Tag Archives: LC-39A

SpaceX has reused another booster!

A Falcon 9 rocket successfully placed the SES-11/EchoStar 105 spacecraft onto geosynchronous transfer orbit, and recovered the first stage after an exceptionally hot reentry from this high-energy trajectory.  This was their third flight of a reused stage.

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X-37 dodges Hurricane Irma aboard a Falcon 9

Today was the scheduled liftoff day for the fifth X-37 mission (OTV-5), and the first aboard a Falcon 9.  (X-37 was designed from the start to be compatible with almost any launch vehicle, including the Space Shuttle, but its first four launches were all aboard the Atlas V.)  As a bonus, since SpaceX is still unable to use their original Florida launchpad, Cape Canaveral Air Station’s SLC-40, this launch used the pad they’re adapting for Falcon Heavy, Kennedy Space Center’s venerable LC-39A.  So LC-39A got to launch another spaceplane after all.  😉  (LC-39A’s last spaceplane launch was STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle program, just over six years ago.)

Coverage of the ascent stops with first stage separation, as normal for classified flights*, but since this was Falcon 9, we got to see coverage of the first stage continue all the way to touchdown back at the Cape.  Now, SpaceX gets to scramble to safe it and stash it safely in a hangar in advance of Hurricane Irma.

*X-37 is not a classified spacecraft, but its missions are generally classified.  This one does carry one unclassified payload, the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, for the Air Force Research Laboratory.  It will “test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long duration space environment”.  Satellites already use heat pipe technology to draw waste heat away from sensitive electronic components (since obviously fans don’t work for cooling a spacecraft computer), but this new technology will be lighter and cheaper.  All the other payloads, as well as their quantity and the target orbit and any planned maneuvers, remain classified.  But they are probably also experimental technologies, since X-37 offers a unique opportunity to test equipment for a long duration in space and recover it for extensive engineering analysis afterwards.

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An era fades: the Rotating Service Structure at LC-39A comes down

It’s been kind of fun watching the last few Falcon 9 launches with the Shuttle’s Fixed Service Structure and Rotating Service Structure still in place at the icon LC-39A.  (The structures at LC-39B were removed years ago to return it to its “clean pad” configuration from the Apollo years.)  But that fun has come to an end.  Crews have begun delicately removing the Rotating Service Structure, piece by piece, to avoid damaging the new Falcon 9 structures in place at the pad.  It doesn’t need to be gone right away, but there is a bit of a downtime in the Falcon 9 launch schedule at Merritt Island, so it was a good time to get some progress in.  They expect to have it completely demolished by the end of the year, and the steel hauled off for recycling.

The Shuttle structures won’t be completely gone, though.  The Fixed Service Structure will be retained to support a gantry that will allow crew access once the crewed Dragon flights begin.  That access arm is scheduled to be added this fall, to support flights sometime next year.

There’s a time-lapse video in this article, showing the cranes arriving and beginning to lift down sections:

https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/08/05/shuttle-era-structure-dismantled-piece-by-piece-at-pad-39a/

But, as one era ends, another is beginning.  The loss of Shuttle remains bittersweet, but we’re moving into an exciting era of commercial spaceflight, not just in crewed flights but unmanned as well.  With luck, by the end of the year we’ll also see the launch of some of the Google Lunar Xprize candidates…..

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Catching up on launches and landings!

I’ve been remiss in blogging, so here’s a pile of videos to try to make it up.  😉

First off, last Saturday China carried out the second launch of their new heavy-lift rocket, the CZ-5 (Long March 5), from their newest launch site on Hainan Island.  CZ-5 is intended to support their deep space exploration aspirations, including eventual manned missions to the Moon, so a successful launch was very important.  Unfortunately, it does not appear to have been successful.  Initial indications suggest the first stage burned considerably longer than expected, which would suggest a possible engine failure resulting in the stage burning much longer in attempt to compensate, perhaps to propellant depletion.  The second stage appears to have carried out a normal burn, but was clearly unable to make up the velocity shortfall.  The upper stage and its seven-ton experimental commsat payload (Shijan-18) both reentered, most likely impacting in the Pacific Ocean.  The strap-on stages of the CZ-5 operate on kerosene and LOX, while the core and upper stages burn LH2/LOX.  The booster engines use a design licensed from NPO Energomash in Russia, the world’s undisputed leader in staged-combustion kerolox engines (it really is amazing how many vehicles around the world use their designs), while the cryogenic engines are domestically designed and produced.

Meanwhile, the first recycled SpaceX Dragon capsule completed its mission to the ISS.  One of its payloads was the Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA), an experiment to test a new type of solar array that is more robust than earlier roll-out designs (remember Hubble’s original arrays, which usually looked a bit twisted and wonky when deployed?) but more compact than rigid arrays.  The experiment was almost a complete success, with the array generating lots of power.  Unfortunately, retraction was unsuccessful, so the array had to be jettisoned in its deployed state.

The ROSA’s ride up also left the ISS, but in a more controlled fashion, and returned to Earth.

The CRS-11 spacecraft then made the first Dragon reentry at night.  Astronaut Jack Fisher photographed the plasma trail from orbit:

Rounding out the launches of the last few days is today’s launch of the tenth Falcon 9 of the year, placing Intelsat 35E into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  Due to the size of the payload, this was flown as a fully expendable launch vehicle, with no grid fins and no excess propellant margin to carry out a reentry burn:

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Bulgaria enters the space community, as the second reused Falcon 9 flies!

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.  😉

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CRS-11 Launch: First reused Dragon capsule has flown

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):

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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.

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