SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down in Pacific with Treasure Trove of Space Station Science

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-10 spacecraft is pictured seconds before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on Mar. 19, 2017 after departing the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX’s tenth contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station came to a safe conclusion with a splashdown of the Dragon spacecraft in the Pacific Ocean Sunday and successfully returned a treasure trove of more than two tons of precious science experiments and research samples from the space station.

Researchers on Earth are eagerly awaiting the science data and samples in order to carry out high powered laboratory analysis that will eventually yield the fruits of the hard won labor – years in the making.

The Dragon CRS-10 cargo freighter departed the International Space Station (ISS) Sunday morning after Expedition 50 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Shane Kimbrough of NASA released the spacecraft from the grip of the station’s 57.7-foot-long(17.6-meter) Canadian-built Canadarm2 robotic arm as planned at 5:11 a.m. EDT, March 19.

After carefully maneuvering away from the orbiting outpost and six person international crew at an altitude of appox. 250 miles (400 km), Dragon eased away to a safe distance.

SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-10 cargo vehicle is attached to the International Space Station on Feb 23, 2017 after early morning capture by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet using the robotic arm and subsequent berthing at Earth facing port on the Harmony module. It will stay for a month. Credit: NASA

The vessel then fired its braking thrusters a few hours later to initiate the reentry burn that would set the craft on course for a fiery plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Some five and a half hours later the spaceship carried out a parachute assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 10:46 a.m. EDT, about 200 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.

The highest priority research and technology cargo will be removed from Dragon immediately and returned to NASA.

SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon supply ship launched on Feb. 19, 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida successfully arrives at the International Space Station on Feb. 23, 2017 for capture and berthing at station port on the Harmony module. Credit: NASA

The rest will travel back to port and be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, where the remaining scientific samples, research experiments and technology gear and hardware will be unloaded for NASA.

Dragon had spent nearly a month berthed at the Earth-facing port on the station’s Harmony module, since arriving on Feb 23.

Dragon begun its space voyage after it was launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Sunday, Feb. 19 on the first Falcon 9 rocket ever to blast off from historic launch pad 39A in a blaze of glory – as I reported here.

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

At liftoff, the Dragon CRS-10 space freighter was carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload to the low Earth orbiting station in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

After a four day chase, Dragon was captured and attached to the station using the Canadian arm on Feb 23 by the same two astronauts who released it on Sunday.

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere. It is one of NASA’s longest running earth science programs.

The LIS lightning mapper will measure the amount, rate and energy of lightning as it strikes around the world from the altitude of the ISS as it orbits Earth. Its data will complement that from the recently orbited GLM lighting mapper lofted to geosynchronous aboard the NASA/NOAA GOES-R spacecraft instrument.

NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

SAGE III and RAVEN were stowed in the Dragon’s unpressurized truck. Astronauts plucked them out of the trunk using the robotic arm and attached them to specified locations on the stations exterior to carry out their objectives.

For the return trip to Earth, the astronaut crew loaded Dragon with more than 5,400 pounds of NASA cargo, and science and technology demonstration samples gathered and collected by the stations crewmembers.

“A variety of technological and biological studies are returning in Dragon. The Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation had crew members observe cell growth and other characteristics in microgravity,” said NASA.

“This information will provide insight into how human cancers start and spread, which aids in the development of prevention and treatment plans. Results from this investigation could lead to the treatment of disease and injury in space, as well as provide a way to improve stem cell production for human therapy on Earth.”

“Samples from the Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect study, a U.S. National Laboratory investigation sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, studied what prevents vertebrates such as rodents and humans from re-growing lost bone and tissue, and how microgravity conditions affect the process. Results will provide a new understanding of the biological reasons behind a human’s inability to grow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to new treatment options for the more than 30 percent of the patient population who do not respond to current options for chronic non-healing wounds.”

Dragon departed in order to make way for the arrival of the next cargo ship.

The ‘SS John Glenn’ Cygnus cargo freighter built by Orbital Sciences is due to lift off no earlier than March 27 on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named for Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida behind a sign commemorating Glenn on March 9, 2017. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch and 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

March Launch Madness: Triple Headed Space Spectacular Starts Overnight with SpaceX March 14 – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying EchoStar 23 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad on March 13, 2017 ahead of liftoff slated for 14 Mar 2017 at 1:34 a.m. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – It’s March Madness for Space fans worldwide! A triple header of space spectaculars starts overnight with a SpaceX Falcon 9 launching in the wee hours of Tuesday, March 14 from the Florida Space Coast.

Indeed a trio of launches is planned in the next week as launch competitor and arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) plans a duo of nighttime blastoffs from their Delta and Atlas rocket families – following closely on the heels of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launching a commercial telecommunications satellite.

Of course it’s all dependent on everything happening like clockwork!

And there is no guarantee of that given the unpredictable nature of the fast changing weather on the Florida Space Coast and unknown encounters with technical gremlins which have already plagued all 3 rockets this month.

Each liftoff has already been postponed by several days this month. And the rocket launch order has swapped positions.

At any rate, SpaceX is now the first on tap after midnight tonight on Tuesday, March 14.

The Delta IV and Atlas V will follow on March 17 and March 21 respectively – if all goes well.

So to paraphrase moon walker Buzz Aldrin;

‘Get Your Ass to the Florida Space Coast – Fast !’

The potential for a grand slam also exists at the very end of the month. But let’s get through at least the first launch of Falcon first.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands at launch pad 39a poised to liftoff with EchoStar 23 TV sat on the Kennedy Space Center ahead of liftoff slated for 14 Mar 2017 at 1:34 a.m. Credit: Julian Leek

Liftoff of the two stage SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite is now slated for a post midnight spectacle next Tuesday, Mar. 14 from launch pad 39A on the Kennedy Space Center at the opening of the launch window at 1:34 a.m. EDT.

The two and a half hour launch window closes at 4:04 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 20 minutes prior to the 1:34 a.m. liftoff time.

The SpaceX webcast will be available starting at about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 1:14 a.m. EDT.

Watch at: SpaceX.com/webcast

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying EchoStar 23 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad on March 13, 2017 ahead of liftoff slated for 14 Mar 2017 at 1:34 a.m. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Following a successful static fire test last week on Mar. 9 of the first stage boosters engines, the SpaceX Falcon 9 was integrated with the EchoStar 23 direct to home TV satellite and rolled back out to pad 39A

The Falcon 9 rocket was raised erect into launch position by the time I visited the pad this afternoon, Monday March 13, to set up my cameras.

The weather outlook is not great at this moment, with rain and thick clouds smothering the coastline and central Florida.

The planned Mar. 14 launch comes barely three weeks after the Falcon’s successful debut on Feb. 19 on the NASA contracted Dragon CRS-10 mission that delivered over 2.5 tons of cargo to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Raindrops keep falling on the lens, as inaugural SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon disappears into the low hanging rain clouds at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after liftoff from pad 39A on Feb. 19, 2017. Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission is delivering over 5000 pounds of science and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Launch Complex 39A was repurposed by SpaceX from launching Shuttles to Falcons. It had lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

SpaceX bilionaire CEO Elon Musk announced last week that he wants to launch a manned Moonshot from pad 39A by the end of next year using his triple barreled Falcon Heavy heavy lift rocket – derived from the Falcon 9.

The second launch of the trio on tap is a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying the WGS-9 high speed military communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force.

Liftoff of the ULA Delta is slated for March 17 from Space Launch Complex-37 at 7: 44 p.m. EDT.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The S.S. John Glenn is scheduled to as the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 spacecraft for NASA on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launch no earlier than March 21 from Space launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 spacecraft named the SS John Glenn for Original 7 Mercury astronaut and Sen. John Glenn, undergoes processing inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 9, 2017 for launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 EchoStar 23 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX

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Learn more about SpaceX EchoStar 23 and CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Mar 13-15: “SpaceX EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Mar 9, 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. Liftoff with EchoStar 23 comsat is planned for 14 March 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX Conducts Successful Static Fire Test Permitting Post Midnight Spectacle with EchoStar 23 Comsat on March 14

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Mar 9, 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. Liftoff with EchoStar 23 comsat is planned for 14 March 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SPACE VIEW PARK/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a pair of back to back postponements presumably due to technical gremlins, the third time proved to be the charm at last as SpaceX engineers carried out a successful engine test of the Falcon 9 first stage this evening (Mar. 9) atop historic pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The brief test lasting about 3 seconds took place at 6 p.m. this evening, with an exciting eruption of smoke and ash into the air during the serene waning sunlight as I witnessed from Space View Park in Titusville, FL – which is a great place to watch launches from, offering an unobstructed view across the inland waterway.

This critical engine test opens the door to what will be only the second blastoff of the SpaceX commercial Falcon 9 rocket from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 carrying the EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite is now slated for a post midnight spectacle next Tuesday, Mar. 14 from pad 39A at the opening of the launch window at 1:34 a.m. EDT.

The two and a half hour launch window closes at 4:04 a.m. EDT.

The delayed completion of the static fire test resulted in a two day launch slip from March 12 to March 14 in order to complete all the prelaunch processing.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus EchoStar 23 comsat stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl, prior to static fire test on 9 Mar. 2017. This is only the second rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff is slated for 14 Mar 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“Following today’s static fire test, SpaceX is targeting the launch of the EchoStar XXIII satellite from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, Mar. 14, SpaceX confirmed in a statement soon after completion of the test.

“SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will deliver the satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).”

The EchoStar 23 launch counts as only the second Falcon 9 ever to blastoff from pad 39A- which SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk leased from NASA back in April 2014.

The nighttime lunge to space should offer spectacular viewing. But unlike most recent SpaceX missions, this Falcon will be the last expendable first stage. It is not outfitted with landing legs or grid fins to maneuver it back to a touchdown.

Watch this video of the March 9 static fire test from colleague Jeff Seibert:

Video Caption: Falcon 9 static fire test on Pad 39A on March 9, 2017. This is the second Falcon 9 static fire test on Pad 39A in preparation for the launch of the EchoStar-23 satellite. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The planned Mar. 14 launch comes barely three weeks after the Falcon’s successful debut on Feb. 19 on the NASA contracted Dragon CRS-10 mission that delivered over 2.5 tons of cargo to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Launch Complex 39A was repurposed by SpaceX from launching Shuttles to Falcons. It had lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today’s engine test was carried out absent the expensive satellite payload bolted on top, to keep it safely stored away in case of a repeat of the catastrophic Falcon 9/Amos-6 pad explosion last September at pad 40 during a similar test that destroyed both the rocket and payload and caused extensive damage to the pad infrastructure.

If all goes well, the EchoStar 23 launch will showcase that SpaceX is picking up the pace of space launches and recovering from the Amos-6 disaster.

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

The hot fire test generated a huge plume of smoke exhausting out the north side of the flame trench of Launch Complex 39A at approximately 6:00 p.m. EST, Mar. 9. at the opening of a 6 hour long test window.

The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A – which has been repurposed from its days as a shuttle launch pad.

The Merlin 1D engines fired for about 3 seconds while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad.

The smoke cloud soon dissipated and within 5 minutes there was barely a trace of what we shall soon see next Tuesday – if all goes well with launch processing and the ever changing sunshine state weather.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Mar 9, 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. Liftoff with EchoStar 23 comsat is planned for 14 March 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Titusville offers a prime viewing location for anyone interested in traveling to the Florida Space Coast to see this Falcon 9 launch in person.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus EchoStar 23 comsat stands erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from the press site prior to static fire test on 9 Mar. 2017. Only the top of the rocket is visible behind the historic shuttle RSS structure. This is only the second rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff is slated for 14 Mar 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The static fire test is routinely carried out by SpaceX and confirms that both the first stage engines and the rocket are suited for liftoff.

The rocket – minus the EchoStar 23 payload – had been rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence several days ago and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A using a newly built dedicated transporter-erector.

With the successful completion of the static fire test, the booster will be rolled back to the big processing hangar and EchoStar 23 encapsulated inside the payload fairing will be integrated on top.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX EchoStar 23 and CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Mar 10, 11, 13-15: “SpaceX EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus EchoStar 23 comsat sits horizontal atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl, prior to static fire test on 9 Mar. 2017, as technicians process the rocket. This is only the second rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff is slated for 14 Mar 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 EchoStar 23 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk Announces Daring SpaceX Dragon Flight Beyond Moon with 2 Private Astronauts in 2018

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced plans on Feb. 27, 2017 to launch a commercial crew SpaceX Dragon to beyond the Moon and back with two private astronauts in 2018 using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launching from the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Elon Musk, billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX, announced today (27 Feb) a daring plan to launch a commercial manned journey “to beyond the Moon and back” in 2018 flying aboard an advanced crewed Dragon spacecraft paid for by two private astronauts – at a media telecon.

Note: Check back again for updated details on this breaking news story.

“This is an exciting thing! We have been approached to do a crewed mission to beyond the Moon by some private individuals,” Musk announced at the hastily arranged media telecon just concluded this afternoon which Universe Today was invited to participate in.

The private two person crew would fly aboard a human rated Dragon on a long looping trajectory around the moon and far beyond on an ambitious mission lasting roughly eight days and that could blastoff by late 2018 – if all goes well with rocket and spacecraft currently under development, but not yet flown.

“This would do a long leap around the moon,” Musk said. “We’re working out the exact parameters, but this would be approximately a week long mission – and it would skim the surface of the moon, go quite a bit farther out into deep space, and then loop back to Earth. I’m guessing probably distance wise, maybe 300,000 or 400,000 miles.”

The private duo would fly on a ‘free return’ trajectory around the Moon – but not land on the Moon like NASA did in the 1960s and 1970s.

But they would venture further out into deep space than any humans have ever been before.

No human has traveled beyond low Earth orbit in more than four decades since Apollo 17 – NASA’s final lunar landing mission in December 1972, and commanded by recently deceased astronaut Gene Cernan.

“Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration,” says SpaceX.

Musk said the private crew of two would launch on a Dragon 2 crew spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida – the same pad that just reopened for business last week with the successful launch of a cargo Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA on the CRS-10 mission.

“They are two paying customers,” Musk elaborated. “They’re very serious about it.”

“But nobody from Hollywood.”

“They will fly using a Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy next year in 2018.”

“The lunar orbit mission would launch about 6 months after the [first] NASA crew to the space station on Falcon 9/Dragon 2,” Musk told Universe Today.

Musk noted they had put down “a significant deposit” and will undergo extensive flight training.

He declined to state the cost – but just mentioned it would be more than the cost of a Dragon seat for a flight to the space station, which is about $58 million.

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

SpaceX is currently developing the commercial crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to transport astronauts to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS) under a NASA funded a $2.6 billion public/private contract. Boeing was also awarded a $4.2 Billion commercial crew contract by NASA to build the crewed CST-100 Starliner for ISS missions.

The company is developing the triple barreled Falcon Heavy with its own funds – which is derived from the single barreled Falcon 9 rocket funded by NASA.

But neither the Dragon 2 nor the Falcon Heavy have yet launched to space and their respective maiden missions haven been postponed multiple time for several years – due to a combination of funding and technical issues.

So alot has to go right for this private Moonshot mission to actually lift off by the end of next year.

NASA is developing the new SLS heavy lift booster and Orion capsule for deep space missions to the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

The inaugural uncrewed SLS/Orion launch is slated for late 2018. But NASA just announced the agency has started a feasibility study to examine launching a crew on the first Orion dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) on a revamped mission in 2019 rather than 2021 on EM-2.

Thus the potential exists that SpaceX could beat NASA back to the Moon with humans.

I asked Musk to describe the sequence of launches leading up to the private Moonshot and whether a crewed Dragon 2 would launch initially to the ISS.

Musk replied that SpaceX hopes to launch the first uncrewed Dragon 2 test flight to the ISS by the end of this year on the firm’s Falcon 9 rocket – almost identical to the rocket that just launched on Feb. 19 from pad 39A.

That would be followed by crewed launch to the ISS around mid-2018 and the private Moonshot by the end of 2018.

“The timeline is we expect to launch a human rated Dragon 2 on Falcon 9 by the end of this year, but without people on board just for the test flight to the space station,” Musk told Universe Today.

“Then about 6 months later we would fly with a NASA crew to the space station on Falcon 9/Dragon 2.”

“And then about 6 months after that, assuming the schedule holds by end of next year, is when we would do the lunar orbit mission.”

I asked Musk about whether any heat shield modifications to Dragon 2 were required?

“The heat shield is quite massively over designed,” Musk told me during the telecom.

“It’s actually designed for multiple Earth orbit reentry missions – so that we can actually do up to 10 reentry missions with the same heat shield.”

“That means it can actually do at least 1 lunar orbit reentry velocity missions, and conceivably maybe 2.”

“So we do not expect any redesign of the heat shield.”

The reentry velocity and heat generated from a lunar mission is far higher than from a low Earth orbit mission to the space station.

Nevertheless the flight is not without risk.

The Dragon 2 craft will need some upgrades. For example “a deep space communications system” with have to be installed for longer trips, said Musk.

Dragon currently is only equipped for shorter Earth orbiting missions.

The flight must also be approved by the FAA before its allowed to blastoff – as is the case with all commercial launches like the Feb. 19 Falcon 9/Cargo Dragon mission for NASA.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Musk declined to identify the two individuals or their genders but did say they know one another.

They must pass health and training tests.

“We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year,’ noted SpaceX.

The flight itself would be very autonomous. The private passengers will train for emergencies but would not be responsible for piloting Dragon.

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Musk said he would give top priority to NASA astronauts for the Moonshot mission if the agency wanted to procure the seats ahead of the private passengers.

He noted that SpaceX would have the capability to launch one or 2 private moonshots per year.

“I think this should be a really exciting mission that gets the world really excited about sending people into deep space again. I think it should be super inspirational,” Musk said.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Feb 19, 2017 for NASA on the Dragon CRS-10 delivery mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 19 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
An artist's illustration of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Image: SpaceX
An artist’s illustration of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Image: SpaceX

NASA’s Historic Pad 39A Back in Business with Maiden SpaceX Falcon 9 Blastoff to ISS and Booster Landing

Historic maiden blastoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017. Photo taken from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a six year lull NASA’s historic pad 39A roared back to business this morning with the dramatic maiden blastoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, on a critical cargo delivery mission for NASA to the space station – while simultaneously landing the first stage back on the ground at the Cape on a secondary mission aimed at one day propelling humans to Mars.

The era of undesired idleness for America’s most famous launch pad was broken at last by the rumbling thunder of a SpaceX Falcon 9 that ignited at 9:38 a.m. EST Sunday morning, Feb 19, at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The storied liftoff took place under heavily overcast skies with rain showers nearby under seemingly improbable weather conditions.

After liftoff, the rocket disappeared within seconds and never really reappeared in the local area until the final moments of the descent of the first stage – which nailed a nearly perfect dead center touchdown at Landing Zone 1 at the Cape some 9 minutes after launch.

Final descent of the SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage landing as seen from the VAB roof under heavily overcast skies after Feb. 19, 2017 launch from pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center. The booster successfully soft landed upright at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) accompanied by multiple sonic booms at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, about 9 minutes after launch to the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Nevertheless the Falcon 9 launch was a smashing success and probably the loudest I have ever witnessed since the shuttle era ended. Watching from atop the roof of the iconic VAB, I can report the building did experience some rather exciting rattling!

And it was SpaceX’s first daylight booster landing back at the Cape. The two earleir touchdowns were at night – most recently for the CRS-9 mission last summer in July 2016.

The goal of the mission was aimed at launching the SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter to deliver over 5500 pounds of science and supplies to the orbiting science outpost on the CRS-10 mission.

The Dragon spacecraft was successfully delivered in Earth orbit and is on course for the International Space Station (ISS) on the CRS-10 mission.

As a secondary side goal, SpaceX successfully carried out a propulsive soft landing of the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), located about 9 miles south of KSC launch complex 39A.

The touchdown, like the launch was completely obscured until the final moments of the descent, when it suddenly and magnificently reappeared as a strange pale colored cylinder emitting a long yellow flame after dropping below the low hanging clouds.

The booster successfully accomplished a propulsive upright soft landing at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) accompanied by multiple sonic booms at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, about 9 minutes after launch.

This was the 8th first stage booster that SpaceX has successfully recovered either by land or on a tiny droneship at sea over the past year.

The goal is to refurbish and recycle the 156 foot tall first stage boosters for relaunch with a new payload.

SpaceX CEO billionaire Elon Musk hopes that by reusing the spent booster, he can drastically cut the cost of access to space and that will one day lead to human colonies and a “City on Mars.”

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The dream of Bob Cabana, former astronaut and now Center Director at the Kennedy Space Center NASA’s, to turn KSC into a multiuser spaceport open to utilization by government, industry and entrepreneurs like SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk is finally coming to fruition in a blaze of glory.

“I’m so proud of this team for all the dedication and hard work,” said Cabana.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 19 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Today’s launch counts as the first commercial launch from Kennedy’s historic pad.

The storied pad initially sent NASA astronauts to the Moon soon after the dawn of the Space Age during the Apollo/Saturn era and was then significantly overhauled to serve as the on ramp for NASA space shuttles for another three decades.

SpaceX has now transformed pad 39A for launches of the Falcon 9. A bright future lies ahead with launches of the heavy lift Falcon Heavy later this year and a renewal of manned launches of astronauts some time in 2018.

Dragon is carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LIS lightning mapper will measure lightning from the altitude of the ISS. NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

As of today we are at last launching rockets again from the Kennedy Space Center – thanks to SpaceX and the Falcon 9. What a tremendous return to space !

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-10 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 19 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 as seen from inside the pad perimeter. Technicians work to prepare the rocket for launch. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission is slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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Learn more about SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Feb 18 – 19: “SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 Goes Vertical with Station Science at KSC Pad 39A – Watch Live Feb. 19

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 18 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Just hours before blastoff, the first ever SpaceX Falcon 9 set to soar to the space station from historic pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the rocket went vertical below delightfully dark skies on the Florida Space Coast.

UPDATE- The launch was scrubbed until Feb. 19 after a hold was called to deal with a thrust vector control issue. Story updated

Packed with over a thousand pounds of research experiments and science instruments probing the human body and our home planet from the heavens above, the Falcon 9 rocket is poised for liftoff at 9:38 a.m., Sunday morning, Feb. 19, from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC.

Everything is on track for Sunday’s launch of the 229 foot tall (70 meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 on the NASA contracted SpaceX CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA to the million pound orbiting lab complex.

And the weather looks promising at this time.

At a meeting with reporters at pad 39A on Friday, Feb. 17, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell confirmed the success of the static fire test of the two stage rocket and all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines conducted on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12 – minus the SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter payload.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 as seen from inside the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The successful test firing of the engines cleared the path to orbit for liftoff of Dragon on a critical cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of supplies and science on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Shotwell then said technicians integrated with the unmanned Dragon CRS-10 cargo freighter with the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell meets the media at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 ahead of launch of the CRS-10 mission on 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

The 22 story tall rocket rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A on Thursday morning using a dedicated transporter-erector, so ground crews could begin final preparations for the Saturday morning blastoff. Now reset to Sunday.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 19 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 18 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Thousands and thousands of spectators from across the globe, local residents, media and scientists and engineers and their families have flocked to the Florida Space Coast, filling area hotels to witness the historic maiden blastoff of a Falcon 9 from seaside pad 39A at KSC at 9:38 a.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 19.

SpaceX will also attempt to achieve a secondary mission goal of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 40.

If you can’t personally be here to witness the launch in Florida, you can also watch NASA’s live coverage on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The SpaceX/Dragon CRS-10 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT Saturday, Feb. 18, with additional commentary on the NASA launch blog.

SpaceX will also feature their own live webcast beginning approximately 20 minutes before launch at 9:41 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can also watch the launch live at SpaceX Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that any delays due to weather or technical issues results in a minimum 1 day postponement.

The long awaited FAA launch license was finally granted at the last minute on Friday afternoon – less than 24 hours before launch.

The weather outlook currently is improving from earlier in the week and looks good for Saturday morning with a 70% chance of favorable condition at launch time. The concerns are for thick clouds according to Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.

In case of a scrub for any reason on Feb. 18, the backup launch opportunity is 9:38 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 19. with NASA TV coverage starting at about 8:10 a.m. EDT.

CRS-10 marks only the third time SpaceX has attempted a land landing of the 15 story tall first stage booster.

Shotwell confirmed they are attempting the secondary mission of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located about 9 miles south of launch pad 39a.

And it won’t take long to learn the results – the ground landing at LZ -1 will take place about 9 minutes after liftoff.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This marks the first time any fully integrated rocket has stood on pad 39A for a scheduled launch since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011 on the STS-135 mission to the space station.

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions as far back as the 1960s.

Dragon is carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere.

The LIS lightning mapper will measure lightning from the altitude of the ISS. NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-10 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Feb 17- 19: “SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 16 Feb 2017 as seen from Launch Complex 39-B. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb. 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. Liftoff is slated for no earlier than 19 Feb. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

At T Minus 1 Day from ISS Liftoff SpaceX Rolls Falcon 9 to KSC Pad 39A – Feb. 18 Ignition Hinges on FAA License Approval

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 16 Feb 2017 as seen from Launch Complex 39-B. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff slated for 18 Feb. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Its getting down to the wire at T Minus 1 Day from liftoff for SpaceX and NASA as a Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to historic Launch Complex 39A today, Feb 16, and the Feb. 18 ignition to the space station hinges on the approval of a launch license yet to be granted, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed late today to Universe Today.

“My previous background still applies,” FAA spokesman Hank Price confirmed to Universe Today.

“The FAA is working closely with SpaceX to ensure the activity described in the application meets all applicable regulations for a launch license.”

“The FAA will continue to work with SpaceX to provide a license determination in a timely manner.”

Blastoff of the Falcon 9 from seaside pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is slated for 10:01 a.m. EST Saturday, Feb. 18.

NASA plans live coverage of the launch beginning at 8:30 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

SpaceX currently has license applications pending with the FAA for both the NASA cargo launch and pad 39A. No commercial launch can take place without FAA approval.

No License, No Launch – that’s the bottom line!

Assuming the FAA grants a launch license at the last minute on Friday the weather outlook currently is iffy for Saturday with a 60% chance of favorable conditions at launch time. The concerns are for rains and clouds according to Air Force weather forecasters.

In case of a scrub for any reason on Feb. 18, the backup launch opportunity is 9:38 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 19.

Technically all appears to be on track for the historic first launch of a Falcon 9 from pad 39A pending further reviews and updates from NASA and SpaceX on Friday.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

After a successful static fire test of the two stage rocket and all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, the path to orbit was cleared for a critical Dragon cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of science and supplies on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the six person crew living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus Dragon spacecraft stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl, following static fire test on 12 Feb 2017. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was then integrated with the unmanned Dragon CRS-10 cargo freighter was rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A this morning using a dedicated transporter-erector, so crew could begin final preparation for the Saturday morning blastoff.

From atop KSC pad 39B I witnessed the rocket residing horizontally atop pad 39A as technicians further moved the rocket to launch position.

The 22 story tall Falcon 9/Dragon vehicle was erected to vertical launch position later this afternoon at about 4:50 p.m. to conduct additional ground checks and testing.

It will again be lowered to the horizontal position, so that late load cargo items can be stowed inside the Dragon spaceship on Friday before raising the rocket again into the final launch configuration.

This marks the first time any fully integrated rocket has stood on pad 39A for a scheduled launch since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011 on the STS-135 mission to the space station.

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions as far back as the 1960s.

Dragon is carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere.

The LIS lightning mapper will measure lightning from the altitude of the ISS. NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

About 10 minutes after launch, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit, deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station.

As a secondary objective SpaceX s planning to attempt to land its Falcon 9 first stage on land at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

‘Astronauts Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the space station after its two-day journey. The spacecraft will be berthed to the Earth-facing port on the Harmony module. The following day, the space station crew will pressurize the vestibule between the station and Dragon, then open the hatch that leads to the forward bulkhead of Dragon,’ according to NASA.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket minus Dragon spacecraft stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl, following static fire test on 12 Feb 2017. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Pad 39A has lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-10 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Feb 17- 19: “SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 Breathes First Fire at KSC Pad 39A – Successful Static Fire Test Paves Path to Feb. 18 ISS Launch

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SPACE VIEW PARK/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – For the first time in more than half a decade, a rocket came to life at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center when a SpaceX Falcon 9 breathed her first fire at historic pad 39A today, Sunday, Feb. 12 – successfully completing a critical static test firing of the first stage engines that opens the door to a launch to the space station next weekend for NASA.

The hot fire test generated a huge plume of smoke exhausting out the north side of the flame trench of Launch Complex 39A at approximately 4:30 p.m. EST, Feb. 12.

The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A – which has been repurposed from its days as a shuttle launch pad.

The Merlin 1D engines fired for about 3 seconds while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad.

SpaceX confirmed the test via social media shortly after it took place.

“First static fire test of Falcon 9 at historic launch complex 39A completed in advance of Dragon’s upcoming mission to the @Space_Station,” SpaceX tweeted in a very brief announcement.

I watched excitedly from a public viewing spot at Space View Park in Titusville as the exhaust plume grew quickly in size to a gigantic grey-white colored mushroom cloud of smoke and ash, heaving out the north side of the flame trench silent since the shuttle era.

Then just as quickly the smoke cloud dissipated completely within about 10 minutes leaving barely a trace of what we can expect to see soon.

Titusville offers a prime viewing location for anyone interested in traveling to the Florida Space Coast to see this Falcon 9 launch in person.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb. 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. Liftoff is slated for no earlier than 18 Feb. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The test confirms that both the first stage engines and the rocket are suited for liftoff. Over the past few days, launch teams also tested the pad equipment, raised and lowered the rocket and conducted fit checks of the rocket at the pad.

The test had been delayed several days as technicians coped with issues until all was right to carry out the static fire test.

The positive outcome paves the path for a Falcon 9.Dragon blastoff as soon as next Saturday.

This marks the first time any rocket has stood on pad 39A and fired its engines since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011 on the STS-135 mission to the space station.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb. 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. Liftoff is slated for no earlier than 18 Feb. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 is slated for no earlier than next Saturday, 18 Feb 2017 on a critical cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of science and supplies to the six person crew living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

The rocket – minus the payload comprising the Dragon cargo spacecraft – was rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A on Friday morning using a dedicated transporter-erector.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

After the successful completion of the static fire test, the booster will be rolled back to the big processing hangar and the Dragon resupply ship will be integrated on top.

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions.

Dragon will be loaded with more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, supplies and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX was previously employing pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for Falcon 9 launches to the ISS as well as commercial launches.

But pad 40 suffered severe damage following the unexpected launch pad explosion on Sept 1, 2016 that completely destroyed a Falcon 9 and the $200 million Amos-6 commercial payload during a prelaunch fueling test.

An accident investigation revealed that a second stage helium tank burst due to friction ignition during the fueling test.

SpaceX modified the fueling procedures as a short term fix and is working on redesigning the second stage as a long term fix.

SpaceX is working to repair and refurbish pad 40. It is not known when it will be ready to resume launches.

Thus SpaceX has had to switch launch pads for near term future flights and press pad 39A into service much more urgently, speeding up the refurbishing and repurposing work which at last is sufficient to launch rockets again.

Pad 39A has lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

STS-135: Last launch using RS-25 engines that will now power NASA’s SLS deep space exploration rocket. NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

First SpaceX Falcon 9 Erected at Historic Launch Pad 39A for Feb. 18 Blastoff

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The first SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket ever to grace historic launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was erected this afternoon, Friday, Feb. 10, to prepare the booster for a critical static fire sometime Saturday, and a launch to the space station next weekend – if all goes well.

This marks the first time any rocket has stood on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 is slated for no earlier than next Saturday, 18 Feb 2017 on a critical cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of science and supplies to the six person crew living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

The rocket – minus the payload comprising the Dragon cargo spacecraft – was rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A this morning using a dedicated transporter-erector.

A wider-angle shot from the top of the CBS bureau at KSC showing the first SpaceX Falcon 9 atop pad 39A 3.1 miles away on Feb 20, 2017. Credit: Bill Harwood/CBS News

The booster was then hoisted into launch position this afternoon.

The scene was viewed by spectators including my space journalist colleague Jeff Seibert.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also posted a photo on instagram with this caption:

“Falcon 9 rocket now vertical at Cape Canaveral on launch complex 39-A. This is the same launch pad used by the Saturn V rocket that first took people to the moon in 1969. We are honored to be allowed to use it.”

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017. The photo was posted to Instagram by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

After the successful completion of the static fire test, the booster will be rolled back to the big processing hangar and the Dragon resupply ship will be integrated on top.

During the brief static fire test, all 9 Merlin 1D first stage engines are ignited for a few seconds to confirm they and the rocket are suited for liftoff while hold down clamps restrain the rocket on the pad.

Dragon will be loaded with more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, supplies and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Pad 39A has lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX crews are renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. New rocket processing hangar sits at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com