Big Breach In 2nd Stage Helium System Likely Triggered Catastrophic Falcon 9 Explosion: SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL,  on Sept. 1, 2016.  A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

Investigators have determined that a “large breach” in the second stage helium system likely triggered the catastrophic Falcon 9 launch pad explosion that suddenly destroyed the rocket and Israeli commercial payload during a routine fueling test three weeks ago, SpaceX announced today, Friday, Sept. 23.

However, the root cause of the rupture and Sept. 1 disaster have not been determined, according to SpaceX, based on the results thus far discerned by the official accident investigation team probing the incident that forced an immediate halt to all SpaceX launches.

The Accident Investigation Team (AIT) is composed of SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and industry experts.

“At this stage of the investigation, preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place,” SpaceX reported on the firm’s website in today’s anomaly update dated Sept. 23- the first in three weeks.

The helium system is used to pressurize the liquid oxygen tank from inside.

The explosion took place without warning at SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex-40 launch facility at approximately 9:07 a.m. EDT on Sept. 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, during a routine fueling test and engine firing test for the launch of the AMOS-6 comsat planned two days later.

Indeed the time between the first indication of an anomaly to loss of signal was vanishingly short – only about “93 milliseconds” of elapsed time, SpaceX reported.

93 milliseconds amounts to less than 1/10th of a second. That conclusion is based on examining 3,000 channels of data.

SpaceX reported that investigators “are currently scouring through approximately 3,000 channels of engineering data along with video, audio and imagery.”

Both the $60 million SpaceX rocket and the $200 million AMOS-6 Israeli commercial communications satellite payload were completely destroyed in a massive fireball that erupted suddenly during the planned pre-launch fueling and hot fire engine ignition test at pad 40.

The Sept. 1 calamity also counts as the second time a Falcon 9 has exploded in 15 months and the second time it originated in the second stage and will call into question the rocket’s reliability.

The first failure involved a catastrophic mid air explosion about two and a half minutes after liftoff, when a strut holding the helium tank inside the liquid oxygen tank failed in flight during the Dragon CRS-7 cargo resupply launch for NASA to the International Space Station on June 28, 2015 – and witnessed by this author.

However SpaceX says the although both incidents involved the second stage, they are unrelated, and as they seek to determine to the root cause.

“All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated. Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year’s CRS-7 mishap.”

And they are thoroughly reviewing all rocket components.

“At SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, our manufacturing and production is continuing in a methodical manner, with teams continuing to build engines, tanks, and other systems as they are exonerated from the investigation.”

But SpaceX will have to conduct an even more thorough analysis of every aspect of their designs and manufacturing processes and supply chain exactly because the cause of this disaster is different and apparently when undetected during the CRS-7 accident review.

Since the explosion showered debris over a wide area, searchers have been prowling surrounding areas and other nearby pads at the Cape and Kennedy Space Center for evidentiary remains that could provide clues or answers to the mystery of what’s at the root cause this time.

Searchers have recovered “the majority of debris from the incident has been recovered, photographed, labeled and catalogued, and is now in a hangar for inspection and use during the investigation.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had previously reported via twitter that the rocket failure originated somewhere in the upper stage near the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank during fueling test operations at the launch pad, for what is known as a hot fire engine ignition test of all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines.

Engineers were in the final stages of loading the liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 kerosene propellants that power the Falcon 9 first stage for the static fire test which is a full launch dress rehearsal. The anomaly took place about 8 minutes before the planned engine hot fire ignition.

And the incident took place less than two days before the scheduled Falcon 9 launch of AMOS-6 on Sept. 3 from pad 40.

The explosion also caused extensive damage to the launch pad as well as to the rockets transporter erector, or strongback, that holds the rocket in place until minutes before liftoff, and ground support equipment (GSE) around the pad – as seen in my recent photos of the pad taken a week after the explosion during the OSIRIS-REx launch campaign.

Fortunately, many pads areas survived intact or in good condition.

“While substantial areas of the pad systems were affected, the Falcon Support Building adjacent to the pad was unaffected, and per standard procedure was unoccupied at the time of the anomaly. The new liquid oxygen farm – e.g. the tanks and plumbing that hold our super-chilled liquid oxygen – was unaffected and remains in good working order. The RP-1 (kerosene) fuel farm was also largely unaffected. The pad’s control systems are also in relatively good condition.”

The rocket disaster was coincidentally captured as it unfolded in stunning detail in a spectacular up close video recorded by my space journalist colleague Mike Wagner at USLaunchReport.

Watch this video:

https://youtu.be/_BgJEXQkjNQ

Video Caption: SpaceX – Static Fire Anomaly – AMOS-6 – 09-01-2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Big Breach In 2nd Stage Helium System Likely Triggered Catastrophic Falcon 9 Explosion: SpaceX appeared first on Universe Today.

SpaceX Hopes for Falcon 9 Return to Flight in November; Shotwell

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Less than two weeks after a still mysterious launch pad explosion utterly destroyed a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during testing on Sept. 1, the bold and seemingly undaunted firm is already setting its sights on a ‘Return to Flight’ launch as early as November of this year, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Tuesday.

“We’re anticipating getting back to flight, being down for about three months, so getting back to flight in November, the November timeframe,” Shotwell announced on Sept. 13, during a panel discussion at the World Satellite Business Week Conference being held in Paris, France.

The catastrophic Sept. 1 launch pad explosion took place without warning at SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex-40 launch facility at approximately 9:07 a.m. EDT on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.

Both the $60 million SpaceX rocket and the $200 million AMOS-6 Israeli commercial communications satellite payload were completely destroyed in a massive fireball that erupted suddenly during a routine and planned pre-launch fueling and engine ignition test at pad 40 on Sept. 1.

Shotwell also stated that the launch would occur from SpaceX’s other Florida Space Coast launch pad – namely the former Space Shuttle Launch Complex 39A on the Kennedy Space Center.

“We would launch from the East Coast on Pad 39A in the November timeframe. And then Vandenberg would be available … for our other assorted customers,” Shotwell stated.

SpaceX has signed a long term lease with NASA to use Pad 39A.

Shotwell did not say which payload would be the first to launch.

The incident took place less than two days before the scheduled Falcon 9 launch of AMOS-6 on Sept. 3.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post SpaceX Hopes for Falcon 9 Return to Flight in November; Shotwell appeared first on Universe Today.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Failure Investigation ‘Most Difficult’ Ever: Musk

Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – More than a week after the catastrophic launch pad explosion that eviscerated a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during a fueling test, the bold and burgeoning aerospace firm is still confounded by the “most difficult and complex failure” in its history, and is asking the public for help in nailing down the elusive cause – says SpaceX CEO and Founder Elon Musk in a new series of tweets, that also seeks the public’s help in the complex investigation.

“Turning out to be the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years,” Musk tweeted on Friday, Sept. 9 about the disaster that took place without warning on Space Launch Complex-40 at approximately 9:07 a.m. EDT on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. on Sept. 1, 2016.

Both the $60 million SpaceX rocket and the $200 million AMOS-6 Israeli commercial communications satellite payload were completely destroyed in a massive fireball that erupted sudden during a routine and planned pre-launch fueling and engine ignition test at pad 40 on Wednesday morning Sep. 1.

“Still working on the Falcon fireball investigation,” Musk stated.

Check out my new up close photos of launch pad 40 herein – showing dandling cables and pad damage – taken over the past few days during NASA’s OSIRIS-REx launch campaign which successfully soared to space on Sept 8. from the adjacent pad at Space Launch Complex-41.

The rocket failure originated somewhere in the upper stage during fueling test operations at the launch pad for what is known as a hot fire engine ignition test of all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines, said Musk.

However, the countdown dress rehearsal had not yet reached the point of ignition and the Merlin engines were still several minutes away from typically firing for a few seconds as the rocket was to be held down during the pre-planned hot fire test.

“Important to note that this happened during a routine filling operation. Engines were not on and there was no apparent heat source,” Musk elaborated.

Engineers were in the final stages of loading the liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 kerosene propellants that power the Falcon 9 first stage for the static fire test which is a full launch dress rehearsal.

The explosion mystery and its root causes are apparently so deep that SpaceX is asking the public for help by sending in “any recordings of the event” which may exist, beyond what is already known.

“If you have audio, photos or videos of our anomaly last week, please send to report@spacex.com. Material may be useful for investigation,” Musk requested by twitter.

Indications of an initial “bang” moments before the calamity are also bewildering investigators.

“Particularly trying to understand the quieter bang sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off. May come from rocket or something else.”

The explosion is also being jointly investigated by multiple US Federal agency’s.

“Support & advice from @NASA, @FAA, @AFPAA & others much appreciated. Please email any recordings of the event to report@spacex.com.”

The incident took place less than two days before the scheduled Falcon 9 launch on Sept. 3.

It also caused extensive damage to the rockets transporter erector, or strongback, that holds the rocket in place until minutes before liftoff, and ground support equipment (GSE) around the pad – as seen in my new photos of the pad taken a week after the explosion.

Dangling cables and gear such as pulley’s and more can clearly be seen to still be present as the strongback remains raised at pad 40.

One of the four lightning masts is also visibly burnt and blackened – much like what occurred after the catastrophic Orbital ATK Antares rocket exploded moments after liftoff from a NASA Wallops launch pad on Oct 28, 2014 and witnessed by this author.

However SpaceX has not released a full description of the damage to the pad and GSE.

The rocket disaster was coincidentally captured as it unfolded in stunning detail in a spectacular up close video recorded by my space journalist colleague at USLaunchReport – shown below.

Here is the full video from my space journalist friend and colleague Mike Wagner of USLaunchReport:

https://youtu.be/_BgJEXQkjNQ

Video Caption: SpaceX – Static Fire Anomaly – AMOS-6 – 09-01-2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 had been slated for an overnight blastoff on Saturday, September 3 at 3 a.m. from pad 40 with the 6 ton AMOS-6 telecommunications satellite valued at some $200 million.

The Falcon rocket and AMOS-6 satellite were swiftly consumed in a huge fireball and thunderous blasts accompanied by a vast plume of smoke rising from the wreckage that was visible for many miles around the Florida Space Coast.

“Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation,” Musk tweeted several hours after the launch pad explosion.

“Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.”

Thankfully there were no injuries to anyone – because the pad is always cleared of all personnel during these types of extremely hazardous launch complex operations.

“The anomaly originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle. Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad and there were no injuries,” SpaceX reported in a statement.

“We are continuing to review the data to identify the root cause. Additional updates will be provided as they become available.”

This also marks the second time a Falcon 9 has exploded in 15 months and will call into question the rocket’s reliability. The first failure involved a catastrophic mid air explosion about two and a half minutes after liftoff, during the Dragon CRS-9 cargo resupply launch for NASA to the International Space Station on June 28, 2015 – and witnessed by this author.

All SpaceX launches are on hold until a thorough investigation is conducted, the root cause is determined, and effective fixes and remedies are identified and instituted.

The planned engine test was being conducted as part of routine preparations for the scheduled liftoff of the Falcon 9 on Saturday, September 3, with an Israeli telecommunications satellite that would have also been used by Facebook.

The AMOS-6 communications satellite was built by Israel Aerospace Industries for Space Communication Ltd. It was planned to provide communication services including direct satellite home internet for Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

SpaceX is simultaneously renovating and refurbishing NASA’s former shuttle launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center at Pad 39A – from which the firm hope to launch the new Falcon Heavy booster as well as human rated launches of the Falcon 9.

Ongoing work at Pad 39A was clearly visible to this author and other media this past week during NASA’s OSIRIS-REx launch campaign.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post SpaceX Falcon 9 Failure Investigation ‘Most Difficult’ Ever: Musk appeared first on Universe Today.

Spectacular Video Captures Catastrophic SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Explosion During Prelaunch Test

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL,  on Sept. 1, 2016.  A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that suffered a catastrophic explosion this morning, Thursday, Sept. 1, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was captured in stunning detail in a spectacular video recorded by my space journalist colleague at USLaunchReport.

As seen in the still image above and the full video below, the rocket failure originated somewhere in the upper stage.

Both the SpaceX rocket and Israeli payload were completely destroyed in the incident.

It took place during this morning’s prelaunch preparations for a static hot fire test of the nine Merlin 1 D engines powering the Falcon 9 first stage when engineers were loading propellants for a blastoff , according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

“Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation,” tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk this afternoon a few hours after the launch pad explosion.

“Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.”

The Falcon 9 explosion occurred at approximately 9:07 a.m. this morning at the SpaceX launch facilities at Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, according to a statement from the USAF 45th Space Wing Public Affairs office.

The planned engine test is was being conducted as part of routine preparations for the scheduled liftoff of the Falcon 9 on Saturday, September 3, with an Israeli telecommunications satellite that would have also been used by Facebook.

Here is the full video from my space journalist friend and colleague Mike Wagner of USLaunchReport:

https://youtu.be/_BgJEXQkjNQ

Video Caption: SpaceX – Static Fire Anomaly – AMOS-6 – 09-01-2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

The SpaceX Falcon 9 had been slated for an overnight blastoff on Saturday, September 3 at 3 a.m. from pad 40 with the AMOS-6 telecommunications satellite valued at some $200 million.

This would have been the 9th Falcon 9 launch of 2016.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Spectacular Video Captures Catastrophic SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Explosion During Prelaunch Test appeared first on Universe Today.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Blows Up During Launch Pad Test with Israeli Comsat

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is destroyed during explosion at the pad.   Only the strongback remains.  A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016 of Amos-6 comsat. Credit: NASA

BREAKING NEWS- A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and its Israeli commercial satellite payload were completely destroyed this morning, Thursday, September 1, during launch preparations ahead of the scheduled liftoff on Saturday, September 3.

The explosion occurred at approximately 9:07 a.m. this morning at the SpaceX launch facilities at Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, according to a statement from the USAF 45th Space Wing Public Affairs office.

Watch for additional details here and my interview on the BBC as this story is being frequently updated:

There were no injuries reported at this time.

SpaceX was preparing to conduct a routine static fire test of the first stage Merlin 1 D engine when the explosion took place this morning.

SpaceX media relations issued this statement:

“SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today’s static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 had been slated for an overnight blastoff on Saturday, September 3 at 3 a.m. from pad 40 with the AMOS-6 telecommunications satellite valued at some $200 million.

This would have been the 9th Falcon 9 launch of 2016.

This explosion and the total loss of vehicle and payload will have far reaching consequences for not just SpaceX and the commercial satellite provider, but also NASA, the US military, and every other customer under a launch contact with the aerospace firm.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post SpaceX Falcon 9 Blows Up During Launch Pad Test with Israeli Comsat appeared first on Universe Today.

SES Boldly Goes Where No Firm Has Gone Before, Inks Deal to Fly on 1st SpaceX ‘Flight-Proven’ Booster

First launch of flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage will use CRS-8 booster that delivered Dragon to the International Space Station in April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL — The telecommunications giant SES is boldly going where no company has gone before by making history in inking a deal today, Aug. 30, to fly the expensive SES-10 commercial satellite on the first ever launch of a ‘Flight-Proven’ SpaceX booster.

Luxembourg-based SES and Hawthrone, CA-based SpaceX today jointly announced the agreement to “launch SES-10 on a flight-proven Falcon 9 orbital rocket booster” before the end of this year.

“The satellite, which will be in a geostationary orbit and expand SES’s capabilities across Latin America, is scheduled for launch in Q4 2016. SES-10 will be the first-ever satellite to launch on a SpaceX flight-proven rocket booster,” according to a joint statement.

That first launch of a flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage will use the CRS-8 booster that delivered a SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station in April 2016.

The deal marks a major milestone and turning point in SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk’s long sought endeavor to turn the science fictionesque quest of rocket reusability into the scientific fact of reality.

“Thanks for the longstanding faith in SpaceX,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk after today’s joint SES/SpaceX announcement.

“We very much look forward to doing this milestone flight with you.”

Elon Musk’s goal is to radically slash the cost of launching rockets and access to space via rocket recycling – in a way that will one day lead to his vision of a ‘City on Mars.’

Over just the past 8 months, SpaceX has successfully recovered 6 of the firms Falcon 9 first stage boosters intact – by land and by sea since December 2015 – in hopes of recycling and reusing them for paying customers daring enough to take the risk of stepping into the unknown!

SES is that daring company and repeatedly shown faith in SpaceX when they were the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX with SES=8 back in October 2013. Earlier this year the firm also launched SES-9 on the recently upgraded full thrust version of Falcon 9 in March 2016.

“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket. We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES, in the statement.

“This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise. The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle gives us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”

For the SES-10 launch, SpaceX plans to use the Falcon 9 booster that landed on an ocean going drone ship from NASA’s CRS-8 space station mission launched in April 2016, said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, to reporters recently at the Kennedy Space Center during NASA’s CRS-9 cargo launch to the ISS.

SpaceX has derived many lessons learned on how to maximize the chances for a successful rocket recovery, Koenigsmann explained to Universe Today at KSC when I asked for some insight.

“We learned a lot … from the landings,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today during the media briefings for the SpaceX CRS-9 space station cargo resupply launch on July 18.

“There are no structural changes first of all.”

“The key thing is to protect the engines- and make sure that they start up well [in space during reentry],” Koenigsmann elaborated, while they are in flight and “during reentry.”

“And in particular the hot trajectory, so to speak, like the ones that comes in after a fast payload, like the geo-transfer payload basically.”

“Those engines need to be protected so that they start up in the proper way. That’s something that we learned.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs at the base and four grid fins at the top to conduct the landing attempts.

“In general I think the landing concept with the legs, and the number of burns and the way we perform those seems to work OK,” Koenigsmann told me.

“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX.

“SES has been a strong supporter of SpaceX’s approach to reusability over the years and we’re delighted that the first launch of a flight-proven rocket will carry SES-10.”

SES-10 will be the first SES satellite wholly dedicated to Latin America. .

“The satellite will provide coverage over Mexico, serve the Spanish speaking South America in one single beam, and cover Brazil with the ability to support off-shore oil and gas exploration,” according to SES.

It will replace ca[acity currently provided by two other satellites, namely AMC-3 and AMC-4, and will “provide enhanced coverage and significant capacity expansion over Latin America – including Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The high-powered, tailored and flexible beams will provide direct-to-home broadcasting, enterprise and mobility services.”

It is equipped with a Ku-band payload of 55 36MHz transponder equivalents, of which 27 are incremental. It will be stationed at 67 degrees West.

SES-10 was built by Airbus Defence and Space and is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. Notably it will use “an electric plasma propulsion system for on-orbit manoeuvres and a chemical system for initial orbit raising and some on-orbit manoeuvres.”

The most recently SpaceX Falcon 9 booster to be recovered followed the dramatic overnight launch of the Japanese JCSAT-16 telecom satellite on Aug. 14.

It was towed back into port on atop the diminutive OCISLY ocean landing platform that measures only about 170 ft × 300 ft (52 m × 91 m). SpaceX formally dubs it an ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship’ or ASDS.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post SES Boldly Goes Where No Firm Has Gone Before, Inks Deal to Fly on 1st SpaceX ‘Flight-Proven’ Booster appeared first on Universe Today.

Sea Landed SpaceX Falcon 9 Sails Back into Port Canaveral: Gallery

This recovered 156-foot-tall (47-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage has arrived back into Port Canaveral, FL after successfully launching JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. NASA’s VAB in the background - as seen from Exploration Tower.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL, FL — Rocket recycling continues apace as the latest SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to successfully launch a payload to orbit on Aug. 14 and land the first stage at sea minutes later, sailed safely into Port Canaveral just days later atop the dedicated drone ship landing platform.

It’s just the latest previously unfathomable and science fictionesque space adventure turned into science reality by SpaceX – a burgeoning aerospace giant.

A virgin SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Japanese JCSAT-16 telecom satellite roared to life past midnight last Sunday, Aug. 14, at 1:26 a.m. EDT and streaked to orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

After the first stage firing was completed, it separated from the second stage, turned around 180 degrees, relit three of its Merlin 1D engines and began descending back to Earth towards the waiting drone ship barge.

Scarcely nine minutes later the 15 story tall first stage completed a pinpoint and upright soft landing on a prepositioned ocean going platform some 400 miles (650 km) off shore of of Florida’s east coast in the Atlantic Ocean., after successfully delivering the Japanese communications satellite to its intended geostationary orbit.

It was towed back into port on Wedenesday, Aug. 16 atop the diminutive ocean landing platform measuring only about 170 ft × 300 ft (52 m × 91 m). SpaceX formally dubs it an ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship’ or ASDS.

The JCSAT-16 satellite was successfully deployed from the second stage about 32 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral – as the primary objective of this flight.

The secondary experimental objective was to try and recover the first stage booster via a propulsive landing on the ocean-going platform named “Of Course I Still Love You” or OCISLY.

The ocean-going barge is named “Of Course I Still Love You” after a starship from a novel written by Iain M. Banks.

OCISLY and the vertical booster arrived back into Port Canaveral three days later on Wednesday morning, Aug. 17,floating past unsuspecting tourists and pleasure craft.

A heavy duty crane lifted the spent 156-foot-tall (47-meter) booster off the OCISLY barge and onto a restraining cradle within hours of arrival.

Watch this exquisitely detailed video from USLaunchReport showing workers capping the first stage and preparing the booster for craning off the barge on Aug. 17, 2016.

https://youtu.be/gP9d-8D6tNs

Video Caption: SpaceX – JCSAT-16 – In Port – YouTube 4K – 08-17-2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

One by one, workers then removed all four landing legs over the next two days.

It will be tilted and lowered horizontally and then be placed onto a multi-wheeled transport for shipment back to SpaceX launch processing facilities and hangars at Cape Canaveral for refurbishment, exhaustive engine and structural testing. It will also be washed, stored and evaluated for reuse.

As always, SpaceX will derive lessons learned and apply them to the upcoming missions – as outlined by SpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann in my story here

This 6th successful Falcon upright first stage landing – two by land and four by sea – is part of a continuing series of technological marvels/miracles rocking the space industry to its core.

The sextet of intact and upright touchdowns of the recovered 156-foot-tall (47-meter) booster count as stunning successes towards SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s vision of rocket reusability and radically slashing the cost of sending rockets to space by recovering the boosters and eventually reflying them with new payloads from paying customers.

To date SpaceX had successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea earlier this year on the ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27.

Two land landings back at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone-1 were accomplished on Dec. 21, 2015 and July 18, 2016.

The JCSAT-16 communications satellite was built by Space Systems Loral for Tokyo-based SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. It is equipped Ku-band and Ka-band communications services for customers of SKY Perfect JSAT Corp.

The satellite was launched using the upgraded version of the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket.

SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. is a leading satellite operator in the Asia – Pacific region. JCSAT-16 will be positioned 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above the equator.

The Aug. 14 launch was the second this year for SKY Perfect JSAT. The JCSAT-14 satellite was already successfully launched earlier this year atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on May 6.

JCSAT-16 will primarily serve as an on orbit back up spare for the company’s existing services, a company spokeswomen told Universe Today at the media launch viewing site.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Sea Landed SpaceX Falcon 9 Sails Back into Port Canaveral: Gallery appeared first on Universe Today.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Set for Post-Midnight Blastoff and Landing on Aug. 14 – Watch Live

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 21, 2015.   First stage successfully landed vertically back at the Cape ten minutes later for the first time in history.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Scarcely three weeks after the mesmerizing midnight launch and landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that delivered over two tons of science and critical hardware to the space station for NASA, the innovative firm is set to repeat the back to back space feats – with a few big twists – during a post midnight launch this Sunday, Aug.14 of a Japanese telecom satellite.

In less than 24 hours, a freshly built SpaceX Falcon 9 is set to launch the JCSAT-16 communications satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

And some nine minutes later, the 15 story Falcon 9 first stage is scheduled to soft land on a tiny, prepositioned drone ship at sea in the vast Atlantic Ocean.

To date SpaceX has successfully soft landed 5 first stage boosters over the past eight months – two by land and three by sea.

Nighttime liftoffs are always a viewing favorite among the general public – whether visiting from near or far. And this one is virtually certain to offer some spectacular summer fireworks since the weather looks rather promising – if all goes well.

Sunday’s launch window opens at 1:26 a.m. EDT and extends two hours long for the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket. The window closes at 3:26 a.m. EDT.

The commercial mission involves lofting the JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for SKY Perfect JSAT – a leading satellite operator in the Asia – Pacific region. JCSAT-16 will be positioned 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above the equator.

Sunday’s launch is the second this year for SKY Perfect JSAT. The JCSAT-14 satellite was already launched earlier this year on

You can watch the launch live via a special live webcast from SpaceX.

The SpaceX webcast will be available starting at about 20 minutes before liftoff, at approximately 1:06 a.m. EDT at SpaceX.com/webcast

The weather currently looks very good. Air Force meteorologists are predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at launch time in the wee hours early Sunday morning.

The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing will support SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch of JCSAT-16.

In cases of any delays for technical or weather issues, a backup launch opportunity exists 24 hours later on Monday morning.

The rocket has already been rolled out to the launch pad on the transporter and raised to its vertical position.

The path to launch was cleared following the successful Aug. 10 hold down static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage Merlin 1-D engines. SpaceX routinely performs the hot fire test to ensure the rocket is ready.

Watch this crystal clear video of the Static Fire Test from USLaunchReport:

https://youtu.be/PVq-vd1QMTM

Video Caption: SpaceX – JCSAT-16 – Static Fire Test 08-10-2016. On a humid, windless evening at 11 PM, JCSAT-16 gave one good vapor show. Credit: USLaunchReport

Via a fleet of 15 satellites, Tokyo, Japan based SKY Perfect JSAT provides high quality satellite communications to its customers.
The JCSAT-16 communications satellite was designed and manufactured by Space Systems/Loral for SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation.

JCSAT-16 satellite will separate from the second stage and will be deployed about 32 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The staging events are usually broadcast live by SpaceX via stunning imagery from onboard video cameras.

A secondary objective is to try and recover the first stage booster via a propulsive landing on an ocean-going platform.

This booster is again equipped with 4 landing legs and 4 grid fins.

Following stage separation, SpaceX will try to soft land the first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship positioned a few hundred miles off shore in the Atlantic Ocean.

But SpaceX officials say landings from GTO mission destinations are extremely challenging because the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Aug 12-14: “SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

The post SpaceX Falcon 9 Set for Post-Midnight Blastoff and Landing on Aug. 14 – Watch Live appeared first on Universe Today.

SpaceX Adopts Lessons Learned From Multiple Booster Landings – Test Fires Recovered 1st Stage: Videos

SpaceX completed the first full duration test firing of a landed first stage booster on July 28, 2016 on a test stand at their rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.  Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s daring dream of rocket recycling and reusability is getting closer and closer to reality with each passing day. After a breathtaking series of experimental flight tests aimed at safely landing the firms spent Falcon 9 first stages on land and at sea over the past half year the bold effort achieved a major milestone by just completing the first full duration test firing of one of the landed boosters.

On Thursday, July 28, SpaceX engineers successful conducted a full duration engine test firing of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster at the company’s rocket development test facility in McGregor, Texas.

The SpaceX team has been perfecting the landing techniques by adopting lessons learned after each landing campaign attempt.

“We learned a lot … from the landings”, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today during the recent media briefings for the SpaceX CRS-9 space station cargo resupply launch on July 18.

“The key thing is to protect the engines,” Koenigsmann elaborated, while they are in flight and “during reentry”.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs at the base and four grid fins at the top to conduct the landing attempts.

“In general I think the landing concept with the legs, and the number of burns and the way we perform those seems to work OK,” Koenigsmann told Universe Today.

The July 28 test firing involved igniting all nine used first stage Merlin 1 D engines housed at the base of a used landed rocket.

Watch the engine test in this SpaceX video:

https://youtu.be/SZQY902xQcw

Video Caption: Falcon 9 first stage from May 2016 JCSAT mission was test fired, full duration, at SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas rocket development facility on July 28, 2016. Credit: SpaceX

The used 15 story Falcon booster had successfully carried out an intact soft landing on an ocean going platform after launching a Japanese commercial telecommunications satellite only two months ago on May 6 of this year.

Just 10 minutes after launching the JCSAT-14 telecom satellite, the used first stage relit a first stage Merlin 1 D engine. It conducted a series of three recovery burns to maneuver the rocket to a designated landing spot at sea or on land and decelerate it for a propulsive soft landing, intact and upright using a quartet of landing legs that deploy in the final moments before touchdown.

Altogether SpaceX has successfully landed and recovered five of their first stage Falcon 9 boosters intact and upright since the history making first ever land landing took place just seven months ago in December 2015 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The most recent launch and landing occurred last week on July 18, 2016 during the dramatic midnight blastoff of the SpaceX CRS-9 commercial cargo resupply mission under contract for NASA.

Following each Falcon 9 launch and landing attempt, SpaceX engineers assess the voluminous and priceless data gathered, analyze the outcome and adopt the lessons learned.

CRS-9 marks only the second time SpaceX has attempted a land landing of the 15 story tall first stage booster back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – at the location called Landing Zone 1 (LZ 1).

The history making first time successfully took place at Landing Zone 1 (LZ 1) on Dec. 22, 2015 as part of the ORBCOMM-2 mission. Landing Zone 1 is built on the former site of Space Launch Complex 13, a U.S. Air Force rocket and missile testing range.

SpaceX also successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea this year on an ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27.

Watch for Ken’s continuing SpaceX and CRS-9 mission coverage where he reported onsite direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post SpaceX Adopts Lessons Learned From Multiple Booster Landings – Test Fires Recovered 1st Stage: Videos appeared first on Universe Today.

SpaceX Midnight Launch Carrying Crucial Docking Port and Science to ISS Set for July 18, Plus Loud Land Landing – Watch Live

SpaceX conducts Falcon 9 Dragon CRS-9 mission static fire test ahead of planned 18 July 2016 liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on 18 July 2016 at 12:45 a.m. EDT.   View from atop Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The outlook is outstanding for a dramatic midnight blastoff of the next SpaceX commercial cargo Dragon jam packed with some 5000 pounds of critical payloads and research supplies for NASA and heading to the space station on Monday, July 18 – that also simultaneously features an experimental land landing that promises to rock loudly across the Florida space coast and one day slash launch costs.

Dragon is carrying a crucial crew docking port absolutely essential for conducting future human space missions to the orbiting outpost as well as a host of wide ranging science experiments essential for NASA exploiting the space environment for research in low earth orbit and deep space exploration.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in its upgraded, full thrust version and the Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship is targeted for 12:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 18, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The CRS-9 mission is to support the resident six-person crew of men and women currently working on the station from the US, Russia and Japan.

Spectators are filling local area hotels in anticipation of a spectacular double whammy sky show comprising a thunderous nighttime launch streaking to orbit – followed minutes later by a brilliant rocket flash and night landing back at the Cape of the Falcon first stage that will send sonic booms roaring all around the coast and surrounding inland areas.

SpaceX has confirmed they are attempting the secondary mission of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 40.

The weather and technical outlook for the 229 foot-tall (70 meter) Falcon 9 looks fantastic at this time, a day before liftoff.

The official weather forecast from Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing calls for a 90 percent change of “GO” with extremely favorable conditions at launch time for liftoff of this upgraded, SpaceX Falcon 9.

The only concerns are for Cumulus clouds building up and a chance of precipitation.

And for added stargazers delight the night sky features a full moon.

The SpaceX/Dragon CRS-9 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV beginning at 11:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, July 17, with additional commentary on the NASA launch blog.

SpaceX will also feature their own live webcast beginning approximately 20 minutes before launch at 12:25 a.m. EDT Monday, July 18

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can watch the launch live at SpaceX Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that any delays due to weather or technical issues will results in a minimum 2 day postponement.

If the launch does not occur Monday, a backup launch opportunity exists on 12 a.m. Wednesday, July 20, just seconds after midnight, with NASA TV coverage starting at 10:45 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 19.

CRS-9 counts as the company’s ninth scheduled flight to deliver supplies, science experiments and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station (ISS).

The CRS-9 mission is for the crews of Expeditions 48 and 49 to support dozens of the approximately 250 science and research investigations in progress under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

SpaceX engineers conducted their standard static fire hold down test of the first stages Merlin 1D engines with the rocket erect at pad 40, this morning Saturday, July 16.

The customary test lasts a few seconds and was conducted with the Dragon bolted on top at about 9:30 a.m. I saw the test while visiting atop neighboring Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center – see photo.

“All looks good,” reported Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, at a media briefing this afternoon.
“We expect a GO for launch.”

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-9 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post SpaceX Midnight Launch Carrying Crucial Docking Port and Science to ISS Set for July 18, Plus Loud Land Landing – Watch Live appeared first on Universe Today.