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

Secret X-37B Military Mini-Shuttle Set for SpaceX Blastoff/Landing Sept. 7 as Cat 5 Hurricane Irma Forces Florida State of Emergency – Watch Live

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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Although its far from sunny in the so called ‘Sunshine State’ the secret X-37B military mini-shuttle is set for a SpaceX blastoff and booster landing combo Thursday, Sept. 7 – even as the looming threat from Cat 5 Hurricane Irma forced Florida’s Governor to declare a statewide ‘State of Emergency.’

Launch preparations were in full swing today on Florida’s Space Coast for liftoff of the hi tech USAF X-37B reusable spaceplane- hoping to escape to orbit for the first time atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and just in the nick of time tomorrow, before the impending threat of monster storm Irma potentially lashes the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the center of the states long peninsula.

Hurricane Irma Cone forecast on Sept 7, 2017 from the National Hurricane Center. Credit: NHC

Irma is packing winds of 185 mph and 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.

I witnessed the entire SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and payload stack being rolled horizontally up the incline to the top of Launch Complex 39A late this afternoon, Sept. 6, during our media visit for up-close camera setup.

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

Rather remarkably the relatively dismal weather forecast has brightened considerably in the final hours leading to Thursday’s scheduled launch and the forecast heavy rain showers and thunder have dissipated in the time remaining between now and liftoff.

The X-37B reusable mini-shuttle is a secretive technology testing spaceplane flying on its fifth mission overall.

Up close side view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and nose cone housing the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane slated for liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The path to launch was cleared following the successful engine test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage I witnessed late last week, Thursday afternoon, Aug. 30.

During the hold down static fire test all nine Merlin 9 stage engine were ignited and fired up to full throttle for several seconds. See my static fire story here.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31, 2017 on Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl., as seen from nearby Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Although the exact launch time remains a closely guarded U.S. Air Force secret, liftoff of the X-37B is slated to occur sometime during a 5 hour long window.

The launch window for the X-37B on the OTV-5 mission opens at 9:50 a.m. EDT (13:50 UTC) and spans until 2:55 p.m. EDT (18:55 UTC) Sept. 7 from seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX will offer their own live webcast beginning approximately 15 minutes before launch starting at about 9:35 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at the SpaceX hosted Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

In the event of delay for any reason, the next launch opportunity is Friday, Sept 8 at approximately the same time and window.

However amidst the heavy duty Hurricane Irma preparations all around, nothing is certain. Local area schools in Brevard County have closed and local residents are preparing their homes and apartments to hunker down, buying food and essentials putting up storm shutters, topping off gas and energy supplies and more.

“If for any reason we cannot launch tomorrow we will reevaluate whether or not we can still support another attempt on Friday, said Wayne R. Monteith, Brig Gen, USAF, Commander, 45th Space Wing.

The weather forecast overall is about 50% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. But the opportunity varies within the long window and the exact launch time is currently classified.

“Hurricane Irma is forecast to be approximately 900 miles southeast of the Spaceport during Thursday’s launch attempt, so while Irma certainly bears watching, the stalled boundary will be the main factor in Thursday’s weather,” noted the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron.

The primary concerns on Sept. 7 are for cumulus clouds and for thick clouds in the flight path.

The odds drop to 40% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Friday, Sept 8

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

Everything is currently on track for Thursday’s launch of the 230 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 on the X-37B OTV-5 mission.

“The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is undergoing final launch preparations for the fifth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle [OTV],” the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs announced. “The OTV is scheduled to launch on Sept. 7, 2017, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

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

The X-37B will be launched for the fifth time on the OTV-5 mission atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7 from Launch Complex 39A on the Kennedy Space Center Florida into low Earth orbit.

The Boeing-built X-37B is processed for flight at KSC using refurbished NASA space shuttle processing facilities now dedicated to the reusable mini-shuttle, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). It 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 OTV-5 mission marks the first launch of an X-37B spaceplane by SpaceX.

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

“The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

“It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community.”

Ground landing of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) after SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from pad 39A at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX will also attempt another land landing of the 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 first stage back at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) at the Cape.

The Falcon 9 first stage is equipped with a quartet of landing legs and grid fins to enable the rocket recycling plan.

Up close view of SpaceX Falcon 9 landing legs for the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane slated for liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This marks the 7th time SpaceX attempts a ground landing at the Cape.

The booster will touch down about 8 minutes after launch and generate multiple sonic booms screaming loudly across the surrounding region and beyond.

“The fifth OTV mission will also be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope.”

The daylight first stage precision guided landing should offer spectators a thrilling up close view of the rocket reusability technology envisioned by SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk to drastically slash the high costs of launching to space.

Technicians work on the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4, which landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida May 7, 2017. Credit: Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.

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.

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

Successful Static Fire Test Sets SpaceX on Target for Post Labor Day Launch of USAF X-37B Mini-Shuttle Sept. 7

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31, 2017 on Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl., as seen from nearby Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

PLAYALINDA BEACH/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following a successful engine test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage late Thursday afternoon (Aug. 30), SpaceX is targeting a post Labor Day launch of the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B reusable mini-shuttle – a secretive technology testing spaceplane.

The brief but critical hold down engine test took place at 4:30 p.m. EDT (2030 GMT) Aug. 31 at Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center – as witnessed live by myself and several spectators from nearby Playalinda Beach Causeway. See my photos herein.

Both SpaceX and the Air Force announced the target launch date after completion of the Aug. 31 engine test.

“Static fire test complete,” SpaceX confirmed via Twitter soon after completion of the test, “—targeting Falcon 9 launch of OTV-5 from Pad 39A at @NASAKennedy on Thursday, September 7.”

The routinely done static fire test and involves conducting a full launch dress rehearsal and countdown culminating with igniting all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines during a hold down test at the pad.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31, 2017 on Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl., as seen from nearby Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Merlin’s generated a combined 1.7 million pounds of thrust and a huge exhaust plume billowing into the air from the north side flame trench during the test, which lasted several seconds.

The plume soon swirled overhead and dissipated about 10 minutes later. Ignition was accompanied by a loud roar we heard screaming out from the pad in all directions. A number of folks driving to and from Playalinda Beach had stopped to ask me what I was photographing prior to the test and stayed to witness the event.

The rocket will be lowered rolled back horizontally on the transporter erector into the SpaceX processing hangar and the spaceplane housed inside the payload fairing will be integrated on top. The full stack will then be rolled back out and erected at pad 39A.

The hold down test firing is carried out without the payload bolted on top inside the nose cone to keep it safe in the event of a catastrophic failure event such as occurred precisely 1 year ago – when a Falcon 9 blew up during fueling for similar engine test with the AMOS-6 satellite resulting in destruction of the rocket as well as the customers satellite hardware at pad 40.

The exact launch time had been a closely guarded secret – until this evening.

The X-37B launch is apparently lunchtime Thursday, September 7 at 12 PM – 12:01 PM, according to a Facebook post by the U.S. Air Force Space Command and the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., posted Friday evening.

“The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is undergoing final launch preparations for the fifth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle [OTV],” the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs announced. “The OTV is scheduled to launch on Sept. 7, 2017, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

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 X-37B will be launched for the fifth time on the OTV-5 mission atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7 from Launch Complex 39A on the Kennedy Space Center Florida into low Earth orbit.

The Boeing-built X-37B is processed for flight at KSC using refurbished NASA space shuttle processing facilities now dedicated to the reusable mini-shuttle, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). It 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.

But in another first, the OTV-5 mission marks the first launch of an X-37B spaceplane by SpaceX.

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

“The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

“It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community.”

The OTV-4 mission launched on the ULA Atlas V on May 20, 2015 from Space Launch Complex-41, on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Blastoff of the X-37B spaceplane on United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket with the OTV-4 AFSPC-5 satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 11:05 a.m. EDT, May 20, 2015 from Space Launch Complex-41. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

After spending a record setting 718 days in orbit, the X-37B program completed its fourth mission with a runway landing back at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility on May 7, 2017. Overall OTV’s have spent a total of 2,085 days in orbit.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31, 2017 on Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl., as seen from nearby Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Playalinda Beach is located just 4 miles north of pad 39A and offers an excellent launch viewing location for the OTV-5 mission – if officials allow it to be open to the public.

The engine test comes at the end of a very busy August with a trio of Florida Space Coast launches plus a Total Solar ‘Eclipse Across America’ sandwiched in between.

Also noteworthy is that OTV-5 will be launched into a higher inclination orbit compared to the prior four, serve as a technology testbed for multiple research payloads and will also somehow deploy several small satellites or cubesats.

“The fifth OTV mission continues to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads,” the USAF said in a statement.

“This mission carries small satellite ride shares and will demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies. Building upon the fourth mission and previous collaboration with experiment partners, this mission will host the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader payload to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long duration space environment.”

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31, 2017 on Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl., as seen from nearby Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX will also attempt another land landing of the 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 first stage back at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) at the Cape.

The Falcon 9 first stage is equipped with a quartet of landing legs and grid fins to enable the rocket recycling plan.

“The fifth OTV mission will also be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope.”

The daylight first stage precision guided landing should offer spectators a thrilling up close view of the rocket reusability technology envisioned by SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk to drastically slash the high costs of launching to space.

Ground landing of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) after SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from pad 39A at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31, 2017 on Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl., as seen from nearby Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is 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

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxiing on the flightline on March 30th, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Florida. Credit: USAF
SpaceX Falcon 9 booster stands at Launch Complex 39A after successful Aug 31, 2017 hotfire engine as seen from nearby Playalinda Beach. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX Accomplishes Double Headed American Space Spectacular – 2 Launches and 2 Landings in 2 Days from 2 Coasts: Gallery

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT) carrying ten Iridium Next mobile voice and data relay communications satellites to low Earth orbit on the Iridium-2 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With Sunday’s successful Falcon 9 blastoff for Iridium Communications joining rocketry’s history books, Elon Musk’s SpaceX accomplished a double headed American space spectacular this weekend with 2 launches and 2 booster landings in 2 days from 2 coasts for 2 commercial customers – in a remarkably rapid turnaround feat that set a new record for minimum time between launches for SpaceX.

On Sunday, June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 2025 UTC) a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a second set of ten Iridium Next mobile voice and data relay communications satellites to low Earth orbit on the Iridium-2 mission from SLC-4E on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“All sats healthy and talking,” tweeted Matt Desch, Iridium Communications CEO, soon after launch and confirmation that all 10 Iridium NEXT satellites were successfully deployed from their second stage satellite dispensers. Iridium is a global leader in mobile voice and data satellite communications.

“It was a great day!”

The US West Coast Falcon 9 liftoff of the Iridium-2 mission from California on Sunday, June 25 took place barely 48 hours after the US East Coast Falcon 9 liftoff of the BulgariaSat-1 mission from Florida on Friday, June 23.

Without a doubt, Musk’s dream of rocket reusability as a here and now means to slash the high costs of launching to space and thereby broaden access to space for more players is rapidly taking shape.

Following separation of the first and second stages, the Falcon 9’s 15 story tall first stage successfully landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship ocean going platform stationed several hundred miles out in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, despite challenging weather conditions.

Indeed the droneships position was changed in the final minutes before launch due to the poor weather.

“Droneship repositioned due to extreme weather. Will be tight,” tweeted Musk minutes before liftoff.

The 156 foot tall booster touched down about 8 and ½ minutes after liftoff from Vandenberg AFB.

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT) carrying ten Iridium Next mobile voice and data relay communications satellites to low Earth orbit on the Iridium-2 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: SpaceX

The launch, landing and deployment of the 10 Iridium Next satellites was all broadcast live on a SpaceX webcast.

The perfectly executed Iridium-2 and BulgariaSat-1 launch and landing duo clearly demonstrates the daunting capability of SpaceX’s privately owned and operated engineering team to pull off such a remarkable feat in nimble fashion.

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The stage was set for the unprecedented Falcon 9 launch doubleheader just a week ago when SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk tweeted out the daring space goal after all went well with the Florida Space Coast’s static hotfire test for the first in line BulgariaSat-1 flight.

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Check out the expanding gallery of Bulgariasat-1 eyepopping photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself.

Click back as the gallery grows !

Liftoff of used SpaceX Falcon 9 at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017 delivering BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

Sunday’s Iridium 2 flight was Iridium Communications second contracted launch with SpaceX.

“This payload of 10 satellites was deployed into low-Earth orbit, approximately one hour after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg,” Iridium said in a statement.

The Mini Cooper sized Iridium NEXT satellites each weigh 1,900 pounds, totaling approximately 19,000 pounds placed into space. That is the weight of a semi tractor trailer truck!

The inaugural Iridium 1 launch with the first ten Iridium Next satellites took place successfully at the start of this year on Jan. 14, 2017.

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

The new set of ten Iridium Next mobile relay satellites were delivered into a circular orbit at an altitude of 625 kilometers (388 miles) above Earth.

They were released one at a time from a pair of specially designed satellite dispensers at approximately 100 second intervals.

“Since the successful January 14, 2017 launch, Iridium NEXT satellites have already been integrated into the operational constellation and are providing service. The first eight operational Iridium NEXT satellites are already providing superior call quality and faster data speeds with increased capacity to Iridium customers. The two additional satellites from the first launch are continuing to drift to their operational orbital plane, where upon arrival they will begin providing service.”

Iridium 2 is the second of eight planned Falcon 9 launches to establish the Iridium NEXT constellation which will eventually consist of 81 advanced satellites.

At least 75 will be launched by SpaceX to low-Earth orbit, with 66 making up the operational constellation.

The inaugural launch of the advanced Iridium NEXT satellites in January 2017 started the process of replacing an aging Iridium fleet in orbit for nearly two decades.

Nine of the 81 will serve as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares.

“Now, and for approximately the next 45 days, these newly launched satellites will undergo a series of testing and validation procedures, ensuring they are ready for integration with the operational constellation,” said Iridium.

“We are thrilled with yesterday’s success. These new satellites are functioning well, and we are pressing forward with the testing process,” said Scott Smith, chief operating officer at Iridium.

“Since the last launch, the team at our Satellite Network Operations Center (SNOC) has been anxiously awaiting this new batch of satellites. There is a lot of work to do, and we are up for the challenge.”

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

BulgariaSat-1 and Iridium-2 count as the eighth and ninth SpaceX launches of 2017.

Including these two ocean platform landings, SpaceX has now successfully recovered 13 boosters; 5 by land and 8 by sea, over the past 18 months.

Both landing droneships are now headed back into their respective coastal ports.

It’s a feat straight out of science fiction but aimed at drastically slashing the cost of access to space as envisioned by Musk.

Liftoff of used SpaceX Falcon 9 at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017 delivering BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

Watch this BulgariaSat-1 launch video from KSC pad 39A

Video Caption: Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 23, 2017 from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center carrying BulgariaSat-1 TV broadband satellite to geosynchronous orbit for BulgariaSat, which is Bulgaria’s 1st GeoComSat – as seen in this remote video taken at the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

BulgariaSat-1 streaks to orbit after June 23, 2017 liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
BulgariaSat-1 arcs over eastwards to Africa as it streaks to orbit after June 23, 2017 liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida- as seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
BulgariaSat-1 liftoff atop SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 23, 2017 from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as seen from Titusville, FL residential area. Credit: Ashley Carrillo
BulgariaSat-1 liftoff atop SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 23, 2017 from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as seen from Titusville, FL residential area. Credit: Ashley Carrillo
BulgariaSat-1 launches June 23, 2017 on SpaceX Falcon 9 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as seen from Titusville, FL residential area. Credit: Wesley Baskin
BulgariaSat-1 launches June 23, 2017 on SpaceX Falcon 9 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as seen from Titusville, FL residential area. Credit: Wesley Baskin
Launch 2nd recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – as seen from the countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

BulgariaSat-1 Blazes to Orbit on Used SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket as Breakthrough Booster Lands 2nd Time on Oceanic Platform

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In another breakthrough milestone aimed at slashing the high cost of rocketry, the innovators at billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched a ‘used’ rocket for only the second time in history – that blazed a path to orbit with its BulgariaSat-1 commercial television comsat payload Friday afternoon, June 23, from the Kennedy Space Center and just minutes later landed upright and intact on an oceanic platform waiting offshore in the vast currents of the Atlantic ocean.

“This is really a great day for us,” Maxim Zayakov, CEO of BulgariaSat and Bulsatcom told Universe Today during pre and post launch interview’s onsite at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Everything is seeming to be a good success so far.”

To top that, SpaceX is targeting a bicoastal weekend doubleheader of launches signaling a remarkably rapid turnaround capability. Another Falcon 9 is scheduled for blastoff on Sunday, June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 2025 UTC) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on the Iridium-2 mission, less than 48 hours apart – which would set a new launch turnaround record for SpaceX.

The picture perfect liftoff of the BulgariaSat-1 communications satellite for East European commercial broadband provider BulgariaSat began at 3:10 p.m. EDT, or 19:10 UTC, June 23, with ignition of all nine of the ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 first stage engines on SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Launch 2nd recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – as seen from the countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

BulgariaSat is an affiliate of Bulsatcom, Bulgaria’s largest digital television provider.

“Everything went down just as we expected,” BulgariaSat CEO Zayakov told me. “Of course there was a lot of excitement. And there are a lot of excited and scared feelings [with launches].”

“At the end of the day it not only worked out just as expected with the launch but the satellite also already reported in telemetry that she is doing fine,” Zayakov elaborated.

BulgariaSat-1 is the first geostationary communications satellite orbited for the nation of Bulgaria.

“We will start using it as soon as we can, in about one and a half months.”

Liftoff of used SpaceX Falcon 9 at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017 delivering BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

The used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying BulgariaSat-1 soared off historic pad 39A into brilliant mid-afternoon blue skies drenching the Florida Space Coast with beloved sunshine to the delight of hordes of spectators gathered from across the globe – including a Bulgarian TV crew witnessing their first launch.

History’s first ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster was successfully launched by SpaceX this past March for Luxembourg based telecommunications giant SES on the SES-10 mission – likewise from pad 39A.

Some 35 minutes after blastoff, BulgariaSat-1 was successfully separated as planned from the Falcon 9 second stage and deployed to its targeted initial geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

“So now she is on her way to the orbital position. The solar arrays deployed about 30 minutes after spacecraft separation from the second stage.”

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida- as seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Would you launch with Space X again?

“Yes looking to the future we would be happy to use SpaceX again in the future, certainly why not. SpaceX is definitely up there,” Zayakov replied.

BulgariaSat-1 will be located at the Bulgarian orbital position at 1.9 degrees East longitude and will provide reliable satellite communications solutions to broadcast, telecom, corporate and government customers.

How many customers will be served? I asked Zayakov.

“BulgariaSat-1 will serve about 800,000 customers in Bulgaria and about another million subscribers elsewhere in eastern Europe and the Balkans,” Zayakov elaborated.

The BulgariaSat-1 geostationary comsat will provide direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services to Southeastern Europe, including Serbia, the Balkans and other European regions.

You could not have asked for better weather as the recycled Falcon 9 roared to life for the second time with a paying customer and put on a long and exciting space spectacle for those lucky and fortunate enough to witness history with their own eyeballs first hand and follow along for several minutes as the rocket accelerated magnificently to orbit and arched over to the African continent in the nearly cloudless sky.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the BulgariaSat-1 mission previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of this year.

Some two minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff the first and second stages separated.

As the second stage continued to orbit, the recycled first stage began the daunting trip back to Earth on a very high energy trajectory that tested the limits of the boosters landing capability.

“Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today’s launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn’t make it back,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk wrote in a prelaunch tweet.

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage carried out two burns, the entry burn and the landing burn using a trio of the Merlin 1D engines.

Ultimately the 15 story tall booster successfully landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” or OCISLY droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles (600 km) offshore and east of Cape Canaveral.

“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” Musk tweeted shortly after the recycled booster successfully launched and landed for its second time.

The 156 foot tall first stage may have touched down with a slight tilt.

The OCISLY droneship is expected back into Port Canaveral in a few days.

The 8,100 pounds (3,700 kilograms) BulgariaSat-1 satellite was built by SSL in Palo Alto, Calif. It has a design lifetime for a 15-year mission.

BulgariaSat-1 is equipped with 2 Ku-band FSS transponders and 30 Ku-band BSS transponders for fixed satellite services and advanced television services such as high definition television.

With BulgariaSat-1 now safely in orbit, a period of critical testing and checkout is on tap next.

“It takes about ten days to arrive and stabilize at the final orbital slot,” Zayakov stated. “Then after those 10 days it takes about another 20 to 30 days to actually do all the orbital checkouts and orbital tests required to make sure that the satellite is performing fine and that we can start using it for broadcasts.”

“So in about one and a half months we will be ready to start using BulgariaSat-1.”

“We will start using it as soon as we can!”

2 enthusiastic ‘Thumbs Up’ from Maxim Zayakov, CEO of BulgariaSat, during interview with Universe Today at KSC countdown clock following June 23, 2017 launch of BulgariaSat-1 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The BulgariaSat-1 launch had originally been slated for this past Monday, June 19 but was delayed four days to fix a valve in the payload fairing.

“Postponing launch to replace fairing pneumatic valve,” Musk tweeted last Sunday. “It is dual redundant, but not worth taking a chance.”

And everything went off without a hitch!

BulgariaSat-1 counts as the eighth SpaceX launch of 2017.

Payload fairing encapsulating BulgariaSat-1 comsat launching atop used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite BulgariaSat-1 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

Photo of BulgariaSat-1 undergoing launch processing. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 BulgariaSat-1 mission patch logo. Credit: SpaceX/BulgariaSat

2nd SpaceX Recycled Falcon 9 Rocket Launching 1st Bulgarian GeoComSat June 23, Plus Potential Weekend Launch ‘Doubleheader’ – Watch Live

Flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrives at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida slated for launch of BulgariaSat-1 on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – For only the second time in history, SpaceX will launch a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 rocket this Friday afternoon and the payload this time for this remarkable and science fictionesque milestone is the first geostationary communications satellite for the nation of Bulgaria.

Blastoff of the BulgariaSat-1 communications satellite for commercial broadband provider BulgariaSat is slated for early Friday afternoon, June 23 at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

BulgariaSat is an affiliate of Bulsatcom, Bulgaria’s largest digital television provider. The geostationary comsat will provide direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services to Southeastern Europe, including the Balkans and other European regions.

Flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 poised for launch of BulgariaSat-1 on June 23, 2017 at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 will deliver BulgariaSat-1 to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 15 June 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch BulgariaSat-1on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

All systems are GO at this point!

And if all goes well there is a definite possibility of a weekend bicoastal launch double header by SpaceX – says SpaceX billionaire founder and CEO Elon. The next Falcon 9 mission is scheduled for blastoff on Sunday, June 25 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, barely 48 hours apart.

SpaceX is maintaining a blistering launch pace this year.

The Falcon 9 booster arrived just hours after launch of the Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission for NASA on June 3 – as I witnessed the recycled rockets arrival at pad 39A first hand later the same day (see photos).

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 5:07 p.m. EDT on June 3, 2017, on Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX successfully launched history’s first ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster this past March for Luxembourg based telecommunications giant SES on the SES-10 mission – likewise from pad 39A.

Recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 skyrockets to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A as it zooms past US Flag by the countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The late lunchtime liftoff time for BulgariaSat-1 offers a very convenient opportunity for everyone to enjoy an eyewitness view, regardless of whether you live locally or if have the availability to take a quick trip to the Florida Space Coast.

And the current weather outlook is excellent say forecasters.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC

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

The recycled Falcon 9’s launch window extends for a full two hours until 4:10 p.m. EDT, June 23, or 20:10 UTC.

Fridays weather forecast is currently 90% GO for favorable conditions at launch time. That’s about as good as it gets for the notoriously fickle central Florida region.

The concern is for the Cumulus Cumulus Cloud Rule according to Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.

In case of a scrub for any reason on Friday, June 23, the backup launch opportunity is Saturday, June 24, at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC. Likewise it extends for two hours.

Saturdays’ weather forecast also quite good, dropping only slightly to 80% GO. The concern is for the Cumulus Cumulus Cloud Rule.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the BulgariaSat-1 mission previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of this year. Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt a landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

The satellite was built by SSL in Palo Alto, Calif. It has a design lifetime for a 15-year mission.

“We selected SSL to manufacture our first satellite early on, based on its history of success and reliability,” says Maxim Zayakov, chief executive officer of Bulgaria Sat. “SSL has been an excellent partner in helping us bring this project to fruition.”

BulgariaSat-1 will be equipped with 2 Ku-band FSS transponders and 30 Ku-band BSS transponders for fixed satellite services and advanced television services such as high definition television.

Photo of BulgariaSat-1 undergoing launch processing. Credit: SpaceX

The historic pad 39A was previously used to launch NASA’s Apollo Saturn Moon rockets and Space Shuttles.

The path to launch was cleared following the successful completion of a critical static hot-fire test of the first stage last Thursday, June 15.

The hot fire test lasted about seven seconds as I witnessed from Banana River Lagoon and Rt. 1 in Titusville, which provides numerous excellent viewing locations.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 15 June 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch BulgariaSat-1on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The BulgariaSat-1 launch had originally been slated for this past Monday, June 19 but was delayed four days to fix a valve in the payload fairing.

Payload fairing encapsulating BulgariaSat-1 comsat launching atop used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite BulgariaSat-1 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 the upcoming SpaceX launch of BulgariaSat 1, recent SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 resupply launch to ISS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

June 22-24: “SpaceX BulgariaSat 1 launch, SpaceX CRS-11 and CRS-10 resupply launches to the ISS, Inmarsat 5 and NRO Spysat, EchoStar 23, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 BulgariaSat-1 mission patch logo. Credit: SpaceX/BulgariaSat