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

………….

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

SpaceX Adopts Lessons Learned From Multiple Booster Landings – Test Fires Recovered 1st Stage: Videos

SpaceX completed the first full duration test firing of a landed first booster on July 28, 2016 on a test stand at their rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.
SpaceX completed the first full duration test firing of a landed first stage booster on July 28, 2016 on a test stand at their rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. Credit: SpaceX

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

The used 15 story Falcon booster had successfully carried out an intact soft landing on an ocean going platform after launching a Japanese commercial telecommunications satellite only two months ago on May 6 of this year.

Just 10 minutes after launching the JCSAT-14 telecom satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), the used first stage relit a first stage Merlin 1D engine.

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.

The most recent launch and landing occurred last week on July 18, 2016 during the dramatic midnight blastoff of the SpaceX CRS-9 commercial cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under contract for NASA.

See the stupendous events unfold in up close photos and videos herein.

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

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.

Moments before dramatic touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage at Landing Zone-1 (LX-1) accompanied by sonic booms after launching Dragon CRS-9 supply ship to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 12:45 a.m., bound for the International Space Station (ISS).   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Moments before dramatic touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage at Landing Zone-1 (LX-1) accompanied by sonic booms after launching Dragon CRS-9 supply ship to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 12:45 a.m., bound for the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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.

However while trying to extend the touchdown streak to 4 in a row during the latest drone ship landing attempt following the June 15 Eutelsat telecom launch to GTO, the booster basically crashed because it descended too quickly due to insufficient thrust from the Merlin descent engines.

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.”

Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch.  Credit: Julian Leek
Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch. Credit: Julian Leek

“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].”

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

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.

Ken Kremer

Watch my launch pad video of the CRS-9 launch:

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

Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 awaiting launch on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 awaiting launch on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann
First stage booster with landing legs removed from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
First stage booster with landing legs removed from SpaceX JCSAT-14 launch was transported horizontally to SpaceX hangar at pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on May 16, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Proud fisherman displays ultra fresh ‘catch of the day’ as ultra rare species of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket floats by simultaneously on barge in Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Proud fisherman displays ultra fresh ‘catch of the day’ as ultra rare species of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket floats by simultaneously on barge in Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 basks in nighttime glow after arriving into Port Canaveral on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 basks in nighttime glow after arriving into Port Canaveral on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Pancaked SpaceX Falcon Pulls into Port After Trio of Spectacular Landings; Photos/Videos

Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch to orbit.  Credit: Julian Leek
Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch to orbit. Credit: Julian Leek

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — The pancaked leftovers of a SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage from last week’s successful commercial launch but hard landing at sea, pulled silently and without fanfare into its home port over the weekend – thereby ending a string of three straight spectacular and upright soft ocean landings over the past two months.

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.

Pancaked SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived at night into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship on June 18 after hard landing at sea following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch to orbit.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Pancaked SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived at night into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship on June 18 after hard landing at sea following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch to orbit. Credit: Lane Hermann

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.

Successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of ABS/Eutelsat-2 launch on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Successful SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of ABS/Eutelsat-2 launch on June 15, 2016, at 10:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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.

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

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.

Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch.  Credit: Julian Leek
Flattened SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship late Saturday, June 18 after hard landing and tipping over following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch to orbit. Credit: Julian Leek

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.

SpaceX Falocn 9 streaks to orbit across the Florida skies after Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsat  launch  on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falocn 9 streaks to orbit across the Florida skies after Eutelsat/ABS 2A comsat launch on June 15, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The June 15 crash follows three straight landing successes at sea – on April 8, May 6 and mostly recently on May 27 after the Thaicom-8 launch. See my onsite coverage here of the Thaicom-8 boosters return to Port Canaveral on the OCISLY droneship.

Yet this outcome was also not unexpected due to the high energy of the rocket required to deliver the primary payload to the GTO orbit.

“As mentioned at the beginning of the year, I’m expecting ~70% success rate on landings for the year,” Musk explains.

And keep in mind that the rocket recovery and recycling effort is truly a science experiment on a grand scale financed by SpaceX – and its aiming for huge dividends down the road.

“2016 is the year of experimentation.”

It’s a road that Musk hopes will one day lead to a human “City on Mars.”

Pancaked SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived at night into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship on June 18 after hard landing at sea following successful June 15, 2016  commercial payload launch to orbit.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Pancaked SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrived at night into Port Canaveral, FL atop a droneship on June 18 after hard landing at sea following successful June 15, 2016 commercial payload launch to orbit. Credit: Lane Hermann

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

Ken Kremer

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

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘Lifts Off’ 2nd Time After ‘Baby Made it Home!” – Gallery

With US flag flying in background below, the base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 booster with 4 deployed landing legs and 9 Merlin 1 D engines is lifted off ‘OCISLY’ droneship barge at dusk on June 2, 2016 after sailing at  midday through Port Canaveral. The rocket  successfully launched Thaicom-8 satellite on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl and landed on sea based platform minutes later.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
With US flag proudly flying in background below, the base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 booster with 4 deployed landing legs and 9 Merlin 1 D engines is lifted off ‘OCISLY’ droneship barge at dusk on June 2, 2016 after sailing at midday through Port Canaveral. The rocket successfully launched Thaicom-8 satellite on May 27, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl and landed on sea based platform minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL, FL – The spent SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster that sped to space and back and landed safely at sea, ‘lifted off’ for a second time so to speak after CEO Elon Musk’s “Baby Made it Home” to her home port around lunchtime on June 2 – as I witnessed and reported here for Universe Today.

“Yay, baby made it home,” SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk exuberantly tweeted with a link to my port arrival story and photos showing the tilted booster radiantly floating atop the droneship landing platform.

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.

3 image sequence shows SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘lifted off ‘OCISLY’ droneship barge at dusk on June 2, 2016 and moved to ground processing cradle at Port Canaveral, FL following May 27, 2016 launch/landing to deliver Thaicom-8 satellite to orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
3 image sequence shows SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘lifted off ‘OCISLY’ droneship barge at dusk on June 2, 2016 and moved to ground processing cradle at Port Canaveral, FL following May 27, 2016 launch/landing to deliver Thaicom-8 satellite to orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 sails into Port Canaveral atop droneship on June 2, 2016. Credit: John Krauss
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom 8 mission sails into Port Canaveral atop droneship on June 2, 2016. Credit: John Krauss

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.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom 8 mission sails into Port Canaveral atop droneship on June 2, 2016. Credit: John Krauss
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom 8 mission sails into Port Canaveral atop droneship on June 2, 2016. Credit: John Krauss

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.

in Port Canaveral, FL prior to craning it to ground processing cradle on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
in Port Canaveral, FL prior to craning it to ground processing cradle on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SpaceX Falcon 9 began its rapid journey to space and back roaring to life at 5:39 p.m. EDT last Friday, May 27, from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, ascending into sky blue sunshine state skies.

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.

Falcon's landing leg crush core absorbs energy from impact on touchdown. Here's what it looked like on Apollo lander. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon’s landing leg crush core absorbs energy from impact on touchdown. Here’s what it looked like on Apollo lander. Credit: SpaceX

Technicians started removing the quartet of landing legs on Friday. I observed the first one being detached late Friday, June 3.

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

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.

Technicians work to attach hoisting cap to top of used SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom-8 mission that was secured atop ‘OCISLY’ droneship in Port Canaveral, FL prior to craning it over to ground processing cradle on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Technicians work to attach hoisting cap to top of used SpaceX Falcon 9 from Thaicom-8 mission that was secured atop ‘OCISLY’ droneship in Port Canaveral, FL prior to craning it over to ground processing cradle on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

Ken Kremer

………….

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

June 8/9: “SpaceX, ULA, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 basks in nighttime glow after arriving into Port Canaveral on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 basks in nighttime glow after arriving into Port Canaveral on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
4 natural made pelicans and a manmade SpaceX Falcon 9 with 4 landing legs at Port Canaveral, FL on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
4 natural made pelicans and a manmade SpaceX Falcon 9 with 4 landing legs at Port Canaveral, FL on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. 1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Tow boat passing in front of the used SpaceX rocket waiting offshore. Credit: Julian Leek
Tow boat passing in front of the used SpaceX rocket waiting offshore. Credit: Julian Leek
Proud fisherman displays ultra fresh ‘catch of the day’ as ultra rare species of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket floats by simultaneously on barge in Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Proud fisherman displays ultra fresh ‘catch of the day’ as ultra rare species of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket floats by simultaneously on barge in Port Canaveral, Fl, on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX Falcon 9 Thunders to Space with Thai Comsat – Scores Double Headed Win with 3rd Straight Booster Landing

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

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.”

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

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.

Up close view of payload fairing of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivering Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of payload fairing of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivering Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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.

Thaicom-8 communications satellite built by Orbital ATK will launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 26, 2016.  The satellite has delivered to the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida in late April 2016.  Credit: Orbital ATK
Thaicom-8 communications satellite built by Orbital ATK will launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 26, 2016. The satellite has delivered to the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida in late April 2016. Credit: Orbital ATK

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.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after afternoon liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 aloft with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after afternoon liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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.

SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over eastwards with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over eastwards with Thaicom-8 communications satellite after liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on May 27, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

THAICOM 8 spacecraft as seen during  deployment into a nominal supersynch transfer orbit. Credit: SpaceX
THAICOM 8 spacecraft as seen during deployment into a nominal supersynch transfer orbit. Credit: SpaceX

………….

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

May 28: “SpaceX, ULA, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, afternoon/evening

Falcon 9 first stage landed on the droneship in the Atlantic Ocean after launch of Thaicom-8 on May 27, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 first stage landed on the droneship in the Atlantic Ocean after launch of Thaicom-8 on May 27, 2016. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Scores Double Whammy with Nighttime Delivery of Japanese Comsat to Orbit and 2nd Successful Ocean Landing

Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit after blastoff on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: SpaceX
Streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit after blastoff on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceX

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.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

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.”

Falcon 9 first stage touchdown on ocean platform after successful JCSAT-14 launch on May 6, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 first stage touchdown on ocean platform after successful JCSAT-14 launch on May 6, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceX

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 JCSAT-14 communications satellite from SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation stands ready for encapsulation in the Falcon 9 payload fairing. Credit: SpaceX
The JCSAT-14 communications satellite from SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation stands ready for encapsulation in the Falcon 9 payload fairing. Credit: SpaceX

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.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

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

Ken Kremer

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: SpaceX
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 at 1:21 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceX
Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Prelaunch view of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-14 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on May 6, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann
SpaceX JCSAT-14 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX JCSAT-14 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster Moves Back to KSC for Eventual Reflight

Up close view of base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket powered by 9 Merlin 1 D engines being transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Up close view of base of recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket powered by 9 Merlin 1 D engines being transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Note: landing legs were removed. Credit: Julian Leek

The recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster that successfully carried out history’s first upright touchdown from a just flown rocket onto a droneship at sea, has just been moved back to the firms processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for testing and eventual reflight.

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.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket was transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket was transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

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.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket was transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket was transported horizontally back to SpaceX processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center from Port Canaveral, Florida storage and processing facility on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

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”.

Side by side SpaceX Falcon 9 first stages recovered ‘by land and sea’ in Dec 2015 and Apr 2016. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
Side by side SpaceX Falcon 9 first stages recovered ‘by land and sea’ in Dec 2015 and Apr 2016. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

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.

The nine Merlin 1 D engines that power SpaceX Falcon 9 are positioned in an octoweb arrangement, as shown in this up close view of the base of recovered first stage during transport to Kennedy Space Center pad 39 A from Port Canaveral, Florida on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
The nine Merlin 1 D engines that power SpaceX Falcon 9 are positioned in an octoweb arrangement, as shown in this up close view of the base of recovered first stage during transport to Kennedy Space Center pad 39 A from Port Canaveral, Florida on April 19, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

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.

SpaceX Crew Dragon will blast off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida  for missions to the International Space Station. Pad 39A is  undergoing modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. A horizontal integration facility (right) has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Crew Dragon will blast off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for missions to the International Space Station. Pad 39A is undergoing modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. A horizontal integration facility (right) has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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.

Ken Kremer

Watch SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Almost Stick Droneship Landing, then Tip and Explode; Video

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage tips over and explodes on Pacific ocean droneship after landing leg fails to lock in place on Jan 17, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage tips over and explodes on Pacific ocean droneship after landing leg fails to lock in place on Jan 17, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
See landing video below

SpaceX came much closer to sticking the landing of their Falcon 9 rocket on a tiny droneship at sea than initially thought, as evidenced by a dramatic video of the latest attempt to recover the booster by making a soft ocean touchdown on Sunday, Jan. 17, after successfully propelling a US-European ocean surveillance satellite to low Earth orbit. Continue reading “Watch SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Almost Stick Droneship Landing, then Tip and Explode; Video”

What’s Ahead for Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster?

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.

Well the booster is apparently no worse for the wear of the grueling ascent and descent and will live to fire up again one day in the not so distant future at a former shuttle launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following thorough inspections by SpaceX engineers. Continue reading “What’s Ahead for Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster?”

Genesis of ULA’s New Vulcan Rocket Borne of Fierce Commercial and Political Pressures: Interview

Fierce commercial and international political pressures have forced the rapid development of the new Vulcan launcher family recently announced by rocket maker United Launch Alliance (ULA). Vulcan’s “genesis” and development was borne of multiple unrelenting forces on ULA and is now absolutely essential and critical for its “transformation and survival in a competitive environment” moving forward, according to Dr. George Sowers, ULA Vice President for Advanced Concepts and Technology, in an exclusive interview with Universe Today.

“To be successful and survive ULA needs to transform to be more of a competitive company in a competitive environment,” Dr. Sowers told Universe Today in a wide ranging interview regarding the rationale and goals of the Vulcan rocket.

Vulcan is ULA’s next generation rocket to space and slated for an inaugural liftoff in 2019.

Faced with the combined challenges of a completely changed business and political environment emanating powerfully from new space upstart SpaceX offering significantly reduced launch costs, and continuing uncertainty over the future supply of the Russian-made RD-180 workhorse rocket engines that power ULA’s venerable Atlas V rocket, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Sowers and ULA’s new CEO Tory Bruno were tasked with rapidly resolving these twin threats to the firms future well being – which also significantly impacts directly on America’s national security.

“Our current plan is to have the new Vulcan rocket flying by 2019,” Sowers stated.

Whereas ULA enjoyed a virtual US launch monopoly for many years, those days are now history thanks to SpaceX.

Vulcan - United Launch Alliance (ULA)’s next generation rocket is set to make its debut flight in 2019.  Credit: ULA
Vulcan – United Launch Alliance (ULA) next generation rocket is set to make its debut flight in 2019. Credit: ULA

The Vulcan launcher was created in response to the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and it will combine the best features of ULA’s existing unmanned Atlas V and Delta IV booster product lines as well as being revamped with new and innovative American-made first stage engines that will eventually be reusable.

It will meet and exceed the capabilities of ULA’s current stable of launchers, including the Delta IV Heavy which recently launched NASA’s maiden Orion crew module on an unmanned test flight in Dec. 2014.

“We at ULA were faced with how do we take our existing products and transform them into a single fleet that enables us to do the entire range of missions on just one family of rockets.”

“So that was really the genesis of what we now call the “Vulcan” rocket. So this single family will be able to do everything [from medium to heavy lift],” Sowers told me.

Another requirement is that Vulcan’s manufacturing methodology be extremely efficient, slashing costs to make it cost competitive with the Space X Falcon 9. Sowers said the launcher would sell “for less than $100 million” at the base level.

“Vulcan will be the highest-performing, most cost-efficient rocket on the market. It will open up new opportunities for the nation’s use of space,” says ULA CEO Tory Bruno.

In its initial configuration Vulcan’s first stage will be powered by a revolutionary new class of cost effective and wholly domestic engines dubbed the BE-4, produced by Blue Origin.

It can be augmented by up to six solid rocket boosters, to propel high value payloads on missions ranging from low Earth orbit to interplanetary destinations for NASA, private industry and vital US national security interests.

Vulcan will also blast off with astronaut crews aboard the Boeing CST-100 space taxi bound for the International Space Station (ISS) in the early 2020s.

Cutaway diagram of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket powered by BE-4 first stage engines, six solid rocket motors and a 5 meter diameter payload fairing. Credit ULA
Cutaway diagram of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket powered by BE-4 first stage engines, six solid rocket motors and a 5 meter diameter payload fairing. Credit ULA

Further upgrades including a powerful new upper stage called ACES, will be phased in down the road as launches of ULA’s existing rocket families wind down, to alleviate any schedule slips.

“Because rocket design is hard and the rocket business is tough we are planning an overlap period between our existing rockets and the new Vulcan rocket,” Sowers explained. “That will account for any delays in development and other issues in the transition process to the new rocket.”

ULA was formed in 2006 as a 50:50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that combined their existing expendable rocket fleet families – the Atlas V and Delta IV – under one roof.

Development of the two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV’s) was originally funded by the U.S. Air Force to provide two independent and complimentary launch capabilities thereby offering assured access to space for America’s most critical military reconnaissance satellites gathering intelligence for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), DOD and the most senior US military and government leaders.

Since 2006, SpaceX (founded by billionaire Elon Musk) has emerged on the space scene as a potent rival offering significantly lower cost launches compared to ULA and other launch providers in the US and overseas – and captured a significant and growing share of the international launch market for its American-made Falcon rocket family.

And last year to top that all off, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of space and defense industries, threatened to “ban Washington from using Russian-made [RD-180] rocket engines [used in the Atlas V rocket], which the US has used to deliver its military satellites into orbit.”

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
ULA Atlas V rocket first stage is powered by Russian-made RD-180 engines.
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, March 12, 2015, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

“ULA was formed eight years ago as a government regulated monopoly focused on US government launches. Now eight years later the environment is changing,” Sowers told me.

How did ULA respond to the commercial and political challenges and transform?

“So there are a lot of things we had to do structurally to make that transformation. One of the key ones is that when ULA was formed, the government was very concerned about having assured access to space for national security launches,” Sowers explained.

“In their mind that meant having two independent rocket systems that could essentially do the same jobs. So we have both the Atlas V and the Delta IV. But in a competitive environment you can well imagine that that requirement drives your costs significantly higher than they need to be.”

ULA actually offered three rocket families after the merger, when only one was really needed.

“So our first conclusion on how to be competitive was how do we go from supporting three rocket families – including the Delta II – off of 6 launch pads, to our ultimate aim of getting down to just 1 rocket family of off just 2 pads – one on each coast. So, that is the most cost effective structure that we could come up with and the most competitive.”

Developing a new first stage engine not subject to international tensions was another primary impetus.

“The other big objective that was always in our minds, but that became much higher priority in April 2014 when Russia decided to annex Crimea, is that the RD-180 rocket engine that became our workhorse on Atlas, now became politically untenable.”

“So the other main objective of Vulcan is to re-engine [the first stage of] our fleet with an American engine, the Blue Origin BE-4.”

The RD-180’s will be replaced with a pair of BE-4 engines from Blue Origin, the highly secretive aerospace firm founded by Jeff Bezos, billionaire founder of Amazon. The revolutionary BE-4 engines are fueled by liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen and will produce about 1.1 million pounds of thrust vs. about 900,000 pounds of thrust for the RD-180, a significant enhancement in thrust.

“The Blue Origin BE-4 is the primary engine [for Vulcan]. ULA is co-investing with Blue Origin in that engine.”

Although the BE-4 is ULA’s primary choice to replace the RD-180, ULA is also investing in development of a backup engine, the AR-1 from Aerojet-Rocketdyne, in case the BE-4 faces unexpected delays.

“As I said, rocket development is hard and risky. So we have a backup plan. That is with Aerojet-Rocketdyne and their AR-1. And we are investing in that engine as well.”

More on the Vulcan, BE-4, reusability and more upcoming in part 2.

ULA concept for SMART reuse capability for the new Vulcan rocket involves eventual midair recovery and reuse of the first stage engines.  Credit: ULA
ULA concept for SMART reuse capability for the new Vulcan rocket involves eventual midair recovery and reuse of the first stage engines. Credit: ULA

Meanwhile, the next commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 is due to blastoff this Sunday, June 28, on the Dragon CRS-7 resupply mission to the ISS.

Watch for my onsite reports from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 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 ULA, SpaceX, Europa, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Jun 25-28: “SpaceX launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com