Flawless SpaceX Falcon 9 Takes Rousing Night Flight Delivery of EchoStar TV Sat to Orbit

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket streaks to orbit in this long exposure photo taken in front of NASA’s countdown clock under moonlit skies at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Under stellar moonlit Florida skies, a private SpaceX Falcon 9 took flight overnight and flawlessly delivered the commercial EchoStar 23 television satellite to geosynchronous orbit after high winds delayed the rockets roar to orbit by two days from Tuesday. Breaking News: Check back for updates

The post midnight spectacle thrilled spectators who braved the wee hours this morning and were richly rewarded with a rousing rush as the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket thundered to life at 2:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, March 16 from historic Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and sped to orbit.

Rising on the power of 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust generated by nine Marlin 1D first stage engines, the two stage Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered the commercial EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for EchoStar Corporation.

The satellite was deployed approximately 34 minutes after launch.

Thus began March Launch Madness !!

If all goes well, March features a triple header of launches with launch competitor and arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) planning a duo of nighttime blastoffs from their Delta and Atlas rocket families. The exact dates are in flux due to the earlier postponement of the SpaceX Falcon 9. They have been rescheduled for March 18 and 24 respectively.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 launches the EchoStar 23 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A with countdown clock in foreground at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as display shows liftoff progress to geosynchronous orbit after post midnight blastoff on March 16 at 2:oo a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

EchoStar 23 will be stationed over Brazil for direct to home television broadcasts and high speed voice, video and data communications to millions of customers for EchoStar.

It was designed and built by Space Systems Loral (SSL).

“EchoStar XXIII is a highly flexible, Ku-band broadcast satellite services (BSS) satellite with four main reflectors and multiple sub-reflectors supporting multiple mission profiles,” according to a description from EchoStar Corporation.

EchoStar XXIII will initially be deployed in geosynchronous orbit at 45° West. The Satellite End of Life (EOL) Power is 20 kilowatts (kW).

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar 23 TV satellite from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Photo from camera inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The entire launch sequence was broadcast live on a SpaceX hosted webcast that began about 20 minutes before the revised liftoff time of 2:00 a.m. from the prelaunch countdown, blastoff and continued through the dramatic separation of the EchoStar 23 private payload from the second stage.

The EchoStar 23 launch counts as only the second Falcon 9 ever to blast off from pad 39A.

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar 23 TV satellite from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Credit: Julian Leek

SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk leased historic pad 39A from NASA back in April 2014 for launches of the firms Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy carrying both robotic vehicles as well as humans on missions to low Earth orbit, the Moon and ultimately the Red Planet.

Composite panoramic view of seaside Launch Complex 39A with SpaceX hangar and Falcon 9 rocket raised vertical to deliver the EchoStar 23 telecom satellite to geostationary orbit overnight March 16, 2017. Pad 39B at center. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The inaugural Falcon 9 blastoff successfully took place last month on Feb. 19, as I reported here.

However unlike most recent SpaceX missions, the legless Falcon 9 first stage will not be recovered via a pinpoint propulsive landing either on land or on a barge at sea.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying EchoStar 23 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad on March 13, 2017 ahead of liftoff slated for 16 Mar 2017 at 1:35 a.m. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Because of the satellite delivery to GTO, there are insufficient fuel reserves to carry out the booster landing.

“SpaceX will not attempt to land Falcon 9’s first stage after launch due to mission requirements,” officials said.

Therefore the first stage is not outfitted with either landing legs or grid fins to maneuver it back to a touchdown.

SpaceX announced that this was the last launch of an expendable Falcon 9.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Targets Thursday May 26 for Thai Comsat Launch and Tough Sea Landing – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands poised for launch on May 26 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, similar to this file photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands poised for launch on May 26 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, similar to this file photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. – Just three weeks after SpaceX’s last launch from their Florida launch base, the growing and influential aerospace firm is deep into commencing their next space spectacular – targeting this Thursday, May 26, for launch of a Thai comsat followed moments later by a sea landing attempt of the booster on a tough trajectory.

SpaceX is slated to launch the Thaicom-8 telecommunications satellite atop an upgraded version of the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Thursday at 5:40 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX is rapidly picking up the pace of rocket launches for their wide ranging base of commercial, government and military customers that is continuously expanding and reaping contracts and profits for the Hawthorne, Calif. based company.

This commercial mission involves lofting Thaicom-8 to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for Thaicom PLC, a leading satellite operator in Asia.

This also counts as the second straight GTO launch and the second straight attempt to land a rocket on a sea based platform from the highly demanding GTO launch trajectory.

Will this mission make for 3 successful Falcon 9 1st stage booster landings in a row? Tune in and find out !!

Engineers have a two-hour window to launch the Falcon 9 and deliver Thaicom to orbit.

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

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

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

The SpaceX webcast will be available starting at about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 5:20 a.m. EDT at SpaceX.com/webcast

The two stage Falcon 9 rocket has a two-hour launch window that extends until Thursday, May 26 at 7:40 p.m. EDT.

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

The path to liftoff was cleared late last night the company completed the customary pre-launch static fire test of the rocket’s first stage upgraded Merlin 1D engines for several seconds at pad 40.

The nine engines on the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket generate approximately 1.5 million pounds of thrust.

Engineers monitored the test and after analyzing results declared the Falcon 9 was fit to launch Thursday afternoon.

The weather currently looks very good. Air Force meteorologists are predicting a 90 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at launch time Thursday morning with a minor concern for ground winds.

The backup launch opportunity is Friday, May 27. The weather outlooks is somewhat less promising at a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions.

After the Falcon 9 rocket delivers the satellite into its targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit it will enter a 30-day testing phase, says Orbital ATK.

Following in-orbit activation and after reaching its final orbital slot, Orbital ATK will then turn over control of the satellite to Thaicom to begin normal operations.

THAICOM 8’s orbital location will be positioned at 78.5 degrees east longitude and the satellite is designed to operate for more than 15 years.

Thaicom-8 is a Ku-band satellite that offers 24 active transponders that will deliver broadcast and data services to customers in Thailand, Southeast Asia, India and Africa.

Thaicom-8 has a mass of approximately 6,800 pounds (3,100 kilograms). It is based on Orbital ATK’s flight-proven GEOStar-2TM platform.

“We built and delivered this high-quality communications satellite for Thaicom PLC two months ahead of schedule, demonstrating our ability to manufacture reliable, affordable and innovative products that exceed expectations for our customer,” said Amer Khouri, Vice President of the Commercial Satellite Business at Orbital ATK.

“As one of Asia’s leading satellite operators, we are grateful for Thaicom’s continued confidence and look forward to more successful partnerships in the future.”

Thaicom-8 will join Thaicom-6 already in orbit. It was also designed, manufactured, integrated and tested by Orbital ATK. at the firm’s state-of-the-art satellite manufacturing facility in Dulles, Virginia.

Thaicom PLC commissioned Thaicom-8 in 2014, shortly after SpaceX launched the THAICOM 6 satellite into orbit in January 2014.

Thaicom-8 mission patch artwork.  Credit: SpaceX
Thaicom-8 mission patch artwork. Credit: SpaceX

The secondary test objective of SpaceX is to land the Falcon 9 rockets first stage on an ocean going barge several hundred miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

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

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

Having said that and despite those hurdles, the last GTO mission landing attempt did succeed brilliantly following the May 6 JCSAT-14 launch.

Tune in to the SpaceX webcast Thursday afternoon to catch all the exciting action !!

Composite image of first stage booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace.  Inset: Trio of SpaceX boosters inside pad 39A hangar. Credit: SpaceX.  Composite:  Ken Kremer
Composite image of first stage booster from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace. Inset: Trio of SpaceX boosters inside pad 39A hangar. Credit: SpaceX. Composite: Ken Kremer

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

May 25/26: “SpaceX, ULA, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Jun 2 to 5: “ULA, NRO, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Amazing Time-lapse Shows Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Moving To Land After Port Canaveral Arrival

First stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was moved by crane on May 11, 2016 from the drone ship OCISLY to a work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
First stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was moved by crane on May 10, 2016 from the drone ship OCISLY to a work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The recovered SpaceX first stage booster that nailed a spectacular middle-of-the-night touchdown at sea last week sailed back to Port Canaveral, Florida, late Monday and was transferred by crane on Tuesday from the drone ship to land – as seen in an amazing time-lapse video and photos, shown above and below and obtained by Universe Today.

The exquisite up close time-lapse sequence shows technicians carefully hoisting the 15-story-tall spent booster from the drone ship barge onto a work pedestal on land some 12 hours after arriving back in port.

The time-lapse imagery (below) of the booster’s removal from the drone ship was captured by my space photographer friend Jeff Seibert on Tuesday, May 10.

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

Towards the end of the video there is a rather humorous view of the technicians climbing in unison to the bottom of the hoisted Falcon.

“I particularly like the choreographed ascent by the crew to the base of the Falcon 9 near the end of the move video,” Seibert told Universe Today.

The move took place from 11:55 AM until 12:05 PM, Seibert said.

First stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch hoisted by crane on May 10, 2016 from drone ship to work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
First stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch hoisted by crane on May 11, 2016 from drone ship to work pedestal on land 12 hours after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The booster was towed into the space coast port around 11 p.m. Monday night, as seen in further up close images captured by my space photographer friend Julian Leek.

Leek also managed to capture a stunningly unique view of the rocket floating atop the barge when it was still out at sea and some 5 miles off shore waiting to enter the port at a safe time after most of the cruise ships had departed – as I reported earlier here.

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

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

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

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

To date SpaceX has recovered 3 Falcon 9 first stages. But this was the first one to be recovered from the much more demanding, high velocity trajectory delivering a satellite to GTO.

The first rocket was flying faster and at a higher altitude at the time of seperatoin from the second stage and thus was much more difficult to slow down and maneuver back to the ocean based platform.

Thus SpaceX officials and CEO Elon Musk had been openly doubtful of a successful outcome for this landing attempt.

“First landed booster from a GTO-class mission (final spacecraft altitude will be about 36,000 km),” tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk.

The commercial SpaceX launch lofted the JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for SKY Perfect JSAT – a leading satellite operator in the Asia – Pacific region.

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

The landing counts as another stunning success for Elon Musk’s vision of radically slashing the cost of sending rocket to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reusing them.

The next step is to defuel the booster and remove the landing legs. Thereafter it will be tilted and lowered horizontally and then be placed onto a multi-wheeled transport for shipment back to SpaceX launch facilities at Cape Canaveral for refurbishment, exhaustive engine and structural testing.

The newly recovered first stage will join a fleet of two others recovered last December and in April.

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

If all goes well the recovered booster will eventually be reflown.

The next SpaceX commercial launch is tentatively slated for the late May/early June timeframe.

Up close look at grid fins from recovered first stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace
Up close look at grid fins from recovered first stage booster from the SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch after arriving back in Port Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket lurking off Port Canaveral waiting to enter the port.  Copyright:  Julian Leek
SpaceX ASDS drone ship with the recovered Falcon 9 first stage rocket lurking off Port Canaveral waiting to enter the port. Copyright: Julian Leek
Recovered Falcon 9 first stage stands upright after drone ship landing following SpaceX launch of JCSAT-14 on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: SpaceX
Recovered Falcon 9 first stage stands upright after drone ship landing following SpaceX launch of JCSAT-14 on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceX

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

SpaceX Stuns with Spectacular Sunset Launch of SES-9 Telecom Satellite

Sunset blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying SES-9 communications satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Sunset blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying SES-9 communications satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – After enduring four launch scrubs caused by poor weather, misguided boaters, high level winds and propellant fueling problems, SpaceX put on a stunning sky show with tonight’s sunset blastoff of their private Falcon 9 rocket boosting the high powered SES-9 commercial telecommunications satellite to orbit.

For the many spectators who stuck around, the fifth launch attempt proved to be the charm as they were richly rewarded with a spectacular sunset launch that was visible for more than five minutes all around the space coast and far beyond due to crystal clear skies. Continue reading “SpaceX Stuns with Spectacular Sunset Launch of SES-9 Telecom Satellite”