Following the successful completion of the Static Fire test on their Falcon 9 v1.1 at Cape Canaveral on Saturday, SpaceX was preparing for a January 3 launch of the Thaicom-6 satellite. However, due to an issue with the Falcon 9’s fairing, the launch has been slightly delayed to No Earlier Than (NET) target of January 6.
SpaceX Static Fire – UPDATED:
SpaceX were likely to be the first orbital mission of 2014. However, based on the interim slip of the launch date, that honor may now go to the realigned ISRO launch of their GSLV carrying the GSAT-14 satellite.
This launch will be the third flight of the upgraded Falcon 9 – and her second from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex -40 (SLC-40) – following on from the successful launch with the SES-8 spacecraft.
Otherwise known as a Hot Fire test, the SpaceX team successfully tasked their Falcon 9 vehicle and launch pad systems through a full countdown scenario on Saturday, ultimately resulting in a short firing of the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines.
Per the primary goals of a Hot Fire test, the effort relates to ensuring that the pad’s fueling systems – and the launch vehicle – function properly in a fully operational environment, with numerous requirements to be successfully proven via such a test, such as the engine ignition and shut down commands, which have to operate as designed, and that the Merlin 1D engines perform properly during start-up.
Tasks also include a successful full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown operations, engine ignition operations and testing of the pad’s high volume water deluge system.
With the test providing a dress rehearsal for the actual launch, controllers would have began the test with polling to allow for the loading of Falcon 9’s RP-1 propellant with liquid oxygen oxidizer two hours and thirty five minutes before T-0.
This would have likely been followed with fuel and thrust vector control bleeding on the second stage, performed at T-1 hour.
At T-13 minutes, a final flight readiness poll would have been conducted, which would then be followed by the final hold point at T-11 minutes.
Per the countdown procedures, the tasks would have entered the terminal count ten minutes before ignition, followed by the launch vehicle being transferred to internal power at four minutes and forty six seconds before T-0.
The flight termination system, used to destroy the rocket in the event of a problem during an actual launch, would have been armed three minutes and eleven seconds before launch, and seven seconds later oxidizer topping ended.
Pressurization of the propellant tanks would have been one of the final major milestones ahead of ignition for a short burst to validate the condition of the Merlin 1D engine set.
The SpaceX team are now in the process of checking all the data parameters collated during the test, although SpaceX note their initial findings point to a good test.
“Static fire was today (Saturday) and it went well,” noted SpaceX spokesperson Emily Shanklin to NASASpaceFlight.com “Still reviewing data but all looks good.”
With the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) already in the bag ahead of the Static Test, the next major milestone was the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) on Thursday.
UPDATE: The review concluded by opting to slip the launch three days to Monday, January 6, due to an unspecified issue with the Falcon 9’s fairing, per source information. Additional opportunities run from January 8 through to 12.
“We’re not aware of anything that would cause a mission failure, but in order to ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance, we decided to conduct additional inspections of the launch vehicle,” noted Ms. Shanklin to NASASpaceFlight.com on Thursday. SpaceX did not comment on the specific area of interest on the launch vehicle.
The launch date will likely be pending an agreement for use of the Bermuda telemetry station, that is also expected to be required by Orbital’s Antares launch out of Wallops on January 7. However, on Friday, Orbital decided to slip the launch to January 8 – with January 9 being “more likely”.
The mission is tasked with lofting an Orbital-built satellite, namely the Thaicom-6 spacecraft. It will also be SpaceX’s second Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) mission with the Falcon 9 v1.1, following on from the SES-8 mission that successfully enjoyed the key requirement of a restart of the Merlin VacD-driven Upper Stage.
The 3,325 kg (7,330 lb) satellite will be located at 78.5 degrees East Longitude, and carry a hybrid Ku- and C-band payload that will generate approximately 3.7 kilowatts of payload power.
The Ku-band payload will be comprised of eight active transponders providing services to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The C-band payload will feature 12 active C-band transponders providing services via a regional beam to Southeast Asia, and six active C-band transponders providing services via a south Africa beam to southern Africa and Madagascar.
Based on Orbital’s GeoStar-2 platform, the satellite is expected to have a service life of 15 years.
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As noted, Orbital themselves are also set to return to mission action next week, as they prepare to launch their Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on its first Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
ORB-1 (CRS-1) is the first fully operational mission under their CRS contract, following on from the successful ORB-D mission that saw Cygnus arrive at the orbital outpost for the first time.
Cygnus was set to launch in December, but had to be delayed due to the cooling loop issue on the Station. With the two recent US EVAs succesfully installing a spare Pump Module on the S1 Truss, the ISS is returning to its full capability, as required for its ability to host the Orbital spacecraft.
Following Cygnus’ departure, the baton will be passed back to SpaceX, allowing them to launch their fourth Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket, lofting the SpX-3/CRS-3 Dragon to the ISS. This will be Dragon’s first ride on the upgraded Falcon 9.
Even with the Thaicom-6 mission slipping to a January 6 NET launch date, plenty of time will be available to turnaround SLC-40 for the CRS-3 mission, which is currently tracking a February 22 launch date.
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