlins, the third time proved to be the charm at last as SpaceX engineers carried out a successful engine test of the Falcon 9 first stage this evening (Mar. 9) atop historic pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The brief test lasting about 3 seconds took place at 6 p.m. this evening, with an exciting eruption of smoke and ash into the air during the serene waning sunlight as I witnessed from Space View Park in Titusville, FL – which is a great place to watch launches from, offering an unobstructed view across the inland waterway.

This critical engine test opens the door to what will be only the second blastoff of the SpaceX commercial Falcon 9 rocket from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 carrying the EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite is now slated for a post midnight spectacle next Tuesday, Mar. 14 from pad 39A at the opening of the launch window at 1:34 a.m. EDT.

The two and a half hour launch window closes at 4:04 a.m. EDT.

The delayed completion of the static fire test resulted in a two day launch slip from March 12 to March 14 in order to complete all the prelaunch processing.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus EchoStar 23 comsat stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl, prior to static fire test on 9 Mar. 2017. This is only the second rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff is slated for 14 Mar 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“Following today’s static fire test, SpaceX is targeting the launch of the EchoStar XXIII satellite from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, Mar. 14, SpaceX confirmed in a statement soon after completion of the test.

“SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will deliver the satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).”

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 nighttime lunge to space should offer spectacular viewing. But unlike most recent SpaceX missions, this Falcon will be the last expendable first stage. It is not outfitted with landing legs or grid fins to maneuver it back to a touchdown.

Watch this video of the March 9 static fire test from colleague Jeff Seibert:

Video Caption: Falcon 9 static fire test on Pad 39A on March 9, 2017. This is the second Falcon 9 static fire test on Pad 39A in preparation for the launch of the EchoStar-23 satellite. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The planned Mar. 14 launch comes barely three weeks after the Falcon’s successful debut on Feb. 19 on the NASA contracted Dragon CRS-10 mission that delivered over 2.5 tons of cargo to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Launch Complex 39A was repurposed by SpaceX from launching Shuttles to Falcons. It had lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today’s engine test was carried out absent the expensive satellite payload bolted on top, to keep it safely stored away in case of a repeat of the catastrophic Falcon 9/Amos-6 pad explosion last September at pad 40 during a similar test that destroyed both the rocket and payload and caused extensive damage to the pad infrastructure.

If all goes well, the EchoStar 23 launch will showcase that SpaceX is picking up the pace of space launches and recovering from the Amos-6 disaster.

During today’s static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages are fueled with 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.

The hot fire test generated a huge plume of smoke exhausting out the north side of the flame trench of Launch Complex 39A at approximately 6:00 p.m. EST, Mar. 9. at the opening of a 6 hour long test window.

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 – which has been repurposed from its days as a shuttle launch pad.

The Merlin 1D engines fired for about 3 seconds while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad.

The smoke cloud soon dissipated and within 5 minutes there was barely a trace of what we shall soon see next Tuesday – if all goes well with launch processing and the ever changing sunshine state weather.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Mar 9, 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. Liftoff with EchoStar 23 comsat is planned for 14 March 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Titusville offers a prime viewing location for anyone interested in traveling to the Florida Space Coast to see this Falcon 9 launch in person.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus EchoStar 23 comsat stands erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from the press site prior to static fire test on 9 Mar. 2017. Only the top of the rocket is visible behind the historic shuttle RSS structure. This is only the second rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff is slated for 14 Mar 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The static fire test is routinely carried out by SpaceX and confirms that both the first stage engines and the rocket are suited for liftoff.

The rocket – minus the EchoStar 23 payload – had been rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence several days ago and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A using a newly built dedicated transporter-erector.

With the successful completion of the static fire test, the booster will be rolled back to the big processing hangar and EchoStar 23 encapsulated inside the payload fairing will be integrated on top.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX EchoStar 23 and CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, 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 at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Mar 10, 11, 13-15: “SpaceX EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus EchoStar 23 comsat sits horizontal atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl, prior to static fire test on 9 Mar. 2017, as technicians process the rocket. This is only the second rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff is slated for 14 Mar 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 EchoStar 23 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Shuffles Falcon 9 Launch Schedule, NASA Gets 1st Launch from Historic KSC Pad 39A

SpaceX is repurposing historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida for launches of the Falcon 9 rocket. Ongoing pad preparation by work crews is seen in this current view taken on Jan. 27, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX announced Sunday (Jan. 29) a significant shuffle to the Falcon 9 launch schedule, saying that a key NASA mission to resupply the space station is moving to the head of the line and will now be their first mission to launch from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center – formerly used to launch space shuttles.

The late breaking payload switch will allow SpaceX, founded by billionaire CEO Elon Musk, additional time to complete all the extensive ground support work and pad testing required for repurposing seaside Launch Complex 39A from launching the NASA Space Shuttle to the SpaceX Falcon 9.

Blastoff of the 22-story tall SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying an unmanned Dragon cargo freighter with NASA as customer on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) could come as soon as mid-February, said SpaceX.

“SpaceX announced today that its first launch from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be the CRS-10 mission to the International Space Station,” said SpaceX in a statement.

CRS-10 counts as SpaceX’s tenth cargo flight to the ISS since 2012 under contract to NASA.

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Crews have been working long hours to modify pad 39A and get it ready for Falcon 9 launches. Also, the newly built transporter erector launcher was seen raised at the pad multiple times in recent days. The transporter will move the rocket horizontally up the incline at the pad, and then erect it vertically.

“This schedule change allows time for additional testing of ground systems ahead of the CRS-10 mission,” SpaceX announced in a statement.

The surprise switch in customers means that the previously planned first Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A of the commercial EchoStar 23 communications satellite is being pushed off to a later date – perhaps late February.

Until now, EchoStar 23 was slated to be the first satellite launched by a Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It could have come as soon as by the end of this week.

However, the Falcon 9 launch date from pad 39A has slipped repeatedly in January, with this week on Feb. 3 as the most recently targeted ‘No Earlier Than’ NET date.

SpaceX successfully resumed launches of the Falcon 9 earlier this month when the first flock of 10 Iridium NEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites blasted off on the Iridium 1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Jan. 14, 2017.

NASA now gets the first dibs for using pad 39A which has lain dormant for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

SpaceX leased pad 39A from NASA for launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy back in April 2014 and was already employing pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for Falcon 9 launches to the ISS.

The last Dragon resupply mission to the ISS blasted off on July 18, 2016 on the CRS-9 mission. The Falcon 9 first stage was also successfully recovered via a propulsive soft landing back at the Cape at night.

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

The last successful Falcon 9 launch from Space Launch Complex-40 took place on Aug. 14, 2016, carrying the JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

But following the unexpected launch pad explosion on Sept 1, 2016 that completely destroyed a Falcon 9 and the $200 million Amos-6 commercial payload during a prelaunch fueling test, pad 40 suffered extensive damage.

Furthermore it is not known when the pad will be ready to resume launches.

Aerial view of pad and strongback damage at SpaceX Launch Complex-40 as seen from the VAB roof on Sept. 8, 2016 after fueling test explosion destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

So SpaceX has had to switch launch pads for near term future flights and press pad 39A into service much more urgently, and the refurbishing and repurposing work is not yet complete.

To date SpaceX has not rolled a Falcon 9 rocket to pad 39A, not raised it to launch position, not conducted a fueling exercise and not conducted a static fire test. All the fit checks with a real rocket remain to be run.

Thus the current launch target of mid-February for CRS-10 remains a target date and not a firm launch date. EchoStar 23 is next in line.

“The launch is currently targeted for no earlier than mid-February,” SpaceX elaborated.

“Following the launch of CRS-10, first commercial mission from 39A is currently slated to be EchoStar XXIII.”

Once the pad is ready, SpaceX plans an aggressive launch schedule in 2017.

“The launch vehicles, Dragon, and the EchoStar satellite are all healthy and prepared for launch,” SpaceX stated.

The history making first use of a recycled Falcon 9 carrying the SES-10 communications satellite could follow as soon as March, if all goes well.

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

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX crews are renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. At new rocket processing hangar sits at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com