Yesterday, less than 48 hours after the last Falcon 9 launch (from KSC’s LC-39A), a second Falcon 9 blasted off. This one launched from Vandenberg AFB’s SLC-4 and delivered the next ten Iridium Next satellites. Once enough Iridum Next spacecraft are delivered to orbit, they will begin to replace the famous initial constellation, which is nearing the end of its service life. Alas, the new spacecraft are much smaller than the original Iridiums and will not wow spotters with bright flares with each pass.
The Falcon 9 for this flight is a full thrust Falcon 9 equipped with a new, all-titanium set of grid fins. They’re heavier than the older ones, but can handle larger loads and provide more control authority. This will be critical when the Falcon Heavy’s three cores attempt to return later this year.
This spacecraft’s first stage was successfully recovered by the drone ship Just Read The Instructions, and will eventually be reflown.
SpaceX completed another successful launch today — and the first droneship recovery of a reused booster — placing BulgariaSat1 into geosynchronous transfer orbit. It was the hottest and hardest return yet, and not quite squarely on the droneship (“Of Course I Still Love You”), but it was successful.
SpaceX isn’t quite done yet — they’re planning another launch on Sunday with the second set of ten Iridium Next satellites from Vandenberg AFB. It’s a busy launch weekend; I’ll have more rocket launch videos tomorrow. 😉
The CRS-11 Dragon mission is now underway, the first with a reflown Dragon capsule. (The heatshield is new, as of course is the unpressurized trunk section and the solar panels, as these are discarded with each flight, burning up while the pressurized module returns to the Earth.) The Falcon 9 rocket was still brand-new, but the first stage will eventually be reused; it completed the fifth successful landing at Cape Canaveral.
This was the one hundredth launch from LC-39A.
Here’s the replay of the SpaceX webcast (jump ahead 16 minutes for the launch):
Falcon 9 has lifted its heaviest payload to geosychronous orbit to date: Inmarsat-5 Flight 4, a massive commsat designed to support inflight WiFi and mobile broadband. The spacecraft was originally slated to fly on SpaceX’s gigantic Falcon Heavy, but the increase in Falcon 9 capacity with the current version (v1.2) meant that if the booster recovery was abandoned, they could actually do the mission with this vehicle.
This is the SpaceX live feed, captured for our enjoyment. The feed starts 11 minutes into the video, and launch is at 20 minutes.
SpaceX successfully completed their first flight for the National Reconnaissance Office, carrying an undisclosed classified payload to orbit, designated NROL-76. As is typical for NRO launches, coverage of the climb to orbit went only as far as first stage burnout. However, SpaceX still had plenty of first stage footage still to produce, as the stage returned to land back at the Cape. As a result of that and the favorable lighting conditions to view the rocket climbing away from the historic LC-39A complex, using the exceptional long-range tracking cameras available at KSC, this may be the most spectacular first stage flyback footage yet:
The first reflown Falcon 9 first stage core has completed its second mission, and been recovered successfully on a barge at sea. They also apparently recovered half of the payload fairing, which I didn’t know they were even thinking about attempting. The upper stage went on to deliver SES-10 to the correct geosynchronous transfer orbit.
The first reflown Falcon 9 core is on the pad at LC-39A, and has completed a hotfire test. Due to the test having slipped to today, launch is now targeted for Thursday. Payload was not installed on the rocket for this test; the rocket will be brought down and back to the assembly building for attachment of SES-10 payload before being rolled back to the pad later this week.
If that was exciting, here’s another hotfire test for you, this time of an RS-25 engine in the venerable A-1 test stand, originally built to test Saturn S-II stages. This engine design will also be making reflights, but that’s less surprising, as the RS-25 is better known as the Space Shuttle Main Engine. This particular test, performed late last week at Stennis, was to validate a new engine controller. The engine used for this test was Engine No. 0528. It has never been to space; it’s a ground test article. Although designed as the world’s first fully reusable liquid rocket engine for first stage ascent, the SLS program is expected to exhaust the entire supply of RS-25s.