Tag Archives: LC-39A

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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Spectacular Falcon 9 return footage from NROL-76 launch

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:

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SpaceX has reflown a booster!

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.

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The reused Falcon roars before flight, and RS-25 roars again

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.

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SpaceX launches EchoStar 23

SpaceX completed another uneventful climb to orbit out of the historic LC-39A, placing EchoStar 22 into geosychronous transfer orbit.  This was a less exciting launch than most Falcon 9 flights of late, as EchoStar 22 is very near the absolute limit of Falcon 9’s capacity.  Therefore, the landing legs and grid fins were omitted from the vehicle, as there would be no propellant left to attempt a return.  The first stage was expended with no attempt to recover.  This was also the first night launch from LC-39A in nearly eight years — the last night launch from this pad was STS-131, with the Space Shuttle Discovery, on April 10, 2010.  The first night launch from this pad was Apollo 17, on December 7, 1972.  It gives me joy to know that this will not be the last one:

Upcoming launches the remainder of March include an H-2 from Japan, a Delta IV from Cape Canaveral (was supposed to have launched, but was bumped to give Falcon 9 a second launch attempt), an Ariane V from South America, an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, and finally the groundbreaking reflight of a Falcon 9 first stage on the SES-10 launch from Cape Canaveral (currently set for March 27).  As with any launches, these dates are subject to change for technical or weather reasons.

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The Rockets of LC-39A

 

Yesterday, LC-39A moved into a new chapter by launching a Falcon 9, but it’s just the latest of many chapters.  Originally constructed in the 1960s for the giant Saturn V rocket, and consequently one of the biggest and toughest pads in the world, it has hosted four different rockets in its history (five if you count a different configuration of Saturn V).  I thought I’d share clips of each of them taking off.  😉

Here’s the first launch from LC-39A, of the uncrewed Apollo 4 test flight:

The pad would host many more Apollo launches, including Apollo 11.  After the Apollo mission was over, NASA got funding to expend the surplus hardware mounting the Skylab program.  The last launch of a Saturn V came from LC-39A and placed the Skylab space station into orbit, easily the most massive single payload of any mission in history:

Following this, the crewed missions to Skylab were launched using the much smaller Saturn 1B (itself an impressive rocket, but most things look small next to Saturn V).  However, the pad originally used for Saturn 1B Apollo flights out of Cape Canaveral Air Station was no longer configured for it, so NASA modified one of the Mobile Launchers to basically adapt Saturn 1B to a Saturn V launch tower — by adding a structure nicknamed “the milkstool”.  Here’s the final Apollo mission, for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

After that, LC-39A would not see another flight for nearly six years.  During that time, it received substantial modifications for the Space Shuttle program.  The Mobile Launchers were stripped of their towers, in favor of a Fixed Service Structure that would remain permanently at the pad.  The Apollo-era Mobile Service Structure, which normally sat parked about a mile from the pad, was scrapped as well, in favor of a Rotating Service Structure that would sit attached to the FSS at the pad.  And in April of 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia baptized the modified pad with her own fire (notice the white External Tank, and Columbia’s distinctive black chines):

And then, thirty years later, the Shuttle era came to an end with the final flight of Atlantis, also from LC-39A:

After that mission, LC-39A was mothballed.  39B was earmarked for the Space Launch System, the next monster rocket, and has been converted back to a “clean pad” configuration, a la Apollo.  But 39A had no immediate mission and was offered up to civilian use.  It took a while, but eventually SpaceX made a case for adapting it to the massive Falcon Heavy rocket.  SpaceX has left much of the original Shuttle-era hardware present, including the FSS and RSS (although both were long since stripped of salvageable and historic gear by NASA); I’m not sure whether they plan to keep them all there.  Their eventual crew-access arm could be added to the FSS, but the RSS has little value for them.  But in the meantime, it is good to see the pad back in use, and slightly quicker this time.  😉

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The Falcon has landed — after lifting off from the same pad as Apollo 11!

This morning, a Falcon 9 rocket roared into space from Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A, the first commercial launch to lift off from this NASA launch facility.  (Previous Florida launches of the Falcon 9 were from the neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Station, operated by the USAF.)  Fittingly, this was still a NASA mission; the payload is the CRS-10 Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station.  But the next flight won’t be; the next flight will deliver the EchoStar 23 commercial commsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

LC-39A was originally built to support launches of the gigantic Saturn V for the Apollo mission, and so everything is proportionately gigantic on this pad.  Falcon 9 is the smallest rocket ever to fly from it, but later it is planned to support the massive Falcon Heavy, a triple-core variant that will be the most powerful rocket in the world when it flies, and that is the real reason for using this pad.

Today’s mission was completely successful, including the first daylight shore landing of a Falcon 9 first stage.  That stage landed on the existing SpaceX landing pad at Cape Canaveral.  And there’s some great footage.  😉

Full newscast:

And here is spectacular drone photography of the landing:

 

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