This evening SpaceX successfully delivered the SAOCOM-1A, a radar observation satellite for Argentina to orbit and performed their first Return To Launch Site (RTLS) on the west coast.
This was the 17th launch this year for SpaceX and 10th landing and was the 62nd launch for Falcon 9 and 30th landing.
Early this morning SpaceX completed their 13th launch of the year with the successful deployment of the Telstar 19V satellite to its Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).
This was the 2nd flight of the new Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 and was also the heaviest payload SpaceX has deployed to GTO weighing in at 15,600 lbs.
The first stage successfully landed on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) making this the 26th time a first stage has landed.
This was the 58th flight for Falcon 9 and 64th in total for SpaceX.
Their next launch is just three days away on the 25th when another Block 5 booster will carry another 10 Iridium Next satellites to orbit from SpaceX’s Vandenberg launch site.
Blue Origin completed their 9th test flight of New Shepard from their launch site in West Texas. For this test, Blue Origin tested the Capsule Escape Motor approximately 20 seconds after separation to determine how the Solid Rocket Motor operates at that attitude.
There was some concern that the test could cause issues for the booster landing, however, it successfully returned back following the successful separation.
As a result of this, the capsule traveled 50,000 ft higher than previous flights to a height of 389,846 ft but still returned safely to a touchdown under the three parachutes 11 minutes 17 seconds after launch.
This was the 3rd flight for this booster, capsule and also for Mannequin Skywalker who traveled inside the capsule to allow Blue Origin to see the impact of the flight on a life-sized mannequin.
SpaceX continued its 2018 launch campaign with the successful launch of the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 aboard its first Block 5 Falcon 9.
The Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 has been designated as the final version and incorporates a number of changes designed to allow multiple flights to be performed by each booster with minimal to no changes needed. During a conference call today Elon Musk explained that the changes also addressed all of NASA Crew requirements.
The most obvious visual changes are the black interchange at the top of the first stage, the larger landing legs, which are now retractable. Other changes that have been detailed include upgraded Engines to address a cracking issue in the turbopump blades and also increases the thrust by 8%, new Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel (COPV) tanks.
With this launch, SpaceX returned to fast fueling process with both the RP-1 and LOX loading starting at T-35m. This was the process was in use when the AMOS-6 incident happened, SpaceX stopped using it after that until now.
After successfully completing its job of boosting the rocket towards orbit the first stage successfully landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.
This was the 9th launch of 2018 and 54th overall for Falcon 9, and the 5th landing of 2018 and 25th overall.
Last Sunday Blue Origin successfully launched their 8th New Shepard mission as they continue their march towards sub-orbital crewed missions.
This was the first launch of 2018 for Blue Origin and was announced several days before by Jeff Bezo’s via Twitter.
Once launched the booster successfully deployed the crew capsule before coming back for a safe landing, the crew module achieved an apogee of 351,000 feet before descending to a successful landing under its parachutes.
At present Blue Origin hasn’t announced when it will begin crewed flights but each test they complete brings them one step closer to achieving that goal.
Following on from a record-setting year SpaceX got an early start to 2018 with the successful launch of the secret Zuma payload. The launch occurred at 8:00 pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Launch Complex (LC) 40 following a smooth countdown.
The launch which was originally scheduled for November last year was delayed due to an issue found while testing payload fair separation data for another customer. Details of the payload are secret and the broadcast we cut off after the successful landing of the first stage back at CCAFS Landing Zone 1.
We may not get any further updates on the success of the mission, if anything is posted we will update this post.
Update (1/8) – We are hearing rumors that the Satellite may have failed after reaching orbit. No official response yet and no clue if this was an issue during launch or after deployment. We will update the story when we have more information.
Update (1/9) – Due to the secrecy of this mission it is difficult to get true information but multiple sources have said that the Satellite did indeed fail, the two most likely candidates are that it never deployed from the 2nd stage or that it did deploy but didn’t function correctly.
SpaceX released the following statement regarding the launch which indicates that the Falcon 9 performed as expected.
The following statement is from Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX:
“For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.
“Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.”
We will continue to monitor the situation and update if more information becomes available.
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.