SpaceX Falcon 9 Goes Vertical with Station Science at KSC Pad 39A – Watch Live Feb. 19

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 18 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Just hours before blastoff, the first ever SpaceX Falcon 9 set to soar to the space station from historic pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the rocket went vertical below delightfully dark skies on the Florida Space Coast.

UPDATE- The launch was scrubbed until Feb. 19 after a hold was called to deal with a thrust vector control issue. Story updated

Packed with over a thousand pounds of research experiments and science instruments probing the human body and our home planet from the heavens above, the Falcon 9 rocket is poised for liftoff at 9:38 a.m., Sunday morning, Feb. 19, from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC.

Everything is on track for Sunday’s launch of the 229 foot tall (70 meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 on the NASA contracted SpaceX CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA to the million pound orbiting lab complex.

And the weather looks promising at this time.

At a meeting with reporters at pad 39A on Friday, Feb. 17, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell confirmed the success of the static fire test of the two stage rocket and all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines conducted on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12 – minus the SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter payload.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 as seen from inside the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The successful test firing of the engines cleared the path to orbit for liftoff of Dragon on a critical cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of supplies and science on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Shotwell then said technicians integrated with the unmanned Dragon CRS-10 cargo freighter with the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell meets the media at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 ahead of launch of the CRS-10 mission on 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

The 22 story tall rocket rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A on Thursday morning using a dedicated transporter-erector, so ground crews could begin final preparations for the Saturday morning blastoff. Now reset to Sunday.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 19 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 18 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Thousands and thousands of spectators from across the globe, local residents, media and scientists and engineers and their families have flocked to the Florida Space Coast, filling area hotels to witness the historic maiden blastoff of a Falcon 9 from seaside pad 39A at KSC at 9:38 a.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 19.

SpaceX will also attempt to achieve a secondary mission goal of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 40.

If you can’t personally be here to witness the launch in Florida, you can also watch NASA’s live coverage on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The SpaceX/Dragon CRS-10 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT Saturday, Feb. 18, with additional commentary on the NASA launch blog.

SpaceX will also feature their own live webcast beginning approximately 20 minutes before launch at 9:41 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can also watch the launch live at SpaceX Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that any delays due to weather or technical issues results in a minimum 1 day postponement.

The long awaited FAA launch license was finally granted at the last minute on Friday afternoon – less than 24 hours before launch.

The weather outlook currently is improving from earlier in the week and looks good for Saturday morning with a 70% chance of favorable condition at launch time. The concerns are for thick clouds according to Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.

In case of a scrub for any reason on Feb. 18, the backup launch opportunity is 9:38 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 19. with NASA TV coverage starting at about 8:10 a.m. EDT.

CRS-10 marks only the third time SpaceX has attempted a land landing of the 15 story tall first stage booster.

Shotwell confirmed they are attempting the secondary mission of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located about 9 miles south of launch pad 39a.

And it won’t take long to learn the results – the ground landing at LZ -1 will take place about 9 minutes after liftoff.

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

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.

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.

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

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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

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 of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39A 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. Liftoff is slated for no earlier than 19 Feb. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

First SpaceX Falcon 9 Erected at Historic Launch Pad 39A for Feb. 18 Blastoff

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl. 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: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The first SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket ever to grace historic launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was erected this afternoon, Friday, Feb. 10, to prepare the booster for a critical static fire sometime Saturday, and a launch to the space station next weekend – if all goes well.

This marks the first time any rocket has stood on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 is slated for no earlier than next Saturday, 18 Feb 2017 on a critical cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of science and supplies to the six person crew living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

The rocket – minus the payload comprising the Dragon cargo spacecraft – 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.

A wider-angle shot from the top of the CBS bureau at KSC showing the first SpaceX Falcon 9 atop pad 39A 3.1 miles away on Feb 20, 2017. Credit: Bill Harwood/CBS News

The booster was then hoisted into launch position this afternoon.

The scene was viewed by spectators including my space journalist colleague Jeff Seibert.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl. 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: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

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

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also posted a photo on instagram with this caption:

“Falcon 9 rocket now vertical at Cape Canaveral on launch complex 39-A. This is the same launch pad used by the Saturn V rocket that first took people to the moon in 1969. We are honored to be allowed to use it.”

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017. The photo was posted to Instagram by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

After the successful completion of the static fire test, the booster will be rolled back to the big processing hangar and the Dragon resupply ship will be integrated on top.

During the brief static fire test, all 9 Merlin 1D first stage engines are ignited for a few seconds to confirm they and the rocket are suited for liftoff while hold down clamps restrain the rocket on the pad.

Dragon will be loaded with more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, supplies and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload.

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

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.

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

Poor Weather Pushes SpaceX Return Debut with Revolutionary Iridium Relay Sats to Jan. 14

Mission patch for Iridium-1 mission showing launch of the first 10 Iridium NEXT voice and data relay satellites on SpaceX Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, for Iridium Communications, and planned landing of the first stage on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: SpaceX/Iridium

In the face of unrelenting days of very poor weather and a range conflict with another very critical rocket launch, SpaceX is pushing back the return debut of their private Falcon 9 rocket carrying a revolutionary fleet of voice and data commercial communications relay satellites for Iridium to no earlier than next weekend, Jan 14.

Earlier indications of a nearly weeks long launch delay from Monday, Jan. 9 to next Saturday morning, Jan. 14, were officially confirmed today, Jan. 8, by SpaceX and their Iridium Communications customer.

“Launch moving due to high winds and rains at Vandenberg,” SpaceX announced today, Jan. 8.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 with the payload of 10 identical next generation Iridium NEXT communications satellites had been slated for 10:22 am PST (1:22 pm EST), Jan. 9, 2017 from Space Launch Complex 4E on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The advanced next satellites will start the process of replacing an aging Iridium fleet in orbit for nearly two decades.

And it was less than 48 hours ago on Friday, Jan. 6, that the FAA finally granted SpaceX a license to launch the ‘Return to Flight’ Falcon 9 mission – as I confirmed with the FAA here.

“The FAA accepted the investigation report on the AMOS-6 mishap and has closed the investigation,” FAA spokesman Hank Price confirmed to Universe Today.

“SpaceX applied for a license to launch the Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The FAA has granted a license for that purpose.”

The SpaceX investigation report into the total loss of the Falcon 9 rocket and AMOS-6 payload has not been released at this time. The FAA has oversight responsibility to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation and ensure the protection of public safety.

The private rocket – developed by CEO Elon Musk and his company – has been grounded for four months since a catastrophic launch pad explosion last September suddenly destroyed another Falcon 9 and its $200 million Israeli owned satellite during a prelaunch fueling test on the Florida Space Coast.

The Sept. 1, 2016 calamity was the second Falcon 9 failure within 15 months time. Both occurred inside the second stage and called into question the rockets reliability.

The prognosis of a week of bad California weather had been known for some time and finally prompted an official announcement just 24 hours before the hoped for launch.

“With high winds and rain in the forecast at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the first launch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites is now planned for January 14th at 9:54:34 am PST with a back-up date of January 15th,” Iridium officials elaborated in a statement.

The mission, known as Iridium 1, has an instantaneous launch opportunity at 9:54:34 a.m. PST (12:54:34 p.m. EST).

Next Sunday, Jan. 15 is available as a back-up launch opportunity in case of a delay for any reason including technical and weather related issues.

Furthermore, humorous pleas by Iridium CEO Matt Desch for divine intervention went unheeded !

“Can now confirm: new launch date Jan 14 at 9:54am pst. Bad weather the cause. Anti-rain dances didn’t work – oh well. Cal needs rain?” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch when he threw in the towel this morning by tweet.

Things change fast and furious in the rocket business, and flexibility is the name of the game if you want to survive the frequently changing landscape.

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

A contributing factor to the delay is a range conflict with an upcoming Atlas rocket launch for the U.S National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) at Vandenberg AFB.

“Other range conflicts this week results in next available launch date being Jan 14,” SpaceX confirmed.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V is scheduled to launch the super secret NROL-79 spy satellite for the NRO on Jan. 26.

Prior to the launch, ULA must conduct a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) of the Atlas V by fueling it with propellants to confirm its readiness to launch.

The clandestine NROL-79 intelligence-gathering payload is critical to US national defense. Surly it was manufactured over a time span of several years at an unknown classified cost probably amounting to billions of dollars.

For the Iridium – 1 mission the 229-foot (70-meter) Falcon 9 will carry a fleet of ten Iridium NEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites to orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Ca, for Iridium Communications.

Video Caption: Iridium NEXT: Changing the Paradigm In Space Communications. Credit: Iridium/SpaceX

Iridium 1 is the first of seven planned Falcon 9 launches to establish the Iridium NEXT constellation which will eventually consist of 81 advanced satellites.

The FAA license approved on Jan. 6 covers all seven launches.

“Space Explorations Technologies is authorized to conduct seven launches of Falcon 9 version 1.2 vehicles from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base with each flight transporting ten Iridium NEXT payloads to low Earth orbit.

The license also allows SpaceX to land the first stage on a droneship at sea in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 arrives at mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

So 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 Iridium-1 mission patch featured herein highlights both the launch and landing objectives.

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.

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

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

On Jan. 2, SpaceX issued a statement ascribing the Sept. 1, 2016 AMOS-6 launch pad anomaly as being traced to a failure wherein one of three high pressure helium storage tanks located inside the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank of the Falcon 9 rocket suddenly burst. Cold helium is used to pressurize the propellant tanks. They provided some but not many technical details.

The failure apparently originated at a point where the helium tank “buckles” and accumulates oxygen – “leading to ignition” of the highly flammable superchilled oxygen propellant in the second stage when it came into contact with carbon fibers covering the helium tanks – also known as composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs).

“Friction ignition” between the carbon fibers acting as a friction source and super chilled oxygen led to the calamitous explosion, SpaceX concluded was the most likely cause of the disaster.

Watch this space for continuing updates as SpaceX rolls the rocket out from the processing hangar and we watch the saga of the foggy weather forecast with great anticipation !

SpaceX rocket processing hangar at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, fogged by common fog. Credit Julian Leek

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

Ken Kremer

Sea Landed SpaceX Falcon 9 Sails Back into Port Canaveral: Gallery

This recovered 156-foot-tall (47-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage has arrived back into Port Canaveral, FL after successfully launching JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. NASA’s VAB in the background.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
This recovered 156-foot-tall (47-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage has arrived back into Port Canaveral, FL after successfully launching JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. NASA’s VAB in the background – as seen from Exploration Tower on Aug. 19. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL, FL — Rocket recycling continues apace as the latest SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to successfully launch a payload to orbit on Aug. 14 and land the first stage at sea minutes later, sailed safely into Port Canaveral just days later atop the dedicated drone ship landing platform.

It’s just the latest previously unfathomable and science fictionesque space adventure turned into science reality by SpaceX – a burgeoning aerospace giant.

A virgin SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Japanese JCSAT-16 telecom satellite roared to life past midnight last Sunday, Aug. 14, at 1:26 a.m. EDT and streaked to orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

After the first stage firing was completed, it separated from the second stage, turned around 180 degrees, relit three of its Merlin 1D engines and began descending back to Earth towards the waiting drone ship barge.

Scarcely nine minutes later the 15 story tall first stage completed a pinpoint and upright soft landing on a prepositioned ocean going platform some 400 miles (650 km) off shore of of Florida’s east coast in the Atlantic Ocean., after successfully delivering the Japanese communications satellite to its intended geostationary orbit.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from JCSAT-16 launch after arrival in Port Canaveral, FL on Aug. 17, 2016 with landing legs deployed. Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from JCSAT-16 launch after arrival in Port Canaveral, FL on Aug. 17, 2016 with landing legs deployed. Credit: Julian Leek

It was towed back into port on Wedenesday, Aug. 16 atop the diminutive ocean landing platform measuring only about 170 ft × 300 ft (52 m × 91 m). SpaceX formally dubs it an ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship’ or ASDS.

Port Canaveral aerial view showing SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage back on land in storage cradle after arriving back into port and craning off droneship barge it propulsively soft landed on after launching JCSAT-16 Japanese comsat on Aug. 14, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. NASA’s.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Port Canaveral aerial view showing SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage back on land in storage cradle after arriving back into port and craning off droneship barge it propulsively soft landed on after launching JCSAT-16 Japanese comsat on Aug. 14, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. NASA’s. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The JCSAT-16 satellite was successfully deployed from the second stage about 32 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral – as the primary objective of this flight.

The secondary experimental objective was to try and recover the first stage booster via a propulsive landing on the ocean-going platform named “Of Course I Still Love You” or OCISLY.

The ocean-going barge is named “Of Course I Still Love You” after a starship from a novel written by Iain M. Banks.

OCISLY and the vertical booster arrived back into Port Canaveral three days later on Wednesday morning, Aug. 17,floating past unsuspecting tourists and pleasure craft.

A heavy duty crane lifted the spent 156-foot-tall (47-meter) booster off the OCISLY barge and onto a restraining cradle within hours of arrival.

Watch this exquisitely detailed video from USLaunchReport showing workers capping the first stage and preparing the booster for craning off the barge on Aug. 17, 2016.

Video Caption: SpaceX – JCSAT-16 – In Port – YouTube 4K – 08-17-2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

One by one, workers then removed all four landing legs over the next two days.

It will be tilted and lowered horizontally and then be placed onto a multi-wheeled transport for shipment back to SpaceX launch processing facilities and hangars at Cape Canaveral for refurbishment, exhaustive engine and structural testing. It will also be washed, stored and evaluated for reuse.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from JCSAT-16 launch after arrival in Port Canaveral, FL on Aug. 17, 2016 after 3 landing legs removed. Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from JCSAT-16 launch after arrival in Port Canaveral, FL on Aug. 19, 2016 after 3 landing legs removed. Credit: Julian Leek

As always, SpaceX will derive lessons learned and apply them to the upcoming missions – as outlined by SpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann in my story here.

This 6th successful Falcon upright first stage landing – two by land and four by sea – is part of a continuing series of technological marvels/miracles rocking the space industry to its core.

The sextet of intact and upright touchdowns of the recovered 156-foot-tall (47-meter) booster 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.

To date SpaceX had successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea earlier this year on the ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27.

Two land landings back at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone-1 were accomplished on Dec. 21, 2015 and July 18, 2016.

The JCSAT-16 communications satellite was built by Space Systems Loral for Tokyo-based SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. It is equipped Ku-band and Ka-band communications services for customers of SKY Perfect JSAT Corp.

The satellite was launched using the upgraded version of the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket.

Relive the launch via this pair of videos from remote video cameras set at the SpaceX launch pad 40 facility:

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of JCSAT-16 on Aug. 14, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Video Caption: Launch of the JCSAT-16 communications satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 8/14/2016 from Pad 40 of CCAFS. Credit: Jeff Seibert

SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. is a leading satellite operator in the Asia – Pacific region. JCSAT-16 will be positioned 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above the equator.

The Aug. 14 launch was the second this year for SKY Perfect JSAT. The JCSAT-14 satellite was already successfully launched earlier this year atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 6.

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

JCSAT-16 will primarily serve as an on orbit back up spare for the company’s existing services, a company spokeswomen told Universe Today at the media launch viewing site.

Tourists oblivious to the SpaceX technological marvel - recovering the Falcon 9 1st stage from JCSAT-16 launch - behind them at Port Canaveral, FL on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Tourists oblivious to the SpaceX technological marvel – recovering the Falcon 9 1st stage from JCSAT-16 launch – behind them at Port Canaveral, FL on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

Up close view of hoisting cap and grid fins on recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from JCSAT-16 launch after arrival into Port Canaveral, FL.    NASA’s VAB in the background - as seen from Exploration Tower on Aug. 19. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of hoisting cap and grid fins on recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from JCSAT-16 launch after arrival into Port Canaveral, FL. NASA’s VAB in the background – as seen from Exploration Tower on Aug. 19. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-16 Japanese comsat to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-16 Japanese comsat to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit after blastoff on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek
Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit after blastoff on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

SpaceX Falcon 9 Set for Post-Midnight Blastoff and Landing on Aug. 14 – Watch Live

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. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Scarcely three weeks after the mesmerizing midnight launch and landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that delivered over two tons of science and critical hardware to the space station for NASA, the innovative firm is set to repeat the back to back space feats – with a few big twists – during a post midnight launch this Sunday, Aug.14 of a Japanese telecom satellite.

In less than 24 hours, a freshly built SpaceX Falcon 9 is set to transform night into day and launch the JCSAT-16 communications satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

And some nine minutes later, the 15 story Falcon 9 first stage is scheduled to make a pinpoint soft landing on a tiny, prepositioned drone ship at sea in the vast Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing  rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has successfully soft landed 5 first stage boosters over the past eight months – two by land and three by sea.

Nighttime liftoffs are always a viewing favorite among the general public – whether visiting from near or far. And this one is virtually certain to offer some spectacular summer fireworks since the weather looks rather promising – if all goes well.

Sunday’s launch window opens at 1:26 a.m. EDT and extends two hours long for the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket. The window closes at 3:26 a.m. EDT.

The commercial mission involves lofting the JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for SKY Perfect JSAT – a leading satellite operator in the Asia – Pacific region. JCSAT-16 will be positioned 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above the equator.

Sunday’s launch is the second this year for SKY Perfect JSAT. The JCSAT-14 satellite was already launched earlier this year on May 6.

You can watch the launch live via a special live webcast from SpaceX.

The SpaceX webcast will be available starting at about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 1:06 a.m. EDT at SpaceX.com/webcast

The weather currently looks very good. Air Force meteorologists are predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at launch time in the wee hours early Sunday morning.

The primate concerns are for violations of the Cumulus Cloud and Think Cloud rules.

The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing will support SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch of JCSAT-16.

In cases of any delays for technical or weather issues, a backup launch opportunity exists 24 hours later on Monday morning with a 70 percent chance of favorable weather.

The rocket has already been rolled out to the launch pad on the transporter and raised to its vertical position.

The path to launch was cleared following the successful Aug. 10 hold down static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage Merlin 1-D engines. SpaceX routinely performs the hot fire test to ensure the rocket is ready.

Watch this crystal clear video of the Static Fire Test from USLaunchReport:

Video Caption: SpaceX – JCSAT-16 – Static Fire Test 08-10-2016. On a humid, windless evening at 11 PM, JCSAT-16 gave one good vapor show. Credit: USLaunchReport

Via a fleet of 15 satellites, Tokyo, Japan based SKY Perfect JSAT provides high quality satellite communications to its customers.
The JCSAT-16 communications satellite was designed and manufactured by Space Systems/Loral for SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation.

JCSAT-16 satellite will separate from the second stage and will be deployed about 32 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The staging events are usually broadcast live by SpaceX via stunning imagery from onboard video cameras.

A secondary objective is to try and recover the first stage booster via a propulsive landing on an ocean-going platform.

This booster is again equipped with 4 landing legs and 4 grid fins.

Following stage separation, SpaceX will try to soft land the first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship positioned about 400 miles (650 km) off shore of Florida’s east coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

But SpaceX officials say landings from GTO mission destinations are extremely challenging because the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating.

If all goes well with the supersonic retropropulsion landing on the barge, the booster will arrive back into Port Canaveral a few days later.

Pelican Navy stands watch and greets SpaceX Naval Fleet and Falcon 9 rocket float by on barge approaching mouth of Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Pelican Navy stands watch and greets SpaceX Naval Fleet and Falcon 9 rocket float by on barge approaching mouth of Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea this year on the an ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27.

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

Ken Kremer

Up closse view of SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket returns late at night to Port Canaveral, Florida on May 9, 2016.  Credit:  Julian Leek
Up closse view of SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket returns late at night to Port Canaveral, Florida on May 9, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

Mission patch for SpaceX JCSAT-16 launch. Credit: SpaceX
Mission patch for SpaceX JCSAT-16 launch. Credit: SpaceX

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Learn more about SpaceX missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, 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:

Aug 12-14: “SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of ABS/Eutelsat-2 launch on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of ABS/Eutelsat-2 launch on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 229 foot-tall (70 meter) Falcon 9 successfully accomplished its primary goal of delivering a pair of roughly 5000 pound commercial telecommunications satellites to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for Eutelsat based in Paris and Asia Broadcast Satellite of Bermuda and Hong Kong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SpaceX Falocn 9 streaks to orbit across the Florida skies after Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsat  launch  on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falocn 9 streaks to orbit across the Florida skies after Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsat launch on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

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

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

“2016 is the year of experimentation.”

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

Watch these incredible launch videos showing many different vantage points:

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

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with Eutelsat 117W/ABS-2A electric propulsion comsats on June 15, 2016 at 10:29 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from Mobius remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

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

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

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

Two Boeing built satellies named Eutelsat SA 117 West B and ABS 2A are due to launch on June 15, 2015 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket  from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX
Two Boeing built satellies named Eutelsat SA 117 West B and ABS 2A are due to launch on June 15, 2015 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Boeing

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

And Wednesday’s launch comes just 5 days after Saturday’s (June 11) launch from the Cape of the world’s most powerful rocket – the Delta 4 Heavy – which delivered a huge spy satellite to orbit for the NRO in support of US national defense.

Indeed what makes this flight especially interesting is that the satellites are based on Boeing’s 702SP series program and were the first all-electric propulsion satellites when Boeing introduced it in 2012, a Boeing spokesperson Joanna Climer told Universe Today.

The 229 foot-tall (70 meter) Falcon 9 will deliver the roughly 5000 pound commercial telecommunications satellites to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for Eutelsat based in Paris and Asia Broadcast Satellite of Bermuda and Hong Kong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were tested at the Boeing Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif., to ensure they could withstand the rigors of the launch environment. They have a design lifetime of a minimum of 15 years.

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

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

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

They will be deployed at about 30 minutes and 35 minutes after liftoff.

Eutelsat 117 West B will provide Latin America with video, data, government and mobile services for Paris-based Eutelsat.

ABS 2A will distribute direct-to-home television, mobile and maritime communications services across Russia, India, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region for Asia Broadcast Satellite of Bermuda and Hong Kong.

The satellites have no chemical thrusters. They will maneuver to their intended orbit entirely using a use xenon-based electric thruster propulsion system known as XIPS.

XIPS stands for xenon-ion propulsion system.

“XIPS uses the impulse generated by a thruster ejecting electrically charged particles at high velocities. XIPS requires only one propellant, xenon, and does not require any chemical propellant to generate thrust,” according to Boeing officials.

“XIPS is used for orbit raising and station-keeping for the 702SP series.”

Diagram of the Xenon propulsion system aboard the Boeing-built EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellites.  Credit: Boeing
Diagram of the Xenon propulsion system aboard the Boeing-built EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellites. Credit: Boeing

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

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

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

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

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the SpaceX launch pad.

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

Up close view of landing legs at base of SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Lane Hermann
Up close view of landing legs at base of SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann
Logo for EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellite mission launch. Credit: SpaceX
Logo for EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A satellite mission launch. Credit: SpaceX

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘Lifts Off’ 2nd Time After ‘Baby Made it Home!” – Gallery

With US flag flying in background below, the base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 booster with 4 deployed landing legs and 9 Merlin 1 D engines is lifted off ‘OCISLY’ droneship barge at dusk on June 2, 2016 after sailing at  midday through Port Canaveral. The rocket  successfully launched Thaicom-8 satellite on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl and landed on sea based platform minutes later.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
With US flag proudly flying in background below, the base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 booster with 4 deployed landing legs and 9 Merlin 1 D engines is lifted off ‘OCISLY’ droneship barge at dusk on June 2, 2016 after sailing at midday through Port Canaveral. The rocket successfully launched Thaicom-8 satellite on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl and landed on sea based platform minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL, FL – The spent SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster that sped to space and back and landed safely at sea, ‘lifted off’ for a second time so to speak after CEO Elon Musk’s “Baby Made it Home” to her home port around lunchtime on June 2 – as I witnessed and reported here for Universe Today.

“Yay, baby made it home,” SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk exuberantly tweeted with a link to my port arrival story and photos showing the tilted booster radiantly floating atop the droneship landing platform.

Photos above and below from myself and colleagues capture Falcon’s 2nd ‘lift off’ – this time at dusk on June 2, via crane power as workers hoisted it off its ocean landing platform – with an American flag flying proudly below – onto a ground based work platform to carry out initial processing.

3 image sequence shows SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘lifted off ‘OCISLY’ droneship barge at dusk on June 2, 2016 and moved to ground processing cradle at Port Canaveral, FL following May 27, 2016 launch/landing to deliver Thaicom-8 satellite to orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
3 image sequence shows SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘lifted off ‘OCISLY’ droneship barge at dusk on June 2, 2016 and moved to ground processing cradle at Port Canaveral, FL following May 27, 2016 launch/landing to deliver Thaicom-8 satellite to orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The booster triumphantly entered the waterway into Port Canaveral, Fl by way of the ocean mouth at Jetty Park pier at about 11: 45 a.m. on June 2 under clear blue skies.

It continued sailing serenely along the Port Canaveral channel – towed behind the Elsbeth III tugboat – making a picture perfect tour for lucky spectators for another 30 minutes or so until docking at the SpaceX ground processing facility.

All in all it was quite appropriately an ‘otherworldly’ scene reminiscent of a great scifi movie.

Watch this video from my photojournalist colleague Jeff Seibert.

Video caption: The SpaceX F9 booster from the Thaicom-8 launch returns to Cape Canaveral on June 2, 2016 after completing an at sea landing on the OCISLY drone ship 6 days earlier. A hard landing caused a leg to activate a crush structure and it is tilting about 4 degrees. That is half the booster tilt angle that Elon Musk expected should be recoverable. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The beaming 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 booster had propulsively landed six days earlier atop the specially designed SpaceX ‘droneship’ named “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” less than 9 minutes after the spectacular May 27 blastoff.

The Falcon 9 was leaning some 5 degrees or so on the droneship upon which it had landed on May 27 while it was stationed approximately 420 miles (680 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, surrounded by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 sails into Port Canaveral atop droneship on June 2, 2016. Credit: John Krauss
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom 8 mission sails into Port Canaveral atop droneship on June 2, 2016. Credit: John Krauss

After docking, SpaceX workers then spent the next few hours carefully maneuvering and attaching a pyramidal shaped metal hoisting cap by crane to the top of the 15 story tall first stage – as it was firmly secured to the deck of the droneship via multiple tie downs.

It was a delicately choreographed and cautiously carried out operation, complicated by the fact that this used, returned booster was tilted. The prior two sea landed Falcon 9 boosters landed perfectly upright in April and May.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom 8 mission sails into Port Canaveral atop droneship on June 2, 2016. Credit: John Krauss
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom 8 mission sails into Port Canaveral atop droneship on June 2, 2016. Credit: John Krauss

Indeed a pair of technicians had to ride a cherry picker lift to the very top to help fasten the cap securely in place as it was slowly lowered in the late afternoon.

Workers then spent several more hours undoing and removing the tiedowns to the droneship deck, one by one.

Finally and with no fanfare the ‘GO’ command was suddenly given.

At dusk, Falcons 2nd ‘ascent’ began at around 8 p.m. The small group of us patiently watching and waiting all day from across the channel had no warning or advance notice. My guestimate is Falcon rose perhaps 30 to 40 feet.

It was craned over to the right and lowered onto the waiting ground based retention work platform. Altogether the whole movement took some 10 minutes.

in Port Canaveral, FL prior to craning it to ground processing cradle on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
in Port Canaveral, FL prior to craning it to ground processing cradle on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SpaceX Falcon 9 began its rapid journey to space and back roaring to life at 5:39 p.m. EDT last Friday, May 27, from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, ascending into sky blue sunshine state skies.

The Falcon 9 was carrying the Thaicom-8 telecommunications satellite to orbit as its primary goal for the commercial launch from a paying customer.

It roared to life with 1.5 million pounds of thrust from the first stage Merlin 1 D engines and successfully propelled the 7000 pound (3,100 kilograms) commercial Thai communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

Landing on the droneship was a secondary goal of SpaceX’s visionary CEO and founder Elon Musk.

It was leaning due to the high speed reentry and a touchdown landing speed near the maximum sustainable by the design.

“Rocket landing speed was close to design max & used up contingency crush core, hence back & forth motion,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

“Prob ok, but some risk of tipping.”

That tilting added significant extra technical efforts by the SpaceX workers to stabilize it at sea and bring it back safely and not tip over calamitously during the six day long sea voyage back to home port.

““Rocket back at port after careful ocean transit. Leaning back due to crush core being used up in landing legs,” SpaceX explained.

What is the crush core?

“Crush core is aluminum honeycomb for energy absorption in the telescoping actuator. Easy to replace (if Falcon makes it back to port),” Musk tweeted during the voyage home.

The landing leg design follows up and improves upon on what was used and learned from NASA’s Apollo lunar landers in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Falcon’s landing leg crush core absorbs energy from impact on touchdown. Here’s what it looked like on Apollo lander,” noted SpaceX

Check out this graphic tweeted by SpaceX.

Falcon's landing leg crush core absorbs energy from impact on touchdown. Here's what it looked like on Apollo lander. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon’s landing leg crush core absorbs energy from impact on touchdown. Here’s what it looked like on Apollo lander. Credit: SpaceX

Technicians started removing the quartet of landing legs on Friday. I observed the first one being detached late Friday, June 3.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom-8 mission after craning off ‘OCISLY’ droneship to ground processing cradle at Port Canaveral, FL.  Workers had removed the first of four landing legs in this view from June 3, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom-8 mission after craning off ‘OCISLY’ droneship to ground processing cradle at Port Canaveral, FL. Workers had removed the first of four landing legs in this view from June 3, 2016. Note: NASA’s VAB in background. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The booster was rotated horizontally after all the legs were removed and transported back to the SpaceX processing hangar at the Kennedy Space Center at Launch Complex 39A.

The three prior landed boosters were all moved to 39 A for thorough inspection, analysis and engine testing. One will be refurbished and recycled for reuse.

Video caption: Thaicom 8 booster is lifted from autounomous drone ship to dry land for transport on 2 June 2016. Time Lapse. Credit: USLaunchReport

Later this year, SpaceX hopes to relaunch one of the recovered first stage boosters.

The SpaceX rockets and recovery technology are all being developed so they will one day lead to establishing a ‘City on Mars’ – according to the SpaceX’s visionary CEO and founder Elon Musk.

Musk aims to radically slash the cost of launching future rockets by recycling them and using them to launch new payloads for new paying customers.

Musk hopes to launch humans to Mars by the mid-2020s.

Technicians work to attach hoisting cap to top of used SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom-8 mission that was secured atop ‘OCISLY’ droneship in Port Canaveral, FL prior to craning it over to ground processing cradle on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Technicians work to attach hoisting cap to top of used SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom-8 mission that was secured atop ‘OCISLY’ droneship in Port Canaveral, FL prior to craning it over to ground processing cradle on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pad.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about 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:

June 8/9: “SpaceX, ULA, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 basks in nighttime glow after arriving into Port Canaveral on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 basks in nighttime glow after arriving into Port Canaveral on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
4 natural made pelicans and a manmade SpaceX Falcon 9 with 4 landing legs at Port Canaveral, FL on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
4 natural made pelicans and a manmade SpaceX Falcon 9 with 4 landing legs at Port Canaveral, FL on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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
Tow boat passing in front of the used SpaceX rocket waiting offshore. Credit: Julian Leek
Tow boat passing in front of the used SpaceX rocket waiting offshore. Credit: Julian Leek
Proud fisherman displays ultra fresh ‘catch of the day’ as ultra rare species of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket floats by simultaneously on barge in Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Proud fisherman displays ultra fresh ‘catch of the day’ as ultra rare species of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket floats by simultaneously on barge in Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX Falcon 9 Thunders to Space with Thai Comsat – Scores Double Headed Win with 3rd Straight Booster Landing

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

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL. – Atop a billowing plume of fire and smoke a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared to space this afternoon, Friday, May 27, as the crackling thunder of the engines roared across the Florida space coast and the company scored a stunning double headed launch and landing success.

The 229 foot-tall (70 meter) Falcon 9 successfully delivered a 7000 pound commercial Thai telecommunications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) and the first stage booster successfully soft landed on a platform at sea some nine minutes later.

Thus SpaceX is now an unfathomable 3 for 3 in the last three first stage landing attempts – both at sea and on land.

Even more remarkable is the string of two straight successes in landings via the high energy reentries as a consequence of launching the commercial payloads to GTO.

The Falcons screams were the loudest and most thrilling I’ve ever heard from a SpaceX launch as the two stage rocket lifted off on time at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

“Satellite deployed to 91,000 km apogee,” tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk.

“All looks good.”

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

The spectacular looking launch into mostly sunny Florida skies followed a days delay forced by a technical glitch in the second stage.

SpaceX engineers had to lower the Falcon 9 to the horizontal position and hurriedly fix the second engine actuator that gave concerning readings during Thursday’s original launch attempt and scrubbed the liftoff – and do so in time to safely carry out a launch attempt late this afternoon.

Hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake on this commercial flight slated to deliver the Thaicom-8 comsat to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for Thaicom PLC, a leading satellite operator in Asia.

The first and second stages separated as planned about 2 minutes and 39 seconds after liftoff.

The nosecone, or payload fairing deployed into two halves at about T plus 3 minutes and 37 seconds.

Up close view of payload fairing of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivering Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of payload fairing of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivering Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The second stage with Thaicom-8 continued to orbit. A pair of burns carried Thaicom-8 to orbit and the satellite was deployed at T plus 31 minutes and 56 seconds.

The rocket arced over as it accelerated eastwards towards Africa.

The nine first stage Marlin 1D engines on the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket generate approximately 1.5 million pounds of thrust.

Thaicom-8 was built by aerospace competitor Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, VA. It will support Thailand’s growing broadcast industry and will provide broadcast and data services to customers in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Thaicom-8 communications satellite built by Orbital ATK will launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 26, 2016.  The satellite has delivered to the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida in late April 2016.  Credit: Orbital ATK
Thaicom-8 communications satellite built by Orbital ATK will launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 26, 2016. The satellite has delivered to the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida in late April 2016. Credit: Orbital ATK

The Falcon 9 launch is the 5th this year for SpaceX.

Meanwhile, the first stage began a series of propulsive burns of a Merlin 1 D engine to target a drone ship platform at sea.

SpaceX said the barge was positioned some 620 km off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

After the primary goal of delivering Thaicom-8 to GTO, the secondary test objective of SpaceX was to land the Falcon 9 rockets first stage on the ocean going barge.

The Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) platform is named “Of Course I Still Love You.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after afternoon liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after afternoon liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

However with this mission’s GTO destination, the first stage was subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating and a successful landing would be difficult.

Altogether, SpaceX has now recovered 4 first stage boosters – 3 by sea and 1 by land.

The quartet 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.

SpaceX hopes to cut launch costs by one third initially, and much much more down the road.

Watch for Ken’s on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pad.

SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over eastwards with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over eastwards with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

THAICOM 8 spacecraft as seen during  deployment into a nominal supersynch transfer orbit. Credit: SpaceX
THAICOM 8 spacecraft as seen during deployment into a nominal supersynch transfer orbit. Credit: SpaceX

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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:

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

Falcon 9 first stage landed on the droneship in the Atlantic Ocean after launch of Thaicom-8 on May 27, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 first stage landed on the droneship in the Atlantic Ocean after launch of Thaicom-8 on May 27, 2016. Credit: SpaceX