Clandestine Zuma SpySat’s SpaceX Liftoff Postponed Indefinitely to Resolve Payload Fairing Issue

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff of clandestine Zuma spysat to low earth orbit for a classified US government customer is postponed indefinitely from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, from last targeted launch date of 17 Nov 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Liftoff of the clandestine spy satellite codenamed ‘Zuma’ on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has been postponed indefinitely to resolve a lingering issue with the testing of a payload fairing for another customer.

SpaceX announced today, Friday, Nov 17, that they will ‘stand down’ to allow engineers the additional time needed to carefully scrutinize all the pertinent data before proceeding with the top secret Zuma launch.

“We have decided to stand down and take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer,” said SpaceX spokesman John Taylor.

The super secret ‘Zuma’ spysat is a complete mystery and it has not been claimed by any U.S. government entity – not even the elusive NRO spy agency ! The NRO does claim ownership of a vast fleet of covert and hugely capable orbiting surveillance assets supporting US national security.

Zuma’s goals are veiled in virtually complete darkness. And as far as the taxpaying public is concerned its ownerless.

Originally scheduled for Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. EST Nov 15, the Zuma launch from the Florida Space Coast had already been postponed twice this week before today’s decision to called it off indefinitely.

Covert Zuma spysat is encapsulated inside the nose cose at the top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in this up-close view from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, taken on Nov. 17, 2017. An unresolved issue with the nose cone caused indefinite launch postponement. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The initial 24 hour delay to Thursday was to deal with unspecified ‘mission assurance’ issues.

The second days delay to Friday was pinned more specifically on the payload fairing or nose cone.

SpaceX has also had to deal with an engine testing problem that caused a fire on a test stand while preparing to hot fire a Block 5 Merlin 1D engine at their Texas facility on Nov. 4. It is not known if this was part of the ‘mission assurance’ issues.

No new targeted launch date has been announced.

“Though we have preserved the range opportunity for tomorrow, we will take the time we need to complete the data review and will then confirm a new launch date,” Taylor stated.

SpaceX had been planning an ambitious launch campaign of 4 or more launches by the end of this year – including the maiden launch of the triple barreled Falcon Heavy. That seems very unlikely now.

Just exactly what the fairing problem is has not been disclosed. Its also not known if the two delays are related or not.

The fairing is jettisoned three minutes after liftoff. Any failure to deploy would result in a total loss of the mission.

The first stage landing legs attached to the side of the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster are seen up close on Nov, 17, 2017 as the rocket awaits blastoff with the unclaimed Zuma surveillance satellite from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Zuma was to roar off seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a lengthy two hour launch window that extended from 8 to 10 p.m. each targeted day this week.

The Eastern range had been reserved by SpaceX for a potential Saturday launch opportunity as well.

However all mention of the Zuma launch has now been deleted from the website of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, FL.

Up close view of the nose cone encapsulating the covert Zuma payload atop SpaceX Falcon 9 at KSC pad 39A. Credit: Julian Leek

Forecast weather conditions in central Florida were near perfect over the past few days and spectators would have witnessed a dazzling sky show as the two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) Falcon 9 soared to orbit.

One of the few tidbits we can confirm is that the launch contract was arranged as a commercial enterprise under the auspices of Northrop Grumman Corporation – as a means to significantly slash launch costs for whatever U.S government entity is responsible for Zuma.

That goal is completely in line with SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s entire company-wide goal in developing the Falcon and Dragon family of rockets and spaceships.

“The U.S. Government assigned Northrop Grumman the responsibility of acquiring launch services for this mission,” Lon Rains, Northrop Grumman Director of Communications, told Universe Today.

“We have procured the Falcon 9 launch service from SpaceX.”

But the launch was only publicly announced 1 month ago in mid October and it suddenly appeared on the SpaceX launch manifest after an FAA launch license was granted.

We don’t know anything about the ‘Zuma’ payloads characteristics and vital statistics – despite the seemingly endless leaks streaming out of Washington these days.

“The Zuma payload is a restricted payload,” Rains told me.

“Northrop Grumman is proud to be a part of the Zuma launch,” Rains added. “This event represents a cost effective approach to space access for government missions.”

The only clue to its goals to be revealed is the intended orbit.

“It will be launched into Low Earth Orbit,” Rains informed me.

Low Earth Orbit extends to roughly 1200 miles altitude and includes the ISS orbit for example at approx. 250 miles.

“As a company, Northrop Grumman realizes this is a monumental responsibility and we have taken great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma.”

Base of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being used to launch the covert Zuma payload at KSC pad 39A. Credit: Julian Leek

On Friday evening the rocket was lowered to the horizontal position on the transporter erector on pad 39A. It will be rolled back to the processing hangar outside the perimeter fence for further engineering evaluation.

Whenever the launch is rescheduled SpaceX will attempt to recover the 16 story tall first stage booster with a soft landing on the ground back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. So expect some extremely loud sonic booms to rock the space coast region about eight minutes after liftoff.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX Zuma, KoreaSat-5A & SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Covert Zuma spysat is encapsulated inside the nose cose at the top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in this up-close view from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, taken on Nov. 16, 2017. Launch reset to Nov. 17, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 stands erect topped with super secret Zuma spysat claimed by no US government entity on Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, poised for liftoff on 16 Nov 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Zuma satellite mission patch. Credit: SpaceX/Northrop Grumman

Ownerless Super Secret Zuma Spysat Set for Dark Veiled Dark Night SpaceX Blastoff and Land Landing Nov. 16: Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 stands erect topped with super secret Zuma spysat claimed by no US government entity on Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, poised for liftoff on 16 Nov 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The super secret ‘Zuma’ spysat mission claimed by no U.S. government entity – not even the elusive NRO spy agency ! – and whose goals are veiled in virtually complete darkness– is poised for a dark of night blastoff on a SpaceX Falcon rocket Thursday evening, Nov. 16, from the Florida Space Coast. Update: Delayed to Friday 8 PM

An unclassified aspect of the mission codenamed ‘Zuma’ is that SpaceX will also attempt to recover the 16 story tall first stage booster with a soft landing on the ground back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. So expect some extremely loud sonic booms to rock the space coast region about eight minutes after liftoff.

Zuma is a total mystery, to the delight of the spymasters.

One of the very few tidbits of information we can absolutely confirm (and not deny) is that the clandestine and ownerless ‘Zuma’ Spysat is now targeted for a nighttime launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a lengthy 2 hour window.

We can also confirm that the launch contract was arranged as a commercial enterprise under the auspices of Northrop Grumman Corporation – as a means to significantly slash launch costs for whatever U.S government entity is responsible for Zuma.

That goal is completely in line with SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s entire company-wide goal in developing the Falcon and Dragon family of rockets and spaceships.

“The U.S. Government assigned Northrop Grumman the responsibility of acquiring launch services for this mission,” Lon Rains, Northrop Grumman Director of Communications, told Universe Today.

“We have procured the Falcon 9 launch service from SpaceX.”

The launch window at pad 39A opens at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT). It extends for two full hours until 10 p.m. EST (0300 GMT).

We can further confirm that the launch was postponed a day to Thursday from the originally slated Wednesday night target – ostensibly to deal with last minute ‘mission assurance issues to insure the rocket and payload are ready for a launch upon which SpaceX’s reputation is on the line for future high value national security payloads of the most critical importance to the US governments Defense and Spy agencies

“SpaceX is now targeting Thursday, Nov. 16 for launch of the Zuma mission,” said SpaceX spokesman John Taylor.

“Both Falcon 9 and the payload remain healthy; teams will use the extra day to conduct some additional mission assurance work in advance of launch.”

Covert Zuma spysat is encapsulated inside the nose cose at the top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in this up-close view from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, taken on Nov. 16, 2017. Launch reset to Nov. 17, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 10 minutes prior to the 8 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT) liftoff time.

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

The launch window for the newly built booster extends for two hours until it closes at 10 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT).

The weather outlook is rather favorable along the Florida Space Coast with a 90% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base.

The primary concerns on Nov. 16 are only for the Cumulous Cloud Rule.

The odds get even high at greater than 90% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day Nov 17.

The launch window remains the same on Nov 17 at 8 to 10 p.m.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 3 June 2017 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Furthermore the two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) Falcon 9 rocket was raised to vertical launch position later today Wednesday afternoon Nov. 15 – so everything seems to be in place for a Thursday evening launch attempt.

The first stage landing legs attached to the side of the Falcon 9 booster are seen up close as the rocket awaits blastoff with the unclaimed Zuma surveillance satellite from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, set for liftoff on Nov. 17, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

However we don’t know anything about the ‘Zuma’ payloads characteristics and vital statistics – despite the seemingly endless leaks streaming out of Washington these days.

“The Zuma payload is a restricted payload,” Rains told me.

So quite naturally we’re all curious for any nugget of information from which we might draw some reasonable conclusions based on the scientific method of analysis.

The little bits we do know is that the launch services for the ownerless government payload are being procured by Northrop Grumman Corporation under a commercial contract with a stated goal to find a develop a “cost effective approach”

“Northrop Grumman is proud to be a part of the Zuma launch,” Rains added.

“This event represents a cost effective approach to space access for government missions.”

One juicy tidbit we do know is that it is intended for launch to low Earth orbit (LEO).

“It will be launched into Low Earth Orbit,” Rains informed me.

Low Earth Orbit extends upwards to roughly 1200 miles altitude and includes the ISS orbit for example at approx. 250 miles.

“As a company, Northrop Grumman realizes this is a monumental responsibility and we have taken great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma.”

In addition to launch services Northrop Grumman Corporation may have manufactured the Zuma payload – although that’s not even known.

SpaceX Falcon 9 stands erect at sunrise with KoreaSat5A DTH TV commercial comsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, poised for Halloween eve liftoff on 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX has successfully launched a pair of diverse national security payloads this year already with identified customers. Namely the NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the NRO on May 1, 2017 and the OTV-5 military spaceplane for the USAF on Sept. 7.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office successfully launches shortly after sunrise from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 1st stage accomplished successful ground landing at the Cape nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The long launch window should significantly increase the chance of launching Zuma and removing any errant or intentional boaters and flyers from the restricted airspace around the launch pads.

That’s increasingly important these days given that a pair of critical NASA science mission this week and in the past 3 days were scrubbed near T Zero on both US East and West coast launch pads in Virginia for the Orbital ATK Antares rocket and in California for the ULA Delta II rocket.

‘Homeless’ government satellites not even claimed by the NRO are rather rare.

A recent example is Clio, an unclaimed mission from Lockheed Martin.

Clio launched at night on a ULA Atlas V on September 16, 2014 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.

Mysterious CLIO payload shrouded beneath 4-meter-diameter payload fairing in this up close view of the top of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket prior to launch from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX Zuma, KoreaSat-5A & SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

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Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Learn more about the upcoming SpaceX Falcon 9 Zuma launch on Nov 16, 2017, upcoming Falcon Heavy and CRS-13 resupply launches, NASA missions, ULA Atlas & Delta launches, SpySats and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Nov 17: “SpaceX Falcon 9 Zuma launch, ULA Atlas NRO NROL-52 spysat launch, SpaceX SES-11, CRS-13 resupply launches to the ISS, Intelsat35e, BulgariaSat 1 and NRO Spysat, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

USAF X-37B military spaceplane blasts off with picturesque water reflections at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Zuma satellite mission patch. Credit: SpaceX/Northrop Grumman
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the CLIO mission for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company launched at 8:10 p.m. EDT September 16, 2014 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Busy Space Coast December Ahead as SpaceX Reactivates Damaged Cape Launch Pad, Aims for Year End Maiden Falcon Heavy Blastoff

An artist's illustration of the Falcon Heavy rocket. The Falcon Heavy has 3 engine cores, each one containing 9 Merlin engines. Image: SpaceX
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 – A very busy and momentous December is ahead for SpaceX workers on Florida’s Space Coast as the company plans to reactivate the firms heavily damaged pad 40 at Cape Canaveral for a NASA resupply mission liftoff in early December while simultaneously aiming for a Year End maiden launch of the oft delayed Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA’s historic pad 39A.

NASA and SpaceX announced that the next SpaceX commercial cargo resupply services mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida in December.

The Falcon Heavy, once operational, will be the most powerful rocket in the world. Credit: SpaceX

The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the SpaceX Dragon CRS-13 cargo freighter to the orbiting outpost for NASA will be the first this year from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. It could come as soon as Dec. 4

Pad 40 was severely damaged on Sept. 1, 2016 during a catastrophic launch pad explosion of the Falcon 9 during a fueling test that concurrently completely consumed the Israeli AMOS-6 communications satellite bolted on top of the second stage during the planned static hot fire test.

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

Since Sept. 2016, all SpaceX launches from Florida have taken place from NASA’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) on the Kennedy Space Center.

The first Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A took place this year in Feb. 2017. And all hot fire tests have been conducted minus the expensive payload on top to keep them safe in case of a repeat explosion.

A successful restoration of pad 40 for launch services is one of the critical prerequisites that must be achieved before paving the path to the inaugural blastoff of SpaceX’s triple barreled Falcon Heavy booster from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Blastoff of SpaceX Dragon CRS12 on its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 as seen from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

So if all goes well, SpaceX will have two operational launch pads at Florida’s Spaceport- one at KSC and one at the Cape. They also have a pad in California at Vandenberg AFB.

Thus SpaceX could ramp up their already impressive 2017 launch pace of 16 rocket launches so far through the end of October.

Indeed SpaceX plans another 4 or 5 launches over the final two months of this year.

An artist's illustration of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Image: SpaceX
An artist’s illustration of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is targeting late December for liftoff of the mammoth Falcon Heavy on its debut flight – to achieve CEO Elon Musk’s stated goal of launching Falcon Heavy in 2017.

The Falcon Heavy launch could come around Dec. 29, sources say.

But the late December Falcon Heavy launch date is dependent on placing pad 40 back in service with a fully successful NASA cargo mission, finishing upgrades to pad 39A for the Heavy as well as completing the rocket integration of three Falcon 9 cores and launch pad preparations.

Furthermore, SpaceX engineers must carry out a successful static fire test of the Falcon Heavy sporting a total of 27 Merlin 1 D engines – 9 engines apiece from each of the three Falcon 9 cores.

Both of the Falcon 9 side cores will be outfitted with nose cones on top in place of a payload and they have been spotted by myself and others being processed inside the huge processing hanger just outside the pad 39A perimeter fence at the bottom of the ramp.

Both of the side cores are also recycled boosters that will be launched for the second time each.

SpaceX originally hoped to launch Falcon Heavy in 2013, said Musk. But he also said the task was way more challenging then originally believed during a KSC post launch press conference in March 2017 following the first reuse of a liquid fueled booster during the SES-10 mission for SES that launch from pad 39A.

SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk and SES CTO Martin Halliwell exuberantly shake hands of congratulation following the successful delivery of SES-10 TV comsat to orbit using the first reflown and flight proven booster in world history at the March 30, 2017 post launch media briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Former Space Shuttle and Apollo Saturn Launch Pad 39A was only reactivated this year by SpaceX for Falcon 9 launches.

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX most recently launched the KoreaSat-5A telecomsat on Oct. 30 from pad 39A.

Plus the first stage booster was successfully recovered after a soft landing on a platform at sea and the booster floated ‘back in town’ last Thursday – as I witnessed and reported here.

Recovered SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch is towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL atop OCISLY droneship to flocks of birds and onlookers as Atlantic Ocean waves crash onshore at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The uncrewed Dragon cargo spacecraft launch on the CRS-13 mission is also a recycled Dragon. It previously was flown on SpaceX’s sixth commercial resupply mission to station for NASA.

Rocket recycling is a feat straight out of science fiction. It’s the key part of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk oft stated goal of drastically slashing the high cost of access to space.

Chart comparing SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Credit: SpaceX

The next SpaceX launch is set for Nov. 15 with the mysterious Zuma payload for a US government customer. It will be the last from pad 39A before the Falcon Heavy.

An Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship is slated to launch on November 11 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore.

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

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

Ken Kremer

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
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 SpaceX Booster is Back in Town, Legs Quickly Detached: Photo/Video Gallery

Recovered SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch is towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL atop OCISLY droneship to flocks of birds and onlookers as Atlantic Ocean waves crash onshore at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – ‘The SpaceX boosters back in town! The boosters back in town!’ paraphrasing the popular lyrics of the hit single from Irish hard rock band Thin Lizzy – its what comes to mind with the speedy cadence of ‘launch, land and relaunch’ firmly established by CEO Elon Musk’s hard rocking crew of mostly youthful rocket scientists and engineers.

Barely three days after successfully launching the commercial KoreaSat-5A telecomsat on Monday Oct 30, the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster that did the heavy lifting to orbit generating 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust – arrived back in town Thursday, Nov. 2 or more specifically back into Port Canaveral, Florida.

“Guess who’s back in town?” – the song continues – well its the Falcon 9 that reached the edge of space on Halloween Eve while traveling several thousand miles per hour, flipped around like a witches broom and carried out a pinpoint propulsive and upright touchdown of what amounts to a stick on a board in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Just amazing!

Floating atop the football field sized platform upon which it soft landed 8.5 minutes after the two stage Falcon 9 lifted off at 3:34 p.m. EDT (1934 GMT) from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The 16 story tall booster arrived back into the mouth of Port Canaveral late Thursday at sunset – as witnessed up close by myself and several space journalist colleagues.

Check out our expanding photo and video gallery compiled here of the boosters arrival into Port on the OCISLY droneship. The gallery is growing so check back again for more up close looks of the ocean arrival, sailing and docking.

Used SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch sails into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

Furthermore the four landing legs that made the landing sequence possible – have already been quickly detached by workers this afternoon, as shown here with additional incredible up close imagery.

Up close look as technicians quickly work to detach all 4 landing legs from the recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Koreasat-5A booster on Nov. 3, 2017 after it sailed into Port Canaveral the day before. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Up close look as technicians quickly work to detach all 4 landing legs from the recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Koreasat-5A booster on Nov. 3, 2017 after it sailed into Port Canaveral the day before. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Plus also featured are lots of imagery of the booster sailing through the narrow channel of Port Canaveral – often past seemingly oblivious spectators and pleasure craft who have no idea what they are seeing. As well as imagery of work crews processing the booster for the eventual return back onto base.

Recovered SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch is towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL atop OCISLY droneship to flocks of birds and onlookers as Atlantic Ocean waves crash onshore at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The 156 foot-tall first stage atop OCISLY was towed from the Atlantic Ocean landing zone located several hundred miles off shore of the Florida’s East coast back into Port Canaveral by a tugboat named “Hawk.”

The Hawk was accompanied by a small naval flotilla of commercial vessels SpaceX leased for the occasion.

Entering the mouth of Port Canaveral channel at sunset Nov. 2, 2017, a tugboat tows the recovered SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch atop OCISLY droneship. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

In fact with each booster return the SpaceX technicians are progressing faster and faster carrying out the booster processing involving safing, cap and line attachment, leg removal, and lowering the booster for horizontal placement on a specially outfitted lengthy multi-wheeled trailer for hauling back to SpaceX hangar facilities on the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Entering the mouth of Port Canaveral channel at sunset Nov. 2, 2017, a tugboat tows the recovered SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch atop OCISLY droneship. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

After arriving in port, and sailing through the channel for about 45 minutes the SpaceX flotilla carefully and methodically edged the droneship closer to shore and docked the vessel last night – and the crews got a well deserved rest as the booster basked in the maritime glow producing beautiful water reflection vistas.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Koreasat-5A launch stands tall and rests at night on droneship after Port Canaveral arrival Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The team wasted no time this morning. At the crack of dawn they began the task of attaching a hoisting cap to the top of the first stage.

Shortly after 9 a.m. EDT they craned the booster off OCISLY and onto a restraining pedestal platform on land.

The techs were working fast and making mincemeat of the booster.

They detached the four insect like legs one after another in an operation that looked a lot like a well thought out dissection.

One at a fime over a period about roughly two hour the workers methodically unbolted and detached the legs in 2 pieces. First they they slung a harness around the upper strut and removed it with a small crane. Then they did the same with the lower foot pad.

Altogether the land leg amputation operation took about 2.5 hours.

The now legless Falcon 9 stands erect. It will soon be lowered and placed horizontally for transport back to the base.

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is hoisted off OCISLY droneship after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Nov. 2. It successfully launched KoreaSat-5A telecomsat to orbit on Oct. 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

It has been barely two weeks after the last dogeship landed booster arrived back into port in mid-October for the SES-11 launch on October 11 and sunrise port arrival on October 15.

OCISLY which stands for “Of Course I Still Love You” left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the planned Oct. 30 launch and was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles (km) off the US East coast, awaiting the boosters approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

The booster was outfitted with four grid fins and four landing legs to accomplish the pinpoint touchdown on the barge at sea.

Watch this video of the SpaceX booster return to Port Canaveral, FL, from the KoreaSat-5 mission:

Video caption: The booster from the KoreaSat-5 mission returns to Port Canaveral, FL, on the SpaceX drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You” on Nov. 2, 2017 after a successful landing at sea. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Video caption: After launching from the Kennedy Space LC-39A the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage landed on the OCISLY droneship offshore. It was towed back to Port Canaveral to be refurbished and used again in a later launch. Credit: Julian Leek

To date SpaceX has accomplished 19 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX KoreaSat-5A & SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Flight proven SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch is towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL amidst a flock of birds encircling OCISLY droneship at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Entering the mouth of Port Canaveral channel at sunset Nov. 2, 2017, a tugboat tows the recovered SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch atop OCISLY droneship. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX used booster from Koreasat-5A launch sails through Port Canaveral atop OCISLY droneship at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Fisherman enjoys serene sunset as SpaceX used booster from Koreasat-5A launch sails through Port Canaveral atop OCISLY droneship on Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Flight proven SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch sails into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Used SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch sails into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek
Flight proven SpaceX first stage booster from KoreaSat-5A launch sails into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL at sunset Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Julia Bergeron

SpaceX Matches ULA Single Year Launch Record with KoreaSat, Record Breaker On Tap: Photo/Video Gallery

SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with KoreaSat-5A TV comsat from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With the stunningly beautiful Halloween eve liftoff of the commercial KoreaSat-5A telecomsat payload from the Florida Space Coast, SpaceX matched competitor United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) single year launch record of 16 missions – and the blastoff record breaker is on tap in just 2 weeks time!

In fact several additional Falcon 9 missions are planned before the end of 2017 that could bring the year’s accumulated total to an incredible 20 or more liftoffs – if all goes well from SpaceX’s coastal launch bases in Florida and California.

Hawthorne, Ca based SpaceX tied ULA’s 16 mission record on Monday, Oct. 30, when their Falcon 9 blasted off mid-afternoon carrying the private KoreaSat-5A telecomsat mission right on time at the opening of the launch window at 3:34 p.m. EDT (1934 GMT) from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Check out the exciting gallery of SpaceX KoreaSat-5A launch imagery and videos compiled here from this author and several space media colleagues. And check back often as the gallery grows!

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with KoreaSat-5A comsat from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

ULA established their one year record of 16 missions in 2009 with the launch of NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft by a Delta II on Dec. 14, 2009.

Altogether ULA’s 2009 launch manifest included five Atlas Vs, eight Delta IIs, two Delta IVs and the first Delta IV Heavy carrying an NRO payload.

ULA is a 50:50 joint venture owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin – now in fierce competition with SpaceX founded by billionaire and CEO Elon Musk who has won numerous commercial, government and military contracts by dramatically slashing launch costs.

Adding to the drama of SpaceX’s record breaking next Falcon 9 launch is that it’s a secret mission planned for about Nov. 15 – and its codenamed ‘Zuma’ – – but about which we know basically nothing.
To date 12 of this year’s 16 Falcon 9’s have launched from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Fl.

After lying dormant for six years, Pad 39A has been repurposed and refurbished by SpaceX from its days as a NASA shuttle launch pad.

NASA’s last space shuttle launch took place in July 2011 with the STS-135 mission to the International Space Station.

In addition to being SpaceX’s 16th launch this year, KoreaSat-5A was the 2nd one by the new space firms Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Spaceport in October, and the third overall in October counting another liftoff from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. – thus maintaining an absolutely torrid launch pace on the way to the record tying mission.

Monday’s mission also marks the first for a Korean satellite customer.

The nearly two ton commercial KoreaSat-5A satellite will provide Direct to Home (DTH) broadcasting, maritime, internet and other services to the North Asian region centering around South Korea.

SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with KoreaSat-5A comsat from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Eight and a half minutes after liftoff the 15 story tall first stage booster nailed another rocket assisted touchdown on the OCISLY droneship pre-positioned several hundred miles off shore of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean.

Up close view of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage landing legs in flight after liftoff of KoreaSat-5A from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Check out this exciting video compilation from remote cameras placed around pad 39A:

Video Caption: Up Close SpaceX KoreaSat 5A launch remote camera views on Oct. 30, 2017. Credit: Jeff Seibert

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

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

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

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A comsat from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Michael Kremer

To date SpaceX has accomplished 19 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

The first stage from October’s SES-11 launch arrived back into Port Canaveral, FL on top of the OCISLY droneship on Oct. 15. The SES-11 comsat launched on Oct. 11.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX KoreaSat-5A & SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with KoreaSat-5A comsat from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
KoreaSat-5A mission patch. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A comsat from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Michael Kremer
SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with KoreaSat-5A comsat from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Michael Kremer
SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with KoreaSat-5A comsat from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Michael Kremer
SpaceX Falcon 9 soars aloft with KoreaSat-5A comsat from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 soars aloft with KoreaSat-5A comsat from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 soars aloft with KoreaSat-5A comsat from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over accelerating to orbit leaving vapor trail in its wake carrying KoreaSat-5A comsat from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with KoreaSat-5A comsat from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Michael Kremer
SpaceX Falcon 9 stands erect at sunrise with KoreaSat5A DTH TV commercial comsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, poised for Halloween eve liftoff on 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from world famous countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Spectacular SpaceX Falcon 9 KoreaSat Launch Lights Space Coast Sky with Halloween Eve Glow, Booster Lands at Sea

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from world famous countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX delivered a spectacular Halloween eve delight with today’s Falcon 9 launch of a Korean HDTV satellite that lit up the Florida Space Coast skies with a glow that delighted kids of all ages and ghouls alike and put an end at last for today to the atrocious wet and windy weather afflicting the Spaceport region.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off mid-afternoon Monday Oct. 30 with the private KoreaSat-5A telecomsat mission right at the opening of the launch window at 3:34 p.m. EDT (1934 GMT) from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Eight and a half minutes after liftoff the 15 story tall first stage booster nailed another rocket assisted touchdown on the OCISLY droneship pre-positioned several hundred miles off shore of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean.

Today’s mission marks the 16th launch by SpaceX this year, the 2nd this month by the new space firms Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Spaceport, and the third overall counting another liftoff from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. – thus maintaining an absolutely torrid and record setting yearly launch pace.

The launch was broadcast live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast.

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A commercial telecomsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on Halloween eve 30 Oct 2017. As seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Florida finally fulfilled its billing as the ‘Sunshine State’ with truly superb afternoon weather for Monday afternoon’s liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 with its first Korean satellite customer – and the decent weather outlook looks like it will extend into Tuesdays Halloween trick or treating for the local kiddies and their imaginative costumes.

The two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) Falcon 9 rocket shined at sunrise this morning and throughout the countdown and fueling process fed the falcon with RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellant powering the rockets nine first stage Merlin 1D engines.

Altogether the Merlin 1D engine delivered a powerful liftoff punch that was far more than a Halloween ‘boo’ as the engines ignited with 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

As the Falcon 9 roared off launch pad 39A a rumbling thunder reverberated across the space coast region and beyond that brought broad smiles of glee to spectators faces packing local area beaches and hotels and quickly dispatched wicked ghouls to their graves.

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with KoreaSat-5A comsat from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

Trick or treaters will have a fine Halloween indeed following SpaceX’s thunderous rocket launch into picture perfect clear blue skies that were set of fire as the rocket vaulted off the pad and arched over eastwards to the African continent as it accelerated to the heavens.

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

Satellite deployment took place as planned 35 minutes after launch as seen on the webcast.

“Successful deployment of Koreasat-5A to geostationary transfer orbit confirmed,” said SpaceX.

The launch was also accompanied by a successful attempt to recover the 156 foot tall first stage booster after completing its primary satellite delivery mission task.

Choppy seas from Tropical Storm Phillipe made the sea landing even more challenging.

SpaceX engineers guided it to a landing on the tiny OCISLY drone ship for an upright and intact pinpoint soft landing touchdown on the ocean going platform prepositioned off shore in the Atlantic Ocean – some 8 minutes after blastoff.

OCISLY or “Of Course I Still Love You” left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the planned Oct. 30 launch and was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles (km) off the US East coast, awaiting the boosters approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

“Falcon 9 first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship.” announced SpaceX.

“A little toasty, but stage one is certainly still intact on the droneship.”

A small fire broke out on the Falcon 9 atop the droneship after landing as seen on the webcast but it was quickly extinguished.

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage after landing on the OCISLY droneship on Oct 30, 2017 following KoreaSat-5A launch. Credit: SpaceX

The nearly two ton commercial KoreaSat-5A satellite will provide Direct to Home (DTH) broadcasting, maritime, internet and other services to the Asian region centering around South Korea.

It has a 15 year design lifetime.

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

KoreaSat-5A was built by Thales Alenia Space and launched by SpaceX under a commercial contract for South Korean operator KTSAT (a KT Corporation company) using a freshly built first stage booster.

KTSAT is South Koreas sole satellite service provider.

Of course North Koreans have no access to any of these services as they are forbidden under the regime of Kim Jong Un with severe penalties for any violators.

The satellite was attached to the booster encapsulated in the nose cone last Friday after engineers successfully completed the routine but required static hot fire test of the first stage engines last Thursday, Oct 26.

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A comsat from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Jeff Seibert

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

The 3,700 kg (8,160 lb) satellite is equipped with 36 Ku-band transponders and based on Thales Alenia Space’s new-generation Spacebus 4000B2 platform. It will replace Koreasat 5 launched a decade ago in 2006.

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

SpaceX Falcon 9 stands erect at sunrise with KoreaSat5A DTH TV commercial comsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, poised for Halloween eve liftoff on 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

To date SpaceX has now accomplished 19 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

The KoreaSat-5A booster is expected back into Port Canaveral later this week – and the public can watch the sailing action.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster arrives at sunrise atop OCISLY droneship being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 after successfully launch SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX KoreaSat-5A & SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with KoreaSat-5A comsat from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Michael Kremer

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is equipped with four landing legs sitting horizontally on the transporter erector atop Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Superb Weather Forecast for SpaceX Halloween Eve Launch and Landing from Florida with 1st Korean Satellite: Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 stands erect at sunrise with KoreaSat5A DTH TV commercial comsat atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, poised for Halloween eve liftoff on 30 Oct 2017. As seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After seemingly endless bouts of damaging rain squalls and flooding, Florida is at last living up to its billing as the ‘Sunshine State’ with some superb weather forecast for Monday afternoon’s scheduled liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 with its first Korean customer – on the eve of Halloween.

SpaceX engineers are targeting the Falcon 9 for a mid-afternoon liftoff with the private KoreaSat-5A telecomsat mission for a window that opens at 3:34 p.m. EDT (1934 GMT) Monday Oct. 30 from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) Falcon 9 rocket was raised to vertical launch position later Sunday afternoon.

The launch will also be accompanied by an attempt to recover the first stage booster by soft landing on an ocean going platform prepositioned off shore in the Atlantic Ocean – some 8 minutes after blastoff.

If all goes well, SpaceX will conduct their 16th launch this year and the 2nd this month by the new space firms Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Spaceport – maintaining an absolutely torrid and record setting yearly launch pace.

Space enthusiasts and Halloween trick or treaters alike will surely enjoy the heavenly fireworks display. And to top that off the procedure to recover the rockets first stage has been described as riding a ‘witches broom’ in the middle of a hurricane since the 15 story tall stick has to flip around and fire its engines while traveling at several thousand miles per hour to place it on course for the droneship.

The KoreaSat liftoff will also count as October’s third from the increasingly busy Florida Space Coast capping two earlier missions carried out by both ULA and SpaceX.

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

KoreaSat-5A was built by Thales Alenia Space and is being launched by SpaceX under a commercial contract for South Korean operator KTSAT (a KT Corporation company) using a new first stage booster.

The satellite was attached to the booster encapsulated in the nose cone over the weekend after engineers successfully completed the static hot fire test of the first stage engines on Thursday, Oct 26.

The nearly two ton commercial KoreaSat-5A satellite will provide Direct to Home (DTH) broadcasting, maritime, internet and other services to the Asian region centering around South Korea.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 10 minutes prior to the 3:34 p.m. EDT (1934 GMT) liftoff time.

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

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

The weather outlook is uncommonly excellent along the Florida Space Coast with a greater than 90% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base.

The primary concerns on Oct. 30 are only for Liftoff Winds.

The odds remain high at 90% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Halloween Day, Tuesday Oct. 31.

Tropical Storm Philippe is not an issue and has moved north of the Bahamas and will continue moving northeastward at 30 mile per hour today says the AF.

Temperatures will be cool however on Monday dipping into the 50s and 60s.

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

After the 156 foot tall first stage booster completes its primary mission task, SpaceX engineers seek to guide it to a second landing on the tiny OCISLY drone ship for a soft touchdown some eight and a half minutes after liftoff.

Birds tip toe along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline with booster reflection in sand as recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster from SES-11 launch sails into Port Canaveral, FL atop droneship on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

OCISLY or “Of Course I Still Love You” left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the planned Oct. 30 launch and may be prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

The path to an October launch trifecta from Florida’s Spaceport was cleared following SpaceX’s successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 boosters first stage engines this past Thursday afternoon, Oct. 26.

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

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

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

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

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

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHD TV commercial comsat stands erect in launch position at sunrise atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, prior to liftoff on 11 Oct 2017 on world’s third reflight of a liquid fueled orbit class rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has accomplished 18 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

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

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX KoreaSat-5A & SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of never flown Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 26 Oct 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach. Liftoff with KoreaSat-5A comsat is slated for 30 Oct 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is equipped with four landing legs sitting horizontally on the transporter erector atop Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHD TV commercial comsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A as flock of birds flies by at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, poised for sunset liftoff on 11 Oct 2017 on world’s third reflight of a liquid fueled orbit class rocket. As seen from the pad perimeter, in this file photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Sky Pointing Curiosity Captures Breathtaking Vista of Mount Sharp and Crater Rim, Climbs Vera Rubin Seeking Hydrated Martian Minerals

NASA’s Curiosity rover raised robotic arm with drill pointed skyward while exploring Vera Rubin Ridge at the base of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater – backdropped by distant crater rim. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images taken on Sol 1833, Oct. 2, 2017 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

5 years after a heart throbbing Martian touchdown, Curiosity is climbing Vera Rubin Ridge in search of “aqueous minerals” and “clays” for clues to possible past life while capturing “truly breathtaking” vistas of humongous Mount Sharp – her primary destination – and the stark eroded rim of the Gale Crater landing zone from ever higher elevations, NASA scientists tell Universe Today in a new mission update.

“Curiosity is doing well, over five years into the mission,” Michael Meyer, NASA Lead Scientist, Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters told Universe Today in an interview.

“A key finding is the discovery of an extended period of habitability on ancient Mars.”

The car-sized rover soft landed on Mars inside Gale Crater on August 6, 2012 using the ingenious and never before tried “sky crane” system.

A rare glimpse of Curiosity’s arm and turret mounted skyward pointing drill is illustrated with our lead mosaic from Sol 1833 of the robot’s life on Mars – showing a panoramic view around the alien terrain from her current location in October 2017 while actively at work analyzing soil samples.

“Your mosaic is absolutely gorgeous!’ Jim Green, NASA Director Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington D.C., told Universe Today

“We are at such a height on Mt Sharp to see the rim of Gale Crater and the top of the mountain. Truly breathtaking.”

The rover has ascended more than 300 meters in elevation over the past 5 years of exploration and discovery from the crater floor to the mountain ridge. She is driving to the top of Vera Rubin Ridge at this moment and always on the lookout for research worthy targets of opportunity.

Additionally, the Sol 1833 Vera Rubin Ridge mosaic, stitched by the imaging team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, shows portions of the trek ahead to the priceless scientific bounty of aqueous mineral signatures detected by spectrometers years earlier from orbit by NASA’s fleet of Red Planet orbiters.

NASA’s Curiosity rover as seen simultaneously on Mars surface and from orbit on Sol 1717, June 5, 2017. The robot snapped this self portrait mosaic view while approaching Vera Rubin Ridge at the base of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater – backdropped by distant crater rim. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images and colorized. Inset shows overhead orbital view of Curiosity (blue feature) amid rocky mountainside terrain taken the same day by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

“Curiosity is on Vera Rubin Ridge (aka Hematite Ridge) – it is the first aqueous mineral signature that we have seen from space, a driver for selecting Gale Crater,” NASA HQ Mars Lead Scientist Meyer elaborated.

“And now we have access to it.”

The Sol 1833 photomosaic illustrates Curiosity maneuvering her 7 foot long (2 meter) robotic arm during a period when she was processing and delivering a sample of the “Ogunquit Beach” for drop off to the inlet of the CheMin instrument earlier in October. The “Ogunquit Beach” sample is dune material that was collected at Bagnold Dune II this past spring.

The sample drop is significant because the drill has not been operational for some time.

“Ogunquit Beach” sediment materials were successfully delivered to the CheMin and SAM instruments over the following sols and multiple analyses are in progress.

To date three CheMin integrations of “Ogunquit Beach” have been completed. Each one brings the mineralogy into sharper focus.

Researchers used the Mastcam on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover to gain this detailed view of layers in “Vera Rubin Ridge” from just below the ridge. The scene combines 70 images taken with the Mastcam’s right-eye, telephoto-lens camera, on Aug. 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

What’s the status of the rover health at 5 years, the wheels and the drill?

“All the instruments are doing great and the wheels are holding up,” Meyer explained.

“When 3 grousers break, 60% life has been used – this has not happened yet and they are being periodically monitored. The one exception is the drill feed (see detailed update below).”

NASA’s Curiosity rover explores sand dunes inside Gale Crater with Mount Sharp in view on Mars on Sol 1611, Feb. 16, 2017, in this navcam camera mosaic, stitched from raw images and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s 1 ton Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover is now closer than ever to the mineral signatures that were the key reason why Mount Sharp was chosen as the robots landing site years ago by the scientists leading the unprecedented mission.

Along the way from the ‘Bradbury Landing’ zone to Mount Sharp, six wheeled Curiosity has often been climbing. To date she has gained over 313 meters (1027 feet) in elevation – from minus 4490 meters to minus 4177 meters today, Oct. 19, 2017, said Meyer.

The low point was inside Yellowknife Bay at approx. minus 4521 meters.

VRR alone stands about 20 stories tall and gains Curiosity approx. 65 meters (213 feet) of elevation to the top of the ridge. Overall the VRR traverse is estimated by NASA to take drives totaling more than a third of a mile (570 m).

Curiosity images Vera Rubin Ridge during approach backdropped by Mount Sharp. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images taken on Sol 1726, June 14, 2017 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Vera Rubin Ridge” or VRR is also called “Hematite Ridge.” It’s a narrow and winding ridge located on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. It was informally named earlier this year in honor of pioneering astrophysicist Vera Rubin.

The intrepid robot reached the base of the ridge in early September.

The ridge possesses steep cliffs exposing stratifications of large vertical sedimentary rock layers and fracture filling mineral deposits, including the iron-oxide mineral hematite, with extensive bright veins.

VRR resists erosion better than the less-steep portions of the mountain below and above it, say mission scientists.

Curiosity rover raises robotic arm high while scouting the Bagnold Dune Field and observing dust devils inside Gale Crater on Mars on Sol 1625, Mar. 2, 2017, in this navcam camera mosaic stitched from raw images and colorized. Note: Wheel tracks at right, distant crater rim in background. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

What’s ahead for Curiosity in the coming weeks and months exploring VRR before moving onward and upwards to higher elevation?

“Over the next several months, Curiosity will explore Vera Rubin Ridge,” Meyer replied.

“This will be a big opportunity to ground-truth orbital observations. Of interest, so far, the hematite of VRR does not look that different from what we have been seeing all along the Murray formation. So, big question is why?”

“The view from VRR also provides better access to what’s ahead in exploring the next aqueous mineral feature – the clay, or phyllosilicates, which can be indicators of specific environments, putting constraints on variables such as pH and temperature,” Meyer explained.

The clay minerals or phyllosilicates form in more neutral water, and are thus extremely scientifically interesting since pH neutral water is more conducive to the origin and evolution of Martian microbial life forms, if they ever existed.

How far away are the clays ahead and when might Curiosity reach them?

“As the crow flies, the clays are about 0.5 km,” Meyer replied. “However, the actual odometer distance and whether the clays are where we think they are – area vs. a particular location – can add a fair degree of variability.”

The clay rich area is located beyond the ridge.

Over the past few months Curiosity make rapid progress towards the hematite-bearing location of Vera Rubin Ridge after conducting in-depth exploration of the Bagnold Dunes earlier this year.

“Vera Rubin Ridge is a high-standing unit that runs parallel to and along the eastern side of the Bagnold Dunes,” said Mark Salvatore, an MSL Participating Scientist and a faculty member at Northern Arizona University, in a mission update.

“From orbit, Vera Rubin Ridge has been shown to exhibit signatures of hematite, an oxidized iron phase whose presence can help us to better understand the environmental conditions present when this mineral assemblage formed.”

Curiosity is using the science instruments on the mast, deck and robotic arm turret to gather detailed research measurements with the cameras and spectrometers. The pair of miniaturized chemistry lab instruments inside the belly – CheMin and SAM – are used to analyze the chemical and elemental composition of pulverized rock and soil gathered by drilling and scooping selected targets during the traverse.

A key instrument is the drill which has not been operational. I asked Meyer for a drill update.

“The drill feed developed problems retracting (two stabilizer prongs on either side of the drill retract, controlling the rate of drill penetration),” Meyer replied.

“Because the root cause has not been found (think FOD) and the concern about the situation getting worse, the drill feed has been retracted and the engineers are working on drilling without the stabilizing prongs.”

“Note, a consequence is that you can still drill and collect sample but a) there is added concern about getting the drill stuck and b) a new method of delivering sample needs to be developed and tested (the drill feed normally needs to be moved to move the sample into the chimera). One option that looks viable is reversing the drill – it does work and they are working on the scripts and how to control sample size.”

Ascending and diligently exploring the sedimentary lower layers of Mount Sharp, which towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, is the primary destination and goal of the rover’s long term scientific expedition on the Red Planet.

“Lower Mount Sharp was chosen as a destination for the Curiosity mission because the layers of the mountain offer exposures of rocks that record environmental conditions from different times in the early history of the Red Planet. Curiosity has found evidence for ancient wet environments that offered conditions favorable for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life,” says NASA.

Stay tuned. In part 2 we’ll discuss the key findings from Curiosity’s first 5 years exploring the Red Planet.

As of today, Sol 1850, Oct. 19, 2017, Curiosity has driven over 10.89 miles (17.53 kilometers) since its August 2012 landing inside Gale Crater from the landing site to the ridge, and taken over 445,000 amazing images.

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

Ken Kremer

Map shows route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through Sol 1827 of the rover’s mission on Mars (September 27, 2017). Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 10.84 miles (17.45 kilometers). The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/UA
Curiosity’s Traverse Map Through Sol 1717. This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1717 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (June 05, 2017). The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Twice Flown SpaceX Booster Sails Proudly into Port Canaveral at Sunrise 3 Days After Sunset Launch and Droneship Landing: Photos

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster arrives at sunrise atop OCISLY droneship being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 after successfully launching SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The now twice flown SpaceX first stage booster that successfully delivered the SES-11 UHDTV satellite to orbit at sunset Wednesday, Oct 11, sailed proudly back home into Port Canaveral during a beautiful Sunday sunrise, Oct. 15 only three days after it safely landed on a tiny droneship at sea.

The booster arrival also took place just hours after a ULA Atlas launched the covert NROL-52 surveillance satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – making for a nonstop day of space action on the Florida Space Coast.

The 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 booster accomplished a precision guided rocket assisted touchdown on the football field sized OCISLY droneship platform about 8 minutes after the dinnertime liftoff with the private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite on Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The 15 story tall first stage came to rest slightly tilted a few degrees, similar to at least two prior boosters that soft landed upright on OCISLY while prepositioned several hundred miles off shore of the Florida peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean.

The recycled booster was towed into Port Canaveral by a SpaceX contracted tugboat accompanied by a small fleet of pilot ships and support vessels.

The doubly used and doubly successful booster entered the mouth of Port Canaveral around 7:15 a.m. EDT Sunday under dawns delightful twilight I witnessed from Jetty Park and beach together with a few space media colleagues and a small crowd of onlookers with little fanfare.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster arrives at sunrise atop OCISLY droneship being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 after successfully launching SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Over the next hour it was hauled through the narrow channel as numerous vessels large and small and pleasure craft sailed by, likely wondering what they were looking it.

Finally the droneship platform was docked at SpaceX’s spot leased near the two huge shipping cranes dominating the scene across from popular portside restaurants – and also not far from humongous cruise ships dwarfing the booster in size.

The next step was for dock workers to hoist a cap and attach it to the top of the booster. This enabled it to eventually be carefully raised off the barge with a crane by about 1 p.m. and then slowly moved and swung over and affixed onto a restraining pedestal stand on land.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is hoisted off OCISLY droneship after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is hoisted off OCISLY droneship after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

By the next evening Monday night, all 4 landing legs were still intact. After they are all detached the booster will be lowered horizontally aided by the cabling attached by the workers and placed on a flab bed transporter and trucked back to the Cape.

SpaceX Falcon 9 SES11 booster standing on a pedestal at night in Port Canaveral, FL, after being craned off the OCISLY droneship upon which it soft landed after Oct. 11, 2017 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

However the impact of developing and reusing ‘used’ rockets is leading to an era when re-flown rockets are offered as a ‘routine service’ rather than the exception.

Rocket reusability is at the heart of the extraordinary vision of billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to drastically cut space launch costs and one day build a ‘City on Mars’.

And it represents a ‘major sea change getting closer’ to fruition with each passing day thanks to SpaceX, said SES CTO Martin Halliwell in an exclusive interview with Universe Today, following the stunning sunset blastoff of the SES-11 UHDTV commercial satellite on another ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster that also re-landed – thus completing another remarkable round of rocket recovery and recycling or ‘launch, land and relaunch!’

“As I’ve said before, I think in a couple years time you won’t even consider whether it’s a preflown rocket or a new rocket or a second time rocket,” SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell told Universe Today in a one-on-one post launch interview.

“It will just be a flight and you will buy a service to get to orbit – and that will be that!”

“It’s a major sea change,” Halliwell explained. “That’s absolutely true.”

“We’re getting closer to that every day. It’s exactly where we are going. There is no doubt about it.”

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is docked near cruise ships after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The launch of EchoStar 105/SES-11 counts as only the third recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 ever to be launched and is the third successful mission with a flight-proven orbital class rocket.

All three ‘flight-proven’ missions have lifted off from Pad 39A this year and all three have relanded.

The Falcon 9 first stage appeared to be in good shape upon its return to Port. I did not observe noticeable significant damage to the outside of the booster skin, grid fins or landing legs. Scorching seemed comparable to the first two reflown boosters.

This booster originally flew on the NASA Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station in February of this year.

On arrival it was clearly anchored to the OCISLY droneship deck with multiple chains as previously done for droneship landings as well as with what appears to be several gripper arms.

Up close look at the base of the recovered Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch with four landing legs chained to the droneship deck while sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

OCISLY, which stands for “Of Course I Still Love You,” had departed Port Canaveral several days ahead of the Oct. 11 launch and was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

The booster was outfitted with four grid fins and four landing legs to accomplish the pinpoint touchdown on the barge at sea.

The recovered Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch is hoisted off the OCISLY dronseship deck with a crane in this up close view pf the boosters base and placed on a platform for ground processing after sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SES was the first company to ever fly a payload on a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9. The SES-10 satellite lifted off successfully this spring on March 30, 2017.

The second reflown booster successfully launched the BulgariaSat-1 a few months later.

NASA is also assessing whether to utilize a reflown booster on upcoming ISS resupply missions – starting with the next flight of the Dragon CRS-13 cargo ship which may liftoff as soon as early December.

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

Up close look at all four landing legs of the recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch as technicians guide the booster onto pedestal for ground processing after sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has accomplished 18 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Birds tip toe along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline with booster reflection in sand as recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster from SES-11 launch sails into Port Canaveral, FL atop droneship on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster from SES-11 launch is towed into mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 past Jetty Park pier damaged by Hurricane Irma. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Musk’s Era of Routinely Re-flown Rockets (ala SpaceX) a ‘Major Sea Change Getting Closer Every Day’ Says SES CTO Halliwell: SES-11 Launch Gallery

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Elon Musk’s extraordinary vision of an era when re-flown rockets are offered as a ‘routine service’ rather than the exception is a ‘major sea change getting closer’ to fruition with each passing day thanks to SpaceX, said SES CTO Martin Halliwell in an exclusive interview with Universe Today, following the stunning sunset blastoff of the SES-11 UHDTV commercial satellite on another ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster that also re-landed – thus completing another remarkable round of rocket recovery and recycling or ‘launch, land and relaunch!’

“As I’ve said before, I think in a couple years time you won’t even consider whether it’s a preflown rocket or a new rocket or a second time rocket,” SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell told Universe Today in a one-on-one post launch interview.

“It will just be a flight and you will buy a service to get to orbit – and that will be that!”

“It’s a major sea change,” Halliwell explained. “That’s absolutely true.”

“We’re getting closer to that every day. It’s exactly where we are going. There is no doubt about it.”

The private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite mission soared to space with an on time liftoff of the recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage at dinnertime Wednesday Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“The launch was fantastic,” Halliwell gushed. “Everything went perfectly. The countdown went perfectly, no hiccups, no drama, nothing whatsoever. So we were good to go!”

Plus its saving SES “months of time” and thereby “tens of millions of dollars of real money” to fly with a used booster rather than having their expensive satellite sit and languish uselessly on the ground.

SES-11/EchoStar 105 launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on 11 Oct 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

SES-11 is primarily intended to significantly upgrade SES capabilities to transmit Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV signals or 4 K vs. standard HDTV – thereby pulling in more revenue streams.

SES made rocket history jointly with SpaceX earlier this year when they became the first company ever to agree to fly a payload on a recycled liquid fueled rocket that SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk dubs ‘flight-proven’.

And Halliwell, as SES Chief Technology Officer, was instrumental in partnering with SpaceX CEO Musk to take a big leap make that happen.

The maiden ‘used’ Falcon 9 lifted off successfully with the SES-10 satellite and delivered the comsat to geostationary orbit on March 30, 2017 – in a monumental space achievement.

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“This was our second reflown mission with SpaceX for SES-11. And we had a lot of discussion about it.”

“The more that we looked at it and the transparency we’ve gotten from SpaceX, working together with them we were convinced of the ‘flight worthiness’ of the Falcon 9 vehicle,” Halliwell told me.

SpaceX successfully delivered the 5.7 ton EchoStar 105/SES-11 joint mission satellite for SES and EchoStar to geostationary transfer orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator.

SES-11/EchoStar 105 launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on 11 Oct 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

EchoStar 105/SES-11 is a high-powered hybrid Ku and C-band communications satellite launching as a dual-mission satellite for US-based operator EchoStar and Luxembourg-based operator SES.

How exactly does Halliwell and SES assess whether its worth taking a gamble on a ‘flight-proven’ booster to ensure it meets the high standards expected and really is robust and reliable and not end in disaster? How did the booster fare after the first reflown mission for SES-10?

Halliwell explained that SES employs a team of engineers embedded with SpaceX.

“We have US citizens who work embedded with SpaceX,” Halliwell replied. “They can understand and filter and react to that data they are exposed to and see what’s going on. And then determine if we are good to go or not.”

Why did SES decide on using a pre-flown booster?

“We sat down with SpaceX to see how the launch manifest and scheduling looks and asked whats the best way we can get SES-11 to orbit? Do we wait for new equipment or does SpaceX have preflown equipment that you can make available to us after refurbishment?”

“It came out that the fastest way we can get to orbit is by using a refurbished preflown vehicle. So we said OK we will go down that path. And that’s why we are here today.”

Did it save time or money for SES to go with a used booster?

“It saved us a few months. So we concentrated on the preflown booster after making that decision. For sure if we had chosen to use a new booster our SES-11 launch would have been somewhat later compared to launching today.”

So it turns out that SES got a faster trip to orbit for SES-11 and that in turn quickly translates into real money generated instead of more money wasted with a satellite parked somewhere in a storage shed for half a year of more. The actual savings on a launch was not that big.

“The average launch delay we have right now is about 7 months,” Halliwell explained.

“So we have the spacecraft already built and its ready, and ready to ship [to the launch site]. And then – we just wait! Until we have launch vehicle availability.”

“So think about it. I spent all my money on my spacecraft and most of my money on my launch vehicle. Plus a whole chunk of insurance money is already gone.”

“So I’m sitting there for 7 months. It’s just cash out and a very expensive wait!”

How much money does waiting around on the ground with a fully ready to launch spacecraft cost?

“That works out to tens of millions of dollars lost due to delays,” he replied. “Its real money. A ton of money!”

“Revenue we are not making. And paying for the money you spent. It’s gone !”

So with SES-11 now safely in orbit it will soon be generating revenue to recoup all the investments thus far accrued.

Is the era of reliable rocket reusability coming even sooner than some had expected?

“I think so certainly for SpaceX,” Halliwell responded.

“The other companies are all now running behind. You look towards Ariane with the reusable Prometheus and being cheaper – but there is a ways to go there. You look at Blue Origin and they are making progress. But they are not there yet.”

“Will Vulcan do this? I think everybody will consider this, and try to figure out the pros and cons of this and try to figure out an industrial model and a financial model, etc, etc.”

“Whether they go down that reusability path or not depends on whether it suits their business plan.”

“SpaceX has certainly taken a very, very difficult road. But they have come through it very well.”

Is SpaceX actually saving money? The company sunk huge sums of its own money amounting into the hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the reusability technology.

The advertised cost of a SpaceX launch is about $61 million.

Elon Musk routinely promotes the reusability technology as a means to drastically reduce space launch costs.

Thus SES CEO Karim Michel Sabbagh is looking for a reduction to about half that advertised price, in the neighborhood of $30 million.

To date Musk has only offered a marginal reduction to the contact price, citing the high development costs.

Musk has even joked that he should charge more for a reliable ‘flight-proven’ booster.

Halliwell says the real benefit thus far is the earlier launch date. SpaceX has a huge backlog of over 50 contracted launches that only grew longer following a pair of rocket explosions that forced launch delays while the firm investigated root causes.

What does Halliwell think is realistic regarding pricing and achieving the $30 million target?

“I’d love to see that,” Halliwell told me. “But I don’t think we’ll see that $30 million any time soon. Maybe it will stabilize in the mid $50 millions or $60 millions somewhere. I think that’s realistic.”

“I think we have to see how people like SpaceX work on their industrial/financial model.”

“To be honest, I think SpaceX themselves is trying to figure out where the pricing should be. How much is it really costing them? How much is the refurb costing them? How much are their ops costing?”

To date SpaceX has accomplished 18 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

The first stage stands 156 feet tall.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster leaning atop OCISLY droneship upon which it landed after 23 June launch from KSC floats into Port Canaveral, FL, on 29 June 2017, hauled by tugboat as seen from Jetty Park Pier. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch this SES-11 launch video:

Video caption: Reused Falcon 9 Launches SES-11 Into Sunset (Remote Cameras). Credit: Jeff Seibert

Stay tuned. More upcoming.

Sunset blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HD TV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from the famous countdown clock. This launch counts as third reflight of a liquid fueled orbit class rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

SES-11/EchoStar 105 launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on 11 Oct 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Julian Leek