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.
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
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.
For the second time SpaceX attempted to land a Falcon 9 first stage on the Autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) named “Just Read the Instructions”.
For this attempt the rocket got very close but didn’t survive the attempt, the first time the rocket tipped over just before landing causing it to fall over the side. According to early information from Elon Musk today the second attempt was closer, it is believed the rocket did actually land but then tipped over. We will know more once the ASDS arrives back in port.
Today I wanted to look closer at what SpaceX has already achieved with these attempts and previous soft landings and what this means for the future attempts back to land.
Lets consider what the first stage was doing just minutes before it attempted to land. From liftoff the 141 foot tall stage accelerated to 3.4 kilometers per second before detaching from the second stage. It then turned around, and fired its engines to return back to the ASDS, after the boost back it then had to turn around again for re-entry through the atmosphere. During the re-entry the engines are fired again to control the speed of descent to minimize heating. The legs and fins were then deployed and the engines fired again to bring it down towards the ASDS.
Precision Landing – While the rockets didn’t survive either attempt, the fact that they were that close to the ASDS in itself is a big achievement.
Learning lessons – With each attempt they are getting more and more data to help them perfect the process. They will analyze the data from this attempt and from that see what changes are needed before trying again.
Moving closer to Dragon 2 landings – The initial version of Dragon 2 will be using parachute landings on water the long term goal is to use propulsive landings. While the Dragon 2 will have different engines and is a smaller vehicle SpaceX will learn the right amount of fuel etc to be able to safely land.
As the vine below shows SpaceX were very close yesterday and it looks very possible that they will have at least one successful landing this year if not more. The more flights they have the more attempts they can make.
SpaceX completed it’s fourth launch of 2015 with the liftoff of the CRS-6 Dragon capsule towards the International Space Station. SpaceX confirmed that after separation from the second stage the Dragon spacecraft successfully deployed it’s Solar Array’s and is now heading towards the International Space Station. It is scheduled to arrive at approximately 7:00 a.m. EDT on April 17.
Originally planned for 10th April the launch was delayed to allow SpaceX time to ensure the Helium tanks on their flight vehicles were okay after an issue was found back in the factory. An attempt to liftoff yesterday was scrubbed just before liftoff due to lightning near the launch pad.
The Dragon spacecraft is carrying 4387 pounds of equipment to the station including Planetary Resources Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft, the original was destroyed when the Orbital CRS launch failed. For more details on what Dragon is carrying check out NASA fact sheet here.
SpaceX again attempted to land the Falcon 9 first stage on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), update from Elon Musk shows they again made it to the ship but didn’t land successfully.
Another update from Elon shows that the first stage did actually land on the barge but then tipped over, images included. They will have video when the drone ship gets back to port.
Another update has been provided by SpaceX, captured by the chase plane just before landing looks like the first stage leaned over significantly before landing.
In related SpaceX news, last week they rolled out a modified version of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg which will be used for the In-flight abort test for Dragon 2 later this year. As the rocket’s payload will not be going into orbit for this test it only has three Merlin 1D engines instead of the typical nine. The actual test is scheduled for no earlier then (NET) July this year but could be subject to change depending on other missions.
Below are images from the launch today
Following the undocking earlier today the three crew members on-board the Soyuz TMA-14M are now back on the earth. For some reason communication was lost with the vehicle during the initial part of the return, however the tracking site in Egypt confirmed that things were on track once it established communications. Communications were re-established once they where through the atmosphere.
Once the spacecraft landed the rescue crews made there way to vehicle and started to offload the three crew members. Once the medical checks have been completed the they will fly to Karaganda where they will continue back to there respective countries.
We were not able to get any screen shots of the return due to the weather and communication issues.