This morning SpaceX completed the third of their Iridium Next launches delivery another ten satellites to orbit.
As with the previous Iridium launches the rocket lifted off from SpaceX’s Vandenburg launch site at 8:37 am EDT. Once in orbit, the ten satellites were delivered to their destinations successfully. After separation, the first stage of the rocket landed back on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Just Read The Instructions”.
This was the 14th launch for SpaceX in 2017 and 42nd overall for the Falcon 9. This was the 11th landing this year with a total of 17 to date.
Today’s countdown proceeded smoothly before the Falcon 9’s engines roared to life at 5:39 pm EDT, following a 2:35 minute burn the first stage completed it’s job and returned to the droneship “Of Course I Still Love You”, while the second stage propelled the satellite to orbit.
As with the previous two launches SpaceX returned the first stage to the droneship and again completed a successful landing. As with the JCSAT landing this was made more difficult due to the speed of the first stage during re-entry.
SpaceX successfully launched the JCSAT 14 satellite this week for SKY Perfect JSAT, and once again landed the Falcon 9 first stage on the ASDS “Of Course I Still Love You”.
Unlike the landing during the CRS-8 mission this was more complicated due to the speed of the first stage booster at separation. According to a SpaceX spokesperson during the live broadcast the stage was travelling twice as fast. This required that three of the engines be used for the landing burn instead of the one previously.
During the broadcast it almost looked like the first stage had crashed into OCISLY but once the smoke cleared and the lights on the drone ship came on it was clear that the stage was sitting almost in the center of the landing zone. This is the third landing of the Falcon 9 first stage and as Elon Musk tweeted they are going to need to find more space if they keep this going.
May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar
While driving to work this morning I heard how SpaceX suffered another setback yesterday due to the destruction of the first stage after it landed.
It seems to me that people are focusing on the wrong thing here, yes the end result of the EXPERIMENTAL LANDING was a failure because they were not able to recover the first stage.
However SpaceX did achieve an important milestone yesterday, they were able to land the first stage on the Drone Ship which was floating in the pacific ocean, this in itself is an amazing achievement and further proves that they are moving in the right direction.
The reason the first stage was lost was due to the failure of one of the landing legs to log into place correct, as explained by Elon Musk himself.
Falcon lands on droneship, but the lockout collet doesn’t latch on one the four legs, causing it… https://t.co/DpXsRQWal9
While SpaceX have yet to successfully land a Falcon 9 first stage it appears their vision has spurred the industry to react with both United Launch Alliance (ULA) and now Airbus Aerospace announcing plans to include re-usable components in future rocket designs.
The three companies have quite different plans to achieve the re-use.
SpaceX – Plan to land the complete first stage initially on their Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) which is placed about 400 miles off the Florida coast during liftoff. Eventually they would like to return the stage to landing pads located near the original launch pad.
ULA – Their new Vulcan rocket will allow the Engines to be re-used. Once the first stage has completed its work the engines will be detached, an inflatable heat shield will protect them during re-entry and then an Parafoil will be used to slow the descending engines so that a helicopter can capture them while still in the air.
Airbus – They plan to have a detachable module too which contains the engines and main avionics, unlike the ULA module this will be a winged module that will return to Earth and land like a plane.
Only time will tell how successful these plans are however SpaceX has two big advantages at present.
First they are already testing their design and have already demonstrated that they can return the full first stage to the ASDS, they just haven’t been successful at landing it yet. The next attempt will be later this month during the CRS-7 launch. ULA will not be flying the Vulcan rocket until at least 2019 and the Ariane 6 rocket will not include the re-usable module initially.
Second once they have successfully landed a first stage they will be able to determine just how quickly it could be re-used. The other two plans will require that the rest of the first stage be constructed each time before the engines can be attached.
For the second time SpaceX attempted to land a Falcon 9 first stage on the Autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) named “Just Read the Instructions”.
For this attempt the rocket got very close but didn’t survive the attempt, the first time the rocket tipped over just before landing causing it to fall over the side. According to early information from Elon Musk today the second attempt was closer, it is believed the rocket did actually land but then tipped over. We will know more once the ASDS arrives back in port.
Today I wanted to look closer at what SpaceX has already achieved with these attempts and previous soft landings and what this means for the future attempts back to land.
Lets consider what the first stage was doing just minutes before it attempted to land. From liftoff the 141 foot tall stage accelerated to 3.4 kilometers per second before detaching from the second stage. It then turned around, and fired its engines to return back to the ASDS, after the boost back it then had to turn around again for re-entry through the atmosphere. During the re-entry the engines are fired again to control the speed of descent to minimize heating. The legs and fins were then deployed and the engines fired again to bring it down towards the ASDS.
Precision Landing – While the rockets didn’t survive either attempt, the fact that they were that close to the ASDS in itself is a big achievement.
Learning lessons – With each attempt they are getting more and more data to help them perfect the process. They will analyze the data from this attempt and from that see what changes are needed before trying again.
Moving closer to Dragon 2 landings – The initial version of Dragon 2 will be using parachute landings on water the long term goal is to use propulsive landings. While the Dragon 2 will have different engines and is a smaller vehicle SpaceX will learn the right amount of fuel etc to be able to safely land.
As the vine below shows SpaceX were very close yesterday and it looks very possible that they will have at least one successful landing this year if not more. The more flights they have the more attempts they can make.
SpaceX completed it’s fourth launch of 2015 with the liftoff of the CRS-6 Dragon capsule towards the International Space Station. SpaceX confirmed that after separation from the second stage the Dragon spacecraft successfully deployed it’s Solar Array’s and is now heading towards the International Space Station. It is scheduled to arrive at approximately 7:00 a.m. EDT on April 17.
Originally planned for 10th April the launch was delayed to allow SpaceX time to ensure the Helium tanks on their flight vehicles were okay after an issue was found back in the factory. An attempt to liftoff yesterday was scrubbed just before liftoff due to lightning near the launch pad.
In related SpaceX news, last week they rolled out a modified version of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg which will be used for the In-flight abort test for Dragon 2 later this year. As the rocket’s payload will not be going into orbit for this test it only has three Merlin 1D engines instead of the typical nine. The actual test is scheduled for no earlier then (NET) July this year but could be subject to change depending on other missions.