SpaceX launches Intelsat 35e

This evening SpaceX completed it third launch in twelve days as it successfully delivered the Intelsat 35e satellite to orbit. The expendable Falcon 9 launched at 7:37 pm EDT and successfully delivered the payload to its Geostationary Transfer Orbit.

The launch was originally scheduled for the 2nd but was delayed due to a GNC criteria issue with just 10 seconds left in the countdown, the next attempt on the 3rd was also aborted at 10 seconds resulting in SpaceX taking the 4th to review the rocket and pad systems before attempting again today.

This was the tenth launch in 2017 for SpaceX, who at this point have launched more than any other country.

Due to range maintenance in Florida, there will be no more launches in July but you can be sure that SpaceX will be busy during that time as they are still actively working on fixing LC-40 and there is also a possibility that the Crew Access Arm may be installed on Pad-39A.

The next SpaceX launch is currently scheduled for August 10th with the CRS-12 Cargo Mission.

SpaceX Dragon completes visit to ISS

In what looks to become another busy day for SpaceX the Dragon cargo vehicle that spent a month at the station following its successful launch last month was released by the station this morning and completed a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 8:12 EDT.

This was the second mission for this vehicle and clearly shows that SpaceX’s goals of creating reusable rockets and spacecraft have moved another important step forward.

The spacecraft returned 4,100+ lbs of research and other cargo from the station which will now be returned to port before being transported directly to NASA to be offloaded.

At present SpaceX has not said when another flight-proven Dragon will be used however there have been indications that this is under consideration as well as the possibility of using flight-proven Falcon 9 to launch them.

SpaceX launches second set of Iridium® NEXT satellites

In the second launch in two days SpaceX successfully deployed ten more Iridium® NEXT satellites.  The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Vandenberg, CA carrying the ten satellites at 4:25 PM EDT and 57 minutes later started deploying the individual satellites.

The first stage landed back on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Just Read The Instructions”, which as Elon Musk tweeted earlier had to be repositioned.

This was the first Falcon 9 launch that used a newer design for the grid fins and according to another tweet from Elon performed better than expected.

This was the ninth launch this year and seventh landing, making this the most launches in a single year for SpaceX.

SpaceX launches BulgariaSat-1

This afternoon at 3:10 pm EDT SpaceX successfully delivered the BulgariaSat-1 satellite to orbit. Originally scheduled to launch on Monday the flight was delayed to give SpaceX time to replace a valve on the payload fairing that, while it had a redundant system, wasn’t worth risking the launch for.

This is the eighth launch of 2017 for SpaceX which equals their previous record for launches in a single year. That record is scheduled to be broken on Sunday when the second Iridium Next launch is due to occur.

This was the second launch to use a flight proven booster, this one had previously been used on Jan 14th to launch the first Iridium Next mission. As SpaceX continue to improve their processes the time between launches of previously flown boosters should drop significantly.

The first stage successfully returned to the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You” following the successful completion of the first stage mission.  As Elon Musk mentioned below this wasn’t guaranteed.  On its first flight, the booster landed on the ASDS “Just Read the Instructions”.

SpaceX launches CRS-11 to ISS

SpaceX passed another important milestone, on their route to reusability, with the successful launch of the CRS-11 Dragon mission to the International Space Station.

The Dragon capsule used for this launch previously flew to the ISS on the CRS-4 mission in September 2014 and following some refurbishment and re-certification was approved for this current mission.  With this launch, SpaceX became the first commercial company to send a previously flown capsule to orbit.

This was the 7th launch this year and 5th landing for SpaceX and the cadence doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon with several more launches scheduled for June including one from Vandenburg.

Among the payloads being carried to the ISS are the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA) and Multiple User System for Earth Sensing Facility (MUSES).

ISS Contingency Spacewalk Completed Successfully

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer completed a 2 hour 41-minute contingency spacewalk today following the failure of an Multiplexer-Demultiplexer (MDM) over the weekend.

During the walk, they successfully replaced the MDM and also installed two wireless network antenna’s

This was Peggy’s 10th walk for a total time of 60 hours 21-minutes, surpassing John Grunsfeld to become the 3rd place all-time leader and Jack’s second who now has 6 hours 54-minutes accumulated time.

SpaceX launches Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite

SpaceX continued its busy launch campaign today with the successful delivery to orbit of the Inmarsat-5 F4 communications satellite.

The payload was originally planned to be launched using the companies Falcon Heavy Rocket due to the weight of the satellite. However, with the upgrades to the Falcon 9 over the years it is was powerful enough to perform the launch in expendable mode.

To date this is the heaviest payload SpaceX has ever launched, this meant that SpaceX didn’t attempt a landing instead letting the first stage splash down in the Atlantic Ocean after separation. SpaceX has another launch planned for June 1st to deliver another Dragon vehicle to the International Space Station.

SLS delayed again and no crew on EM-1

This week NASA announced that they had completed the study requested by the Trump administration who had requested that they look into add crew to the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS).  NASA concluded that it would cost an additional $600-900 million to do this and would delay the first flight until sometime in 2020.  Due to this, the White House decided to leave the EM-1 mission as an uncrewed mission.

During the same press conference, NASA announced that the first launch of SLS would be delayed anyway due to several factors including damage sustained at the Michoud facility earlier in the year by a tornado that touched down.  The launch which has already been delayed several times was previously set for November 2018 and will now be delayed to some time in 2019.  However, at present, they haven’t determined an exact date and will be reporting back in the next couple of weeks.

During the Q&A time after it was determined that there would most likely be an impact on the EM-2 mission too as NASA needs approximately 33 months to modify the Launch Platform for the taller version of SLS due to the introduction of the Exploration Upper Stage which is approximately 40 feet taller than the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) flying on EM-1.

NASA has been developing a replacement for the Space Transport System (STS) since the 2005 NASA Authorization act and to date has only performed two launches related to the programs.  NASA started work on the Constellation program which proposed the development of two rockets Ares I and V, a crew capsule Orion and several other components.  This program ran until 2010, during which time they launched a single Ares 1 rocket.  The Ares 1 basically consisted of a Solid Rocket Booster derived from the boosters used by the space shuttle.  While this launch was successful nothing further came from the program.

In 2010 the program was canceled and morphed into the Space Launch System which proposed a single rocket capable of launching the Orion capsule beyond Low Earth Orbit.  Since then there has only been one launch related to the program in 2014 when a Delta IV Heavy rocket carried the Orion capsule to orbit for a 4-hour 24-minute mission to test the vehicle’s heat shield.  This was also a successful mission with the capsule splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

To date, NASA has spent approximately $9 billion on Constellation and another $15+ billion on SLS.  From an investment north of $24 billion dollars only having two launches equals $12 billion each.  With these additional delays more and more money is being poured into the program and while NASA recently announced plans for more missions for SLS there is no guarantee that the program won’t be canceled especially if there any further delays.

200th ISS Spacewalk Complete

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer completed a 4 hours, 13 minute spacewalk successfully today, this was the 200th at the International Space Station.

The spacewalk which was shortened due to an issue with a Service and Cooling Umbilical hose used to provide power and consumables to the spacesuits while inside of the station, this resulted in both Astronauts having to share one reducing the overall battery time they had available.

However, despite this, they were able to complete the following tasks:-

  • Replaced ExPRESS Carrier Avionics (ExPCA)
  • Installed Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) Forward Shield
  • Installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) 1552 Terminator
  • Secured Multilayer Insulation (MLI) on Japanese Manipulator System
  • Relocated a Portable Foot Restrain to PMA-3

This was Peggy’s ninth spacewalk for a total time of 57 hours, 35 minutes and Jack’s first.

This brings the total time for ISS spacewalks to 1247 hours, 55 minutes.

SpaceX launches NROL-76 satellite

This morning SpaceX completed another important milestone in their history as they launched the first National Reconnaissance Office Payload the NROL-76 satellite.  As with all NROL launches the exact details of the payload and its final orbit were not released however Elon Musk tweeted that Launch and Landing of the payload were good if we get more information will update.  SpaceX once again brought the first stage back for a landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Landing Zone One.  As SpaceX was not allowed to show the second stage on the live stream they instead focused on the landing and returned absolutely amazing views of the stage as it returned to Earth, see the second video below.

With this launch, SpaceX has now broken the monopoly that United Launch Alliance had on NROL launches paving the way for more competition for future launches.

The launch was originally scheduled for Sunday 30th April but was scrubbed in the last few seconds due to a first stage sensor issue.

This was the fifth launch for SpaceX this year and the fourth landing, since the introduction of the Falcon 9 they have launched 33 times with one failure in 2015 and landed ten times, six of those on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships.  SpaceX also suffered a failure during tanking operations for a Static Fire test, in both cases, they determined the most likely cause of the issue and came back stronger.

SpaceX has several more milestones they hope to achieve this year including the resumption of flights from CCAFS Launch Complex 40, the launch of the first Falcon Heavy, as well as the launch of the first Crewed Dragon vehicle.