SpaceX resumed their 2017 launch campaign today with the successful launch of the Dragon vehicle for the CRS-12 mission to the International Space Station. As with previous CRS launches the first stage returned to land at Landing Zone 1.
This launch comes after a month break to allow the 45th Space Wing to perform maintenance needed around Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.
This was SpaceX’s 11th launch this year and 8th landing.
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.
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.
Launch at 1:25 delivering 10 satellites for Iridium. Droneship repositioned due to extreme weather. Will be tight. https://t.co/6ZcSG29B74
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”.
Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today’s launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn’t make it back.
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.
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.
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.
Another space station launch occurred today with the Chinese launch of Tianzhou-1. Carried to orbit by the countries Long March 7 rocket the cargo vehicle is due to perform an automated docking with the Chinese space station Tiangong-2. The station which has been orbiting since 15th September 2016 is currently unmanned, however, a crew did say on board for 30 days in November 2016.
This was the second launch of the Long March 7 rocket and was the largest payload ever launched by China at 13 metric tons.
One of the tests that the Tianzhou will be performing is transfer of fuel to the station, this hasn’t been tried before and will allow them to keep the station in orbit longer by using the control thrusters on the station to change orbit as needed.
Future plans for the station are not clear at the moment, however, if the Tianzhou-1 is successful it could lead to other crewed launches in the future to utilize whatever was aboard the cargo vessel.
Over the last year or so the Chinese have been a lot more open about their launches including live streaming, including with English commentators.
At 3:13 AM EDT today the Soyuz MS-04 was launched from Baikonur to begin a four orbit, six hour journey to dock with the International Space Station (ISS).
For the first time since October 2005, the vehicle was only carrying two crew members instead of the typical three. This is due to a change made by Russian to switch to only having two crew members on board ISS.
This morning at 11:14 AM EDT United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched another Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft towards the International Space Station (ISS). This was the third Cygnus that ULA has launched for Orbital and at the present time the last.
Named after the late John Glenn, former Astronaut and US Senator who passed away last December. The launch was delayed several times to allow ULA time to address some issues with the launch vehicle and pad, and then to accommodate the hectic ISS schedule. The vehicle is carrying 3,459 kg (7,626 lb) of cargo to the space station and will spend at least 80 days at the station before being released. After it is successfully completed its mission another of the Saffire experiments will be performed, where a controlled fire will lite. Once that is complete the vehicle will burn up in the atmosphere.
The countdown proceeded smoothly this morning with an on-time launch, which concluded when the Cygnus spacecraft was delivered to orbit.
This was ULA’s 71st Atlas V, 36th 401 config, 4th launch of 2017 and 119th consecutive successful launch keeping their perfect 100% record.
As a side note, this was the last launch for NASA PAO George Diller who has been the voice of NASA for many launches in the past. We hope that he has a great and long retirement and will miss hearing his commentary.