The historic return to flight for LC39A, last used for STS-135 and still sporting most of the Shuttle-era Fixed Service Structure and Rotating Service Structure, has been delayed at least a day, after a scrub at T-15 seconds. The launch was set to take off this morning, but was scrubbed due to “slightly odd” behavior in the upper stage — a routine preflight hydraulics check revealed something off-nominal in the behavior of an upper stage steering hydraulic piston (presumably part of the engine gimbaling system). The Falcon 9 with Dragon attached has been lowered back to the horizontal position, but SpaceX is pressing ahead towards the second opportunity, tomorrow at 9:38:59 a.m. EST. This will be the first commercial spaceflight from Kennedy Space Center. (Prior Falcon 9’s launched from Air Force pads.)
Meanwhile, in other KSC news, a NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) was issued earlier this week which strongly suggested the X-37 that has been orbiting the Earth for nearly two years might be coming down again. The NOTAM expired the same time the range opened up for Falcon 9. It seems plausible, then, that X-37 may make a landing attempt once the Eastern Range becomes available again.
Stuff going up, and stuff coming back down . . . it’s gotta be exciting at the Cape and on Merritt Island!
The Atlas V launch carrying the WorldView 4 commercial imaging satellite scheduled from Vandenberg has been scrubbed again. It scrubbed Friday due to an apparent liquid hydrogen leak, and today was scrubbed because of a wildfire south of the pad. The wildfire doesn’t present any immediate danger to the launch complex, but firefighters can’t fight it while they’re on standby for a launch. Fighting the fire is more important, of course, so ULA is standing down for today, to allow the firefighting crews to tackle the blaze. The range unfortunately is no longer available after today, so they will have to wait for an opportunity on Monday, September 26.
The newest variant of the venerable Proton family, Proton-M, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome yesterday, placing the Intelsat-31 commercial commsat into geosynchronous transfer orbit. This was the first flight of the Phase IV Proton-M. The launch was not perfectly ideal, as the second stage had one engine shut down prematurely (resulting in an impact short of the expected impact point), and the upper stage burned about half a minute longer than planned to compensate, and the initial parking orbit was a lower-energy orbit than originally intended. The Briz-M appears to have compensated for this in its second and third firings, however, and the final orbit appears nominal. Intelsat-31 will use its electric propulsion to finalize its orbit and then enter a commissioning period before it is ready to go into service. It will provide television and data for customers in Latin America.
Then today, a Delta IV Heavy was due to blast off from KSC with a very heavy classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. However, the notoriously fickle Florida weather got in the way and several hours into the launch window, the team was forced to scrub. The launch has been reset for Saturday afternoon.
Soyuz is an immensely reliable rocket with a remarkable legacy going back to the R-7 missile of the 1960s. It seems inconceivable that this week we’ve seen two scrubs due to technical faults with Soyuz, but we have. One was the Sentinel 1B launch from Kourou, which replaced a faulty component, recycled the countdown, and successfully flew yesterday morning. The other stands ready to baptize the new Vostochny Cosmodrome with fire. Liftoff was expected today, but a fault of some sort was detected by the onboard computers, which commanded the abort in the final phase of the countdown. Now, this isn’t actually the same model as the one in Kourou; this is the most modern of the Soyuz family, Soyuz 2.1a, with a Volga upper stage. It is almost certainly coincidence. For most rockets, this would not be surprising; it is a testament to the reliability of the Soyuz system that this is worth noting.
In any case, the Mikhailo Lomosonov gamma-ray observatory, the Aist 2D earth-observing satellite, and a student-built Cubesat await a new launch attempt, hopefully as early as tomorrow. Cross your fingers!
It can be frustrating mounting a launch campaign. Technical issues, wind, rain, storms, temperature all can conspire against you. But it’s extra frustrating today. After a combination of wind and technical issues scrubbed Wednesday and Thursday attempts, today a boater entered the restricted area, forcing them to delay 40 minutes. And then they had a sequencer-initiated abort due to rising LOX temperatures following the unscheduled 40 minute hold, and a helium bubble. No word yet on when they’ll make a fourth attempt.
Ignition just before pad abort of SES-9 launch.
This is the first Falcon 9 to fly with extra-cold LOX, which increases the efficiency of its engines allowing it to get more delta vee out of the same mass of propellant, and when it does fly it will make the first attempt to land the first stage during a geosynchronous launch campaign. Geosynchronous launch expends too much propellant to allow a boostback burn, so this will attempt the landing with only minimal equipment — cold gas thrusters to orient for entry, grid fins for steering, and a landing burn. SpaceX is not expecting the rocket to survive, but will be happy if it does. 😉 They have one of their drone barges out on station out in the Atlantic for this.
It was just too windy at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX fueled anyway, just in case, but the winds never settled down and they are now draining the tanks. Tomorrow the forecast is better for their second attempt to land the first stage.
But SpaceX will still be landing something today: the CRS-5 Dragon separated from the ISS this morning, and will splash down west of California this afternoon (Pacific time). Here’s the unberthing video:
The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of Dragon on the CRS-5 mission was scrubbed this morning due to a problem with the second stage engine’s gimbal system. Launch is now scheduled for 5:09:40 a.m. EST on Friday morning, presuming the problem is rectified by then and weather continues to cooperate.