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.
United Launch Alliance began their 2017 launch manifest with the successful delivery of the Air Force’s Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO-3 satellite.
The launch was originally scheduled to launch yesterday but was delayed due to a sensor issue on the RD-180 engine the Atlas V 401 and then a fouled range with an aircraft encroaching on the keep out zone.
The countdown today proceeded smoothly with an on time launch occurring at 7:41 pm ET from Space Launch Complex (SLC) 41 at Cape Canaveral and delivered the payload to orbit 43 minutes later.
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.
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.
In the first of two International Space Station Cargo launches this weekend the Russian Progress 64P was successfully delivered to orbit today by it’s Soyuz booster.
Following a smooth countdown the Soyuz rocket lifted off at 5:41pm EDT.
This is the third flight of the MS version of the Progress Cargo vehicle and will be using a two day rendezvous profile with arrival at the station expected on Monday 18th at 8:22 PM EDT.
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
Ten 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.
The Russian Progress MS-02 spacecraft launched successfully today beginning a two day journey to dock with the International Space Station.
Roscosmos elected to do the two day journey to allow time to fully test all the upgraded systems on the newer MS version of the vehicle. The first Soyuz MS crewed mission is due to launch in June and validation of the systems is required before that can occur.
This is the second of three cargo vehicles scheduled to travel to the station in less than a month.
Last night United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft towards the International Space Station (ISS). This is the second Cygnus that has launched on an Atlas V rocket and will be the heaviest payload the Atlas V has ever launched. Even with the heavier payload ULA didn’t require any Solid Rocket Boosters as Cygnus is only launching to Low Earth Orbit.
Continuing in the tradition of previous Cygnus launches Orbital ATK named this vehicle the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rock Husband USAF.
Update: After the launch a number of people noticed that the burn time on the Centaur upper stage was almost a minute longer than originally planned. ULA has since announced that this was caused by the first stage RD-180 engine shutting down 5 seconds earlier than originally planned requiring the Centaur to compensate for the difference. They are investigating why the engine shutdown early and don’t currently know if this could impact the next Atlas V launch.