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.
Today SpaceX once again made history with the first launch of a previously flown first stage booster. The Falcon 9 lifted off at 6:27 pm EDT today with the SES-10 payload.
The booster was previously used for the SpaceX CRS-8 mission on 8th April 2016, the booster was the first to successfully land on an Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS). Following a comprehensive review of the booster, SpaceX was confident that it was ready for a second mission which it completed today with the successful launch and landing this time back on the ASDS “Of Course I Still Love You”.
During a press briefing after the successful mission, Elon Musk revealed that the payload fairing had been successfully recovered to making yet another milestone in the march towards rapid reusability.
The SES-10 payload was successfully deployed to orbit 32 minutes after liftoff making this the fourth successful mission of 2017.
After several delays originally for the static fire test and then the weather SpaceX successfully completed its third launch of 2017 this morning with the delivery of the EchoStar 23 payload to orbit. Liftoff occurred at 02:00 with the ignition of the nine Merlin 1D engines that propelled the towards orbit. 35 minutes later confirmation of payload separation was posted by SpaceX.
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.