SpaceX launches Eutelsat/ABS satellites

SpaceX continued it’s launch campaign today with the successful launch and deployment of the Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS-2A satellites.

The two Boeing built spacecraft utilize an all electric propulsion system allowing them to be launched on a single Falcon 9 vehicle.

Unfortunately the first stage didn’t survive the landing attempt, as explained by Elon Musk below.

Elon tweeted a follow up that should address that type of issue in the future

Video of today’s launch

SpaceX continues 2016 launch campaign

Thaicom8SpaceX continued it’s 2016 campaign with the successful launch of the Thaicom 8 satellite this evening.

Originally scheduled for yesterday 5/26 the launch was postponed to allow more time to investigate an issue found during the countdown.

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.

Video of the launch

SpaceX nails the GTO Landing

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.

Video of the Launch and Landing can be found here

SpaceX CRS-8 launches successfully – First Stage Lands

crs8patchTen months after the failed CRS-7 launch SpaceX resumed their servicing missions to the International Space Station today with the successful launch of their Dragon spacecraft.

Following a smooth countdown the Falcon 9 lifted off at 4:43 pm EDT to begin a 10 minute climb to orbit.

As with previous launches SpaceX also attempted to land the first stage on the Drone Ship after it had completed it’s job getting the 2nd stage and Dragon on their way.  Unlike previous attempts to land on the Drone Ship this time they were successful.

Dragon is now in orbit and making it’s way towards a capture on Sunday.

Launch Video

Landing Video

SpaceX launches SES-9

SpaceX_SES-9SpaceX continued it’s 2016 launch campaign today with the successful delivery of the SES-9 satellite to orbit.  This was the third successful launch since the June 2015 failure and the second launch of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust version of the rocket.

SpaceX attempted the launch several times but had to scrub due to several reasons including LOX cooling/loading issues, wayward boats and severe wind sheer.

The vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 18:35 EST today following a smooth countdown.  Once in orbit the second stage re-started to allow the payload to be delivered to the desired orbit.

To allow SES to make the SES-9 satellite operational as quickly as possible SpaceX forgo the chance to return the first stage to the Cape and instead elected to attempt another landing at sea on there Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Of Course I still Love You”.

Below are screen grabs of the launch

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SpaceX achieve another important milestone

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.

First Stage approaching Drone Ship
First Stage approaching Drone Ship

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.

I have no doubt that SpaceX will determine what changes are needed to the landing leg system to ensure that that the failure can’t happen again.

So in summary yes another destroyed first stage but also further progress in recovering them.

SpaceX returns to flight and sticks the landing

SpaceX returned to flight operations yesterday after an almost six month break following the June CRS-7 accident.  During that time SpaceX took the opportunity to upgrade the rocket the changes which included denser liquid oxygen, longer second stage allowed them to provide more thrust (approx 30%) while also keep enough fuel to attempt a landing back at Cape Canaveral.

The upgraded rocket known as the Falcon 9 Full Trust performed flawlessly delivering the 11 ORBCOMM satellites to there designated orbits as well as landing the first stage, something that they had attempted at sea several times but never actually achieved with the flight F9.

We haven’t heard if the second stage re-light test was successful or not, this wasn’t needed for this flight but will be important for the SES launch coming up soon.

An exciting new era is space launch has opened up with this landing and despite the war of words between Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (whose Blue Origin recently landed there own first stage) and SpaceX’s Elon Musk on which achievement was more technically challenging we are going to see changes in the industry because of it.

SpaceX moves a step closer to Return To Flight

SpaceX has completed the first static fire test of their enhanced Falcon 9 rocket as they move closer to return to flight.  The upgraded rocket (name not yet known) uses Full Thrust Merlin 1D engines, previous flights the engines had only been run at 85% thrust.

This upgrade which was already in the works before the June accident that has grounded the Falcon 9 will allow larger payloads to be launched and still allow the company to attempt to land the first stage.

See video below of the test at SpaceX’s Mcgregor, Texas test site.

When will Falcon 9 Return to Flight

It has been 9 weeks since the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch failure, and with the exception of one update from Elon Musk on 20th July we have not heard anything further on the return to flight of the Falcon 9.

The initial investigation found that a strut in the second stage oxygen tank failed at 1/5 the load it was designed to withstand resulting in the helium bottle used to pressurize the tank dislodging and catastrophically damaging the tank, this lead to the explosion and failure of the mission.  During the announcement into the failure it became clear that this part had not been tested internally by SpaceX before the accident, subsequent tests showed that other samples of the strut also failed below their designed limits.

It became clear very quickly after the accident that Dragon had survived the initial explosion and was seen flying away from the exploding rocket.  This was confirmed by Elon and they continued to receive telemetry from Dragon until if dropped beyond the horizon.  Unfortunately the vehicle was lost when it crashed into the ocean.

During the initial report Elon announced several changes that would be coming for future flights which are expected to resume in September.

  1. SpaceX will no longer use these particular structs within the vehicle – It is our understanding that this part is useful throughout the vehicle so this change itself will be quite significant, as they already have cores built we also don’t know how much work it will be to modify those.
  2. SpaceX will implement additional hardware quality audits throughout the vehicle – This will add additional time to the build process and therefore additional cost, some of which may be passed on to customers, although Elon indicated that may not be the case.
  3. SpaceX will update the Dragon software to allow deployment on chutes in case of future failures – Elon indicated that this this was just a software change, if so that would be a relatively easy change as deployment is already build in for return.

So the question now is when will the flights resume and what will be the first payload to be flown?

Update: We have seen several comments that indicate that RTF could be November or even end of year.  With no news from SpaceX it is hard to dispute or verify these statements.  For now we are sticking with a September RTF pending further official information from SpaceX.

Update 8/31: It would appear from comments by SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell that RTF is still a couple of months away (see tweets below)

Shotwell also announced that RTF will also be the first flight of the more powerful Merlin engines

Update 9/1: Further news today regarding SpaceX missions later this year, the CRS-8 mission to ISS is now scheduled to fly 9/15 according to the post below. The mission will still carry the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module in the trunk.

SpaceX releases preliminary data on 6/28 Falcon 9 failure

More than three weeks ago during the launch of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station the Falcon 9 second stage suffered an anomaly that resulted in the lost of the spacecraft and its payloads.

Today Elon Musk announced that the preliminary investigation into the accident indicates that a strut inside the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) tank on the 2nd stage failed causing the liquid helium bottle to dislodge and hit the top of the LOX tank causing the explosion.  Elon stressed multiple times during the call that this is a preliminary result so far.

 

SpaceX have tested 1000s of the struts since the accident and have found a number of failures below rated value, including one that failed below 2,000 lbs.

During the call Elon admitted that SpaceX did not perform Quality Control on the strut that failed and instead relied in the part meeting the specification as provided by the supplier.  They will be revising their processes to ensure all parts of the rocket are fully QCed for future flights.  While this will increase SpaceX costs during construction of the rocket they didn’t expect it to have much if any of an impact on the cost of the rocket.

Elon also announced that Dragon V1 didn’t have the ability to deploy the chutes in case of an emergency during ascent, the next flight will have the ability should it be needed which would have most likely have resulted in pressurized cargo being saved. They expect to delay flights until September but at present don’t know who will be the first flight manifest will most likely change.  Again because this is preliminary so may change should another cause become obvious.

Elon also announced that due to the investigation the flight of Falcon Heavy will most likely be delayed until April 2016.  

Elon also admitted that most of the people who now work for SpaceX have never seen a failure due to all the successful launches in the last seven years.  This had caused most of them to become complacent about the difficulty of launching rockets.  They have now learned the hard way just what is involved.