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.
An Atlas V in its base 401 configuration placed the SBIRS GEO 3 military early-warning satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit this evening:
SpaceX had a successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket in the middle of the night last night, and a successful landing back at the Cape:
The landing is awesome, of course, but this flight is extra important because it carries a second docking adapter after the first one was lost on the CRS-7 launch accident. Dragon is the only spacecraft capable of delivering the International Docking Adapters, in its roomy unpressurized trunk. This is a necessary step before the crewed missions can begin, currently likely to happen sometime next year.
A Delta IV Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 payload climbed to orbit from Florida this afternoon. Weather cooperated this time, and the rocket rose out of its customary hydrogen fireball in a completely successful mission, placing a reconnaissance satellite of some kind into orbit. The final orbit is undisclosed, as are the spacecraft’s type and mission. Presumably, however, it is a very large satellite, possibly in a high orbit, perhaps even geosynchronous, since there are few payloads large enough to call for this massive rocket.
The Delta IV Heavy is the most powerful rocket operating today, and the third or fourth most powerful in history (depending on how you count the Space Shuttle — Space Shuttle had considerably more thrust but had a smaller payload capacity as most of its upmass was consumed by the Orbiter itself; note that I am not counting N-1 as despite its incredible liftoff power, it never achieved a successful flight). This is not a title it will hold for long; SpaceX is moving towards the first flight of Falcon Heavy, which will combine three Falcon 9 rockets in the same manner as the three Common Booster Cores of Delta IV Heavy. As Falcon 9 outperforms Delta IV Medium (which is essentially just a naked CBC with no boosters), the total performance of the Heavy variant is expected to be greater as well.
This is so cool. 😉 Here’s the full webcast, as it ran live, including all the massive geeking out and pure unadulterated joy when it nails the landing:
Stunning closeup video of the landing from a helicopter:
And lastly, dawn rises on the spent Falcon 9 first stage, as a crane is attached to prepare to move it back to SLC-40 (presumably) for a ground test firing to prove that it has endured the flight and return. This stage is not expected to actually fly again; I would expect it will be subjected to destructive testing to look for signs of stress fatigue instead.
And then there’s this awesome timelapse photo released by SpaceX, taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The long streak is the launch track. The short streak up high is the reentry burn. The short streak that goes to the ground is the landing burn. Pretty cool. 😉
The largest available Atlas V configuration, the 551, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida yesterday, placing the MUOS-3 commsat into orbit for the US Navy. This was the 200th flight for the Atlas-Centaur combination, and the 52nd flight for Atlas V. The 551 configuration features a 5.4 meter fairing, 5 SRBs, and a single-engine Centaur. (Atlas V has two-engine Centaur configurations on paper which could make it more powerful, but they have never actually been built.) This is the fifth flight of the 551 configuration; the other flights included two other MUOS satellites, Juno, and, its first payload, New Horizons.
The CRS-5 mission to the ISS launched successfully this morning, putting an end to the delays and scrubs. The spacecraft is in good health after arrival in orbit and has begun its two-day chase of the space station. The Falcon 9 rocket performed flawlessly on its primary mission; the secondary mission of landing the first stage on a remotely-operated self-stabilizing barge was less successful. The return was flawless and the aim was perfect, but the hydraulic fluid used to control the “x-wing” vanes was depleted prematurely, the necessary quantity of fluid having been underestimated by an estimated 10%. Consequently, it was unable to slow itself enough and it impacted the barge fairly hard. Video is unavailable; due to precession of the ISS’s orbit around Earth over multiple launch delays, the liftoff had slipped well into the early morning hours in complete darkness, and high humidity further affected visibility. But SpaceX will be analyzing the telemetry, and, according a tweet from Elon Musk, bits of the Falcon 9 first stage and preparing to try again on another launch.
There’s decent video of the launch, though! Watch towards the end, after SECO (Second Engine Cut-Off) when the video inside the LOX tank shows droplets of LOX floating around in microgravity, and then watch Dragon unfurl her wings. 😉 It’s beautiful!