SpaceX launches Hispasat 30W-6 and sets another record

Early this morning SpaceX successfully launched the Hispasat 30W-6 satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket.  This was the 50th launch of the Falcon 9, coming seven years and nine months since the first in 2010, the previous record was held by United Launch Alliance who’s Atlas V achieved the same record in nine years and seven months.

As well as being their 50th Falcon 9 launch this was also the heaviest payload they have launched to a Geostationary Transfer Order at six metric tonnes, the previous heaviest was five and half metric tonnes.

Originally SpaceX was planning to land the first stage, however, the seas out in the Atlantic were too turbulent so they elected to not land the stage.

SpaceX successfully launches Paz satellite and own Starlink Demo satellites

This morning SpaceX successfully launched the Paz satellite for Spanish company hisdeSAT as well as two of their own Starlink demo satellites.

The launch was delayed several times to allow SpaceX engineers more time to ensure the rocket was ready for flight and due to upper-level winds.

This was the 4th launch of 2018 for SpaceX and was the 9th time a previously flown booster was used.  As this was an older booster SpaceX didn’t attempt to recover it, instead choosing to let it crash into the ocean.  They did, however, attempt to recover one half of the payload fairing on their new boat Mr. Steven.  This was the first flight of the new 2.0 fairing which has been modified to allow it to be recoverable.

SpaceX launches first Falcon Heavy

In a major milestone for the company, SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon Heavy rocket today.

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The Falcon Heavy was first proposed in 2011 just after the first flights of Falcon 9 had been completed, however, it has taken seven years for the rocket to go from the drawing board to flight.  During that time SpaceX has made a number of significant improvements to the Falcon 9 that have made some of the flights that were originally planned for Heavy possible on Falcon 9.  The final iteration Block 5 is due to start flying later this year which could improve performance even more, however, at present we don’t have details to specify by how much.

Now that Falcon Heavy is operation SpaceX has the most powerful currently active rocket in the world with 5.1 million pounds of thrust.  This version flew with the older Block 3 setup, future variants could be even more powerful.

Due to the design of the Falcon Heavy and SpaceX’s ability to land their core stages we had the privilege of watching two landings today.  The two side booster separated from the rocket at 2:33 minutes into the flight and returned to the Landing Zones at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  The center core continued to power the flight until 3:09 minutes before separating from the upper stage and attempting a landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Of Course I Still Love You”. At present we don’t have a status on the center core, we will update the article once we hear more news from SpaceX.
UPDATE – It is looking increasingly likely that the center core didn’t survive the landing, we will post an official statement from SpaceX once we have it.

In another first for SpaceX, the upper stage will coast for six hours before performing a third burn which will send the payload on a hyperbolic orbit towards Mars.  To enable SpaceX to win contracts for launches directly to Geostationary Orbits, they need to demonstrate the ability to restart the stage once it has traveled through the Van Allen Belts that surround the planet.

For this launch Elon Musk has placed his Ruby Red Roadster on top of the upper stage, aboard the car is a dummy wearing a SpaceX spacesuit.

Starman in Red Roadster

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Elon confirmed that the 2nd burn of the upper stage was successful, we will find out in approximately 5 hours if the 3rd was too.

This was the 3rd launch for 2018 and because two cores landed successfully the 4th landing **

This was the 49th launch since Falcon 9 started flying and 25th landing.

** The GovSat1 launch didn't land on the ASDS, however, the core did survive and we are counting that as a successful landing.

SpaceX launches GovSat 1

SpaceX successfully launched GovSat 1 today for their second launch of 2018, the Falcon 9 first stage used for this launch was previously flown in May 2017 and was disposed of in the Atlantic Ocean after successfully separating from the second stage. The second stage continued to orbit where is successfully delivered the GovSat 1 satellite.

Built by Orbital ATK for LuxGovSat, a joint venture between SES and the government of Luxembourg will provide secure military X-band and Ka-band communications links, helping support Luxembourg’s NATO obligations

Initially, it was thought that SpaceX wasn’t going to attempt any recovery on this mission as they didn’t send out the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship, however, they did send out some of the support ships and now we know why based on this tweet from Elon Musk

SpaceX completes Falcon Heavy Static Fire Test

Despite the uncertainty regarding the fate of the Zuma launch, see the previous post, SpaceX continued their busy year with the first static fire test of their Falcon Heavy Rocket.

The rocket which consists of three Falcon 9 cores mated together giving a total of 27 engines and 5.1 million pounds of thrust was successfully fueled today and the brief static fire test completed.  At present we are not sure if another test will be needed or if SpaceX will proceed to the actual launch later this month.

Once SpaceX has analyzed all the data from this test the next step will be defined and we will post an update here.

The following images were captures from Florida Today’s live stream of the test

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SES and Iridium both show support for SpaceX

After the rumors of the failed Zuma mission, two of SpaceX’s biggest customers announced there continued support for the company, SES having reviewed the data from the Zuma flight said there January 30th launch was still on schedule.

As we have previously posted, news on Zuma is limited, but it seems clear from these customers they are confident in the Falcon 9 rocket and are trusting them to continue to launch payloads.

SES sent the following tweet this week

And Iridium boss Matt Desch tweeted

SpaceX’s Dragon successfully completes CRS-13 mission

The Dragon capsule that was launched late last year completed it’s mission to the International Space Station with a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean today.

In another first, this time for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency the Dragon capsule was released by the robotics engineers on the ground instead of using the Astronauts aboard the station as they have for all the previous visits.

This was the second time the vehicle had visited the station also the second time SpaceX has reused a Dragon capsule.  Approximately 4100 pounds of cargo was returned inside the capsule which will now be handed over to NASA.  Check here for more details on what is being returned.

SpaceX confirmed successful completion of the mission at 10:39 AM EST.

SpaceX begin’s 2018 with successful Zuma launch

Following on from a record-setting year SpaceX got an early start to 2018 with the successful launch of the secret Zuma payload.  The launch occurred at 8:00 pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Launch Complex (LC) 40 following a smooth countdown.

The launch which was originally scheduled for November last year was delayed due to an issue found while testing payload fair separation data for another customer.  Details of the payload are secret and the broadcast we cut off after the successful landing of the first stage back at CCAFS Landing Zone 1.

We may not get any further updates on the success of the mission, if anything is posted we will update this post.

Update (1/8) – We are hearing rumors that the Satellite may have failed after reaching orbit. No official response yet and no clue if this was an issue during launch or after deployment. We will update the story when we have more information.

Update (1/9) – Due to the secrecy of this mission it is difficult to get true information but multiple sources have said that the Satellite did indeed fail, the two most likely candidates are that it never deployed from the 2nd stage or that it did deploy but didn’t function correctly.

SpaceX released the following statement regarding the launch which indicates that the Falcon 9 performed as expected.

The following statement is from Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX:

“For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.

“Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.”

We will continue to monitor the situation and update if more information becomes available.

The Year of Commercial Crew

If all goes to plan this year we should see at least four Commercial Crew vehicle launches as Boeing and SpaceX complete their uncrewed and crewed demo launches.  In addition, we should also see an in-flight launch abort from SpaceX as they test the system and Max-Q when the maximum dynamic pressure is felt by the rocket during launch.

So what is the Commercial Crew program?

Following on from the success of the Commercial Cargo (COTS) program, which resulted in Orbital ATK (formally Orbital Sciences) and SpaceX being awarded contracts to launch cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA launched a commercial crew program with the goal of delivering four crew members to the ISS and successfully returning them to Earth at the end of their mission.

As with the COTS program, NASA designed the Commercial Crew program to be milestone based where payments would only be made when the milestones had been achieved.  As part of the bidding process, the competitors defined their own milestones detailing when they would achieve to meet those.

The program was broken into multiple phases started with the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) 1 program which was awarded to five companies Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Launch Alliance.  A total of $50 million was awarded and a total of 53 milestones defined all due to be completed by 2010.

The second phase CCDev 2, $270 mission was awarded in March 2011 to seven companies, three of those were non-funded.  The funded awards were given to Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX, and Boeing with the non-funded awards going to United Launch Alliance, Alliant TechSystems (ATK) and Excalibur Almaz.

In September 2011 the third phase awards were made under the name Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCap), with this phase NASA wanted complete, end-to-end designs for spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services and operations.   Three companies were awarded contracts in this phase for a total of $1.1 billion, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, and Boeing.

The next phase was awarded to the same three companies and was called the Certification Products Contract (CPC) 1, in this phase they had to define the certification plan for their systems.

The final phase was awarded to two companies Boeing and SpaceX under the name Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap).  Under this phase, the two companies are required to complete two demonstration launches of their vehicle with the second taking a crew to the ISS.

Boeing’s CST-100

Boeing is developing a capsule-based vehicle called the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner.  The capsule is designed to carry as many as seven crew members, for the commercial crew program however they will only be carrying four.

Full details of the CST-100 can be found here.

The CST-100 will launch atop the Atlas V from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 41 which has been upgraded to include a crew access tower and arm to allow access to the CST-100 capsule.

SpaceX’s Dragon 2

The SpaceX entry for the Commercial Crew program is an upgraded version of the Dragon capsule that is currently flying to the ISS on a regular basis.  When first announced SpaceX planned to use the same thrusters for Launch Abort and Propulsive Landing capabilities, this would have given the capsule the ability to land anywhere that had a pad.  However, since then the propulsive landing capability has been dropped in favor of a water landing as the current Dragon capsule does.

The Crew Dragon launch abort system is built directly into the capsule allowing abort capability all the way to orbit.  SpaceX tested the system with a pad abort test on 6th May 2015 when the capsule fired the SuperDraco engines before successfully deploying its parachutes and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Full details of the Crew Dragon can be found here.

The Crew Dragon is designed to carry as many as seven crew members to orbit and safely return them to Earth at the conclusion of their mission.  For the Commercial Crew program, SpaceX will only be carrying four crew members to the ISS.  Once launched the capsule will use an automated docking system to approach and dock to the ISS, to aid with this NASA has modified the old Shuttle Docking system with the International Docking Adapter.  The first IDA was lost during the SpaceX CRS-7 anomaly, however, a 2nd adapter successfully flew to the station on CRS-9 in July 2016 and a replacement for the first is due to fly on CRS-16 in Summer 2018.


There is no doubt that whoever successfully launches the first crewed mission to the ISS will have bragging rights, however, the real winner in this program is the America Space Program which has been without the ability to launch any crew from US soil since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011.  In addition at present, there are only two countries with the capability to launch a crew into space China and Russia, once Boeing and SpaceX have completed their programs the US will double that and we still have the Space Launch System (SLS) and potentially a crewed version of Dream Chaser coming in the future.






SpaceX launches 4th Iridium Next Mission

SpaceX concluded it’s launch manifest for 2017 with the successful launch of the 4th Iridium Next and deployment of another ten Iridium Next satellites.  The booster used for this mission previously launched ten Iridium Next satellites in June of this year.

This was the 18th launch this year for SpaceX and 45th Falcon 9, unlike previous Iridium launches SpaceX didn’t land the booster instead letting is splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.