Twice Flown SpaceX Booster Sails Proudly into Port Canaveral at Sunrise 3 Days After Sunset Launch and Droneship Landing: Photos

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster arrives at sunrise atop OCISLY droneship being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 after successfully launching SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The now twice flown SpaceX first stage booster that successfully delivered the SES-11 UHDTV satellite to orbit at sunset Wednesday, Oct 11, sailed proudly back home into Port Canaveral during a beautiful Sunday sunrise, Oct. 15 only three days after it safely landed on a tiny droneship at sea.

The booster arrival also took place just hours after a ULA Atlas launched the covert NROL-52 surveillance satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – making for a nonstop day of space action on the Florida Space Coast.

The 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 booster accomplished a precision guided rocket assisted touchdown on the football field sized OCISLY droneship platform about 8 minutes after the dinnertime liftoff with the private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite on Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The 15 story tall first stage came to rest slightly tilted a few degrees, similar to at least two prior boosters that soft landed upright on OCISLY while prepositioned several hundred miles off shore of the Florida peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean.

The recycled booster was towed into Port Canaveral by a SpaceX contracted tugboat accompanied by a small fleet of pilot ships and support vessels.

The doubly used and doubly successful booster entered the mouth of Port Canaveral around 7:15 a.m. EDT Sunday under dawns delightful twilight I witnessed from Jetty Park and beach together with a few space media colleagues and a small crowd of onlookers with little fanfare.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster arrives at sunrise atop OCISLY droneship being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 after successfully launching SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Over the next hour it was hauled through the narrow channel as numerous vessels large and small and pleasure craft sailed by, likely wondering what they were looking it.

Finally the droneship platform was docked at SpaceX’s spot leased near the two huge shipping cranes dominating the scene across from popular portside restaurants – and also not far from humongous cruise ships dwarfing the booster in size.

The next step was for dock workers to hoist a cap and attach it to the top of the booster. This enabled it to eventually be carefully raised off the barge with a crane by about 1 p.m. and then slowly moved and swung over and affixed onto a restraining pedestal stand on land.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is hoisted off OCISLY droneship after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is hoisted off OCISLY droneship after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

By the next evening Monday night, all 4 landing legs were still intact. After they are all detached the booster will be lowered horizontally aided by the cabling attached by the workers and placed on a flab bed transporter and trucked back to the Cape.

SpaceX Falcon 9 SES11 booster standing on a pedestal at night in Port Canaveral, FL, after being craned off the OCISLY droneship upon which it soft landed after Oct. 11, 2017 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

However the impact of developing and reusing ‘used’ rockets is leading to an era when re-flown rockets are offered as a ‘routine service’ rather than the exception.

Rocket reusability is at the heart of the extraordinary vision of billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to drastically cut space launch costs and one day build a ‘City on Mars’.

And it represents a ‘major sea change getting closer’ to fruition with each passing day thanks to SpaceX, said SES CTO Martin Halliwell in an exclusive interview with Universe Today, following the stunning sunset blastoff of the SES-11 UHDTV commercial satellite on another ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster that also re-landed – thus completing another remarkable round of rocket recovery and recycling or ‘launch, land and relaunch!’

“As I’ve said before, I think in a couple years time you won’t even consider whether it’s a preflown rocket or a new rocket or a second time rocket,” SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell told Universe Today in a one-on-one post launch interview.

“It will just be a flight and you will buy a service to get to orbit – and that will be that!”

“It’s a major sea change,” Halliwell explained. “That’s absolutely true.”

“We’re getting closer to that every day. It’s exactly where we are going. There is no doubt about it.”

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is docked near cruise ships after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The launch of EchoStar 105/SES-11 counts as only the third recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 ever to be launched and is the third successful mission with a flight-proven orbital class rocket.

All three ‘flight-proven’ missions have lifted off from Pad 39A this year and all three have relanded.

The Falcon 9 first stage appeared to be in good shape upon its return to Port. I did not observe noticeable significant damage to the outside of the booster skin, grid fins or landing legs. Scorching seemed comparable to the first two reflown boosters.

This booster originally flew on the NASA Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station in February of this year.

On arrival it was clearly anchored to the OCISLY droneship deck with multiple chains as previously done for droneship landings as well as with what appears to be several gripper arms.

Up close look at the base of the recovered Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch with four landing legs chained to the droneship deck while sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

OCISLY, which stands for “Of Course I Still Love You,” had departed Port Canaveral several days ahead of the Oct. 11 launch and was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

The booster was outfitted with four grid fins and four landing legs to accomplish the pinpoint touchdown on the barge at sea.

The recovered Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch is hoisted off the OCISLY dronseship deck with a crane in this up close view pf the boosters base and placed on a platform for ground processing after sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SES was the first company to ever fly a payload on a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9. The SES-10 satellite lifted off successfully this spring on March 30, 2017.

The second reflown booster successfully launched the BulgariaSat-1 a few months later.

NASA is also assessing whether to utilize a reflown booster on upcoming ISS resupply missions – starting with the next flight of the Dragon CRS-13 cargo ship which may liftoff as soon as early December.

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

Up close look at all four landing legs of the recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch as technicians guide the booster onto pedestal for ground processing after sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has accomplished 18 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Birds tip toe along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline with booster reflection in sand as recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster from SES-11 launch sails into Port Canaveral, FL atop droneship on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster from SES-11 launch is towed into mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 past Jetty Park pier damaged by Hurricane Irma. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX Sets Oct. 11 Sunset Blastoff of SES-11 North American UHD TV Sat on Used Falcon 9 Rocket: Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHD TV commercial comsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A as flock of birds flies by at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, is poised for sunset liftoff on 11 Oct 2017 on world’s third reflight of a liquid fueled orbit class rocket. As seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX is all set for a sunset blastoff Wednesday, Oct. 11 of the commercial SES-11/EchoStar 105 Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV satellite serving North America on a ‘used’ Falcon 9 booster from the Florida Space Coast – that is also targeted to re-land a second time on an sea going platform off shore in the Atlantic.

Spectators should enjoy a spectacular view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 dinnertime launch with a forecast of extremely favorable weather conditions. This comes on the heels of multiple deluges of torrential rain that twice scrubbed last week’s launch of a United Launch Alliance V carrying a USAF spy satellite.

The private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite mission will launch on a ‘flight-proven’ booster and is slated for a dinnertime liftoff on Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the SES-11.

All systems are GO at L Minus 1 Day!

“#EchoStar105 is targeted for launch Oct. 11 from launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida-launch window 6:53-8:53 PM EDT,” EchoStar tweeted today.

“Getting Echostar-105/#SES11 ready for launch!” SES tweeted further.

SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat. Credit: SES

If all goes well this will be the second launch for SpaceX this week following Monday’s Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg AFB, Ca carrying 10 Iridium-NEXT satellites to orbit – and a record setting 15th of 2017!

EchoStar 105/SES-11 is a high-powered hybrid Ku and C-band communications satellite launching as a dual-mission satellite for US-based operator EchoStar and Luxembourg-based operator SES.

The used two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to pad 39A today, erected to vertical launch position and is now poised for liftoff Wednesday.

It will launch the two and a half ton EchoStar 105/SES-11 to geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator.

SpaceX will also attempt to recover this recycled Falcon 9 first stage booster again by soft landing on a droneship platform prepositioned hundreds of miles off shore in the Atlantic Ocean – some 8 minutes after blastoff.

Spectacular weather is expected Wednesday for space enthusiasts gathering in local regional hotels after traveling here from across the globe.

Playalinda Beach is among the best places to witness the launch from – while surfing the waves too – if you’re in the area.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 10 minutes prior to the 6:53 pm EDT or 10:53 pm UTC liftoff time.

Watch the SpaceX broadcast live at: SpaceX.com/webcast

The two hour long launch window closes at 8:53 p.m. EDT.

The weather outlook is currently exceptional along the Florida Space Coast with a 90% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. The primary concerns on Oct. 11 are only for Cumulus Clouds.

The odds remain high at 90% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Oct. 12.

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

The 45th Space Wing forecast is also favorable for the landing recovery area through Thursday “when a low pressure system may move into the area, increasing winds and seas. This low will migrate west and possibly impact Florida by the weekend.”

After the 156 foot tall first stage booster complets its primary mission task, SpaceX engineers seek to guide it to a second landing on the tiny OCISLY drone ship for a soft touchdown some eight and a half minutes after liftoff.

World’s first reflown rocket booster – the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage – sails back into Port Canaveral, FL just before sunrise atop OCISLY droneship on which it landed 9 minutes after March 30, 2017 liftoff from KSC with SES-10 telecomsat – as seen entering channels mouth trailing a flock of birds from Jetty Park pier on April 4, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

OCISLY or “Of Course I Still Love You” left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the planned Oct. 11 launch and is prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

The EchoStar 105/SES-11 spacecraft was built by Airbus and shipped from the Airbus facilities in Toulouse, France to Cape Canaveral, FL for flight processing.

The satellite is scheduled to be deployed approximately 36 minutes after liftoff.

Up close view of payload fairing encapsulating SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHD TV commercial comsat atop ‘flight-proven’ SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is slated for is 6:53 p.m. ET, Oct. 11, 2017 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“SES-11 is a high-powered communications satellite designed to especially accelerate the development of the US video neighbourhood, and the delivery of HD and UHD channels. Optimised for digital television delivery, SES-11 joins SES-1 and SES-3 at the centre of its robust North American orbital arc, which reaches more than 100 million TV homes. Together with SES-1 and SES-3, SES-11 will be utilised for the expansion of the North America Ultra HD platform,” according to SES.

“SES-11 offers comprehensive coverage over North America, including Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, and will also empower businesses and governments to capture new opportunities and expand their reach across the region.”

The path to launch was cleared following last weeks successful static fire test of the first stage engines Falcon 9.

During the Oct. 2 static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages were fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown was carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition.

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

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of recycled Falcon 9 at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 2 Oct 2017 as a gator gazes from Playalinda waterways, FL. Liftoff is slated for 7 Oct 2017 with SES-11/EchoStar 105 telecommunications comsat. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Following the hot fire test, the rocket was rolled back to the processing hangar located just outside the pad perimeter fence.

The 5,200 kg (11,500 pounds) satellite encapsulated inside the payload fairing was then integrated with the Falcon 9 rocket.

Mating of SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat. Credit: SES

This is only the third recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 ever to be launched from Pad 39A.

SES was the first company to ever fly a payload on a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9. The SES-10 satellite lifted off successfully this spring on March 30, 2017.

The second reflown booster successfully launched the BulgariaSat-1 a few months later.

This Falcon 9 booster previously flew on SpaceX’s 10th resupply mission to the International Space Station (CRS-10) in February of this year and made a ground landing at the Cape at LZ-1.

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

The last SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from KSC took place on Sept. 7 carrying the USAF X-37B military space plane to orbit just ahead of Hurricane Irma.

USAF X-37B military mini-shuttle lifts off on classified OTV-5 mission at 10 a.m. EDT Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Mission patch for the SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite launch by SpaceX. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-10 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad ahead of liftoff on 30 Mar 2017 on world’s first reflight of an orbit class rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Reused SpaceX Dragon Supply Ship Arrives Space Station, Cygnus Departs, Falcon 9 Launch & Landing: Photos/Videos

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 is seen seconds away from its capture with the Canadarm2 robotic arm on June 5, 2017. Credit: NASA TV

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The first ever reused Dragon supply ship successfully arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) two days after a thunderous liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday, June 3. The first stage booster made a magnificent return to the Cape and erect ground landing some 8 minutes after liftoff.

Meanwhile the already berthed Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 supply ship departed the station on Sunday, June 4 after ground controllers detached it and maneuvered it into position for departure.

The commercial Dragon cargo freighter carrying nearly 3 tons of science and supplies for the multinational crew on the CRS-11 resupply mission reached the space stations vicinity Monday morning, June 5, after a two day orbital chase starting from the Kennedy Space Center and a flawless series of carefully choreographed thruster firings culminated in rendezvous.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the unmanned Dragon cargo freighter from seaside Launch Complex 39A at KSC in Florida took place during an instantaneous launch window at 5:07 p.m. EDT Saturday, June 3, following a 48 hour delay due to a stormy weather scrub at the Florida Space Coast on Thursday, June 1.

The stunning Falcon 9 launch and landing events were captured by journalists and tourists gathered from around the globe to witness history in the making with their own eyeballs.

The Falcon 9 blastoff also counts as the 100th flight from KSC’s historic pad 39A which previously launched NASA’s Apollo astronauts on lunar landing missions and space shuttles for 3 decades

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

Click back as the gallery grows !

1st Reused SpaceX Dragon cargo craft lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:07 p.m. June 3, 2017 on CRS-11 mission carrying 3 tons of research equipment, cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

By 8:30 a.m. Monday morning ground controllers had maneuvered Dragon to within 250 meters of the station and the imaginary keep out sphere around the orbiting complex.

Engineers carefully assessed the health of the Dragon and its systems to insure its ability to slowly and safely move in closer for capture by the crew.

When Dragon reached a distance of 11 meters, it was grappled by Expedition 52 astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer using the 57.7 foot long (17.6 meter long) Canadian-built robotic arm Monday morning at 9:52 a.m. EDT, a few minutes ahead of schedule.

“Capture complete,” radioed Whitson as Dragon was captured at its grapple pin by the grappling snares at the terminus of the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Dragon’s capture took place as the ISS was orbiting 250 miles over the South Atlantic Ocean as it was nearing the East coast of Argentina.

“Complete complete. Go for capture configuration,” replied Houston Mission control.

The newly arrived SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 resupply ship is installed to the Harmony module on June 5, 2017. The Progress 66 cargo craft is docked to the Pirs docking compartment and the Soyuz MS-04 crew vehicle is docked to the Poisk module. Credit: NASA

“We want to thank the entire team on the ground that made this possible, both in Hawthorne and in Houston. Really around the whole world, from support in Canada for this wonderful robotic arm, Kennedy Space Center’s launch support, to countless organizations which prepared the experiments and cargo,” Fischer radioed in response.

“These people have supplied us with a vast amount of science and supplies, really fuel for the engine of innovation we get to call home, the International Space Station. We have a new generation of vehicles now, led by commercial partners like SpaceX, as they build the infrastructure that will carry us into the future of exploration.”

“It’s also the first second mission to the ISS which was previously here as CRS-4. The last returned visitor was space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission,” Fischer said.

A little over two hours after it was captured by Expedition 52 Flight Engineers Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, ground teams maneuvered the unpiloted SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for attachment to the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony module.

“Ground controllers at Mission Control, Houston reported that Dragon was bolted into place at 12:07 p.m. EDT as the station flew 258 statute miles over central Kazakhstan,” NASA reported.

The berthing of Dragon to Harmony was not broadcast live on NASA TV.

1st Reused SpaceX Dragon cargo craft lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:07 p.m. June 3, 2017 on CRS-11 mission carrying 3 tons of research equipment, cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Dragon CRS-11 marks SpaceX’s eleventh contracted commercial resupply services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station for NASA since 2012.

Check out these exquisite videos from a wide variety of vantage points including remote cameras at the pad and Cape Canaveral media viewing site – including an A/V compilation of sonic booms from the propulsive ground landing.

Video Caption: CRS-11 Launch from KSC Pad 39A with the first re-used Dragon capsule. SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of the CRS-11 mission to take supplies, equipment and experiments to the ISS, followed by the first stage landing at LZ-1 on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Video Caption: SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon CRS 11 Launch 3 June 2017. Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 3, 2017 from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL carrying 1st recycled Dragon supply ship bound for the International Space Station on the CRS-11 mission loaded with 3 tons of science and supplies – as seen in this remote video taken at the pad under cloudy afternoon skies. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Video Caption: Sonic booms from the return of the CRS-11 booster to LZ-1 on June 3, 2017. Triple sonic booms signal the return of the Falcon 9 first stage to LZ-1 after launching the CRS-11 Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The gumdrop shaped 20-foot high, 12-foot-diameter Dragon is carrying almost 5,970 pounds of science experiments and research instruments, crew supplies, food water, clothing, hardware, gear and spare parts to the million pound orbiting laboratory complex.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 3 June 2017 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The CRS-11 cargo ship will support over 62 of the 250 active research investigations and experiments being conducted by Expedition 52 and 53 crew members.

The flight delivered investigations and facilities that study neutron stars, osteoporosis, solar panels, tools for Earth-observation, and more.

40 new micestonauts are also aboard inside the rodent research habitat for a first of its kind osteoporosis science study – that seeks to stem the loss of bone density afflicting millions of people on Earth and astronauts crews in space by testing an experimental drug called NELL-1. The therapy will also examine whether bone can be regenerated for the first time. No drug exists for bone regeneration.

The unpressurized trunk of the Dragon spacecraft also transported 3 payloads for science and technology experiments and demonstrations.

The truck payloads include the Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA) solar panels, the Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) facility which hosts Earth-viewing instruments and tools for Earth-observation and equipment to study neutron stars with the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) payload.

NICER is the first ever space mission to study the rapidly spinning neutron stars – the densest objects in the universe. The launch coincidentally comes nearly 50 years after they were discovered by British astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell.

A second objective of NICER involves the first space test attempting to use pulsars as navigation beacons through technology called Station Explorer for X-Ray Timing and Navigation (SEXTANT).

Blastoff of 1st recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on June 3, 2017 delivering Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA decided to use the SpaceX weather related launch delay to move up the departure of the “SS John Glenn” Cygnus cargo ship by over a month since it was already fully loaded and had completed its mission to deliver approximately 7,600 pounds of supplies and science experiments to the orbiting laboratory and its Expedition 51 and 52 crew members for Orbital ATK’s seventh NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission called OA-7.

Named after legendary Mercury and shuttle astronaut John Glenn – 1st American to orbit the Earth – the supply ship had spent 44 days at the station.

The “SS John Glenn” will now remain in orbit a week to conduct the third SAFFIRE fire experiment as well as deploy four small Nanoracks satellites before Orbital ATK flight controllers send commands June 11 to deorbit the spacecraft for its destructive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft, with its prominent Ultra Flex solar arrays, is pictured moments after being released from the International Space Station on June 4, 2017 . Credit: NASA TV

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-11 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

……….

SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft carrying 1st reused Dragon on CRS-11 resupply flight to the International Space Station on June 3, 2017 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with reused Dragon CRS-11 cargo craft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:07 p.m. on June 3, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek
Descent of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage towards Landing Zone-1 at Cape Canaveral after Jun 3, 2017 launch from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Julian Leek
Recycled SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 cargo craft lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:07 p.m. June 3, 2017 carrying 3 tons of research equipment, cargo and supplies to Earth orbit and the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
3 June 2017 launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 on CRS-11 mission to the ISS – as seen from Port Orange, FL. Credit: Gerald DaBose
Landing of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage following launch of Dragon CRS-11 cargo craft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3, 2017 to the ISS. Credit: Jean Wright
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes erect to launch position atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 1 Jun 2017 as seen the morning before later afternoon launch from inside from the pad perimeter. Liftoff of the CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) slated for 1 June 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 resupply vessel atop Falcon 9 rocket and delivering 3 tons of science and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Liftoff slated for 1 June 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearce says he “has every confidence in SpaceX.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new satellite will join 3 others already in orbit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

SpaceX Stages Stupendous NRO Spysat Sunrise Liftoff and Land Landing

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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX today staged the stupendously successful Falcon 9 rocket launch at sunrise of a mysterious spy satellite in support of U.S. national defense for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) while simultaneously accomplishing a breathtaking pinpoint land landing of the boosters first stage that could eventually dramatically drive down the high costs of spaceflight.

Liftoff of the classified NROL-76 payload for the NRO took place shortly after sunrise this morning, Monday, May 1, at 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT), from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The weather was near perfect and afforded a spectacular sky show for all those who descended on the Florida Space Coast for an up close eyewitness view of the rockets rumbling thunder.

The rocket roared off pad 39A after ignition of the nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generated some 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

The Falcon sped skyward darting in and out of wispy white clouds and appeared to head in a northeasterly direction from the space coast.

“A National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload was successfully launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, at 7:15 a.m. EDT, on May 1, 2017,” the NRO said in a post launch statement.

“Thanks to the SpaceX team for the great ride, and for the terrific teamwork and commitment they demonstrated throughout. They were an integral part of our government/industry team for this mission, and proved themselves to be a great partner,” said Betty Sapp, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office.

The launch of the two stage 229 foot tall Falcon 9 was postponed a day after a last moment scrub was suddenly called on Sunday by the launch director at just about T minus 52 seconds due to a sensor issue in the first stage.

SpaceX engineers were clearly able to fully resolve the issue in time for today’s second launch attempt of the super secret NROL-76 for the NRO customer.

Barely nine minutes after the launch, the 156 foot tall first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket made an incredibly precise and thrilling soft touchdown on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 39A.

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

The quartet of landing legs attached to the base of the first stage deployed only moments before touchdown – as can be seen in my eyewitness photos herein.

Multiple sonic booms screamed across the space coast as the 15 story first stage plummeted back to Earth and propulsively slowed down to pass though the sound barrier and safely came to rest fully upright.

This counts as SpaceX’s first ever launch of a top secret US surveillance satellite. It also counts as the fourth time SpaceX landed a first stage fully intact on the ground.

As is typical for NRO missions, nothing is publically known about the satellite nor has the NRO released any details about this mission in support of national security other than the launch window.

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

Overall SpaceX has now recovered 10 first stages via either land or at sea on an oceangoing platform.

NROL-76 marks the fifth SpaceX launch of 2017 and the 33rd flight of a Falcon 9.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering NROL-76 spy satellite to orbit on 1 May 2017 for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Credit: Julian Leek

NROL-76 is the second of five launches slated for the NRO in 2017. The next NRO launch is on schedule for August 14 from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), California by competitor ULA.

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

The NRO is a joint Department of Defense–Intelligence Community organization responsible for developing, launching, and operating America’s intelligence satellites to meet the national security needs of our nation, according to the NRO.

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

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office stands raised erect poised for sunrise liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

At T Minus 1 Day from ISS Liftoff SpaceX Rolls Falcon 9 to KSC Pad 39A – Feb. 18 Ignition Hinges on FAA License Approval

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 16 Feb 2017 as seen from Launch Complex 39-B. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff slated for 18 Feb. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Its getting down to the wire at T Minus 1 Day from liftoff for SpaceX and NASA as a Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to historic Launch Complex 39A today, Feb 16, and the Feb. 18 ignition to the space station hinges on the approval of a launch license yet to be granted, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed late today to Universe Today.

“My previous background still applies,” FAA spokesman Hank Price confirmed to Universe Today.

“The FAA is working closely with SpaceX to ensure the activity described in the application meets all applicable regulations for a launch license.”

“The FAA will continue to work with SpaceX to provide a license determination in a timely manner.”

Blastoff of the Falcon 9 from seaside pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is slated for 10:01 a.m. EST Saturday, Feb. 18.

NASA plans live coverage of the launch beginning at 8:30 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

SpaceX currently has license applications pending with the FAA for both the NASA cargo launch and pad 39A. No commercial launch can take place without FAA approval.

No License, No Launch – that’s the bottom line!

Assuming the FAA grants a launch license at the last minute on Friday the weather outlook currently is iffy for Saturday with a 60% chance of favorable conditions at launch time. The concerns are for rains and clouds according to Air Force weather forecasters.

In case of a scrub for any reason on Feb. 18, the backup launch opportunity is 9:38 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 19.

Technically all appears to be on track for the historic first launch of a Falcon 9 from pad 39A pending further reviews and updates from NASA and SpaceX on Friday.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

After a successful static fire test of the two stage rocket and all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, the path to orbit was cleared for a critical Dragon cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of science and supplies on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the six person crew living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus Dragon spacecraft stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl, following static fire test on 12 Feb 2017. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was then integrated with the unmanned Dragon CRS-10 cargo freighter was rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A this morning using a dedicated transporter-erector, so crew could begin final preparation for the Saturday morning blastoff.

From atop KSC pad 39B I witnessed the rocket residing horizontally atop pad 39A as technicians further moved the rocket to launch position.

The 22 story tall Falcon 9/Dragon vehicle was erected to vertical launch position later this afternoon at about 4:50 p.m. to conduct additional ground checks and testing.

It will again be lowered to the horizontal position, so that late load cargo items can be stowed inside the Dragon spaceship on Friday before raising the rocket again into the final launch configuration.

This marks the first time any fully integrated rocket has stood on pad 39A for a scheduled launch since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011 on the STS-135 mission to the space station.

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions as far back as the 1960s.

Dragon is carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere.

The LIS lightning mapper will measure lightning from the altitude of the ISS. NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

About 10 minutes after launch, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit, deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station.

As a secondary objective SpaceX s planning to attempt to land its Falcon 9 first stage on land at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

‘Astronauts Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the space station after its two-day journey. The spacecraft will be berthed to the Earth-facing port on the Harmony module. The following day, the space station crew will pressurize the vestibule between the station and Dragon, then open the hatch that leads to the forward bulkhead of Dragon,’ according to NASA.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus Dragon spacecraft stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl, following static fire test on 12 Feb 2017. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Pad 39A has lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-10 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX 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:

Feb 17- 19: “SpaceX 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

Iridium Satellites Fueled and Tucked In For SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘Return to Flight’ Blastoff

The first ten IridiumNEXT satellites are stacked and encapsulated in the Falcon 9 fairing for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Ca., in early 2017. Credit: Iridium

Technicians have fueled, stacked and tucked the first ten advanced IridiumNEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites inside the nose cone of a Falcon 9 rocket designated as SpaceX’s ‘Return to Flight’ launcher – potentially as early as next week – from their west coast launch pad on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“Milestone Alert: The first ten #IridiumNEXT satellites are stacked and encapsulated in the Falcon 9 fairing,” Iridium Communications announced on the company website on Thursday, Dec. 29.

The excitement of a possibly imminent liftoff is clearly building – at least for Iridium Communications and their CEO Matt Desch.

“Our first 10 #IridiumNEXT satellites are all fueled now, tucked in and dreaming of flying in space. Very. Soon. Happy Holidays!” Iridium Communications CEO Matt Desch tweeted on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2016.

But SpaceX is still dealing with the fallout from the catastrophic launch pad explosion that eviscerated a Falcon 9 and its expensive commercial payload in Florida without warning, during a routine fueling test on Sept. 1, 2016.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 with the payload of 10 identical next generation IridiumNEXT communications satellites from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4-East could come as soon as next week – in early January 2017 perhaps as soon as Jan. 7.

IridiumNEXT satellites being fueled, pressurized & stacked on dispenser tiers at Vandenberg AFB for Falcon 9 launch. Credit: Iridium

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had said he hoped to resume Falcon 9 launches before the end of this year 2016 – while investigating the root cause of the devastating mishap.

But the launch has been repeatedly postponed and pushed off into 2017 while investigators plumb the data for clues and fix whatever flaws are uncovered.

“Iridium’s @Falcon9_rocket in processing at @VandenbergAFB, getting ready for our launch in early Jan. Progress! #Thistimeitsforreal!” Desch elaborated.

Nevertheless, there has been no official statement issued by either SpaceX or Iridium Communications announcing a specific target launch date.

And the liftoff is completely dependent on achieving FAA approval for the Falcon 9 launch.

“This launch is contingent upon the FAA’s approval of SpaceX’s return to flight following the anomaly that occurred on September 1, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida,” Iridium said in a prior statement, reported here.

All SpaceX Falcon 9 launches immediately ground to a halt following the colossal eruption of a fireball from the Falcon 9 at the launch pad that suddenly destroyed the rocket and completely consumed its $200 million Israeli Amos-6 commercial payload on Sept. 1 during a routine fueling and planned static fire engine test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The explosive anomaly resulted from a “large breach” in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank and subsequent ignition of the highly flammable oxygen propellant.

Meanwhile, SpaceX and Iridium are preparing the payload and rocket for launch as soon as possible after FAA approval is granted.

“Satellites have been fueled, pressurized & dispenser tiers are being stacked as we move closer to first launch #IridiumNEXT #NEXTevolution,” Iridium elaborated with photos showing the recent processing in progress.

The Iridium mission is the first of seven planned Falcon 9 launches – totaling 70 satellites.

“Iridium is replacing its existing constellation by sending 70 Iridium NEXT satellites into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket over 7 different launches,” says Iridium.

“There were many challenges on the program, from orbit determination knowledge design, to encryption design, to integration and verification test planning, to planning for on orbit acceptance activities, but the team made it all come together and the satellites are ready for deployment to enhance the future of mobile satellite communications — I could not be more proud,” Joel Rademacher, Ph.D, Director, Systems Engineering for Iridium Next, said in a statement.

The goal of this privately contracted mission is to deliver the first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into low-earth orbit to inaugurate what will be a new constellation of satellites dedicated to mobile voice and data communications.

Iridium eventually plans to launch a constellation of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites into low-earth orbit.

“At least 70 of which will be launched by SpaceX,” per Iridium’s contract with SpaceX.

Iridium’s SpaceX Falcon9 rocket in processing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, getting ready for launch in early Jan. 2017. Credit: Iridium

Besides the launch, SpaceX plans to continue its secondary objective of recovering the Falcon 9 first stage via a propulsive soft landing – as done several times previously and witnessed by this author.

The goal is to eventually recycle and reuse the first stage – and thereby dramatically slash launch costs per Musk’s vision.

This Falcon 9 has been outfitted with four landing lags and grid fins for a controlled landing on a tiny barge prepositioned in the Pacific Ocean several hundred miles off the west coast of California.

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

Desch says that all seven of his Falcon’s will be new – not resued.

“All our seven F9s are new,” Desch tweeted.

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

SpaceX maintains active launch pads on both the US East and West coasts.

On the Florida Space Coast, SpaceX plans to initially resume launches at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) from pad 39A, the former shuttle pad that SpaceX has leased from NASA.

Commercial SpaceX launches at KSC could start from pad 39A sometime in early 2017 – after modifications for the Falcon 9 are completed.

Meanwhile pad 40, which was heavily damaged during the Sept. 1 explosion, is undergoing extensive repairs and refurbishments to bring it back online.

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

It is not known when pad 40 will be fit to resume Falcon 9 launches.

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

Ken Kremer

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

2 By Sea, 1 By Land, 3rd Recovered Booster Joins SpaceX Siblings: Up Close Gallery

Composite image of first stage booster 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: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace.  Inset: Trio of SpaceX boosters inside pad 39A hangar. Credit: SpaceX.  Composite:  Ken Kremer
Composite image of first stage booster 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: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace. Inset: Trio of SpaceX boosters inside pad 39A hangar. Credit: SpaceX. Composite: Ken Kremer

Rolling rolling rolling! Yee-haw!

2 By Sea, 1 By Land. The 3rd recovered Falcon 9 booster has joined her siblings inside SpaceX’s gleaming new processing hangar, laying side-by-side at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

What was once unfathomable science fiction has turned into science fact.

In the space of 5 short months, SpaceX has recovered three of the company’s spent Falcon 9 first stage boosters following successful rocket delivery launches to orbit for NASA and commercial customers.

The trio of landings count as stunning successes towards SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s vision of rocket reusability and radically slashing the cost of sending rockets to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reflying them with new payloads from paying customers.

Over the weekend, the latest Falcon 9 booster recovered after nailing a spectacular middle-of-the-night touchdown on a sea based platform, was transported horizontally from a work site at Port Canaveral to the SpaceX rocket processing hanger at pad 39A at KSC.

Check out the extensive gallery of up close photos/videos herein of the boosters travels along the long and winding road from the port to KSC from my space photographer friends Jeff Seibert and Julian Leek. As well as booster trio hangar photos from SpaceX.

“Three’s company,” tweeted SpaceX’s Elon Musk, after the third booster met the first two inside the pad 39A hangar.

Video caption: Close-up video of SpaceX JCSAT-14 Falcon 9 booster rolls to SpaceX hanger at Pad 39A after removal from the drone ship where it landed on May 6th. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The 156 foot tall booster safely soft landed on the tiny drone ship named “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” barely nine minutes after liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 a week and a half ago on a mission to deliver the Japanese JCSAT-14 telecom satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

The upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 soared to orbit on May 6, roaring to life with 1.5 million pounds of thrust on a mission carrying the JCSAT-14 commercial communications satellite, following an on time nighttime liftoff at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.

The used first stage then carried out an intricate propulsive soft landing on the waiting ocean going platform located some 400 miles off the east coast of Florida.

The booster was then towed into the Florida space coast at Port Canaveral where it was removed from the barge, defueled and had its four landing legs removed.

Thereafter it was tilted and lowered horizontally and placed onto the multi-wheeled transport for shipment back to SpaceX launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center.

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

The newly recovered first stage joins the fleet of two others recovered last December and in April.

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

3 landed SpaceX rockets in hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.  Credit: SpaceX
3 landed SpaceX rockets in hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: SpaceX

To date SpaceX has recovered 3 Falcon 9 first stages – 2 by sea and 1 by at land. But this was the first one to be recovered from the much more demanding, high velocity trajectory delivering a satellite to GTO.

The first rocket 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.

Musk and SpaceX officials had openly doubted a successful outcome for this landing attempt.

Nevertheless it all worked out spectacularly as seen live at the time via the SpaceX launch and landing webcast.

However, the booster and the Merlin 1D first stage engines did sustain heavy damage as seen in the 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.

So although this cannot be reflown, it still serves another great purpose for engineers seeking to determining the longevity of booster and its various components.

Apparent cracks in the recovered booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch seen in this up close view revealing damage due to high velocity launch and touchdown on droneship at sea.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
The recovered booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch seen in this up close view revealing possible damage due to high velocity launch and touchdown on droneship at sea. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

“A few pictures show some signs of distress, this obviously was a rough re-entry,” Seibert told Universe Today.

Damage to the booster may be visible. Looking at the Falcon 9s Merlin 1D engines arranged in an octoweb configuration, the center engine appears to be held in place with restraining straps.

“It looks like the octoweb area may have been breached due to the high entry energy. It appears that for some reason, they are supporting the center Merlin engine for transport. They may be some burn through below the orange strap holding up the center engine.”

Apparent damage around Merlin 1D engines at base of recovered booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch seen in this up close view showing straps around center engine.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Apparent damage around Merlin 1D engines at base of recovered booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch seen in this up close view showing straps around center engine. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Musk says the next SpaceX commercial launch is tentatively slated for late May – watch for my onsite reports.

Blastoff of the first reflown booster could follow sometime this summer.

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

Ken Kremer

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of JCSAT-14 on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Booster move gallery:

Recovered first stage booster after SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch rolls into Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016.  Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered first stage booster after SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch rolls into Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Base of recovered first stage booster with 9 Merlin 1D engines covered, after SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch, rolls into Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016.
Base of recovered first stage booster with 9 Merlin 1D engines covered and landing legs removed, after SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch, rolls into Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
9 Merlin 1D engines powered the recovered first stage from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch, rolls to SpaceX hanger at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
9 Merlin 1D engines powered the recovered first stage from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch, rolls to SpaceX hanger at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Up close look at grid fins from recovered first stage booster after SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch during transport to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Up close look at grid fins from recovered first stage booster after SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch during transport to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
3 landed SpaceX rockets in hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.  Credit: SpaceX
3 landed SpaceX rockets in hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: SpaceX
First stage booster 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: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
First stage booster 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: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
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
Up close look at top of recovered first stage booster after SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch during transport to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Up close look at top of recovered first stage booster after SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch during transport to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Scorched skin and US flag on recovered SpaceX first stage booster during roll  to SpaceX hanger at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Scorched skin and US flag on recovered SpaceX first stage booster during roll to SpaceX hanger at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
First stage booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
First stage booster 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: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
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

Video Caption: 20X time-lapse of the first stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch being transferred on May 10, 2016 from the autonomous drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY) to a work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving at the dock. Credit: Jeff Seibert

SpaceX Sets Dec. 20 For ‘Return to Flight’ Launch and Historic Rocket Ground Landing Recovery Attempt – Watch Live

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced today (Dec. 19) that his company plans to launch an upgraded version of its Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday night, Dec. 20, from Cape Canaveral, Florida – for the first time since it failed in flight six months ago on a mission for NASA to the space station – after successfully completing a crucial test of the rockets engines late Friday night.

Furthermore, SpaceX confirmed it will conduct a historic first ever attempt to recover the commercial rocket’s first stage by a soft landing on the ground at a special SpaceX site called Landing Zone 1 on the Cape’s Air Force Station. Continue reading “SpaceX Sets Dec. 20 For ‘Return to Flight’ Launch and Historic Rocket Ground Landing Recovery Attempt – Watch Live”

SpaceX Rocket Prototype Explodes In Texas; ‘Rockets Are Tricky’, Musk Says

No injuries are reported after a SpaceX rocket prototype detonated in Texas today (Aug. 22) after an anomaly was found in the rocket, the company said in a statement.

The  Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) — a successor to the Grasshopper vertical take-off and landing rocket — was completing the latest in a series of ambitious tests that previously saw the prototype successfully testing new steerable fins.

“Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test,” SpaceX said in a statement (which you can read in full below the jump.) “As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.”


The company said it would provide more updates as it found information. SpaceX founder Elon Musk issued a brief statement of his own on Twitter:

Screenshot of a June 2014 F9R test flight.
Screenshot of a June 2014 F9R test flight.

Below is SpaceX’s statement:

Earlier today, in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX conducted a test flight of a three-engine version of the F9R test vehicle (successor to Grasshopper.) During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission.

Throughout the test and subsequent flight termination, the vehicle remained in the designated flight area. There were no injuries or near injuries. An FAA representative was present at all times.

With research and development projects, detecting vehicle anomalies during the testing is the purpose of the program. Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.

SpaceX will provide another update when the flight data has been fully analyzed.

Here are some recent Universe Today stories on the rocket: