This morning SpaceX made history once again as it made its first launch from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The pad that had previously been used by NASA for Apollo and Space Shuttle launches has been refurbished by SpaceX over the last couple of years.
Designed to support the launch of Falcon Heavy, National Security Payloads and Crewed Missions 39A was called into duty following the September, 1st 2016 accident that resulted in the loss of LC-40 at neighboring Cape Canaveral.
The launch was originally scheduled to lift off yesterday but during to a 2nd Stage Thrust Vector issue they decided to scrub to allow time to investigate further. The issue was resolved overnight and the countdown proceeded this morning to a 9:38 am EST launch when the nine merlin engines roared to life to propel the rocket to orbit. Following completion of the first stage burn, the booster returned to Landing Zone 1 (LZ1) and landed making this the third time SpaceX has returned to LZ1.
This afternoon SpaceX successfully returned to flight operations following the September 1st anomaly with the successful launch of ten Iridium Next satellites. The launch was delayed several times due to the investigation into the anomaly, as well as the unfavorable weather around Vandenburg this week.
As a result of the investigation into the anomaly, there were several changes to the countdown process for this launch, the first and most obvious was the lack of payload during the static fire test. Less obvious was the change to the fueling process in previous launches the RP-1 and LOX were loaded at the same time in the last 35 minutes of the countdown. However for this launch the RP-1 loading started 70 minutes before launch with the LOX being loaded as before with 35 minutes left.
Following a smooth countdown the rocket lifted off on time and successfully deployed the ten satellites, however due to a ground station issue confirmation of the successful deployments took longer then expected. The first stage also successfully landed on the ASDS in the pacific ocean.
We are excited to bring back our weekly review of Space related news. These are a selection of stories that excite us about the future of Space exploration/development. The opinions in these reviews are our own.
NASA announces selection of two Discovery Missions
This week NASA announced that he has selected the Lucy and Psyche missions both designed to explore asteroids in our solar system. Lucy due to launch in 2021 will visit a main belt asteroid in 2025 and then six Jupiter Trojan asteroids between 2027 and 2033. Psyche due to launch in 2023 will visit 16 Psyche a giant metal asteroid, scientists believe it may have been the core of a planet which lost its outer layers.
SpaceX moves closer to return to flight
This week SpaceX completed the first Static Fire test since the September 1st anomaly that resulted in the loss of the Spacecom Amos 6 satellite and inflicted significant damage to Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. Having concluded the investigation into the anomaly they determined that the most likely cause of the issue was due to the way the propellants were loaded into the rocket, full report here. SpaceX has also received a launch license from the FAA allowing them to move towards a launch on Monday 9th from Vandenburg.
Following a four month investigation into the September 1st anomaly that resulted in the lose of a Falcon 9 rocket with it’s payload the Spacecom Amos 6 satellite and significant damage to Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX announced this week that they have completed the investigate (see report here) and are ready to return to flight operations started on Sunday 8th January with the first of seven launches for Iridium.
SpaceX are able to resume flight operations without having to make design changes to the rocket by changing their propellant loading operation to avoid the scenario that most likely caused the anomaly. They have indicated that longer term they will make design changes to the COPV tanks to resolve the issue which will allow them to resume faster loading operations.
The flight of the Falcon 9 with ten Iridium Next satellites is currently scheduled for 10:28:97 PST on Sunday 8th January from Space Launch Complex 4E in Vandenberg, CA. However this is still subject to the results of the Static Fire test scheduled for Tuesday 3rd and flight readiness review.
This morning during their standard Static Fire test procedure the Falcon 9 tasked with launching the Spacecom Amos-6 satellite exploded during the countdown to the static fire.
SpaceX have confirmed that the Amos-6 payload was lost due to the explosion, however there were no personnel lost due to standard procedures during tanking operations.
At present there is no information available as to the cause of the explosion or what impact this will have on the aggressive launch schedule that SpaceX has. It can be assumed there will be some impact but will depend on a number of factors including:
- How much damage was caused to the pad?
- The visible damage to the pad doesn’t look too bad, however it is very likely that significant damage was caused to the infrastructure aroundthe pad which will take time to replace/repair.
- How much damage was caused to the strongback part of the Transporter Erector Launcher?
- The strongback took the brunt of the explosion and looks to be severe damaged and may not be salvageable. This would need to be replaced as it is unlikely that the spare at 39A will work on SLC-40.
- What caused the explosion?
- Unconfirmed reports indicate that the issue was internal to the 2nd stage of the rocket. Elon Musk tweeted that it originated around the Oxygen tank but no further details yet available.
We can be sure that SpaceX will recover from this just as they did after the CRS-7 launch in June 2015, they will determine what caused the issue, what needs to be done to address it and when they can resume operations. In the meantime they will need to do damage control with there customer especially those who were counting on launches this year that could be delayed now.
Once further information is available we will post it here.
Update 9/1/2016 @ 1:19pm EDT
Update 9/2/2016 @ 8:30am EDT
Based on the amount of damage likely at SLC-40 it will be quite some time before SpaceX can launch from there again, however that may not be as significant an issue as it could have been because they have a second launch pad nearby a LC-39A. At present this pad is still be refurbished ready to support Falcon Heavy and Falcon crewed launches however it is likely this could be finished sooner than any repairs at SLC-40.
Following the two successful launches over the weekend the International Space Station now has two additional vehicles attached.
Monday evening the Progress MS-03/64P vehicle completed it’s mission with a picture perfect docking to the Pirs module.
And early this morning ISS Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Dr. Kate Rubins successfully captured the Dragon CRS-9 spacecraft.
Three hours later Dragon was berthed to the station completing the two day journey and allowing the crew to begin operations to access the cargo.
Now that Dragon is attached to the station the crew can begin preparations for a Spacewalk to attached the International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2) that was carried to the station in the trunk of the vehicle. This is critical to the future of the Commercial Crew program for SpaceX and Boeing as it will allow there new vehicles to automatically dock with the station.
The second launch of International Space Station Cargo this weekend was completed successful this morning following the successful delivery to orbit of the Dragon capsule.
Following a smooth countdown the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 12:45:29 am EDT today propelling the Dragon capsule to orbit, the first stage then returned to the Cape for a successful landing at LZ1.
Once in orbit the Dragon capsule deployed it’s Solar Array’s before starting its journey to the station.
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 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 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