SpaceX Adopts Lessons Learned From Multiple Booster Landings – Test Fires Recovered 1st Stage: Videos

SpaceX completed the first full duration test firing of a landed first booster on July 28, 2016 on a test stand at their rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.
SpaceX completed the first full duration test firing of a landed first stage booster on July 28, 2016 on a test stand at their rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s daring dream of rocket recycling and reusability is getting closer and closer to reality with each passing day. After a breathtaking series of experimental flight tests aimed at safely landing the firms spent Falcon 9 first stages on land and at sea over the past half year the bold effort achieved another major milestone by just completing the first full duration test firing of one of those landed boosters.

On Thursday, July 28, SpaceX engineers successful conducted a full duration static engine test firing of the 156-foot-tall (47-meter) recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster while held down on a test stand at the company’s rocket development test facility in McGregor, Texas. The engines fired up for about two and a half minutes.

The SpaceX team has been perfecting the landing techniques by adopting lessons learned after each landing campaign attempt.

What are the lessons learned so far from the first stage landings and especially the hard landings? Are there any changes being made to the booster structure? How well did the landing burn scenario perform?

During SpaceX’s recent CRS-9 launch campaign media briefings at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 18, I asked SpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann for some insight.

“We learned a lot … from the landings,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today during the recent media briefings for the SpaceX CRS-9 space station cargo resupply launch on July 18.

“There are no structural changes first of all.”

“The key thing is to protect the engines,” Koenigsmann elaborated, while they are in flight and “during reentry”.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs at the base and four grid fins at the top to conduct the landing attempts.

“In general I think the landing concept with the legs, and the number of burns and the way we perform those seems to work OK,” Koenigsmann told Universe Today.

After separating from the second stage at hypersonic speeds of up to some 4000 mph, the first stage engines are reignited to reverse course and do a boost backburn back to the landing site and slow the rocket down for a soft landing, via supersonic retropulsion.

Proper engine performance is critical to enabling a successful touchdown.

“The key thing is to protect the engines – and make sure that they start up well [in space during reentry],” Koenigsmann explained. “And in particular the hot trajectory, so to speak, like the ones that comes in after a fast payload, like the geo-transfer payload basically.”

“Those engines need to be protected so that they start up in the proper way. That’s something that we learned.”

Elon Musk’s goal is to radically slash the cost of launching rockets and access to space via rocket reuse – in a way that will one day lead to his vision of a ‘City on Mars.’

SpaceX hopes to refly a once flown booster later this year, sometime in the Fall, using the ocean landed Falcon from NASA’s CRS-8 space station mission launched in April, says Koenigsmann.

But the company first has to prove that the used vehicle can survive the extreme and unforgiving stresses of the violent spaceflight environment before they can relaunch it.

The July 28 test firing is part of that long life endurance testing and involved igniting all nine used first stage Merlin 1D engines housed at the base of a used landed rocket.

The Falcon 9 first stage generates over 1.71 million pounds of thrust when all nine Merlin engines fire up on the test stand for a duration of up to three minutes – the same as for an actual launch.

Watch the engine test in this SpaceX video:

Video Caption: Falcon 9 first stage from May 2016 JCSAT mission was test fired, full duration, at SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas rocket development facility on July 28, 2016. Credit: SpaceX

The used 15 story Falcon booster had successfully carried out an intact soft landing on an ocean going platform after launching a Japanese commercial telecommunications satellite only two months ago on May 6 of this year.

Just 10 minutes after launching the JCSAT-14 telecom satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), the used first stage relit a first stage Merlin 1D engine.

It conducted a series of three recovery burns to maneuver the rocket to a designated landing spot at sea or on land and rapidly decelerate it from supersonic speeds for a propulsive soft landing, intact and upright using a quartet of landing legs that deploy in the final moments before a slow speed touchdown.

However, although the landing was upright and intact, this particular landing was also classed as a ‘hard landing’ because the booster landed at a higher velocity and Merlin 1D first stage engines did sustain heavy damage as seen in up close photos and acknowledged by Musk.

“Most recent rocket took max damage, due to v high entry velocity. Will be our life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good,” Musk tweeted at the time.

Nevertheless it all worked out spectacularly and this was the first one to be recovered from the much more demanding, high velocity trajectory delivering a satellite to GTO.

Indeed prior to liftoff, Musk had openly doubted a successful landing outcome, since this first stage was flying faster and at a higher altitude at the time of separation from the second stage and thus was much more difficult to slow down and maneuver back to the ocean based platform compared to ISS missions, for example.

So although this one cannot be reflown, it still serves another great purpose for engineers seeking to determining the longevity of the booster and its various components – as now audaciously demonstrated by the July 28 engine test stand firing.

“We learned a lot even on the missions where things go wrong with the landing, everything goes well on the main mission of course,” said Koenigsmann.

Altogether SpaceX has successfully soft landed and recovered five of their first stage Falcon 9 boosters intact and upright since the history making first ever land landing took place just seven months ago in December 2015 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The most recent launch and landing occurred last week on July 18, 2016 during the dramatic midnight blastoff of the SpaceX CRS-9 commercial cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under contract for NASA.

See the stupendous events unfold in up close photos and videos herein.

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

Following each Falcon 9 launch and landing attempt, SpaceX engineers assess the voluminous and priceless data gathered, analyze the outcome and adopt the lessons learned.

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

CRS-9 marks only the second time SpaceX has attempted a land landing of the 15 story tall first stage booster back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – at the location called Landing Zone 1 (LZ 1).

Watch this exquisitely detailed up close video showing the CRS-9 first stage landing at LZ 1, as shot by space colleague Jeff Seibert from the ITL causeway at CCAFS- which dramatically concluded with multiple shockingly loud sonic booms rocketing across the Space Coast and far beyond and waking hordes of sleepers:

Video caption: This was the second terrestrial landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster on July 18, 2016. It had just launched the CRS9 Dragon mission towards the ISS. The landing took place at LZ1, formerly known as Pad 13, located on CCAFS and caused a triple sonic boom heard 50 miles away. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The history making first ever ground landing 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.

OCISLY is generally stationed approximately 400 miles (650 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. The barge arrives back in port at Port Canaveral several days after the landing, depending on many factors like weather, port permission and the state of the rocket.

However while trying to extend the touchdown streak to 4 in a row during the latest drone ship landing attempt following the June 15 Eutelsat telecom launch to GTO, the booster basically crashed because it descended too quickly due to insufficient thrust from the Merlin descent engines.

The rocket apparently ran out of liquid oxygen fuel in the final moments before touchdown, hit hard, tipped over and pancaked onto the deck.

“Looks like early liquid oxygen depletion caused engine shutdown just above the deck,” Musk explained via twitter at the time.

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

Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch.  Credit: Julian Leek
Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch. Credit: Julian Leek

“We learned a lot even on the mission where things go wrong with the landing,” Koenigsmann explained. “Everything goes well on the main mission of course.”

“That’s actually something where you have successful deploy and the landing doesn’t quite work- and yet its the landing that gets all the attention.”

“But even on those landings we learned a lot. In particular on the last landing [from Eutelsat launch] we learned a lot.”

“We believe we found a way to operationally protect these engines and to make it safer for them to start up – and to come up to full thrust and stay at full thrust.”

What exactly does “protecting the engines” mean “in flight?”

“Yes I mean protecting the engines during reentry,” Koenigsmann told me.

“That’s when the engines get hot. We enter with the engines facing the flow. So its basically the engines directly exposed to the hot flow. And that’s when you need to protect the engines and the gases and liquids that are in the engines. To make sure that nothing boils off and does funny things.”

“So all in all these series of drone ship landings has been extremely successful, even when we didn’t recover all the first stages [fully intact].”

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

Watch for Ken’s continuing SpaceX and 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

Watch my launch pad video of the CRS-9 launch:

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 pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch this CRS-9 launch and landing video compilation from space colleague Mike Wagner:

Video caption: SpaceX CRS-9 Launch and Landing compilation on 7/18/2016. Local papers reported 911 calls for a loud explosion up to 75 miles away. This sonic boom seemed louder than the first landing at the Cape in Dec. 2015. Credit: USLaunchReport

Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 awaiting launch on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 awaiting launch on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann
First stage booster with landing legs removed from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
First stage booster with landing legs removed from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Proud fisherman displays ultra fresh ‘catch of the day’ as ultra rare species of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket floats by simultaneously on barge in Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Proud fisherman displays ultra fresh ‘catch of the day’ as ultra rare species of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket floats by simultaneously on barge in Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 basks in nighttime glow after arriving into Port Canaveral on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 basks in nighttime glow after arriving into Port Canaveral on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Pancaked SpaceX Falcon Pulls into Port After Trio of Spectacular Landings; Photos/Videos

Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch to orbit.  Credit: Julian Leek
Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch to orbit. Credit: Julian Leek

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — The pancaked leftovers of a SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage from last week’s successful commercial launch but hard landing at sea, pulled silently and without fanfare into its home port over the weekend – thereby ending a string of three straight spectacular and upright soft ocean landings over the past two months.

The residue of the Falcon sailed into home port at Port Canaveral, Fl under cover of darkness and covered by a big blue tarp late Saturday night, June 18, at around 9 p.m. EDT.

It arrived atop SpaceX’s ASDS drone ship landing platform known as “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” – that had already been dispatched several days prior to the June 15 morning launch from the Florida space coast.

Pancaked SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived at night into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship on June 18 after hard landing at sea following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch to orbit.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Pancaked SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived at night into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship on June 18 after hard landing at sea following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch to orbit. Credit: Lane Hermann

And check out this exquisite hi res aerial video of the tarp ‘Blowing in the Wind’ – showing an even more revealing view of the remains of the Falcon 9 after much of the tarp was blown away by whipping sunshine state winds.

Video Caption: SpaceX booster remains from Eutelsat-ABS launch seen in Port Canaveral on 06-19-2016 the day after arrival. The wind blew off part of the tarps covering what is left of Eutelsat-ABS booster. Credit: USLaunchReport

Recovering and eventually reusing the 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage to loft new payloads for new paying customers lies at the heart of the visionary SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s strategy of radically slashing future launch costs and enabling a space faring civilization.

The latest attempt to launch and propulsively land the Falcon booster on a platform a sea took place on Wednesday, June 15 after the on time liftoff at 10:29 a.m. EDT (2:29 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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 229 foot-tall (70 meter) Falcon 9 successfully accomplished its primary goal of delivering a pair of 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.

The Falcon 9 delivered the Boeing-built EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A telecommunications satellites to orbits for Latin American and Asian customers.

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

After first stage separation, SpaceX engineers attempted the secondary and experimental goal of soft landing the 15 story tall first stage booster nine minutes after liftoff, on an ocean going ‘droneship’ platform for later reuse.

OCISLY was stationed approximately 420 miles (680 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida in the Atlantic Ocean.

However, for the first time in four tries SpaceX was not successful in safely landing and recovering the booster intact and upright.

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

The booster basically crashed on the drone ship because it descended too quickly due to insufficient thrust from the descent engines.

The rocket apparently ran out of fuel in the final moments before droneship touchdown.

“Looks like early liquid oxygen depletion caused engine shutdown just above the deck,” Musk explained via a twitter post.

The first stage is fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellant.

Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch.  Credit: Julian Leek
Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch to orbit. Credit: Julian Leek

A SpaceX video shows a huge cloud of black smoke enveloping the booster in the final moments before the planned touchdown – perhaps soot from the burning RP-1 propellant.

In the final moments the booster is seen tipping over and crashing with unrestrained force onto the droneship deck – crushing and flattening the boosters long round core and probably the nine Merlin 1D first stage engines as well.

“But booster rocket had a RUD on droneship,” Musk noted. RUD stands for rapid unscheduled disassembly which usually means it was destroyed on impact. Although in this case it may be more a case of being crushed by the fall instead of a fuel related explosion.

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

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

The June 15 crash follows three straight landing successes at sea – on April 8, May 6 and mostly recently on May 27 after the Thaicom-8 launch. See my onsite coverage here of the Thaicom-8 boosters return to Port Canaveral on the OCISLY droneship.

Yet this outcome was also not unexpected due to the high energy of the rocket required to deliver the primary payload to the GTO orbit.

“As mentioned at the beginning of the year, I’m expecting ~70% success rate on landings for the year,” Musk explains.

And keep in mind that the rocket recovery and recycling effort is truly a science experiment on a grand scale financed by SpaceX – and its aiming for huge dividends down the road.

“2016 is the year of experimentation.”

It’s a road that Musk hopes will one day lead to a human “City on Mars.”

Pancaked SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived at night into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship on June 18 after hard landing at sea following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch to orbit.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Pancaked SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived at night into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship on June 18 after hard landing at sea following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch to orbit. Credit: Lane Hermann

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

Ken Kremer

Watch these incredible launch videos showing many different vantage points:

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 launch video compilation – Eutelsat and ABS satellites launched on 06/15/2016 from Pad 40 CCAFS. Credit: Jeff Seibert

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

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

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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 Set to Launch Stacked Pair of Electric Propulsion Comsats on June 15 – Watch Live

Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch of Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch of Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — Less than three weeks after their last successful launch and landing attempt involving a Thai payload, SpaceX is set to continue the firms rapid fire pace of satellite deliveries to orbit with a new mission involving a stacked pair of all-electric propulsion commercial comsats that are due to liftoff tomorrow, Wednesday morning.

Working off a hefty back log of lucrative launch contracts SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, June 15 for the launch of the Boeing-built EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellites for Latin American and Asian customers from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX is aiming to launch at the opening of Wednesday’s launch window at 10:29 a.m. EDT (2:29 UTC) which closes at 11:13 a.m. EDT.

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: Boeing

SpaceX most recently scored a stellar success with the double headed launch of Thaicom-8 and sea based first stage landing on May 27 – as I reported here from the Cape.

And Wednesday’s launch comes just 5 days after Saturday’s (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.

Indeed what makes this flight especially interesting is that 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.

The 229 foot-tall (70 meter) Falcon 9 will deliver 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.

SpaceX Falcon 9 poised for launch on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 poised for launch on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

For the fourth time in a row, the spent first stage booster will again attempt to propulsively soft land on a platform at sea some nine minutes later.

You can watch the Falcon launch live on Wednesday via a special live webcast directly from SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, Ca.

The SpaceX webcast will be available starting about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 10:09 a.m. EDT at SpaceX.com/webcast

The two stage Falcon 9 rocket has a 44-minute long launch window that extends until 11:13 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 15.

The path to launch was cleared after SpaceX engineers successfully carried out a brief static fire test of the first stages engines with the rocket erect at pad 40. The customary test lasts a few seconds and was conducted headless – without the two satellites bolted on top.

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

The vertically stacked pair of comsats are “very similar, but not identical,” Climer told me.

They are already encased inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing and stacked in a Boeing-patented and customized interface configuration – as seen in the photo herein.

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.

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

The Eutelsat satellite is carrying a hosted payload for the FAA.

They will detached and separate from one another in space. The top satellite will separate first while the pair are still attached to the second stage. Then the bottom satellite will detach completing the spacecraft separation event.

They will be 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.

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.

“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.”

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

The ASDS drone ship landing platform known as “Of Course I Still Love You” or OCISLY was already dispatched several days ago.

It departed Port Canaveral for the landing zone located approximately 420 miles (680 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida surrounded by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.

As I witnessed and reported here first hand, the Thaicom-8 first stage arrived on OCISLY six days after the ocean landing, in a tilted configuration. It was craned off the drone ship onto a ground support cradle two days later.

Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. 1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later. 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

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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 14/15: “ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Up close view of landing legs at base of SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Lane Hermann
Up close view of landing legs at base of SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann
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