SES ComSat Boss Proclaims High ‘Confidence’ in SpaceX’s Bold 1st ‘Flight-Proven’ Rocket Launch – March 30

The SES-10 satellite was manufactured by Airbus Defence & Space and is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. It will operate in geostationary orbit. Credit: SES/Airbus

CAPE CANAVERAL/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – As the hours tick down to the history making liftoff of the world’s first recycled rocket, the commercial customer SES is proclaiming high “confidence” in the flight worthiness of the “Flight-Proven” SpaceX Falcon 9 booster that will blastoff with a massive Hi-Def TV satellite for telecom giant SES this Thursday, Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell told Universe Today at a media briefing.

“We are confident in this booster,” SES CTO Martin Halliwell told me at a press briefing on March 28, regarding SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s bold vision to slash launch costs by recovering and reusing spent first stage rockets from his firms Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

The milestone SpaceX mission destined to refly the first ever ‘used rocket’ is slated for lift off on Thursday, March 30, at 6:27 p.m. EDT carrying the SES-10 telecommunications payload to orbit atop a ‘Flight-Proven’ Falcon 9 rocket from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SES-10 is to be the first ever satellite launching on such a SpaceX flight-proven first stage rocket, Halliwell explained.

The Falcon 9 was designed from the start of development by SpaceX engineers to be reusable.

The nearly six ton satellite will provide significantly improved TV, voice and data service to over 37 million customers in Central and South America.

“This thing is good to go!”

The Falcon 9 booster to be recycled was initially launched in April 2016 for NASA on the SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under contract for the space agency.

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

The 156 foot tall first stage was recovered about eight and a half minutes after liftoff via a pinpoint propulsive soft landing on an tiny ocean going droneship prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off the US East coast.

The SES-10 launch comes barely 2 weeks after the prior SpaceX launch of EchoStar XXIII on March 16.

It also marks the final round of March Launch Madness. Concldung the third and final round of launches this month.

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

The booster is one of eight first stages recovered by SpaceX so far, either by landing on a barge at sea or on a landing pad on the ground.

“We [SES] have been through this vehicle with a fine tooth comb,” Halliwell elaborated.

The boosters are carefully checked and refurbished to confirm their integrity and utility, and the first stage Merlin 1D engines are re-fired multiple times to confirm they will function reliably and robustly.

“SpaceX has been through this booster with a fine tooth comb. This booster is a really good booster.”
Is this a high risk strategy to be first in line launching an expensive satellite on a used rocket, I asked? Why are you confident?

“There is not a huge risk,” Halliwell stated emphatically. “In this particular case we know that the reusability capability is built into the design of the Falcon 9 vehicle. I think its baseline is to fly nine times. We are flight #2.’

“We have tested this thing. We have run the engines up! Halliwell elaborated.

SpaceX has run full duration static fire tests as well as shorter 3 to 5 second hold down tests on the pad.

Indeed this booster was successfully checked out during a brief engine test lasting approximately five seconds at 2 p.m. today, Monday March 27, with the sudden eruption of smoke and ash rushing into the air over historic pad 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during a picture perfect sunny afternoon – as I witnessed from Space View Park in Titusville, FL.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of 1st previously flown Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 27 Mar. 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. History making launch of first recycled rocket is slated for 30 March 2017 with SES-10 telecommunications comsat. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“We have also looked at the airframe, Halliwell went on. “We have looked at the various components. This thing is good to go.”

“We don’t believe we are taking an inordinate risk here.”

SpaceX says the cost of a Falcon 9 launch is about $60 million.

Halliwell would not disclose the discount SES is receiving for this launch by utilizing a recycled rocket. But SpaceX officials have been quoted as saying the savings could be between 10 to 30 percent.

“So with that we can go back to our insurers and we can explain that risk exactly. And we can back it up with analysis and test data. So I don’t agree that we are taking a huge risk here!” Halliwell told me.

“From a pricing point of view, the launch cost pricing is really irrelevant. The delta in cost is really not relevant or material.”

The payload was encapsulated inside the payload fairing and bolted on top of the Falcon 9. It will be rolled back out to pad 39A overnight Thursday morning and erected.

13 hours of critical checks are needed to insure the satellite is still functioning perfectly after raising at the pad, Halliwell explained. The timeline is tight to get all the required work done in time to carry out a Thursday evening launch.

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX, founded by billionaire and CEO Elon Musk, inked a deal in August 2016 with telecommunications giant SES, to refly a ‘Flight-Proven’ Falcon 9 booster.

Luxembourg-based SES and Hawthrone, CA-based SpaceX jointly announced the agreement to “launch SES-10 on a flight-proven Falcon 9 orbital rocket booster.”

The flight proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will deliver SES-10 to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

SES-10 has a launch mass of 5,300 kg or 11,700 pounds, which includes the dry mass and propellant.

The spacecraft utilizes for both chemical propulsion for orbit raising and electric propulsion for station keeping.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 carrying the SES-10 telecommunications satellite is now slated for 6:27 p.m. EDT at the opening of the launch window

The two and a half hour launch window closes at 8:57 p.m. EDT.

SpaceX will webcast the launch live.

SpaceX will also attempt to re-land the Falcon 9 first stage for an unprecedented second time, provided there are sufficient fuel reserves remaining after accomplishing its primary mission to delivering SES-10 to GTO, Halliwell stated.

SES-10 will replace AMC-3 and AMC-4 to provide enhanced coverage and significant capacity expansion over Latin America, says SES.

“The satellite will be positioned at 67 degrees West, pursuant to an agreement with the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), and will be used for the Simón Bolivar 2 satellite network.”

Up to 3 additional SES satellites could launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets by the end of this year.

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

Ken Kremer
………….

Learn more about SpaceX SES-10, EchoStar 23 and CRS-10 launches to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Mar 31, Apr 1: “SpaceX SES-10, EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Video Caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 hot fire test on March 27, 2017 for SES-10 launch on March 30 on KSC Pad 39A. Credit: Jeff Seibert

SpaceX Outbids ULA for Military GPS Contract Igniting Fierce Launch Competition

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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The fierce competition for lucrative launch contracts from the U.S. Air Force just got more even intense with the announcement that SpaceX outbid arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch an advanced military Global Positioning System (GPS III) navigation satellite to orbit in approx. 2 years.

The U.S. Air Force has announced that SpaceX has won the national security contract to launch a single next generation GPS III satellite to Earth orbit in the first half of 2019. The contract award is valued at $96.5 million.

“SpaceX is proud to have been selected to support this important National Security Space Mission,” Gwynne Shotwell, President & COO, told Universe Today in a statement in response to the GPS III award.

The GPS constellation of navigation satellites is vital to both military and civilian users on a 24/7 basis.

“Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, California, has been awarded a $96,500,490 firm-fixed-price contract for launch services to deliver a GPS III satellite to its intended orbit,” the Air Force announced in a statement.

There could be as many as 15 Air Force launch contracts awarded this year in competitive bidding between ULA and SpaceX.

The upshot is that ULA’s decade long near monopoly on national security launches has now been broken several times in the past year with SpaceX outbidding ULA based on the price of their newer Falcon family of rockets compared to ULA’s long established Atlas and Delta rocket families.

Last year SpaceX won the competition to launch the first GPS-III satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket in 2018 with a bid of $82.7 million after ULA decided not to enter a bid.

“We appreciate the confidence that the U.S. Air Force has placed in our company and we look forward to working together towards the successful launch of another GPS-III mission,” Shotwell elaborated to Universe Today.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell meets the media at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 to discuss a wide range of space launch plans. Credit: Julian Leek

ULA did not bid on the first GPS III contract citing the lack of availability of “any Atlas engines available to bid” and other contract factors as the reason for not submitting a bid for the 2018 launch based on the request for proposals (RFP) for the global positioning satellite.

The Atlas V is powered by Russian made RD-180 engines, who’s import for military uses had been temporarily restricted by Congress following the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

The launch price was a deciding factor in the winning bid.

“Each contractor had to prove through their proposal that they could meet the technical, the schedule and the risk criteria,” said Claire Leon, director of the launch enterprise directorate at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, during a media briefing.

“SpaceX was able to do that. I wouldn’t say that they were necessarily better. They adequately met our criteria.”

SpaceX has been snatching away numerous launch contracts from ULA other launch providers across the globe with their substantially lower rocket prices. SpaceX has been hiring while other firms including ULA have suffered layoffs.

So in response to competitive pressures from SpaceX, ULA took concrete steps to dramatically cut launch costs and end dependency on the RD-180s when CEO Tory Bruno announced in April 2015 that the company would develop the new all-American made Vulcan rocket.

Vulcan is slated for an inaugural liftoff in 2019.

The Air Force expects SpaceX to achieve a rapid turnaround from winning the bid to actually launching the GPS satellite by April 2019.

“Contractor will provide launch vehicle production, mission integration, launch operations, spaceflight worthiness and mission unique activities for a GPS III mission. Work will be performed at Hawthorne, California; Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida; and McGregor, Texas, and is expected to be complete by April 30, 2019,” said the Air Force.

Only SpaceX and ULA bid on the GPS III satellite launch contract.

“This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with two offers received. Fiscal 2016 space procurement funds in the amount of $96,500,490 are being obligated at the time of award.”

The Air Force opened up military launch contracts to competitive bidding in 2015 after certifying SpaceX as a qualified bidder to launch the nation’s most critical and highly valuable national security satellites on their Falcon 9 booster.

Until 2015, ULA had a near sole source contract with the USAF as the only company certified to bid on and launch those most critical national security satellites. New space upstart SpaceX, founded by billionaire CEO Elon Musk, then forced the bidding issue by filing a lawsuit suing the Air Force.

In response to the lost GPS-III bid, ULA touted their demonstrated record of 100 percent success launching more than 115 satellites.

“United Launch Alliance continues to believe a best value launch service competition with evaluation of mission success and assurance, and past performance including demonstrated schedule reliability, is appropriate and needed for the Phase 1A missions given the technical complexities of rocket launch services and their critical significance to the war fighter and U.S. national security,” ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye told Universe Today.

“Over the past decade, ULA has provided unmatched reliability with 100 percent mission success and ensured more than 115 satellites were delivered safely to their orbits each and every time. We look forward to continuing to provide the best value launch services to enable our customers’ critical missions.”

ULA Delta IV rocket streaks to orbit carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) tactical communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force and international partners from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, at 8:18 p.m. EDT on Mar. 18, 2017, in this long exposure photo taken on base. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The most recent ULA launch for the Air Force took place days ago involving the stunning Delta blastoff of the WGS-9 high speed communications satellite on March 18, 2017.

SpaceX has suffered a pair of calamitous Falcon 9 rocket failures in June 2015 and Sept. 2016, destroying both the rocket and payloads for NASA and the AMOS-6 communications satellite respectively.

So the U.S. Air Force should definitely be balancing risk vs. reward with regard to lower pricing and factoring in rocket robustness and reliability, regarding launches of national security satellites which could cost into the multi-billions of dollars, take years to manufacture and are not swiftly replaceable in case of catastrophic launch failures.

ULA’s workhorse Atlas V rocket successfully delivered the final GPS satellite in the IIF series to orbit for the US Air Force on Feb 5, 2016.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the GPS IIF-12 mission lifted off at 8:38 a.m. EST on Feb. 5, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

At that time the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-12 navigation satellite completed the constellation of GPS IIF satellites that are critical to both military and civilian users on a 24/7 basis.

The Atlas V rocket delivered the GPS IIF-12 satellite to a semi-synchronous circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 11,000 nautical miles above Earth.

“GPS III is the next generation of GPS satellites that will introduce new capabilities to meet the higher demands of both military and civilian users,” according to the USAF.

“GPS III is expected to provide improved anti-jamming capabilities as well as improved accuracy for precision navigation and timing. It will incorporate the common L1C signal which is compatible with the European Space Agency’s Galileo global navigation satellite system and compliment current services with the addition of new civil and military signals.”

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

Ken Kremer

So it Begins, Red Dragon Delayed 2 Years to 2020

Artists concept for sending SpaceX Red Dragon spacecraft to land propulsively on Mars as early as 2020. Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With so many exciting projects competing for the finite time of SpaceX’s super talented engineers, something important had to give. And that something comes in the form of slipping the blastoff of SpaceX’s ambitious Red Dragon initiative to land the first commercial spacecraft on Mars by 2 years – to 2020. Nevertheless it will include a hefty science payload, SpaceX’s President told Universe Today.

The Red Dragon launch postponement from 2018 to 2020 was announced by SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell during a Falcon 9 prelaunch press conference at historic pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program, said SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell at the pad 39a briefing.

“So we’re looking more in the 2020 time frame for that.”

And whenever Red Dragon does liftoff, it will carry a significant “science payload” to the Martian surface, Shotwell told me at the pad 39A briefing.

“As much [science] payload on Dragon as we can,” Shotwell said. Science instruments would be provided by “European and commercial guys … plus our own stuff!”

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

Another factor potentially at play is yesterdays (Feb 27) announcement by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk that he has two hefty, revenue generating paying customers for a manned Moonshot around the Moon that could blastoff on a commercial crew Dragon as soon as next year atop a Falcon Heavy from pad 39A – as I reported here.

Whereas SpaceX is footing the bill for the private Red Dragon venture.

Pad 39A is the same pad from which the Red Dragon mission will eventually blastoff atop a heavy lift SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket – and which just reopened for launch business last week on Feb. 19 after lying dormant for more than 6 years since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program in July 2011.

So at least the high hurdle of reopening pad 39A has been checked off!

Raindrops keep falling on the lens, as inaugural SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon disappears into the low hanging rain clouds at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after liftoff from pad 39A on Feb. 19, 2017. Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission is delivering over 5000 pounds of science and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX continues to dream big – setting its extraterrestrial sights on the Moon and Mars.

Musk founded SpaceX with the dream of transporting Humans to the Red Planet and establishing a ‘City on Mars’.

Artists concept for sending SpaceX Red Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2020. Credit: SpaceX

Since launch windows to Mars are only available every two years due to the laws of physics and planetary alignments, the minimum Red Dragon launch delay automatically amounts to 2 years.

Furthermore the oft delayed Falcon Heavy has yet to launch on its maiden mission.

Shotwell said the maiden Falcon Heavy launch from pad 39A is planned to occur this summer, around mid year or so – after Pad 40 is back up and running.

And the commercial crew Dragon 2 spacecraft being built under contract to NASA to launch American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) has also seen its maiden launch postponed more than six months over the past calendar year.

Finishing the commercial crew Dragon is absolutely critical to NASA for launching US astronauts to the ISS from US soil – in order to end our total dependence on Russia and the Soyuz capsule at a cost in excess of $80 million per seat.

Artistic concepts of the Falcon Heavy rocket (left) and the Dragon capsule deployed on the surface of Mars (right). Credit: SpaceX

The bold Red Dragon endeavor which involved launching an uncrewed version of the firms Dragon cargo spacecraft to carry out a propulsive soft landing on Mars as soon as 2018, was initially announced with great fanfare by SpaceX less than a year ago in April 2016.

At that time, SpaceX signed a space act agreement with NASA, wherein the agency will provide technical support to SpaceX with respect to Mars landing technologies for ‘Red Dragon’ and NASA would reciprocally benefit from SpaceX technologies for Mars landing.

But given the magnitude of the work required for this extremely ambitious Mars landing mission, the two year postponement was pretty much expected from the beginning by this author.

The main goal is to propulsively land the heaviest payload ever on Mars – something 5-10 times the size of anything landed before.

“These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars,” SpaceX noted last April.

Red Dragon will utilize supersonic retropropulsion to achieve a safe touchdown.

I asked Shotwell whether Red Dragon would include a science payload? Would Universities and Industry compete to submit proposals?

“Yes we had planned to fly [science] stuff in 2018, but people are also more ready to fly in 2020 than 2018,” Shotwell replied.

“Yes we are going to put as much [science] payload on Dragon as we can. By the way, just Dragon landing alone will be the largest mass ever put on the surface of Mars. Just the empty Dragon alone. That will be pretty crazy!”

“There are a bunch of folks that want to fly [science], including European customers, commercial guys.”

“Yeah there will be [science] stuff on Dragon – plus our own stuff!” Shotwell elaborated.

Whenever it does fly, SpaceX will utilize a recycled cargo Dragon from one of the space station resupply missions for NASA, said Jessica Jensen, SpaceX Dragon Mission manager at a KSC media briefing.

NASA’s still operating 1 ton Curiosity rover is the heaviest spaceship to touchdown on the Red Planet to date.

Dramatic wide angle mosaic view of butte with sandstone layers showing cross-bedding in the Murray Buttes region on lower Mount Sharp with distant view to rim of Gale crater, taken by Curiosity rover’s Mastcam high resolution cameras. This photo mosaic was assembled from Mastcam color camera raw images taken on Sol 1454, Sept. 8, 2016 and stitched by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, with added artificial sky. Featured at APOD on 5 Oct 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s agency wide goal is to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s utilizing the SLS rocket and Orion deep space capsule – slated for their uncrewed maiden launch in late 2018.

Although NASA has just initiated a feasibility study to alter the mission and add 2 astronauts with a revised liftoff date of 2019.

Of course it all depends on whether the new Trump Administration bolsters NASA or slashes NASA funding.

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the weather looks promising at this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Feb 17- 19: “SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 16 Feb 2017 as seen from Launch Complex 39-B. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb. 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. Liftoff is slated for no earlier than 19 Feb. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX ‘Return to Flight’ Set For Dec. 16 with Next Gen Iridium Satellites – 3 Months After Pad Explosion

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

Only three months after the catastrophic launch pad explosion of their commercial Falcon 9 rocket in Florida, SpaceX has set Dec. 16 as the date for the boosters ‘Return to Flight’ launch from California with the first batch of Iridium’s next-generation communications satellites.

Iridium Communications announced on Thursday that the first launch of a slew of its next-generation global satellite constellation, dubbed Iridium NEXT, will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on December 16, 2016 at 12:36 p.m. PST from SpaceX’s west coast launch pad on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Iridium NEXT satellites being processed for launch by SpaceX. Credit: SpaceX/Iridium
Iridium NEXT satellites being processed for launch by SpaceX. Credit: SpaceX/Iridium

However the launch is dependent on achieving FAA approval for the Falcon 9 launch.

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

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

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

SpaceX quickly started an investigation to determine the cause of the anomaly that destroyed the rocket and its payload and significantly damaged the infrastructure at launch pad 40.

“The investigation has been conducted with FAA oversight. Iridium expects to be SpaceX’s first return to flight launch customer.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL,  on Sept. 1, 2016.  A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Sept. 1, 2016. A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

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

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

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

“We’re excited to launch the first batch of our new satellite constellation. We have remained confident in SpaceX’s ability as a launch partner throughout the Falcon 9 investigation,” said Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium, in a statement.

“We are grateful for their transparency and hard work to plan for their return to flight. We are looking forward to the inaugural launch of Iridium NEXT, and what will begin a new chapter in our history.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 Stage 1 arriving in California for Iridium NEXT launch - with a Rainbow! Credit: SpaceX/Iridium
SpaceX Falcon 9 Stage 1 arriving in California for Iridium NEXT launch – with a Rainbow! Credit: SpaceX/Iridium

Altogether seven Falcon 9 launches will be required to deploy the constellation of 70 Iridium NEXT satellites by early 2018, if all goes well.

The initial batch of Iridium NEXT satellites for this launch began arriving at SpaceX’s Vandenberg AFB satellite processing facility in early August 2016. They were built by Orbital ATK.

Following up on earlier statements by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk had said in a televised CNBC interview on Nov. 4 that the firm was aiming to resume launches of the booster in mid-December.

“We are looking forward to return to flight with the first Iridium NEXT launch,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX.

“Iridium has been a great partner for nearly a decade, and we appreciate their working with us to put their first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit.”

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

Musk said the Sept 1 explosion at pad 40 was related to some type of interaction between the liquid helium bottles , carbon composites and solidification of the liquid oxygen propellant in the SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage.

“It basically involves a combination of liquid helium, advanced carbon fiber composites, and solid oxygen, Musk elaborated to CNBC.

“Oxygen so cold that it enters the solid phase.”

The explosion took place without warning as liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants were being loaded into the second stage of the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 during a routine fueling test and engine firing test at SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex-40 launch facility at approximately 9:07 a.m. EDT on Sept. 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.

But the rocket blew up during the fueling operations and the SpaceX launch team never even got to the point of igniting the first stage engines for the static fire test.

Pad 40 is out of action until extensive repairs and testing are completed.

The Sept. 1 calamity was the second Falcon 9 failure within 15 months time and called into question the rockets overall reliability.

The first Falcon 9 failure involved a catastrophic mid air explosion about two and a half minutes after liftoff, during the Dragon CRS-9 cargo resupply launch for NASA to the International Space Station on June 28, 2015 – and witnessed by this author.

SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage 1 arriving at Vandenberg AFB in California in early November 2016 for Iridium NEXT launch. Credit: SpaceX/Iridium
SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage arriving at Vandenberg AFB in California in early November 2016 for Iridium NEXT launch. Credit: SpaceX/Iridium

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

On the Florida Space Coast, SpaceX plans to initially resume launches at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) from pad 39A, the former shuttle pad that SpaceX has leased from NASA, while pad 40 is repaired and refurbished.

KSC launches could start as soon as early January 2017 with the EchoStar 23 communications satellite.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about ULA Delta 4 launch on Dec 7, GOES-R weather satellite, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6 & CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Dec 5-7: “ULA Delta 4 Dec 7 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX’s Space Coast Launch Facilities Escape Hurricane Matthew’s Wrath, May Resume Launches this Year

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX’s key launch facilities on the Florida Space Coast escaped the wrath of Hurricane Matthew’s 100 mph wind gusts late last week, suffering only some exterior damage to the satellite processing building, a company spokesman confirmed to Universe Today.

Furthermore, the aerospace firm still hopes to resume launches of their Falcon 9 rocket before the end of this year following September’s rocket explosion, according to remarks made by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell over the weekend.

“Hurricane Matthew caused some damage to the exterior of SpaceX’s payload processing facility [PPF] at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,” SpaceX spokesman John Taylor told Universe Today.

The payload processing facility (PPF) is the facility where the satellites and payloads are processed to prepare them for flight and launches on the firm’s commercial Falcon 9 rockets.

Some exterior panels were apparently blown out by the storm.

The looming threat of a direct hit by the Category 4 storm Hurricane Matthew on Friday, Oct. 7, on Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) forced the closure of both facilities before the storm hit. They remained closed over the weekend except to emergency personal.

The deadly storm also caused some minor damage to the Kennedy Space Center and USAF facilities on the base.

Meanwhile competitor ULA also told me their facilities suffered only minor damage.

However the base closure will likely result in a few days launch delay of the ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather satellite to geostationary orbit, which had been slated for Nov. 4.

The PPF is located on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a few miles south of the Falcon 9 launch pad at Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40).

The PPF is inside the former USAF Solid Motor Assembly Building (SMAB) used for the now retired Titan IV rockets.

Fortunately, SpaceX has another back-up facility at pad 40 where technicians and engineers can work to prepare the rocket payload for flight.

“The company has a ready and fully capable back-up for processing payloads at its SLC-40 hangar annex building,” Taylor elaborated.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket venting prior to launch scrub for SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 26, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on pad 40 with backup processing hanger visible, prior to launch of SES-9 communications satellite in March 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

And except for the minor damage to the PPF facility where payloads are processed, SpaceX says there was no other damage to infrastructure at pad 40 or to Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

“There was no damage the company’s facilities at Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center,” Taylor told me.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL,  on Sept. 1, 2016.  A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Sept. 1, 2016. A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

However SLC-40 is not operational at this time, since it was heavily damaged during the Sept. 1 launch pad disaster when a Falcon 9 topped with the Israeli Amos-9 comsat exploded on the launch pad during a routine prelaunch fueling operation and a planned first stage static fire engine test.

Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As SpaceX was launching Falcon 9 rockets from pad 40, they have been simultaneously renovating and refurbishing NASA’s former shuttle launch pad at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) which they leased from NASA.

SpaceX plans to start launching their new Falcon Heavy booster from pad 39A in 2017 as well as human rated launches of the Falcon 9 with the Crew Dragon to the ISS.

However, following the pad 40 disaster, SpaceX announced plans to press pad 39A into service for commercial Falcon 9 satellite launches as well.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell recently said that the company hoped to resume launches in November while they search for a root cause to the pad 40 catastrophe – as I reported here.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 9 Shotwell indicated that investigators are making progress to determine the cause of the mishap.

“We’re homing in on what happened,” she said, according to a story by Space News. “I think it’s going to point not to a vehicle issue or an engineering design issue but more of a business process issue.”

Space News said that she did not elaborate further.

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

Ken Kremer

Big Breach In 2nd Stage Helium System Likely Triggered Catastrophic Falcon 9 Explosion: SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL,  on Sept. 1, 2016.  A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Sept. 1, 2016. A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

Investigators have determined that a “large breach” in the second stage helium system likely triggered the catastrophic Falcon 9 launch pad explosion that suddenly destroyed the rocket and Israeli commercial payload during a routine fueling test three weeks ago, SpaceX announced today, Friday, Sept. 23.

However, the root cause of the rupture and Sept. 1 disaster have not been determined, according to SpaceX, based on the results thus far discerned by the official accident investigation team probing the incident that forced an immediate halt to all SpaceX launches.

The Accident Investigation Team (AIT) is composed of SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and industry experts.

“At this stage of the investigation, preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place,” SpaceX reported on the firm’s website in today’s anomaly update dated Sept. 23- the first in three weeks.

The helium system is used to pressurize the liquid oxygen tank from inside.

The explosion took place without warning at SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex-40 launch facility at approximately 9:07 a.m. EDT on Sept. 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, during a routine fueling test and engine firing test as liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants were being loade into the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9. Launch of the AMOS-6 comsat was scheduled two days later.

Indeed the time between the first indication of an anomaly to loss of signal was vanishingly short – only about “93 milliseconds” of elapsed time, SpaceX reported.

93 milliseconds amounts to less than 1/10th of a second. That conclusion is based on examining 3,000 channels of data.

SpaceX reported that investigators “are currently scouring through approximately 3,000 channels of engineering data along with video, audio and imagery.”

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

Both the $60 million SpaceX rocket and the $200 million AMOS-6 Israeli commercial communications satellite payload were completely destroyed in a massive fireball that erupted suddenly during the planned pre-launch fueling and hot fire engine ignition test at pad 40. There were no injuries since the pad had been cleared.

The Sept. 1 calamity also counts as the second time a Falcon 9 has exploded in 15 months and the second time it originated in the second stage and will call into question the rocket’s reliability.

The first failure involved a catastrophic mid air explosion about two and a half minutes after liftoff, when a strut holding the helium tank inside the liquid oxygen tank failed in flight during the Dragon CRS-7 cargo resupply launch for NASA to the International Space Station on June 28, 2015 – and witnessed by this author.

However SpaceX says that although both incidents involved the second stage, they are unrelated – even as they continue seeking to determine the root cause.

“All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated. Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year’s CRS-7 mishap.”

And they are thoroughly reviewing all rocket components.

“At SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, our manufacturing and production is continuing in a methodical manner, with teams continuing to build engines, tanks, and other systems as they are exonerated from the investigation.”

But SpaceX will have to conduct an even more thorough analysis of every aspect of their designs and manufacturing processes and supply chain exactly because the cause of this disaster is different and apparently went undetected during the CRS-7 accident review.

And before Falcon 9 launches are allowed to resume, the root cause must be determined, effective fixes must be identified and effective remedies must be verified and implemented.

Large scale redesign of the second stage helium system may be warranted since two independent failure modes have occurred. Others could potentially be lurking. It’s the job of the AIT to find out – especially because American astronauts will be flying atop this rocket to the ISS starting in 2017 or 2018 and their lives depend on its being reliable and robust.

After the last failure in June 2015, it took nearly six months before Falcon 9 launches were resumed.

Launches were able to recommence relatively quickly because the June 2015 disaster took place at altitude and there was no damage to pad 40.

That’s not the case with the Sept. 1 calamity where pad 40 suffered significant damage and will be out of action for quite a few months at least as the damage is catalogued and evaluated. Then a repair, refurbishment, testing and recertification plan needs to be completed to rebuild and return pad 40 to flight status. Furthermore SpaceX will have to manufacture a new transporter-erector.

Since the explosion showered debris over a wide area, searchers have been prowling surrounding areas and other nearby pads at the Cape and Kennedy Space Center, hunting for evidentiary remains that could provide clues or answers to the mystery of what’s at the root cause this time.

Searchers have recovered “the majority of debris from the incident has been recovered, photographed, labeled and catalogued, and is now in a hangar for inspection and use during the investigation.”

To date they have not found any evidence for debris beyond the immediate area of LC-40, the company said.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had previously reported via twitter that the rocket failure originated somewhere in the upper stage near the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank during fueling test operations at the launch pad, for what is known as a hot fire engine ignition test of all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines.

Engineers were in the final stages of loading the liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 kerosene propellants that power the Falcon 9 first stage for the static fire test which is a full launch dress rehearsal. The anomaly took place about 8 minutes before the planned engine hot fire ignition.

And the incident took place less than two days before the scheduled Falcon 9 launch of AMOS-6 on Sept. 3 from pad 40.

The explosion also caused extensive damage to the launch pad as well as to the rockets transporter erector, or strongback, that holds the rocket in place until minutes before liftoff, and ground support equipment (GSE) around the pad – as seen in my recent photos of the pad taken a week after the explosion during the OSIRIS-REx launch campaign.

Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Fortunately, many other pad areas and infrastructure survived intact or in “good condition.”

“While substantial areas of the pad systems were affected, the Falcon Support Building adjacent to the pad was unaffected, and per standard procedure was unoccupied at the time of the anomaly. The new liquid oxygen farm – e.g. the tanks and plumbing that hold our super-chilled liquid oxygen – was unaffected and remains in good working order. The RP-1 (kerosene) fuel farm was also largely unaffected. The pad’s control systems are also in relatively good condition.”

The rocket disaster was coincidentally captured as it unfolded in stunning detail in a spectacular up close video recorded by my space journalist colleague Mike Wagner at USLaunchReport.

Watch this video:

Video Caption: SpaceX – Static Fire Anomaly – AMOS-6 – 09-01-2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

Even as investigators and teams of SpaceX engineers sift through the data and debris looking for the root cause of the helium tank breach, other SpaceX engineering teams and workers prepare to restart launches from the other SpaceX pad on the Florida Space Coast- namely Pad 39A on the Kennedy Space Center.

So the ambitious aerospace firm is already setting its sights on a ‘Return to Flight’ launch as early as November of this year, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said on Sept. 13 at a French space conference.

“We’re anticipating getting back to flight, being down for about three months, so getting back to flight in November, the November timeframe,” Shotwell announced during a panel discussion at the World Satellite Business Week Conference in Paris, France – as reported here last week.

SpaceX reconfirmed the November target today.

“We will work to resume our manifest as quickly as responsible once the cause of the anomaly has been identified by the Accident Investigation Team.”

“Pending the results of the investigation, we anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe.”

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As SpaceX was launching from pad 40, they have been simultaneously renovating and refurbishing NASA’s former shuttle launch pad at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – from which the firm hopes to launch the new Falcon Heavy booster in 2017 as well as human rated launches of the Falcon 9 with the Crew Dragon to the ISS.

So now SpaceX will utilize pad 39A for commercial Falcon 9 launches as well. But much works remains to finish pad work as I recently witnessed.

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

Ken Kremer

Up close view of top of mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of top of mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Overview schematic of SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: SpaceX
Overview schematic of SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Hopes for Falcon 9 Return to Flight in November; Shotwell

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Less than two weeks after a still mysterious launch pad explosion utterly destroyed a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during testing on Sept. 1, the bold and seemingly undaunted firm is already setting its sights on a ‘Return to Flight’ launch as early as November of this year, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Tuesday.

“We’re anticipating getting back to flight, being down for about three months, so getting back to flight in November, the November timeframe,” Shotwell announced on Sept. 13, during a panel discussion at the World Satellite Business Week Conference being held in Paris, France.

The catastrophic Sept. 1 launch pad explosion took place without warning at SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex-40 launch facility at approximately 9:07 a.m. EDT on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl during a routine fueling test.

Both the $60 million SpaceX rocket and the $200 million AMOS-6 Israeli commercial communications satellite payload were completely destroyed in a massive fireball that erupted suddenly during a routine and planned pre-launch fueling and engine ignition test at pad 40 on Sept. 1.

However, SpaceX is still seeking to determine the root cause of the catastrophe, which must be fully determined, corrected and rectified before any new Falcon 9 launches can actually occur.

Indeed nailing down the root cause has thus far confounded SpaceX investigators and was labeled as the “most difficult and complex failure” in its history said SpaceX CEO and Founder Elon Musk in a series of update tweets on Sept. 9. He also sought the public’s help in ascertaining the elusive cause via any audio/video recordings.

The rocket failure originated somewhere in the upper stage near the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank during fueling test operations at the launch pad, for what is known as a hot fire engine ignition test of all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines, said Musk.

Engineers were in the final stages of loading the liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 kerosene propellants that power the Falcon 9 first stage for the static fire test which is a full launch dress rehearsal. The anomaly took place about 8 minutes before the planned engine hot fire ignition.

Shotwell also stated that the launch would occur from SpaceX’s other Florida Space Coast launch pad – namely the former Space Shuttle Launch Complex 39A on the Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX also operates a third launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“We would launch from the East Coast on Pad 39A in the November timeframe. And then Vandenberg would be available … for our other assorted customers,” Shotwell stated.

SpaceX has signed a long term lease with NASA to use Pad 39A.

Shotwell did not say which payload would be the first to launch.

Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The incident took place less than two days before the scheduled Falcon 9 launch of AMOS-6 on Sept. 3 from pad 40.

The Sept. 1 calamity disaster also counts as the second time a Falcon 9 has exploded in 15 months and will call into question the rocket’s reliability. The first failure involved a catastrophic mid air explosion about two and a half minutes after liftoff, during the Dragon CRS-9 cargo resupply launch for NASA to the International Space Station on June 28, 2015 – and witnessed by this author.

While launching from pad 40, SpaceX has simultaneously been renovating and refurbishing NASA’s former shuttle launch at Complex 39A – from which the firm hopes to launch the new Falcon Heavy booster as well as human rated launches of the Falcon 9 with the Crew Dragon to the ISS.

And now according to Shotwell, SpaceX is expanding the scope of operations at pad 39A and intends to use it for commercial Falcon 9 launches as well – while they work to complete repairs to pad 40 which suffered significant damage, as I witnessed and just reported here.

Ongoing work at Pad 39A was clearly visible to this author and other media this past week during NASA’s OSIRIS-REx launch campaign.

SpaceX will have to finish the pad 39A upgrades soon in order to have any hopes of achieving a November return to flight launch date, and a lot of work remains to be done. For example the shuttle era Rotating Service Structure (RSS) is still standing. The timing for its demolishment has not been announced, according to a source.

Prior to launching from 39A, SpaceX would presumably roll out a Falcon 9 rocket to conduct fit checks and conduct a full launch dress rehearsal and first stage static hot fire engine test to confirm that all the newly installed equipment, gear and fueling lines, pumps, etc. are fully functional, operational and safe.

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

The rocket disaster was coincidentally captured as it unfolded in stunning detail in a spectacular up close video recorded by my space journalist colleague at USLaunchReport – shown below.

Here is the full video from my space journalist friend and colleague Mike Wagner of USLaunchReport:

Video Caption: SpaceX – Static Fire Anomaly – AMOS-6 – 09-01-2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 had been slated for an overnight blastoff on Saturday, September 3 at 3 a.m. from pad 40 with the 6 ton AMOS-6 telecommunications satellite valued at some $200 million.

The AMOS-6 communications satellite was built by Israel Aerospace Industries for Space Communication Ltd. It was planned to provide communication services including direct satellite home internet for Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

The Falcon 9 rocket and AMOS-6 satellite were swiftly consumed in a huge fireball and thunderous blasts accompanied by a vast plume of smoke rising from the wreckage that was visible for many miles around the Florida Space Coast.

“Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation,” Musk tweeted several hours after the launch pad explosion.

“Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.”

The explosion also caused extensive damage to the rockets transporter erector, or strongback, that holds the rocket in place until minutes before liftoff, and ground support equipment (GSE) around the pad – as seen in my new photos of the pad taken a week after the explosion.

Dangling cables and gear such as pulley’s and more can clearly be seen to still be present as the strongback remains raised at pad 40. The strongback raises the rocket at the pad and also houses multiple umbilical line for electrical power, purge gases, computer communications and more.

One of the four lightning masts is also visibly burnt and blackened – much like what occurred after the catastrophic Orbital ATK Antares rocket exploded moments after liftoff from a NASA Wallops launch pad on Oct 28, 2014 and witnessed by this author.

Black soot also appears to cover some area of the pads ground support equipment in the new photos.

So it’s very likely that repairs to and re-certification of pad 40 will take at least several months.

Up close view of top of mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of top of mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The last successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from pad 40 took place on Aug. 14 with the JCSAT 16 Japanese telecom satellite.

The first stage from the JCSAT 16 launch was concurrently recovered with an amazing propulsive soft landing on the OCISLY droneship platform at sea.

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

And Shotwell pointed to the numerous successful SpaceX launches in her conference remarks.

“So now let’s look to the good. We did have an extraordinary launch year. We launched 9 times in just under 8 months, in the past year successfully,” Shotwell elaborated.

Shotwell was referring to the upgraded, full thrust version of the Falcon 9 first launched in Dec. 2015

“We rolled out a new vehicle, which we flew last December. And that vehicle was the vehicle that was designed to land.”

“And so we did recover the first stage six times. Twice back on land. And four times on the droneship. Which I think is an extraordinary move for the industry.”

“I don’t know that everyone appreciates it, but certainly that is a leap forward in launches for our customers.”

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

Indeed, just 2 days before the launch pad explosion, SpaceX signed the first contract ever to utilize one of their recycled and ‘flight-proven rockets to launch the SES-10 telecom satellite for Luxembourg based SES.

SpaceX has a huge manifest of contracted missions and is backlogged with approximately 70 launches worth over $10 billion.

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

Ken Kremer

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

SES Boldly Goes Where No Firm Has Gone Before, Inks Deal to Fly on 1st SpaceX ‘Flight-Proven’ Booster

First launch of flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage will use CRS-8 booster that delivered Dragon to the International Space Station in April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
First launch of flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage will use CRS-8 booster that delivered Dragon to the International Space Station in April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL — The telecommunications giant SES is boldly going where no company has gone before by making history in inking a deal today, Aug. 30, to fly the expensive SES-10 commercial satellite on the first ever launch of a ‘Flight-Proven’ SpaceX booster – that’s been used and recovered.

Luxembourg-based SES and Hawthrone, CA-based SpaceX today jointly announced the agreement to “launch SES-10 on a flight-proven Falcon 9 orbital rocket booster” before the end of this year.

“The satellite, which will be in a geostationary orbit and expand SES’s capabilities across Latin America, is scheduled for launch in Q4 2016. SES-10 will be the first-ever satellite to launch on a SpaceX flight-proven rocket booster,” according to a joint statement.

That first launch of a flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage will use the CRS-8 booster that delivered a SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station in April 2016. The reflight could happen as soon as October 2016.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moved by crane from drone ship to an upright storage cradle on land at Port Canaveral,  Florida on April 12, 2016.  Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA CRS-8 cargo mission is moved by crane from drone ship to an upright storage cradle on land at Port Canaveral, Florida on April 12, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

The deal marks a major milestone and turning point in SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk’s long sought endeavor to turn the science fictionesque quest of rocket reusability into the scientific fact of reality.

“Thanks for the longstanding faith in SpaceX,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk after today’s joint SES/SpaceX announcement.

“We very much look forward to doing this milestone flight with you.”

Elon Musk’s goal is to radically slash the cost of launching rockets and access to space via rocket recycling – in a way that will one day lead to his vision of a ‘City on Mars.’

Over just the past 8 months, SpaceX has successfully recovered 6 of the firms Falcon 9 first stage boosters intact – by land and by sea since December 2015 – in hopes of recycling and reusing them with new payloads from paying customers daring enough to take the risk of stepping into the unknown!

SES is that daring company and has repeatedly shown faith in SpaceX. They were the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX with SES-8 back in October 2013. Earlier this year the firm also launched SES-9 on the recently upgraded full thrust version of Falcon 9 in March 2016.

Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch of SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 25, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 prior to launch of SES-9 communications satellite on Mar. 4, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket. We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES, in the statement.

“This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise. The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle gives us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on April 8, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the CRS-8 mission to the International Space Station.   Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on April 8, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the CRS-8 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Julian Leek

But the company first has to prove that the used vehicle can survive the extreme and unforgiving stresses of the violent spaceflight environment before they can relaunch it. So they have been carefully inspecting it for structural integrity, checking all the booster systems, plumbing, avionics, etc and retesting the first stage Merlin 1D engines.

Multiple full duration hot fire tests of the fully integrated booster have been conducted at the SpaceX test facility in McGregor, Texas as part of long life endurance testing. This includes igniting all nine used first stage Merlin 1D engines housed at the base of a landed rocket for approximately three minutes.

For the SES-10 launch, SpaceX plans to use the Falcon 9 booster that landed on an ocean going drone ship from NASA’s CRS-8 space station mission launched in April 2016, said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, to reporters recently at the Kennedy Space Center during NASA’s CRS-9 cargo launch to the ISS.

SpaceX has derived many lessons learned on how to maximize the chances for a successful rocket recovery, Koenigsmann explained to Universe Today at KSC when I asked for some insight.

“We learned a lot … from the landings,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today during the media briefings for the SpaceX CRS-9 space station cargo resupply launch on July 18.

“There are no structural changes first of all.”

“The key thing is to protect the engines- and make sure that they start up well [in space during reentry],” Koenigsmann elaborated, while they are in flight and “during reentry.”

“And in particular the hot trajectory, so to speak, like the ones that comes in after a fast payload, like the geo-transfer payload basically.”

“Those engines need to be protected so that they start up in the proper way. That’s something that we learned.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs at the base and four grid fins at the top to conduct the landing attempts.

“In general I think the landing concept with the legs, and the number of burns and the way we perform those seems to work OK,” Koenigsmann told me.

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

“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX.

“SES has been a strong supporter of SpaceX’s approach to reusability over the years and we’re delighted that the first launch of a flight-proven rocket will carry SES-10.”

Remote camera photo from "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship of Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Remote camera photo from “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship of Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

How much money will SES save by using a spent, recycled first stage Falcon 9 booster?

SpaceX says the price of a completely new Falcon 9 booster is approximately $60 million.

Shotwell has said SpaceX will reduce the cost about 30%. So SES might be saving around $20 million – but there are no published numbers regarding this particular launch contract.

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

SES-10 will be the first SES satellite wholly dedicated to Latin America.

“The satellite will provide coverage over Mexico, serve the Spanish speaking South America in one single beam, and cover Brazil with the ability to support off-shore oil and gas exploration,” according to SES.

It will replace capacity currently provided by two other satellites, namely AMC-3 and AMC-4, and will “provide enhanced coverage and significant capacity expansion over Latin America – including Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The high-powered, tailored and flexible beams will provide direct-to-home broadcasting, enterprise and mobility services.”

It is equipped with a Ku-band payload of 55 36MHz transponder equivalents, of which 27 are incremental. It will be stationed at 67 degrees West.

SES-10 was built by Airbus Defence and Space and is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. Notably it will use “an electric plasma propulsion system for on-orbit manoeuvres and a chemical system for initial orbit raising and some on-orbit manoeuvres.”

SES-10 satellite mission artwork. Credit: SES
SES-10 satellite mission artwork. Credit: SES

The most recent SpaceX Falcon 9 booster to be recovered followed the dramatic overnight launch of the Japanese JCSAT-16 telecom satellite on Aug. 14.

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

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

The 6 successful Falcon upright first stage landings are part of a continuing series of SpaceX technological marvels/miracles rocking the space industry to its core.

SpaceX had already successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea earlier this year on the ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27, prior to JCSAT-16 on Aug. 14.

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

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster moving along the Port Canaveral channel atop droneship platform with cruise ship in background nears ground docking facility on June 2, 2016 following Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 booster moving along the Port Canaveral channel atop droneship platform with cruise ship in background nears ground docking facility on June 2, 2016 following Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX SES-9 launch from Cape Canaveral AFS, FL on March 4, 2016.    Credit:  Julian Leek
SpaceX SES-9 launch from Cape Canaveral AFS, FL on March 4, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Ignition and liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 as umbilical’s fly away from rocket carrying SES-9 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. As seen from remote camera set near rocket on launch pad 40.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 as umbilical’s fly away from rocket carrying SES-9 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. As seen from remote camera set near rocket on launch pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Spectacular Imagery Showcases SpaceX Thaicom Blastoff as Sea Landed Booster Sails Back to Port: Photo/Video Gallery

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Thaicom-8 communications satellite to orbit on May 27, 2016 at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Thaicom-8 communications satellite to orbit on May 27, 2016 at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Spectacular imagery showcasing SpaceX’s Thaicom blastoff on May 27 keeps rolling in as the firms newest sea landed booster sails merrily along back to its home port atop a ‘droneship’ landing platform.

Formally known as an Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) the small flat platform is eclectically named “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” by SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk and is expected back at Port Canaveral this week.

Check out this expanding launch gallery of up close photos and videos captured by local space photojournalist colleagues and myself of Friday afternoons stunning SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff.

The imagery shows Falcon roaring to life with 1.5 million pounds of thrust from the first stage Merlin 1 D engines and propelling a 7000 pound (3,100 kilograms) commercial Thai communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

The recently upgraded Falcon 9 launched into sky blue sunshine state skies at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, accelerating to orbital velocity and arcing eastward over the Atlantic Ocean towards the African continent and beyond.

Relive the launch via these exciting videos recorded around the pad 40 perimeter affording a “You Are There” perspective!

They show up close and wide angle views and audio recording the building crescendo of the nine mighty Merlin 1 D engines.

Video caption: Compilation of videos of SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of Thaicom 8 on 5/27/2016 from Pad 40 on CCAFS, FL as seen from multiple cameras ringing pad and media viewing site on AF base. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Watch from the ground level weeds and a zoomed in view of the umbilicals breaking away at the moment of liftoff.

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from Mobius remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

After the first and second stages separated as planned at about 2 minutes and 39 seconds after liftoff, the nosecone was deployed, separating into two halves at about T plus 3 minutes and 37 seconds.

Finally a pair of second stage firings delivered Thaicom-8 to orbit.

Onboard cameras captured all the exciting space action in real time.

When the Thai satellite was successfully deployed at T plus 31 minutes and 56 seconds exhuberant cheers instantly erupted from SpaceX mission control – as seen worldwide on the live webcast.

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

Video caption: SpaceX – “Falcon In” “Falcon Out” – 05-27-2016 – Thaicom 8. The brand new SpaceX Falcon 9 for next launch comes thru main gate Cape Canaveral, just a few hours before Thaicom 8 launched and landed. Awesome ! Credit: USLaunchReport

Both stages of the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 are fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene which burn in the Merlin engines.

Less than nine minutes after the crackling thunder and billowing plume of smoke and fire sent the Falcon 9 and Thaicom 8 telecommunications satellite skyward, the first stage booster successfully soft landed on a platform at sea.

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Thaicom-8 on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: John Kraus
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Thaicom-8 on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: John Kraus

Having survived the utterly harsh and unforgiving rigors of demanding launch environments and a daring high velocity reentry, SpaceX engineers meticulously targeted the tiny ocean going ASDS vessel.

The diminutive ocean landing platform measures only about 170 ft × 300 ft (52 m × 91 m).

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

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

Because the launch was target Thaicom-8 to GTO, the first stage was traveling at some 6000 kph at the time of separation from the second stage.

Thus the booster was subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating and a successful landing would be extremely difficult – but not impossible.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Thaicom-8 communications satellite to orbit on May 27, 2016 at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Thaicom-8 communications satellite to orbit on May 27, 2016 at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

Just 3 weeks ago SpaceX accomplished the same sea landing feat from the same type trajectory following the launch of the Japanese JCSAT-14 on May 6.

The May 6 landing was the first fully successful sea landing from a GTO launch, brilliantly accomplished by SpaceX engineers.

With a total of 4 recovered boosters, SpaceX is laying the path to rocket reusability and Musk’s dream of slashing launch costs – by 30% initially and much much more down the road.

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

Thaicom-8 is the fifth operational satellite for Thaicom.

It now enters a 30-day testing phase, says Orbital ATK.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Thaicom-8 to orbit on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Thaicom-8 to orbit on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Thaicom-8 on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: John Kraus
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Thaicom-8 on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: John Kraus
SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch to deliver Thaicom-8 communications satellite to orbit on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch to deliver Thaicom-8 communications satellite to orbit on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. 1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after afternoon liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after afternoon liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 streaks to orbit after launch on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 streaks to orbit after launch on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 awaiting launch on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 awaiting launch on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann
Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 launching JCSAT-14 from 1st fully successful droneship landing on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: John Kraus
Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 launching JCSAT-14 from 1st fully successful droneship landing from GTO on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: John Kraus
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. 1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. 1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
 SpaceX Falcon 9 of Thaicom 8 on May 27, 2016 from Melbourne, FL.  Credit: Melissa Bayles

SpaceX Falcon 9 of Thaicom 8 on May 27, 2016 from Melbourne, FL. Credit: Melissa Bayles
 SpaceX Falcon 9 of Thaicom 8 on May 27, 2016 from Melbourne, FL.  Credit: Melissa Bayles

SpaceX Falcon 9 of Thaicom 8 on May 27, 2016 from Melbourne, FL. Credit: Melissa Bayles