SpaceX is going to build a mini-BFR to launch on a Falcon 9

In September of 2016, Elon Musk unveiled his vision for a super-heavy launch vehicle, which would be SpaceX’s most ambitious project to date. Known as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), this massive launch vehicle is central to Musk’s plan of conducting space tourism with flights into orbit and to the Moon. It is also intrinsic to his vision of sending astronauts and colonists to Mars.

Ever since, the astronomical and aerospace community has been paying close attention to any updates provided by Musk on the BFR’s development. In his latest update, which was made via Twitter, Musk indicated that his company will be building a small, winged version of the massive spaceship component – the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS) – which will be launch-tested using a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket.

Continue reading “SpaceX is going to build a mini-BFR to launch on a Falcon 9”

Astronomers Get Ready, Another Artificial Star to Ruin Your Data is Coming. Artist is Planning to Launch a Giant, Unfolding Structure That’ll be Bright in the Sky For a Few Months

One of the most cited reasons and benefits of space exploration is the way it brings people together. Think of iconic moments, like the Moon Landing or the launch of Yuri Gagarin (the first man to go into space), and the impact they had on their respective generations. Looking to the future, there are many who hope to use space exploration to bring people from all walks of life and nationalities together again.

One such person is Trevor Paglen – an American artist, geographer, and author – who plans to launch a reflective, nonfunctional satellite into low Earth orbit (LEO) this year. This initiative, known as the Orbital Reflector (which is scheduled to launch sometime this fall), is designed to encourage humanity to look up at the night sky with a renewed sense of wonder and purpose, and contemplate how we can all live together here on Earth.

Continue reading “Astronomers Get Ready, Another Artificial Star to Ruin Your Data is Coming. Artist is Planning to Launch a Giant, Unfolding Structure That’ll be Bright in the Sky For a Few Months”

Astronomy Cast Ep. 480: Rockets pt. 2 – Multi-stage Boosters

The vast majority of rockets are multi-staged affairs. Why is this? What makes this kind of rocket so successful? Today we look at the ins and outs of multi-stage rockets.

We usually record Astronomy Cast every Friday at 3:00 pm EST / 12:00 pm PST / 20:00 PM UTC. You can watch us live on AstronomyCast.com, or the AstronomyCast YouTube page.

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SpaceX Launches the First of Thousands of Space Internet Satellites, but Didn’t Quite Catch the Fairing

After multiple delays, SpaceX’s PAZ mission launched from from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenburg Air Force Base on the morning of Thursday, February 22nd. Shortly after it reached orbit, the rocket deployed its payload (the PAZ Earth Observing satellite) as well as and two Starlink demonstrations satellites that will test SpaceX’s ability to provide broadband internet service from orbit.

In addition, this launch was the first time that SpaceX would be attempting to “catch” the payload fairings from a Falcon 9 rocket using a retrieval ship. As part of their plan to make their rockets fully reusable, the rocket’s fairings were equipped with deployable chutes that would control their descent to the Pacific Ocean. Once there, the newly-commissioned “Mr. Steven” retrieval ship would be waiting to catch them in its net.

As noted, the primary mission for this launch was the deployment of the the PAZ satellite to low-Earth orbit. This  synthetic-aperture radar satellite was commisioned by Hisdesat, a Spanish commercial satellite company, for governmental and commercial use. Its purpose s to generate high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface, regardless of whether there are clouds covering the ground.

The secondary payload consisted of two experimental satellites  – Microsat-2a and 2b – which are the first phase in SpaceX’s plan to deliver broadband internet service to the entire world. The plan calls for the deployment of more satellites in phases, reaching a total of 4,000 by 2024. However, it was the attempted retrieval of the rocket’s payload fairings that was of particular interest during the launch.

To be fair, this would not be the first time that SpaceX’s attempted to retrieve payload fairings. In March of 2017, SpaceX successfully recovered the fairings for one of their Falcon 9s, which allowed them to recoup an estimated $6 million dollars from that launch. At present, SpaceX indicates that the cost of an individual Falcon 9 launch is estimated to be around $62 million.

If the payload fairings could be recovered regularly, that means that the company could stand to recoup an additional 10% from every individual Falcon 9 launch. These additional savings would not only make the company more competitive, but could allow for additional mission profiles that are currently considered too expensive.

On Thursday Morning, SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted a picture of Mr. Steven taking to sea on Instagram with the following statement:

“Going to try to catch the giant fairing (nosecone) of Falcon 9 as it falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound. It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on tries to catch it.”

The launch, which was covered via webcast, went as planned. After taking off amid clear skies, the Falcon 9 reached orbit and deployed the PAZ satellite without incident, and the two Starlink satellites were deployed shortly thereafter. However, the webcast ended without providing any information about the status of the retrieval of the payload fairings.

At 7:14 am, Musk tweeted an update about the attempted retrieval, indicating that the fairings had landed in the ocean a few hundred meters from where Mr. Steven was waiting to catch them. While unsuccessful, Musk was optimistic about future attempts to retrieve payload fairings, saying:

“Missed by a few hundred meters, but fairing landed intact in water. Should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent.”

As always, Musks seems undeterred by a setback and the company is moving ahead with its plans for expanded reusability. If successful, future attempts at retrieval are likely to involve the second stages of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Given all the possibilities that this will allow for, there are many who want to see Musk’s latest venture to succeed.

In the meantime, check out this webcast of the launch:

Further Reading: ArsTechnica

Here’s How SpaceX is Planning to Recover Rocket Fairings: a Boat With a Net Called Mr. Steven

When visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, he did so with the intention of rekindling human space exploration and sending humans to Mars. Intrinsic to this vision was the reduction of costs associated with individual launches, which has so far been focused on the development of reusable first-stage rockets. However, the company recently announced that they are looking to make their rocket’s payload fairings reusable as well.

The payload fairing is basically the disposable shell at the top of the rocket that protects the cargo during launch. Once the rocket reaches orbit, the fairings falls away to release the payload to space and are lost. But if they could be retrieved, it would reduce launch cost by additional millions. Known as “Mr. Steven”, this new retrieval system consists of a platform ship, extended arms, and a net strung between them.

Mr. Steven is not unlike SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships (ASDS), which are used to retrieve first stage rocket boosters at sea. SpaceX has two operational drone ships, including Just Read the Instructions – which is stationed in the Pacific to retrieve launches from Vandenberg – and Of Course I Still Love You, which is stationed in the Atlantic to retrieve launches from Canaveral.

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

Recently, Teslarati’s Pauline Acalin captured some photographs of Mr. Steven while it was docked on the California coast near Vandenberg Air Force Base, where it preparing to head out to sea in support of the latest Falcon 9 launch. Known as the PAZ Mission, this launch will place a series of Spanish imaging satellites in orbit, as well as test satellites that will be part of SpaceX’s plan to provide broadband internet service.

Originally scheduled for Wednesday, February 21st, the launch was scrubbed due to strong upper level winds. It is currently scheduled to take place at 6:17 a.m. PST (14:17 UTC) on Thursday, February 22nd, from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at the Vandenburg Air Force Base. After the cargo is deployed to orbit, the fairings will fall back slowly to Earth thanks to a set of geotagged parachutes.

These chutes will guide the fairings down to the Pacific Ocean, where Mr. Steven will sail to meet them. The fairings, if all goes as planned, will touch down gently into the net and be recovered for later use. In March of 2017, SpaceX successfully recovered a fairing for the first time, which allowed them to recoup an estimated $6 million dollars from that launch.

At present, SpaceX indicates that the cost of an individual Falcon 9 launch is an estimated $62 million. If the payload fairings can be recovered regularly, that means that the company stands to recoup an additional 10% of every individual Falcon 9 launch.

This news comes on the heels of SpaceX having successfully launched their Falcon Heavy rocket, which carried a Tesla Roadster with “Spaceman” into orbit. The launch was made all the more impressive due to the fact that two of the three rocket boosters used were successfully recovered. The core booster unfortunately crashed while attempted to land on one of the ASDS at sea.

At this rate, SpaceX may even start trying to recover their rocket’s second stages in the not-too-distant future. If indeed all components of a rocket are reusable, the only costs associated with individual launches will be the one-time manufacturing cost of the rocket, the cost of fuel, plus any additional maintenance post-launch.

For fans of space exploration and commercial aerospace, this is certainly exciting news! With every cost-cutting measure, the possibilities for scientific research and crewed missions increase exponentially. Imagine a future where it costs roughly the same to deploy space habitats to orbit as it does to deploy commercial satellites, and sending space-based solar arrays to orbit (and maybe even building a space elevator) is financially feasible!

It might sound a bit fantastic, but when the costs are no longer prohibitive, a lot of things become possible.

Further Reading: Teslatari, TechCrunch

In Preparation for its Inaugural Launch, the Falcon Heavy Receives its Special Cargo – Musk’s Tesla Roadster!

After years of preparation, SpaceX is gearing up for the inaugural launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket. As the name would suggest, this rocket is the heaviest launch vehicle in the SpaceX arsenal. With a payload capacity of 54 metric tons (119,000 lbs), it can lift over twice as much weight of the next heaviest launch vehicle (the ULA’s Delta IV Heavy). And in time, SpaceX hopes to use this rocket to send astronauts into orbit, to the Moon, and on to Mars.

Basically, the Falcon Heavy is integral to SpaceX’s mission to usher in an age of affordable space travel and restoring domestic launch capability to the United States. With the inaugural launch scheduled to take place no earlier than January of 2018, the company is currently putting the final touches on the rocket. This includes releasing pictures of the payload which will be sent into space, which is none other than Elon Musk’s own cherry-red Tesla Roadster.

The inaugural launch will take place at SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A, which is located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This same launch pad was where the historic Apollo 11 mission launched from on July 16th, 1969, sending the first astronauts to the Moon. After it launches, the rocket will send send a payload into a heliocentric solar orbit, which will put it at a distance that is about the same as Mars’ distance from the Sun.

In addition, the company will use this inaugural launch to attempt a landing of all three of the Falcon 9 engine cores, which make up the first stage of the Falcon Heavy. In the past, the company has demonstrated its ability to successfully land the first stages of Falcon 9 rockets on land and at sea. However, this will be the first time that multiple cores are recovered from a single launch.

It will also demonstrate that SpaceX is capable of reusing all stages of a heavy launch, bringing it a step closer to fulfilling its promise to reduce costs by developing fully-reusable rockets. Two of the rocket cores will land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station while the third will land on SpaceX’s drone ship (Of Course I Still Love You) out in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA is also offering offering viewing opportunities of the launch to the public at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. In the past, Musk has proposed sending some truly odd things into space, including a wheel of cheese. On December 1st of this year, Musk tweeted that for this momentous occasion, the special cargo would be one of his very own electric cars. As he posted on Twitter:

The Tesla Roadster being loaded into the payload fairing. Credit: SpaceX

Last week, SpaceX released photos of the Tesla Roadster being loaded aboard the rocket’s payload fairing. Forthe purposes of launching it into space, the Roadster has been mounted on a special adapter structure, which are typically used when launching satellites into orbit. The photos also showed the Roadster being enclosed inside the rocket’s payload fairing, which will carry the car into space and place it at its heliocentric orbit.

Musk naturally avoided making any predictions about the launch, saying only that the launch was “Guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another.” However, when asked about his choice of cargo, Musk was both candid and cheeky in his response, tweeting:

“I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.”

One can only imagine what they will conclude about humans. Perhaps that they were are both environmentally friendly and pretty flashy! While the exact date of the launch is still yet to be determined, Musk is certainly correct in predicting that it will be an exciting event. Given the sheer significance of this flight, the eyes of the world will be firmly fixed on Launch Complex 39A when it does take place.

Good luck SpaceX! And good luck to you too little Roadster!

Further Reading: Kennedy Space Center, Spaceflight Now, SpaceX

October Launch Trifecta from Florida Cleared as SpaceX Conducts Static Fire Engine Test for Oct. 30 KoreaSat Liftoff

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of never flown Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 26 Oct 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach. Liftoff with KoreaSat-5A comsat is slated for 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

PLAYALINDA BEACH/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The path to an October launch trifecta from Florida’s Spaceport was cleared following SpaceX’s successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 boosters first stage engines this afternoon, Oct. 26, and thereby targeting Monday, Oct. 30 for blastoff of the KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat.

KoreaSat-5A is being launched by SpaceX under a commercial contract for South Korean operator KTSAT (a KT Corporation company) using a new first stage and will provide Direct to Home (DTH) broadcasting services.

If all goes well, the end of October KoreaSat-5A liftoff will count as the third rocket launch this month from the sunshine states increasingly busy Spaceport following two earlier launches carried out by both ULA and SpaceX.

Those two mid-month missions involved the commercial SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHDTV satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 and the covert NROL-52 spy satellite delivered to orbit on a ULA Atlas V respectively on Oct. 11 and Oct. 15.

The brief engine test of the two stage Falcon 9 took place at 12 noon EDT (1600 GMT) Thursday, Oct. 26, with the sudden eruption of smoke and ash rushing out the north facing flame trench and into the air over historic pad 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during a very comfortably sunny and windy afternoon – as I witnessed from the crashing waves of Playalinda Beach, FL just a few miles away. See photo and video gallery from myself and space journalist colleague Jeff Seibert.

“Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete,” SpaceX confirmed via tweet soon after the hotfire test was conducted.

“Targeting October 30 launch of Koreasat-5A from Pad 39A in Florida.”

Monday’s mid-afternoon liftoff with the private KoreaSat-5A mission is targeted for a window that opens at 3:34 p.m. EDT (1934 GMT) from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The launch window for the virgin booster extends nearly two and a half hours until 5:58 p.m. EDT (2158 GMT).

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of never flown Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 26 Oct 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach. Liftoff with KoreaSat-5A comsat is slated for 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The SpaceX Falcon 9 will deliver Koreasat-5A to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

SpaceX will also attempt to recover this booster by soft landing on an ocean going platform prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean – about 8 minutes after blastoff.

Playalinda Beach is a spectacular place to witness the launch from – while surfing the waves too – if you’re in the area.

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

The hold down engine test with the erected Falcon 9 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.

The static fire test lasted approximately three seconds. The test is routinely conducted by SpaceX engineers to confirm the rockets readiness to launch.

The engines exhaust cloud quickly dissipated within about a minute due to the high winds.

Watch this up close static hot fire test video:

Video Caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 Static Test Fire for Koreasat 5A / Oct 26, 2017. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The engine test was run without the expensive payload on top to keep it safe in case of a launch pad accident as happened during a fueling test last September with the Israeli AMOS-6 payload.

The rocket will now be rolled back down the pad ramp and into the SpaceX processing hangar at the pad about ¼ mile away for integration with the Koreasat-5A spacecraft encapsulated inside the payload fairing.

In this case the SpaceX Falcon 9 will fly as a brand new rocket rather than a reused booster as happened earlier this month for the SES-11 launch.

The launch will be the 16th this year by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

KoreaSat-5A communications satellite in the Thales Alenia Space clean rooms. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Koreasat-5A was built by prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space, responsible for the design, production, testing and ground delivery. It arrived at the Florida launch base on Oct. 5 for integration with the Falcon 9 rocket.

The 3,700 kg satellite is equipped with 36 Ku-band transponders and based on Thales Alenia Space’s new-generation Spacebus 4000B2 platform. It will replace Koreasat 5.

The solar panels provide a payload power of approximately 6.5 kW. It will be positioned at 113° East and provide coverage for Indochina, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and the Middle East including Direct to Home (DTH) services.

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

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of never flown Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 26 Oct 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach. Liftoff with KoreaSat-5A comsat is slated for 30 Oct 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.

The first stage from this months SES-11 launch arrived back into Port Canaveral, FL on top of the OCISLY droneship on Oct. 15.

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 KoreaSat-5A & 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

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of never flown Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 26 Oct 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach. Liftoff with KoreaSat-5A comsat is slated for 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
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 launch SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

Weekly Space Hangout -Oct 4, 2017: CosmoQuest’s Image Detective Citizen Science Project

Hosts:
Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)
Dr. Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter)
Dr. Kimberly Cartier (KimberlyCartier.org / @AstroKimCartier )
Dr. Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg ChartYourWorld.org)

Special Guest:
Dr. Pamela Gay of CosmoQuest will be discussing and demonstrating the new citizen science project Image Detective, where people can help identify locations in space and on Earth in photos taken by astronauts on the ISS and spacecraft.

Announcements:

If you would like to join the Weekly Space Hangout Crew, visit their site here and sign up. They’re a great team who can help you join our online discussions!

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Wednesday at 5:00 pm Pacific / 8:00 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Universe Today, or the Weekly Space Hangout YouTube page – Please subscribe!

X-37B Secret Air Force Spaceplane Blasts Off on SpaceX Falcon 9 as Monster Hurricane Irma Threatens Florida Peninsula

USAF X-37B military spaceplane blasts off with picturesque water reflections at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Amidst the frenzy of ‘Sunshine State’ preparations for Cat 5 monster Hurricane Irma and quite dismal weather favorability odds, the skies surrounding the Florida Space Coast suddenly parted just in the nick of time enabling the Air Force’s secret military X-37B spaceplane to blast off this morning (Sept. 7) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 as the booster nailed another thrilling ground landing back at the Cape.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 roared to life at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Thursday morning and soared aloft from seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center into nearly clear blue skies after the classified launch time was kept guarded until just 10 minutes before liftoff.

Due to the potential for catastrophic destruction from approaching Hurricane Irma this was the last chance for the X-37B to escape Florida to orbit before the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station almost certainly close on Friday, the backup launch opportunity.

The X-37B OTV spaceplane reached orbit as planned on SpaceX’s 13th launch of the year.

“The 45th Space Wing successfully launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle Sept. 7, 2017, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A,” the USAF and 45th Space Wing confirmed in a post launch statement.

The Falcon 9 launch was absolutely gorgeous taking place under near perfect weather conditions at launch time and putting on a long sky show as the rocket accelerated to orbit with its precious cargo.

USAF X-37B military spaceplane blasts off with picturesque water reflections at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The nine Merlin 1D first stage engines ignited to generate a combined 1.7 million pounds of thrust fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants, sending a huge exhaust plume billowing from behind as the rocket ascended off pad 39A and thundered aloft.

After first stage burnout and main engine cutoff the stages separated at T plus 2 min 26 seconds.

After successfully delivering the secret USAF mini-shuttle to orbit, SpaceX engineers completed the 2nd half of the double headed space spectacular when the Falcon 9 first stage booster successfully made a guided soft landing back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).

The boosters high speed descent generated multiple shockingly loud sonic booms as the 156-foot-tall first stage approached SpaceX’s dedicated Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) on CCAFS that reverberated for dozens and dozens of miles across and beyond the Space coast region.

The mid-morning daylight first stage precision guided landing offered spectators a magnificent up close view of the rocket reusability technology envisioned by SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk to drastically slash the high costs of launching people and payloads to space.

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage fires Merlin 1D engine in final moments of descent to accomplish successful propulsive touchdown at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) after SpaceX launched the USAF X-37B military spaceplane on its 5th flight to space on the OTV-5 mission at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Sept. 7, 2017 from pad 39A at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma continues barreling towards Florida packing winds of 185 mph as one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever. It is being closely tracked in incredibly high resolution by the new NASA/NOAA GOES-16 (GOES-R) satellite launched late last year on a ULA Atlas V in Nov 2016.

Here’s the latest storm track updated to Friday morning Sep 8:

Hurricane Irma Cone forecast on Sept 8, 2017 from the National Hurricane Center. Credit: NHC

The X-37B reusable mini-shuttle is a secretive technology testing spaceplane flying on its fifth mission overall for the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

“The OTV is designed to demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operate experiments, which can be returned to and examined on Earth,” said the USAF.

Launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7 , 2017 carrying the X-37B mini-shuttle to orbit for the USAF. Credit: Julian Leek

Also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, the X-37B launched on the OTV-5 mission marks the programs maiden liftoff on the 230-foot-tall SpaceX Falcon 9.

All four prior OTV missions launched on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and ended with runway landings in either California of Florida.

USAF X-37B military mini-shuttle lifts off 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

The X-37B launches vertically like a satellite but lands horizontally like an airplane and functions as a reliable and reusable space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.

The Boeing-built X-37B is processed for flight at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, using refurbished former NASA space shuttle processing facilities (OPFs) now dedicated to the reusable mini-shuttle, also named the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

The USAF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is set for blastoff on Sept. 7, 2017, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo: Boeing/USAF

The last blastoff of the X-37B took place more than 2 years ago on May 20, 2015 when the OTV-4 mission launched on a ULA Atlas V on May 20, 2015 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

After spending a record setting 718 days in orbit, the X-37B vehicle completed its fourth mission with a runway landing back at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility earlier this year on May 7, 2017.

Overall the OTV unmanned spacecraft have spent a total of 2,085 days in orbit.

The 11,000 pound (4990 kg) state-of-the art reusable OTV space plane is about a quarter the size of a NASA space shuttle. The vehicle measures 29 ft 3 in (8.9 m) in length with a wingspan of 14 ft 11 in (4.5 m).

The X-37B was originally developed by NASA but was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004.

Since then most but not all of the spaceplane’s goals have been shrouded in secrecy.

Sept. 7 , 2017 liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7, 2017 carrying the X-37B mini-shuttle to orbit for the USAF. Credit: Jeff Seibert
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolls horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017. The rocket is being processed for liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite X-37B OTV-5 and NASA 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

Up close head on view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolling horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017. The rocket is being processed for liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolls horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017 ahead of liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane mission on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek