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

SpaceX Targets Saturday Launch of SES-11 after Successful Static Fire Test of Recycled Rocket; Space Coast Gator Gazes in Glee

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of recycled Falcon 9 at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 2 Oct 2017 as a gator gazes from Playalinda waterways, FL. Liftoff is slated for 7 Oct 2017 with SES-11/EchoStar 105 telecommunications comsat. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

PLAYALINDA/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX is targeting Saturday Oct. 7 for blastoff of the SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat following a successful static fire test of the first stage engines of the ‘used’ Falcon 9 booster, as a Florida Space Coast gator gazed on in wondrous glee as the engines fired away Monday afternoon, Oct. 2.

The brief engine test took place at 430 p.m. EDT (2030 GMT) Monday Oct. 2, with the sudden eruption of smoke and ash rushing out the north facing flame trench and into the air over historic pad 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during a windy and overcast afternoon – as I witnessed from the Playalinda Beach causeway FL with the jet black hungry gator just feet away from me in the inland waterways.

The static fire test lasted approximately three seconds. The test is routinely conducted by SpaceX engineers to confirm the rockets readiness to launch.

In this case the SpaceX Falcon 9 will refly and relaunch as a recycled rocket.

“Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete,” SpaceX confirmed via tweet soon after the hotfire test was conducted.

“Targeting October 7 launch of EchoStar 105/SES-11 from Pad 39A in Florida.”

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of 3rd previously flown Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 2 Oct 2017 as seen from Playalinda causeway, FL. Liftoff of recycled rocket is slated for 7 Oct 2017 with SES-11/EchoStar 105 telecommunications comsat. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The private SES-11/EchoStar 105 mission will launch on a ‘flight-proven’ booster and is slated for a dinnertime lift off on Oct. 7 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the SES-11 telecommunications payload.

SpaceX will also attempt to recover this booster again by soft landing on an ocean going platform prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean- about 8 minutes after blastoff.

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.

It will be launched to geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator.

The EchoStar 105/SES-11 spacecraft was built by Airbus and shipped from the Airbus facilities in Toulouse, France to Cape Canaveral, FL for flight processing.

SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat. Credit: SES

This is only the third recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 ever to be launched from Pad 39A.

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.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

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

During Monday’s static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages are fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown is carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition.

The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of 3rd previously flown Falcon 9 booster at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 2 Oct 2017 as seen from Playalinda causeway, FL. Liftoff is slated for 7 Oct 2017 with SES-11/EchoStar 105 telecommunications comsat. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Playalinda Beach is a spectacular place to witness the launch from – while surfing the waves too – if you’re in the area.

The Beach survived Hurricane Irma but suffered serious erosion.

However many favored launch viewing locations were decimated by the Irma’s wind and crashing waves and flooding – as I reported here earlier.

This launch is the first for SpaceX from KSC in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma which forced the center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to close several days and postponed this liftoff.

EchoStar 105/SES-11 provides EchoStar with 24 Ku-band transponders of 36 MHz, marketed as EchoStar 105, while it provides SES with a C-band payload of 24 transponders, marketed under the name SES-11, says SES. EchoStar 105/SES-11 replaces Ku-band capacity for AMC-15 and C-band capacity for AMC-18 at SES’ well-established 105 degrees West orbital slot.

Mating of SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat. Credit: SES

SES-11 is the 47th satellite based on Airbus’s highly reliable Eurostar E3000 platform.

The engine test was carried out without the expensive payload attached to the top – a measured instituted since the catastrophic launch pad explosion and loss of the AMOS-6 commercial payload.

Following the hot fire test, the rocket is rolled back to the processing hangar located just outside the pad perimeter fence.

The 5,200 kg satellite will now be integrated with the rocket for the planned weekend liftoff.

The solar arrays generate a spacecraft power of 12 kW.

Watch for Ken’s continuing coverage direct from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center press site and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

Ken Kremer

This Florida Space Coast gator witnessed the Oct 2, 2017 SpaceX Falcon 9 static fire test for SES-11 comsat while eyeing Ken Kremer/Universe Today from just a few feet away at the Playalinda Causeway waterway. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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Learn more about the upcoming ULA Atlas NRO NROL-52 spysat launch on Oct 5 and SpaceX Falcon 9 SES-11 launch on Oct 7, JWST, OSIRIS-REx, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Oct 4-6, 8: “ULA Atlas NRO NROL-52 spysat launch, SpaceX SES-11, CRS-12 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, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All systems are GO at this point!

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

SpaceX is maintaining a blistering launch pace this year.

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

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

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

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

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

And the current weather outlook is excellent say forecasters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch for Ken’s onsite BulgariaSat-1 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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