Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster Moves Back to KSC for Eventual Reflight

Up close view of base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket powered by 9 Merlin 1 D engines being transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Up close view of base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket powered by 9 Merlin 1 D engines being transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Note: landing legs were removed. Credit: Julian Leek

The recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster that successfully carried out history’s first upright touchdown from a just flown rocket onto a droneship at sea, has just been moved back to the firms processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for testing and eventual reflight.

Space photographers and some lucky tourists coincidentally touring through Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the right place at the right time on a tour bus, managed to capture exquisite up close images and videos (shown above and below) of the rockets ground transport on Tuesday, April 19, along the route from its initial staging point at Port Canaveral to a secure area on KSC.

It was quite a sight to the delight of all who experienced this remarkable moment in space history – that could one day revolutionize space flight by radically slashing launch costs via recycled rockets.

The boosters nine first stage Merlin 1 D engines were wrapped in a protective sheath during the move as seen in the up close imagery.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket was transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket was transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

The SpaceX Falcon 9 had successfully conducted a dramatic propulsive descent and soft landing on a barge some 200 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean on April 8, about 9 minutes after blasting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:43 p.m. EDT on the Dragon CRS-8 cargo mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).

The used Falcon 9 booster then arrived back into Port Canaveral, Florida four days later, overnight April 12, after being towed atop the ocean going platform that SpaceX dubs an ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship’ or ASDS.

The spent 15 story tall Falcon 9 booster was transported to KSC by Beyel Bros. Crane and Rigging, starting around 9:30 a.m.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket was transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket was transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

After initial cleaning and clearing of hazards and processing to remove its four landing legs at the Port facility, the booster was carefully lowered by crane horizontally into a retention cradle on a multiwheel combination Goldhofer/KMAG vehicle and hauled by Beyel to KSC with a Peterbilt Prime Mover truck.

The Falcon 9 was moved to historic Launch Complex 39A at KSC for processing inside SpaceX’s newly built humongous hanger located at the pad perimeter.

Indeed this Falcon 9 first stage is now residing inside the pad 39A hanger side by side with the only other flown rocket to be recovered; the Falcon 9 first stage that accomplished a land landing back at the Cape in December 2015 – as shown in this image from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk titled “By land and sea”.

Side by side SpaceX Falcon 9 first stages recovered ‘by land and sea’ in Dec 2015 and Apr 2016. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
Side by side SpaceX Falcon 9 first stages recovered ‘by land and sea’ in Dec 2015 and Apr 2016. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

Watch this video of the move taken from a tour bus:

SpaceX engineers plan to conduct a series of some 12 test firings of the first stage Merlin 1 D engines to ensure all is well operationally in order to validate that the booster can be re-launched.

It may be moved back to Space Launch Complex-40 for the series of painstakingly inspections, tests and refurbishment.

The nine Merlin 1 D engines that power SpaceX Falcon 9 are positioned in an octoweb arrangement, as shown in this up close view of the base of recovered first stage during transport to Kennedy Space Center pad 39 A from Port Canaveral, Florida on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
The nine Merlin 1 D engines that power SpaceX Falcon 9 are positioned in an octoweb arrangement, as shown in this up close view of the base of recovered first stage during transport to Kennedy Space Center pad 39 A from Port Canaveral, Florida on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

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

The vision of SpaceX’s billionaire founder and CEO Elon Musk is to dramatically slash the cost of access to space by recovering the firms rockets and recycling them for reuse – so that launching rockets will one day be nearly as routine and cost effective as flying on an airplane.

The essential next step after recovery is recycling. Musk said he hopes to re-launch the booster this year.

Whenever it happens, it will count as the first relaunch of a used rocket in history.

SpaceX has leased Pad 39A from NASA and is renovating the facilities for future launches of the existing upgraded Falcon 9 as well as the Falcon Heavy currently under development.

SpaceX Crew Dragon will blast off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida  for missions to the International Space Station. Pad 39A is  undergoing modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. A horizontal integration facility (right) has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Crew Dragon will blast off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for missions to the International Space Station. Pad 39A is undergoing modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. A horizontal integration facility (right) has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Landing on the barge was a secondary goal of SpaceX and not part of the primary mission sending science experiments and cargo to the ISS crew under a resupply contract with for NASA.

Watch this SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon CRS-8 launch video from my video camera placed at the pad:

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

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Resets Launch of Upgraded Falcon 9 Rocket for Serene Sunday Sunset on Feb. 28 – Watch Live

Sunset view of SpaceX Falcon 9 awaiting launch of SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 28, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL after two fueling scrubs. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Sunset view of SpaceX Falcon 9 awaiting launch of SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 28, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL after two fueling scrubs. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Following a pair of back to back launch scrubs this week on Wednesday and Thursday due to rocket fueling issues with the liquid oxygen propellant, SpaceX has reset the blast off of their upgraded Falcon 9 rocket – carrying the commercial SES-9 television and communications satellite – to coincidentally coincide with a serene sunset on Sunday, Feb. 28.

Spectators have flocked to the Florida space coast in hopes of catching a glimpse of what could prove to be a spectacular evening streak to orbit after miserable mid-week weather finally departed the sunshine state in favor of glorious blue skies – to the delight of everyone!

SpaceX engineers are now targeting liftoff of the Cape’s first Falcon 9 launch of 2016 for 6:46 p.m. EST from SpaceX’s seaside Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. at the opening of a 97-minute launch window.

The first launch scrub on Wednesday was called some 45 minutes before launch.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the team opted to hold launch for today to ensure liquid oxygen temperatures are as cold as possible in an effort to maximize performance of the vehicle,” SpaceX said in a statement.”

The rocket and spacecraft were otherwise nominal.

“The Falcon 9 remains healthy in advance of SpaceX and SES’s mission to deliver the SES-9 satellite to Geostationary Transfer Orbit.”

Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch of SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 25, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch of SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 25, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The second scrub was called at 1 minute forty seconds before T zero when engineers were concerned about aspects of the liquid oxygen fuel loading and internal temperatures.

“Countdown held for the day. Teams are reviewing the data and next available launch date,” tweeted SpaceX post scrub.

SpaceX is cooling the liquid oxygen propellant in the upgraded Falcon 9 to lower temperatures compared to the rockets prior version, in order to increase its density and provide more fuel aboard the rocket for the engines to burn.

Both stages of the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 are fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1kerosene which burn in the Merlin engines.

Air Force meteorologists are predicting an almost unheard of >95% percent chance of favorable weather conditions at launch time Sunday – which could result in an absolutely spectacular view as Falcon roars off the launch pad thunders to space, if all goes well.

The only potential concern at this time is for cumulus clouds associated with onshore flow.

A live webcast will be available at SpaceX.com/webcast beginning about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 6:26 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 28.

The launch window closes at approximately 8:23 p.m. EST.

The weather prognosis changes only slightly to 90 percent GO on Monday, again with a concern for cumulus clouds.

If needed, SpaceX has a backup launch opportunity reserved on the Eastern range for Monday, Feb. 29 at approximately the same time at 6:46 p.m. EST.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket venting prior to launch scrub for SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 26, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket venting prior to launch scrub for SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 26, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

The goal of Sunday’s launch is to boost the commercial SES-9 television and communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). The satellite will be deployed approximately 31 minutes after liftoff.

The commercial launch was contracted by the Luxembourg based SES, a world-leading satellite operator. SES provides satellite-enabled communications services to broadcasters, Internet service providers, mobile and fixed network operators, and business and governmental organizations worldwide using its fleet of more than 50 geostationary satellites.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket venting prior to launch scrub for SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 26, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket venting prior to launch scrub for SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 26, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

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

Feb 27/28: “SpaceX, ULA, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 poised for blastoff with SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 26, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 poised for blastoff with SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 26, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

Watch SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Almost Stick Droneship Landing, then Tip and Explode; Video

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage tips over and explodes on Pacific ocean droneship after landing leg fails to lock in place on Jan 17, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage tips over and explodes on Pacific ocean droneship after landing leg fails to lock in place on Jan 17, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
See landing video below

SpaceX came much closer to sticking the landing of their Falcon 9 rocket on a tiny droneship at sea than initially thought, as evidenced by a dramatic video of the latest attempt to recover the booster by making a soft ocean touchdown on Sunday, Jan. 17, after successfully propelling a US-European ocean surveillance satellite to low Earth orbit. Continue reading “Watch SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Almost Stick Droneship Landing, then Tip and Explode; Video”

SpaceX Test Fires Recovered Falcon 9 Booster in Major Step To Reusable Rockets

Recovered Falcon 9 first stage standing on LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral after intact landing on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Recovered Falcon 9 first stage standing on LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral after intact landing on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

In a major advance towards the dream of rocket reusability, SpaceX successfully test fired the first stage engines of the Falcon 9 booster they successfully recovered last month – following its launch to the edge of space and back that ended with a history making upright landing at Cape Canaveral.

The re-firing of the engines from history’s first recovered rocket took place Friday evening, Jan. 15. Continue reading “SpaceX Test Fires Recovered Falcon 9 Booster in Major Step To Reusable Rockets”

SpaceX Trying Ambitious 2nd Rocket Recovery Landing in 4 Weeks

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

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

What’s Ahead for Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster?

Now that SpaceX has successfully and safely demonstrated the upright recovery of their Falcon 9 booster that flew to the edge of space and back on Dec. 21 – in a historic first – the intertwined questions of how did it fare and what lies ahead for the intact first stage stands front and center.

Well the booster is apparently no worse for the wear of the grueling ascent and descent and will live to fire up again one day in the not so distant future at a former shuttle launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following thorough inspections by SpaceX engineers. Continue reading “What’s Ahead for Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster?”

‘A City on Mars’ is Elon Musk’s Ultimate Goal Enabled by Rocket Reuse Technology

Elon Musk’s dream and ultimate goal of establishing a permanent human presence on the Red Planet in the form of “A City on Mars” took a gigantic step forward with the game changing rocket landing and recovery technology vividly demonstrated by his firm’s Falcon 9 booster this past Monday, Dec. 21 – following a successful blastoff from the Florida space coast just minutes earlier on the first SpaceX launch since a catastrophic mid-air calamity six months ago.

“I think this was a critical step along the way towards being able to establish a city on Mars,” said SpaceX billionaire founder and CEO Elon Musk at a media telecon shortly after Monday night’s (Dec. 21) launch and upright landing of the Falcon 9 rockets first stage on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Continue reading “‘A City on Mars’ is Elon Musk’s Ultimate Goal Enabled by Rocket Reuse Technology”

SpaceX Nails Perfect Return to Flight Launch and Historic Vertical Return Landing – Gallery

“There and back again,” said SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk after the amazing successful ‘Return to Flight’ launch of the firms Falcon 9 rocket and history making vertical return landing at Cape Canaveral, Fla, on Monday evening, Dec. 21.

For the first time in history, the first stage of a rocket blazing to orbit with a payload, separated successfully from the upper stage at high speed, turned around and then flew back to nail a successful rocket assisted upright touchdown back on the ground.

The upgraded “full thrust” SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off Monday night, Dec. 21 at 8:29 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. carrying a constellation of ORBCOMM OG2 communications satellites to low Earth orbit.

“The Falcon Has Landed!” gushed exuberant SpaceX officials during a live webcast.

Read below what some excited eyewitnesses told Universe Today.

SpaceX Falcon 9 in final seconds of descent to successful touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015. Credit: Dawn Taylor Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 in final seconds of descent to successful touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

Accompanied by multiple shocking loud sonic booms, the 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage separated about 3 minutes into flight and landed successfully on the ground about 10 minutes later at the SpaceX Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) complex at the Cape, some six miles south from pad 40.

The goal of SpaceX is to recover and eventually reuse the boosters in order to radically reduce the the cost of sending payloads and people to space, as often stated by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

My colleague and well known long time space photographer Julian Leek, remarked that the whole experience was fantastic!

“It was fantastic! You just would not believe the feeling,” space photographer Julian Leek told Universe Today. See his photos below.

“One of the best things I have seen since Apollo 11 liftoff!”

“It was one of the most spectacular space events I’ve seen,” said Jeff Seibert, another media photographer colleague.

“We felt like the rocket was coming down on top of us!”

Touchdown view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Dec. 21, 2015 as seen from atop Exploration Tower.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Touchdown view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Dec. 21, 2015 as seen from atop Exploration Tower. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

See the dramatic landing in this SpaceX video taken from a nearby helicopter:

“Honestly it will be something I’ll always remember!” astronomy enthusiast Carol Higgins of the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society of Utica NY, told Universe Today.

“Seeing that thing falling so fast toward Earth, then the engine fire to slow it down, then watching it falling closer to the Cape – my heart was pounding so fast and hard I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to me LOL!”

This morning, Dec. 22, media reps were taken on a boat trip along the Cape’s Atlantic Ocean coastline past Landing Zone 1 for a birdseye view of the Falcon 9 standing upright.

Two cranes from Beyel Bros Crane and Rigging were seen hoisting and moving the Falcon 9 first stage from the vertical to horizontal position at ‘Landing Zone 1’ according to Steven M Beyel.

Post landing Ocean View of SpaceX Falcon 9 recovered first stage the day after touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Post landing Ocean View of SpaceX Falcon 9 recovered first stage the day after touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015 being hoisted by Beyel Bros cranes. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

The primary mission of the Falcon 9 launch was to carry a fleet of eleven small ORBCOMM OG2 commercial communications satellites to orbit on the second of two OG2 launches. All 11 satellites were successfully deployed at an altitude of about 400 mi (620 km) above Earth.

The next generation ORBCOMM OG2 satellites provide Machine – to – Machine (M2M) messaging and Automatic Identification System (AIS) services with capabilities far beyond the OG1 series.

Here’s an expanding galley of photos and video for the Dec 21, 2015 launch and landing at Cape Canaveral.

So check back later for more!

SpaceX Falcon 9 in final seconds of descent to successful touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015. Credit: Chuck Higgins
SpaceX Falcon 9 in final seconds of descent to successful touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015. Credit: Chuck Higgins
Up close post landing ocean view of landing legs at base of SpaceX Falcon 9 at Landing Zone 1 the day after stage touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015 at Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Up close post landing ocean view of landing legs at base of SpaceX Falcon 9 at Landing Zone 1 the day after stage touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
SpaceX Falcon 9 in final seconds of descent to successful touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015. Credit: Dawn Taylor Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 in final seconds of descent to successful touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Dec 21, 2015. Credit: Dawn Taylor Leek
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015. 10  minutes later the first stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape in a historic first time feat.   Credit: Julian Leek
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015. 10 minutes later the first stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape in a historic first time feat. Credit: Julian Leek

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

Ken Kremer

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015. 10  minutes later the first stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape in a historic first time feat.   Credit: Julian Leek
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015. 10 minutes later the first stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape in a historic first time feat. Credit: Julian Leek
Falcon 9 standing on LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral post landing on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 standing on LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral post landing on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015.   First stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape ten minutes later for the first time in history.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015. First stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape ten minutes later for the first time in history. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here’s the Dec 21 launch from my video camera placed at pad 40

“The Falcon Has Landed” – SpaceX Soft Lands Rocket after Launch in Historic Feat

“The Falcon Has Landed!” gushed exuberant SpaceX officials following tonight’s (Dec 21) history making upright ground landing of the firms spent Falcon 9 boost stage barely 10 minutes after if launched on a critical mission to deliver a constellation of commercial communications satellites to Earth orbit.

Breaking News: Check Back later for more. See more photos video in follow up story here

Following a spectacular nighttime blastoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla, SpaceX has just successfully recovered and soft landed the 156 foot tall first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket back on the ground at the Cape – in a monumental and historic space feat that will reverberate around the world. This is a game changing moment that will alter the future of space travel.

WATCH the SpaceX webcast as the first stage lands, at about 31 minutes in the video:

Local area spectators cheered the launch and clearly saw the landing. They said several powerful sonic booms could be heard thundering loudly across the space coast. It was one of the most amazing sights they had ever seen, many folks said.

The upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 launched a fleet 11 ORBCOMM OG2 communications satellites to orbit on Monday, Dec. 21 at 8:29 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The stunning liftoff and landing marked the Falcon 9 boosters ‘Return to Flight’ and is the first launch for SpaceX since the catastrophic mid-air destruction of the rocket six months ago on June 28, 2015 – after launching from the same pad as today – on a cargo mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station (ISS) and her six person crew.

The first stage landing, vertically at night, was apparently perfect and came off without a hitch by all accounts.

The Falcon 9 is equipped with four landing legs and four grid fins to enable the propulsive landing back on the ground at the Cape, once the first stage separates and relights a Merlin 1D engine.

About 3 minutes after liftoff and about 60 miles altitude, the spent first stage separated from the second stage which continued to orbit with the Orbcomm satellites.

While moving at extremely high speed of some 3000 mph, the rocket was then commanded to fire cold gas nitrogen attitude thrusters to reorient itself and to turn the vehicle around – its sort of like riding on a broomstick in a hurricane. It then conducted a boostback burn with a first stage Merlin 1D engine to create a reversed ballistic arc. Then it conducted a reentry burn and finally a landing burn above the ground at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.

The quartet of side mounted landing legs were lowered into place in the final moments before touchdown.

Long exposure of launch, re-entry, and landing burns of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Long exposure of launch, re-entry, and landing burns of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

The history making landing attempt of the boosters first stage took place back at the Cape at the SpaceX Landing Zone 1 site at about 8:39 p.m. EST after high altitude separation from the upper stage and around 10 minutes after launch.

The entire event from launch to landing was shown via a live SpaceX webcast.

The goal is to recover and eventually reuse the boosters in order to radically cut the cost of sending payloads and people to space, as often stated by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

But the key step to solve is you first have to recover the booster before you can even think about relaunching it. After its recovered it can then be thoroughly analyzed for the impact of aerodynamic stresses and the engine firings to determine the feasibility of refurbishment and reusability for relaunch.

Long exposure of launch, re-entry, and landing burns of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Long exposure of launch, re-entry, and landing burns of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

Landing the Falcon 9 rockets first stage on land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) complex by a pinpoint propulsive soft landing was the secondary test objective. Landing Zone 1 is located some six miles south of launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral.

Because of the proximity to populated areas, SpaceX required special approvals for the surface landing test from the Air Force and the FAA. And much of the military base and NASA installations have been evacuated for safety reasons. Media are also not allowed to watch and photograph from their customary locations on site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

SpaceX has built Landing Zone 1 by renovating and refurbishing an abandoned area previously known as Space Launch Complex 13 (SLC-13).

Landing Zone 1 measures about 282 feet in diameter and is constructed of reinforced concrete. SpaceX has actually built several of the concrete landing pads for use as a landing site by the firms Falcon 9 as well as the triple barreled Falcon Heavy boosters which may debut in 2016.

Launch Complex 13 is a former U.S. Air Force rocket and missile testing range last used in 1978 for test launches of the Atlas ICBM and subsequently for operational Atlas launches.

View of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage approaching Landing Zone 1 on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
View of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage approaching Landing Zone 1 on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

The primary mission was to carry a payload of eleven small commercial communications satellites for Orbcomm on the second OG2 mission. They were fueled and stacked on the satellite dispenser and encapsulated inside the payload fairing.

All 11 of the refrigerator sized OG2 satellites were successfully deployed as planned at an altitude of about 400 mi (620 km). They joined the existing fleet of OG2 satellites.

The 380 pound (170 kg) satellites were deployed two at a time from the satellite dispenser during six separation events. The staggered deployment of the 170 kg comsats took place over about four minutes from 8:42 p.m. to 8 46 p.m. in order to place the constellation of spacecraft into the proper orbit.

All 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites were deployed to nominal orbits.  Credit: SpaceX
All 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites were deployed to nominal orbits. Credit: SpaceX

This was the second and last OG2 launch for OrbComm. SpaceX has already notched one successful launch for Orbcomm when the first six Orbcomm OG2 satellites lifted off on July 14, 2014.

The ORBCOMM OG2 satellites provide Machine – to – Machine (M2M) messaging and Automatic Identification System (AIS) services.

Overall it was a wildly successful ‘Return to Flight’ and a historic day for SpaceX.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for Orbcomm OG2 launch slated for Dec. 20 stands vertical at pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for Orbcomm OG2 launch before liftoff on Dec. 21, stands vertical at pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Credit: SpaceX

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

Ken Kremer

Aerial view of SpaceX landing Zone 1 Complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Aerial view of SpaceX landing Zone 1 Complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

SpaceX Sets Ambitious Falcon 9 ‘Return to Flight’ Agenda with Dual December Blastoffs

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after successful static hot-fire test on June 13 on Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL.  Launch is slated for Friday, June 20, 2014  on ORBCOMM OG2 mission with six OG2 satellites. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX ‘Return to Flight’ launch upcoming in December 2015 features 11 ORBCOMM satellites. SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL, prior to launch on July 14, 2014 on prior ORBCOMM OG2 mission with six OG2 satellites. The USAF has certified the Falcon 9 to compete for US national security launches. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX plans an ambitious ‘Return to Flight’ agenda with their Falcon 9 rocket comprising dual launches this coming December, nearly six months after their failed launch in June 2015 that culminated in the total mid-air loss of the rocket and NASA cargo bound for the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The double barreled salvo of Falcon 9 blastoffs both involve launches of commercial communications satellites – first for Orbcomm followed by SES – and are specifically devised to allow a gradually ramp up in complexity, as SpaceX introduces fixes for the launch failure and multiple improvements to the boosters overall design. Continue reading “SpaceX Sets Ambitious Falcon 9 ‘Return to Flight’ Agenda with Dual December Blastoffs”