Spectacular Video Captures Catastrophic SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Explosion During Prelaunch Test

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. See the full video below. Credit: USLaunchReport

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that suffered a catastrophic explosion this morning, Thursday, Sept. 1, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was captured in stunning detail in a spectacular video recorded by my space journalist colleague at USLaunchReport.

As seen in the still image above and the full video below, the rocket failure originated somewhere in the upper stage during fueling test operations at the launch pad, less than two days prior to its planned launch on Sept. 3. The rocket was swiftly consumed in a massive fireball and thunderous blasts accompanied by a vast plume of smoke rising from the wreckage visible for many miles.

Both the SpaceX rocket and the $200 million AMOS-6 Israeli commercial communications satellite payload were completely destroyed in the incident. Thankfully there were no injuries to anyone, because the pad is cleared during these types of operations.

This also marks the second time a Falcon 9 has exploded 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 a cargo resupply launch for NASA to the International Space Station on June 28, 2015 – and witnessed by this author.

It took place during this morning’s prelaunch preparations for a static hot fire test of the nine Merlin 1 D engines powering the Falcon 9 first stage when engineers were loading the liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 kerosene propellants for the test, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

“Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation,” tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk this afternoon a few hours after the launch pad explosion.

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

The Falcon 9 explosion occurred at approximately 9:07 a.m. EDT this morning at the SpaceX launch facilities at Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, according to statements from SpaceX and the USAF 45th Space Wing Public Affairs office.

All SpaceX launches will be placed on hold until a thorough investigation is conducted, the root cause is determined, and effective fixes and remedies are identified and instituted.

The planned engine test was being conducted as part of routine preparations for the scheduled liftoff of the Falcon 9 on Saturday, September 3, with an Israeli telecommunications satellite that would have also been used by Facebook.

During the static fire test, which is a full launch dress rehearsal, the rocket is loaded with propellants and is held down at pad 40 while the engines are typically fired for a few seconds.

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.

In the video you can clearly see the intensely bright explosion flash near the top of the upper stage that quickly envelopes the entire rocket in a fireball, followed later by multiple loud bangs from the disaster echoing across and beyond the pad.

Seconds later the nose cone and payload break away violently, falling away and crashing into the ground and generating a new round of loud explosions and fires and a vast plume of smoke rising up.

At the end the rocket is quite visibly no longer standing. Only the strongback erector is still standing at pad 40. And both the strongback and the pad structure seems to have suffered significant damage.

This would have been the 9th Falcon 9 launch of 2016.

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

SpaceX media relations issued this updated statement:

“At approximately 9:07 am ET, during a standard pre-launch static fire test for the AMOS-6 mission, there was an anomaly at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 resulting in loss of the vehicle.”

“The anomaly originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle. Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad and there were no injuries.”

“We are continuing to review the data to identify the root cause. Additional updates will be provided as they become available.”

Listen to my BBC Radio 5 Live interview conducted late this afternoon:

Today’s explosion and the total loss of vehicle and payload will certainly have far reaching consequences for not just SpaceX and the commercial satellite provider and end users, but also NASA, the International Space Station, the US military, and every other customer under a launch contact with the fast growing aerospace firm.

The ISS is impacted because SpaceX is one of two NASA contracted firms launching cargo resupply missions to the ISS – along with Orbital ATK.

Continued operations of the ISS depends on a reliable and robust lifeline of periodic supply trains from SpaceX and Orbital ATK.

In fact the most recent SpaceX Drago cargo freighter launched on the CRS-9 mission to the ISS on July 18 as I witnessed and reported here. And just successfully returned to Earth with 3000 pounds of NASA science cargo and research samples last week on Aug. 26.

The SpaceX Dragon launches to the ISS will be put on hold as the investigation moves forward.

Furthermore SpaceX is manufacturing a Crew Dragon designed to launch astronauts to the ISS atop this same Falcon 9 rocket. So that will also have to be evaluated.

SpaceX is also trying to recover and recycle the Falcon 9 first stage.

To date SpaceX has recovered 6 first stage Falcon 9 boosters by land and by sea.

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 as I reported just 2 days ago, SpaceX announced a contract with SES to fly the SES-10 communications satellite on a recycled Falcon 9, before the end of the year and perhaps as soon as October.

But this explosion will set back that effort and force a halt to all SpaceX launches until the root cause of the disaster is determined.

Here’s one of my photos showing the prior SpaceX rocket failure in June 2015 during the CRS-7 cargo delivery mission to the ISS:

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here’s the prior SpaceX Falcon 9 on pad 40 before the successful liftoff with the JCSAT-16 Japanese telecom satellite on Aug. 14, 2016:

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

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.

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Emergency Management quickly provided initial on-scene response and set up roadblocks, said the Air Force in a statement.

“Days like today are difficult for many reasons,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander.

“There was the potential for things to be a lot worse; however, due to our processes and procedures no one was injured as a result of this incident. I am proud of our team and how we managed today’s response and our goal moving forward will be to assist and provide support wherever needed. Space is inherently dangerous and because of that, the Air Force is always ready.”

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

Ken Kremer

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is destroyed during explosion at the pad. Only the strongback remains. A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016 of Amos-6 comsat. Credit: NASA
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is destroyed during explosion at the pad on Sept. 1, 2016. Only the strongback remains. A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016 of Amos-6 comsat. Credit: NASA
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sextet of intact and upright touchdowns of the recovered 156-foot-tall (47-meter) booster count as stunning successes towards SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s vision of rocket reusability and radically slashing the cost of sending rockets to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reflying them with new payloads from paying customers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

SpaceX Nails Dazzling Midnight Launch of Japanese Comsat and Droneship Landing

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

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — Shortly after midnight today, Sunday, Aug. 14, and under near pristine Florida Space Coast skies, SpaceX dazzled its commercial customers and space enthusiasts alike worldwide with the twin feats of nailing the nighttime launch of the firm’s Falcon 9 carrying a huge Japanese telecommunications satellite to orbit and accomplishing the nailbiting precision touchdown of the first stage on a miniscule droneship at sea.

A virgin SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the JCSAT-16 telecom satellite roared to life right on time Sunday morning at 1:26 a.m. from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and streaked to orbit.

Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit after blastoff on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek
Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit after blastoff on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

Scarcely some nine minutes later the 15 story tall first stage completed a pinpoint and upright soft landing on a prepositioned ocean going platform after carrying the Japanese satellite to its intended Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

First stage landing confirmed on the droneship. Second stage & JCSAT-16 continuing to orbit on 15 Aug 2016.  Credit: SpaceX
First stage landing confirmed on the droneship. Second stage & JCSAT-16 continuing to orbit on 15 Aug 2016. Credit: SpaceX

The satellite was launched using the upgraded version of the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket. The first stage generates over 1.71 million pounds of sea level thrust when all nine Merlin 1D engines fire up on the pad.

Check out the expanding gallery of launch photos and videos.

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

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

Sunday’s launch was the second this year for The sextet of intact and upright landings of the recovered 156-foot-tall (47-meter) booster count as stunning successes towards SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s vision of rocket reusability and radically slashing the cost of sending rockets to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reflying them with new payloads from paying customers.

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

The JCSAT-14 satellite was already successfully launched earlier this year atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 6.

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

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

“I am very proud of the entire Space Coast team. Their flawless work made this mission a success,” said Col. Walt Jackim, 45th Space Wing vice commander and mission Launch Decision Authority.

“Assured access to space remains a difficult and challenging endeavor. Today’s launch reflects a superb collaborative effort between commercial launch providers, allied customers, and U.S. Air Force range and safety resources. The 45th Space Wing remains a proud member of the Space Coast team and we look forward to continuing our service as the ‘World’s Premier Gateway to Space.”

With today’s event, SpaceX has now successfully soft landed 6 of the spent first stage boosters over the past eight months following successful rocket delivery launches to orbit for NASA and commercial customers – two on land and four at sea.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-16 Japanese comsat to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-16 Japanese comsat to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

The sextet of intact and upright landings of the recovered 156-foot-tall (47-meter) booster count as stunning successes towards SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s vision of rocket reusability and radically slashing the cost of sending rockets to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reflying them with new payloads from paying customers.

JCSAT-16 satellite manufactured by Space Systems Loral for Tokyo-based SKY Perfect JSAT Corp.
JCSAT-16 satellite manufactured by Space Systems Loral for Tokyo-based SKY Perfect JSAT Corp.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Launch and :Landing control center. Credit: Lane Hermann
SpaceX Launch and :Landing control center. Credit: Lane Hermann
Mission patch for SpaceX JCSAT-16 launch. Credit: SpaceX
Mission patch for SpaceX JCSAT-16 launch. Credit: SpaceX
SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation communications managers Yoko Watanabe and Katsumi Sugiura discuss and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss the JCSAT-16 mission in this prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 at SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek
SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation communications managers Yoko Watanabe and Katsumi Sugiura, and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss the JCSAT-16 Japanese telecom sat mission in this prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 at SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

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

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015.   First stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape ten minutes later for the first time in history.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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

Aug 12-14: “SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings