There’s little doubt that we live in a new Space Age, defined by increasing access, greater competition, and the commercial space industry. The titans of this industry are well known and have even become household names. There are old warhorses like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and United Launch Alliance and fast-rising stars like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Virgin Galactic, and others. But New Zealand and California-based company Rocket Lab has also made a name for itself in recent years, moving from low-cost expendable rocket launches to reusable rockets.
In particular, their new Neutron Rocket design has been turning some heads since it first debuted in late 2021. The most recent design of this rocket features some very interesting features, which include a new engine, a new shell, and a “Hungry-Hippo” reusable fairing built from advanced carbon composites. Beginning in 2024, Rocket Lab hopes to conduct regular launches with Neutron to service the growing “satellite megaconstellation” market. Thanks to an animator who goes by the handle Hazegrayart, we now have a video of what this might look like.
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.
The used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 will deliver BulgariaSat-1 to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s daring dream of rocket recycling and reusability is getting closer and closer to reality with each passing day. After a breathtaking series of experimental flight tests aimed at safely landing the firms spent Falcon 9 first stages on land and at sea over the past half year the bold effort achieved another major milestone by just completing the first full duration test firing of one of those landed boosters.
On Thursday, July 28, SpaceX engineers successful conducted a full duration static engine test firing of the 156-foot-tall (47-meter) recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster while held down on a test stand at the company’s rocket development test facility in McGregor, Texas. The engines fired up for about two and a half minutes.
The SpaceX team has been perfecting the landing techniques by adopting lessons learned after each landing campaign attempt.
What are the lessons learned so far from the first stage landings and especially the hard landings? Are there any changes being made to the booster structure? How well did the landing burn scenario perform?
During SpaceX’s recent CRS-9 launch campaign media briefings at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 18, I asked SpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann for some insight.
“We learned a lot … from the landings,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today during the recent media briefings for the SpaceX CRS-9 space station cargo resupply launch on July 18.
“There are no structural changes first of all.”
“The key thing is to protect the engines,” Koenigsmann elaborated, while they are in flight and “during reentry”.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs at the base and four grid fins at the top to conduct the landing attempts.
“In general I think the landing concept with the legs, and the number of burns and the way we perform those seems to work OK,” Koenigsmann told Universe Today.
After separating from the second stage at hypersonic speeds of up to some 4000 mph, the first stage engines are reignited to reverse course and do a boost backburn back to the landing site and slow the rocket down for a soft landing, via supersonic retropulsion.
Proper engine performance is critical to enabling a successful touchdown.
“The key thing is to protect the engines – and make sure that they start up well [in space during reentry],” Koenigsmann explained. “And in particular the hot trajectory, so to speak, like the ones that comes in after a fast payload, like the geo-transfer payload basically.”
“Those engines need to be protected so that they start up in the proper way. That’s something that we learned.”
Elon Musk’s goal is to radically slash the cost of launching rockets and access to space via rocket reuse – in a way that will one day lead to his vision of a ‘City on Mars.’
SpaceX hopes to refly a once flown booster later this year, sometime in the Fall, using the ocean landed Falcon from NASA’s CRS-8 space station mission launched in April, says Koenigsmann.
But the company first has to prove that the used vehicle can survive the extreme and unforgiving stresses of the violent spaceflight environment before they can relaunch it.
The July 28 test firing is part of that long life endurance testing and involved igniting all nine used first stage Merlin 1D engines housed at the base of a used landed rocket.
The Falcon 9 first stage generates over 1.71 million pounds of thrust when all nine Merlin engines fire up on the test stand for a duration of up to three minutes – the same as for an actual launch.
Watch the engine test in this SpaceX video:
Video Caption: Falcon 9 first stage from May 2016 JCSAT mission was test fired, full duration, at SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas rocket development facility on July 28, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
It conducted a series of three recovery burns to maneuver the rocket to a designated landing spot at sea or on land and rapidly decelerate it from supersonic speeds for a propulsive soft landing, intact and upright using a quartet of landing legs that deploy in the final moments before a slow speed touchdown.
However, although the landing was upright and intact, this particular landing was also classed as a ‘hard landing’ because the booster landed at a higher velocity and Merlin 1D first stage engines did sustain heavy damage as seen in up close photos and acknowledged by Musk.
“Most recent rocket took max damage, due to v high entry velocity. Will be our life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good,” Musk tweeted at the time.
Nevertheless it all worked out spectacularly and this was the first one to be recovered from the much more demanding, high velocity trajectory delivering a satellite to GTO.
Indeed prior to liftoff, Musk had openly doubted a successful landing outcome, since this first stage was flying faster and at a higher altitude at the time of separation from the second stage and thus was much more difficult to slow down and maneuver back to the ocean based platform compared to ISS missions, for example.
So although this one cannot be reflown, it still serves another great purpose for engineers seeking to determining the longevity of the booster and its various components – as now audaciously demonstrated by the July 28 engine test stand firing.
“We learned a lot even on the missions where things go wrong with the landing, everything goes well on the main mission of course,” said Koenigsmann.
Altogether SpaceX has successfully soft landed and recovered five of their first stage Falcon 9 boosters intact and upright since the history making first ever land landing took place just seven months ago in December 2015 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
See the stupendous events unfold in up close photos and videos herein.
Following each Falcon 9 launch and landing attempt, SpaceX engineers assess the voluminous and priceless data gathered, analyze the outcome and adopt the lessons learned.
CRS-9 marks only the second time SpaceX has attempted a land landing of the 15 story tall first stage booster back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – at the location called Landing Zone 1 (LZ 1).
Watch this exquisitely detailed up close video showing the CRS-9 first stage landing at LZ 1, as shot by space colleague Jeff Seibert from the ITL causeway at CCAFS- which dramatically concluded with multiple shockingly loud sonic booms rocketing across the Space Coast and far beyond and waking hordes of sleepers:
Video caption: This was the second terrestrial landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster on July 18, 2016. It had just launched the CRS9 Dragon mission towards the ISS. The landing took place at LZ1, formerly known as Pad 13, located on CCAFS and caused a triple sonic boom heard 50 miles away. Credit: Jeff Seibert
The history making first ever ground landing successfully took place at Landing Zone 1 (LZ 1) on Dec. 22, 2015 as part of the ORBCOMM-2 mission. Landing Zone 1 is built on the former site of Space Launch Complex 13, a U.S. Air Force rocket and missile testing range.
SpaceX also successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea this year on an ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27.
OCISLY is generally stationed approximately 400 miles (650 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. The barge arrives back in port at Port Canaveral several days after the landing, depending on many factors like weather, port permission and the state of the rocket.
The rocket apparently ran out of liquid oxygen fuel in the final moments before touchdown, hit hard, tipped over and pancaked onto the deck.
“Looks like early liquid oxygen depletion caused engine shutdown just above the deck,” Musk explained via twitter at the time.
“Looks like thrust was low on 1 of 3 landing engines. High g landings v sensitive to all engines operating at max.”
“We learned a lot even on the mission where things go wrong with the landing,” Koenigsmann explained. “Everything goes well on the main mission of course.”
“That’s actually something where you have successful deploy and the landing doesn’t quite work- and yet its the landing that gets all the attention.”
“But even on those landings we learned a lot. In particular on the last landing [from Eutelsat launch] we learned a lot.”
“We believe we found a way to operationally protect these engines and to make it safer for them to start up – and to come up to full thrust and stay at full thrust.”
What exactly does “protecting the engines” mean “in flight?”
“Yes I mean protecting the engines during reentry,” Koenigsmann told me.
“That’s when the engines get hot. We enter with the engines facing the flow. So its basically the engines directly exposed to the hot flow. And that’s when you need to protect the engines and the gases and liquids that are in the engines. To make sure that nothing boils off and does funny things.”
“So all in all these series of drone ship landings has been extremely successful, even when we didn’t recover all the first stages [fully intact].”
Watch for Ken’s continuing SpaceX and CRS-9 mission coverage where he reported onsite 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.
Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship bound for the International Space Station on July 18, 2016 at 12:45 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from Mobius remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Watch this CRS-9 launch and landing video compilation from space colleague Mike Wagner:
Video caption: SpaceX CRS-9 Launch and Landing compilation on 7/18/2016. Local papers reported 911 calls for a loud explosion up to 75 miles away. This sonic boom seemed louder than the first landing at the Cape in Dec. 2015. Credit: USLaunchReport
The residue of the Falcon sailed into home port at Port Canaveral, Fl under cover of darkness and covered by a big blue tarp late Saturday night, June 18, at around 9 p.m. EDT.
It arrived atop SpaceX’s ASDS drone ship landing platform known as “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” – that had already been dispatched several days prior to the June 15 morning launch from the Florida space coast.
And check out this exquisite hi res aerial video of the tarp ‘Blowing in the Wind’ – showing an even more revealing view of the remains of the Falcon 9 after much of the tarp was blown away by whipping sunshine state winds.
Video Caption: SpaceX booster remains from Eutelsat-ABS launch seen in Port Canaveral on 06-19-2016 the day after arrival. The wind blew off part of the tarps covering what is left of Eutelsat-ABS booster. Credit: USLaunchReport
Recovering and eventually reusing the 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage to loft new payloads for new paying customers lies at the heart of the visionary SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s strategy of radically slashing future launch costs and enabling a space faring civilization.
The latest attempt to launch and propulsively land the Falcon booster on a platform a sea took place on Wednesday, June 15 after the on time liftoff at 10:29 a.m. EDT (2:29 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The 229 foot-tall (70 meter) Falcon 9 successfully accomplished its primary goal of delivering a pair of roughly 5000 pound commercial telecommunications satellites to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for Eutelsat based in Paris and Asia Broadcast Satellite of Bermuda and Hong Kong.
The Falcon 9 delivered the Boeing-built EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A telecommunications satellites to orbits for Latin American and Asian customers.
“Ascent phase & satellites look good,” SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk tweeted.
After first stage separation, SpaceX engineers attempted the secondary and experimental goal of soft landing the 15 story tall first stage booster nine minutes after liftoff, on an ocean going ‘droneship’ platform for later reuse.
OCISLY was stationed approximately 420 miles (680 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida in the Atlantic Ocean.
However, for the first time in four tries SpaceX was not successful in safely landing and recovering the booster intact and upright.
The booster basically crashed on the drone ship because it descended too quickly due to insufficient thrust from the descent engines.
The rocket apparently ran out of fuel in the final moments before droneship touchdown.
“Looks like early liquid oxygen depletion caused engine shutdown just above the deck,” Musk explained via a twitter post.
The first stage is fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellant.
A SpaceX video shows a huge cloud of black smoke enveloping the booster in the final moments before the planned touchdown – perhaps soot from the burning RP-1 propellant.
In the final moments the booster is seen tipping over and crashing with unrestrained force onto the droneship deck – crushing and flattening the boosters long round core and probably the nine Merlin 1D first stage engines as well.
“But booster rocket had a RUD on droneship,” Musk noted. RUD stands for rapid unscheduled disassembly which usually means it was destroyed on impact. Although in this case it may be more a case of being crushed by the fall instead of a fuel related explosion.
“Looks like thrust was low on 1 of 3 landing engines. High g landings v sensitive to all engines operating at max,” Musk elaborated.
Watch these incredible launch videos showing many different vantage points:
Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 launch video compilation – Eutelsat and ABS satellites launched on 06/15/2016 from Pad 40 CCAFS. Credit: Jeff Seibert
Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with Eutelsat 117W/ABS-2A electric propulsion comsats on June 15, 2016 at 10:29 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from Mobius remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Photos above and below from myself and colleagues capture Falcon’s 2nd ‘lift off’ – this time at dusk on June 2, via crane power as workers hoisted it off its ocean landing platform – with an American flag flying proudly below – onto a ground based work platform to carry out initial processing.
The booster triumphantly entered the waterway into Port Canaveral, Fl by way of the ocean mouth at Jetty Park pier at about 11: 45 a.m. on June 2 under clear blue skies.
It continued sailing serenely along the Port Canaveral channel – towed behind the Elsbeth III tugboat – making a picture perfect tour for lucky spectators for another 30 minutes or so until docking at the SpaceX ground processing facility.
All in all it was quite appropriately an ‘otherworldly’ scene reminiscent of a great scifi movie.
Watch this video from my photojournalist colleague Jeff Seibert.
Video caption: The SpaceX F9 booster from the Thaicom-8 launch returns to Cape Canaveral on June 2, 2016 after completing an at sea landing on the OCISLY drone ship 6 days earlier. A hard landing caused a leg to activate a crush structure and it is tilting about 4 degrees. That is half the booster tilt angle that Elon Musk expected should be recoverable. Credit: Jeff Seibert
The beaming 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 booster had propulsively landed six days earlier atop the specially designed SpaceX ‘droneship’ named “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” less than 9 minutes after the spectacular May 27 blastoff.
The Falcon 9 was leaning some 5 degrees or so on the droneship upon which it had landed on May 27 while it was stationed approximately 420 miles (680 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, surrounded by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.
After docking, SpaceX workers then spent the next few hours carefully maneuvering and attaching a pyramidal shaped metal hoisting cap by crane to the top of the 15 story tall first stage – as it was firmly secured to the deck of the droneship via multiple tie downs.
It was a delicately choreographed and cautiously carried out operation, complicated by the fact that this used, returned booster was tilted. The prior two sea landed Falcon 9 boosters landed perfectly upright in April and May.
Indeed a pair of technicians had to ride a cherry picker lift to the very top to help fasten the cap securely in place as it was slowly lowered in the late afternoon.
Workers then spent several more hours undoing and removing the tiedowns to the droneship deck, one by one.
Finally and with no fanfare the ‘GO’ command was suddenly given.
At dusk, Falcons 2nd ‘ascent’ began at around 8 p.m. The small group of us patiently watching and waiting all day from across the channel had no warning or advance notice. My guestimate is Falcon rose perhaps 30 to 40 feet.
It was craned over to the right and lowered onto the waiting ground based retention work platform. Altogether the whole movement took some 10 minutes.
The Falcon 9 was carrying the Thaicom-8 telecommunications satellite to orbit as its primary goal for the commercial launch from a paying customer.
It roared to life with 1.5 million pounds of thrust from the first stage Merlin 1 D engines and successfully propelled the 7000 pound (3,100 kilograms) commercial Thai communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).
Landing on the droneship was a secondary goal of SpaceX’s visionary CEO and founder Elon Musk.
It was leaning due to the high speed reentry and a touchdown landing speed near the maximum sustainable by the design.
“Rocket landing speed was close to design max & used up contingency crush core, hence back & forth motion,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
“Prob ok, but some risk of tipping.”
That tilting added significant extra technical efforts by the SpaceX workers to stabilize it at sea and bring it back safely and not tip over calamitously during the six day long sea voyage back to home port.
““Rocket back at port after careful ocean transit. Leaning back due to crush core being used up in landing legs,” SpaceX explained.
What is the crush core?
“Crush core is aluminum honeycomb for energy absorption in the telescoping actuator. Easy to replace (if Falcon makes it back to port),” Musk tweeted during the voyage home.
The landing leg design follows up and improves upon on what was used and learned from NASA’s Apollo lunar landers in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Falcon’s landing leg crush core absorbs energy from impact on touchdown. Here’s what it looked like on Apollo lander,” noted SpaceX
Check out this graphic tweeted by SpaceX.
Technicians started removing the quartet of landing legs on Friday. I observed the first one being detached late Friday, June 3.
The booster was rotated horizontally after all the legs were removed and transported back to the SpaceX processing hangar at the Kennedy Space Center at Launch Complex 39A.
The three prior landed boosters were all moved to 39 A for thorough inspection, analysis and engine testing. One will be refurbished and recycled for reuse.
Video caption: Thaicom 8 booster is lifted from autounomous drone ship to dry land for transport on 2 June 2016. Time Lapse. Credit: USLaunchReport
Later this year, SpaceX hopes to relaunch one of the recovered first stage boosters.
The SpaceX rockets and recovery technology are all being developed so they will one day lead to establishing a ‘City on Mars’ – according to the SpaceX’s visionary CEO and founder Elon Musk.
Musk aims to radically slash the cost of launching future rockets by recycling them and using them to launch new payloads for new paying customers.
Musk hopes to launch humans to Mars by the mid-2020s.
Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pad.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL. – Atop a billowing plume of fire and smoke a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared to space this afternoon, Friday, May 27, as the crackling thunder of the engines roared across the Florida space coast and the company scored a stunning double headed launch and landing success.
The 229 foot-tall (70 meter) Falcon 9 successfully delivered a 7000 pound commercial Thai telecommunications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) and the first stage booster successfully soft landed on a platform at sea some nine minutes later.
Thus SpaceX is now an unfathomable 3 for 3 in the last three first stage landing attempts – both at sea and on land.
Even more remarkable is the string of two straight successes in landings via the high energy reentries as a consequence of launching the commercial payloads to GTO.
The Falcons screams were the loudest and most thrilling I’ve ever heard from a SpaceX launch as the two stage rocket lifted off on time at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.
“Satellite deployed to 91,000 km apogee,” tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk.
“All looks good.”
The spectacular looking launch into mostly sunny Florida skies followed a days delay forced by a technical glitch in the second stage.
SpaceX engineers had to lower the Falcon 9 to the horizontal position and hurriedly fix the second engine actuator that gave concerning readings during Thursday’s original launch attempt and scrubbed the liftoff – and do so in time to safely carry out a launch attempt late this afternoon.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake on this commercial flight slated to deliver the Thaicom-8 comsat to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for Thaicom PLC, a leading satellite operator in Asia.
The first and second stages separated as planned about 2 minutes and 39 seconds after liftoff.
The nosecone, or payload fairing deployed into two halves at about T plus 3 minutes and 37 seconds.
The second stage with Thaicom-8 continued to orbit. A pair of burns carried Thaicom-8 to orbit and the satellite was deployed at T plus 31 minutes and 56 seconds.
The rocket arced over as it accelerated eastwards towards Africa.
The nine first stage Marlin 1D engines on the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket generate approximately 1.5 million pounds of thrust.
Thaicom-8 was built by aerospace competitor Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, VA. It will support Thailand’s growing broadcast industry and will provide broadcast and data services to customers in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.
The Falcon 9 launch is the 5th this year for SpaceX.
Meanwhile, the first stage began a series of propulsive burns of a Merlin 1 D engine to target a drone ship platform at sea.
SpaceX said the barge was positioned some 620 km off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
After the primary goal of delivering Thaicom-8 to GTO, the secondary test objective of SpaceX was to land the Falcon 9 rockets first stage on the ocean going barge.
The Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) platform is named “Of Course I Still Love You.”
However with this mission’s GTO destination, the first stage was subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating and a successful landing would be difficult.
Altogether, SpaceX has now recovered 4 first stage boosters – 3 by sea and 1 by land.
The quartet of landings count as stunning successes towards SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s vision of rocket reusability and radically slashing the cost of sending rockets to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reflying them with new payloads from paying customers.
SpaceX hopes to cut launch costs by one third initially, and much much more down the road.
Watch for Ken’s on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pad.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
SpaceX scored a double whammy of successes this morning, May 6, following the stunning nighttime launch of a Japanese comsat streaking to orbit on the firm’s Falcon 9 rocket and nailing the breathtaking touchdown of the spent first stage just minutes later – furthering the goal of rocket reusability
Under clear Florida starlight, the upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 soared to orbit on 1.5 million pounds of thrust on a mission carrying the JCSAT-14 commercial communications satellite, following an on time liftoff at 1:21 a.m. EDT this morning from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.
The spectacular launch and dramatic landing were both broadcast in real time on a live launch webcast from SpaceX.
Today’s Falcon launch was the 4th this year for SpaceX and took place less than 4 weeks after the last launch (on an ISS cargo mission for NASA) and sea based barge landing.
Barely nine minutes after liftoff the 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage carried out a propulsive soft landing on an ocean going platform located some 400 miles off the east coast of Florida.
“First stage landing on drone ship in Atlantic confirmed,” said a SpaceX official during the webcast, which showed a glowing body approaching the horizon.
“Woohoo!!” tweeted SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk.
This marked the second successful landing at sea for SpaceX following the prior history making touchdown success last month.
“May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar,” tweeted Musk.
“Yeah, this was a three engine landing burn, so triple deceleration of last flight. That’s important to minimize gravity losses.”
The commercial SpaceX launch lofted the JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for SKY Perfect JSAT – a leading satellite operator in the Asia – Pacific region.
After a brief reignition of the second stage, the spacecraft successfully separated from the upper stage and was deployed some 32 minutes after liftoff – as seen via the live SpaceX webcast.
“The Falcon 9 second stage delivered JCSAT-14 to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit,” said SpaceX.
Via a fleet of 15 satellites, Tokyo, Japan based SKY Perfect JSAT provides high quality satellite communications to its customers.
The JCSAT-14 communications satellite was designed and manufactured by Space Systems/Loral for SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation.
It will succeed and replace the JCSAT-2A satellite currently providing coverage to Asia, Russia, Oceania and the Pacific Islands.
JCSAT-14 is equipped with C-band and Ku-Band transponders that will extend JCSAT-2A’s geographical footprint across the Asia-Pacific region.
The Falcon 9 soft landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship positioned some 400 miles (650 kilometers) off shore in the Atlantic Ocean.
Prior to the launch, SpaceX officials had rated the chances of a successful landing as “unlikely” due to “this launch mission’s GTO destination, the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating.”
“Rocket reentry is a lot faster and hotter than last time, so odds of making it are maybe even, but we should learn a lot either way,” said Musk.
Nevertheless, despite those difficulties, the landing turned out to be another stunning success for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s vision of radically slashing the cost of sending rocket to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reusing them.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Space photographers and some lucky tourists coincidentally touring through Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the right place at the right time on a tour bus, managed to capture exquisite up close images and videos (shown above and below) of the rockets ground transport on Tuesday, April 19, along the route from its initial staging point at Port Canaveral to a secure area on KSC.
It was quite a sight to the delight of all who experienced this remarkable moment in space history – that could one day revolutionize space flight by radically slashing launch costs via recycled rockets.
The boosters nine first stage Merlin 1 D engines were wrapped in a protective sheath during the move as seen in the up close imagery.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 had successfully conducted a dramatic propulsive descent and soft landing on a barge some 200 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean on April 8, about 9 minutes after blasting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:43 p.m. EDT on the Dragon CRS-8 cargo mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).
The used Falcon 9 booster then arrived back into Port Canaveral, Florida four days later, overnight April 12, after being towed atop the ocean going platform that SpaceX dubs an ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship’ or ASDS.
The spent 15 story tall Falcon 9 booster was transported to KSC by Beyel Bros. Crane and Rigging, starting around 9:30 a.m.
After initial cleaning and clearing of hazards and processing to remove its four landing legs at the Port facility, the booster was carefully lowered by crane horizontally into a retention cradle on a multiwheel combination Goldhofer/KMAG vehicle and hauled by Beyel to KSC with a Peterbilt Prime Mover truck.
The Falcon 9 was moved to historic Launch Complex 39A at KSC for processing inside SpaceX’s newly built humongous hanger located at the pad perimeter.
Indeed this Falcon 9 first stage is now residing inside the pad 39A hanger side by side with the only other flown rocket to be recovered; the Falcon 9 first stage that accomplished a land landing back at the Cape in December 2015 – as shown in this image from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk titled “By land and sea”.
Watch this video of the move taken from a tour bus:
SpaceX engineers plan to conduct a series of some 12 test firings of the first stage Merlin 1 D engines to ensure all is well operationally in order to validate that the booster can be re-launched.
It may be moved back to Space Launch Complex-40 for the series of painstakingly inspections, tests and refurbishment.
SpaceX hopes to refly the recovered booster in a few months, perhaps as early as this summer.
The vision of SpaceX’s billionaire founder and CEO Elon Musk is to dramatically slash the cost of access to space by recovering the firms rockets and recycling them for reuse – so that launching rockets will one day be nearly as routine and cost effective as flying on an airplane.
The essential next step after recovery is recycling. Musk said he hopes to re-launch the booster this year.
Whenever it happens, it will count as the first relaunch of a used rocket in history.
SpaceX has leased Pad 39A from NASA and is renovating the facilities for future launches of the existing upgraded Falcon 9 as well as the Falcon Heavy currently under development.
Landing on the barge was a secondary goal of SpaceX and not part of the primary mission sending science experiments and cargo to the ISS crew under a resupply contract with for NASA.
Watch this SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon CRS-8 launch video from my video camera placed at the pad:
Video Caption: Spectacular blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL at 4:43 p.m. EST on April 8, 2016. Up close movie captured by Mobius remote video camera placed at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Now that SpaceX has successfully and safely demonstrated the upright recovery of their Falcon 9 booster that flew to the edge of space and back on Dec. 21 – in a historic first – the intertwined questions of how did it fare and what lies ahead for the intact first stage stands front and center.