Falcon 9 scrubs Static Fire – SpaceX delay launch

by Chris Bergin

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 – tasked lofting six ORBCOMM OG2 satellites into orbit – scrubbed her second attempt at a Static Fire test on Friday. Thursday’s Static Fire was postponed following problems with umbilical connections between the SLC-40 pad and the rocket. Friday’s issue is unspecified but it has resulted in SpaceX delaying the launch that was set for Saturday until “late May”.

ORBCOMM OG2 Mission:

The latest Falcon 9 launch will be the fifth in her upgraded configuration, following four successful launches – one from Vandenberg and three from SLC-40 at the Cape.

4f5518b15ac4e3ac1c74dff2f7496f32The previous mission saw the first Dragon to be launched on the Falcon 9 v1.1, with the CRS-3/SpX-3 Dragon sent on her way to the International Space Station (ISS) where she current resides.

(Animation created by Artyom Zharov, via L2′s huge collection of CRS-3 arrival hi res images)

Dragon’s array of upmass is currently being removed by the ISS crewmembers, while Canada’s Dextre robot has since removed both of the unpressurized payloads from within the spacecraft’s Trunk section.

Z22The ISS crew will eventually refill the Dragon with downmass, ahead of unberthing the spacecraft for her re-entry and parachute assisted return into the Pacific Ocean.

Ahead of Dragon’s return, SpaceX will launch another of their Falcon 9 v1.1 rockets, this time tasked with lofting the first six ORBCOMM OG2 satellites into orbit.

The full OG2 constellation will consist of 17 satellites, per a contract agreement between the customer and SpaceX.

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is the prime contractor for this upgraded communication constellation leading all development and integration efforts.

Z9SNC recently conducted a thorough OG2 Pre-Ship Review to verify the completion of all functional and environmental testing, validating the performance of all systems and software for the six satellites that are set to ride on the Falcon 9 v1.1.

The satellites were then shipped to Cape Canaveral, where they underwent final testing and fueling in preparation for launch.

“SNC is pleased to complete this critical milestone in upgrading ORBCOMM’s global network,” noted Pat Remias, SNC’s Space Systems senior director of programs.

“Due to their high efficiency and modular design, these satellites have substantially more capacity to service a larger number of subscribers, thus making the network more efficient with fewer satellites than the OG1 satellites that are currently on-orbit.

Z77“SNC has established a satellite production line in our Louisville facility to integrate and test each vehicle rapidly, with up to six satellites processing simultaneously.”

The remaining 11 satellites in the constellation are in final integration at SNC’s facility and are on track to support the next launch (OG2 Mission 2) scheduled in the fourth quarter of 2014.

In addition to developing the satellite buses, SNC has directed the development and integration of the advanced communication payload and is assisting in the key roles of launch planning and launch mission operations for the OG2 constellation, including developing a Satellite Operations Center that will support essential communications with the OG2 satellites prior to launch and during early on-orbit checkout and operations.

SNC is currently housing the first fully functional small satellite production line in the USA.

“Despite the age of the current constellation, ORBCOMM has shown strong growth under the leadership of CEO Marc Eisenberg, recording 15 percent growth in revenue and over 100,000 new subscriber communicators last year over the previous year,” added Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of SNC’s Space Systems.

“OG2 will provide the path for continued growth and quality performance for the customer, which are hallmarks for SNC and ORBCOMM. Together with the superb technical team of ORBCOMM, SNC is raising the bar for the next generation of low-Earth orbit satellites.”

The Falcon 9 is no stranger to the ORBCOMM spacecraft, following one of its predecessors having riden uphill as a secondary payload passenger during the CRS-1 Dragon launch near the end of 2012.

Sadly, this satellite was lost soon after launch, due to issues relating to the Falcon 9 rocket.

This anomaly occurred during the penultimate flight of the Falcon 9 v1.0. The failure of one of the first stage’s Merlin-1C engines resulted in a loss of first stage performance.

Although the second stage was able to correct this sufficiently for the Dragon to still reach the ISS as planned, the Orbcomm satellite which the rocket was also carrying was deployed into a far lower orbit than had been planned. This satellite was declared a total loss and decayed from orbit after only a few days.

The Falcon 9 v1.1, with its Merlin 1D engines, suffered a number of issues during engine testing at SpaceX’s McGregor test site in Texas. However, all of its launches have received a glowing report card for its performance during the previous four flights.

Static Fire:

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.

Z587Tasks also include a full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown operations, engine ignition operations and testing of the pad’s high volume water deluge system.

The Static Fire was set to take place on Thursday, within a window ranging from 16:00 to 20:00 UTC. However, the flow was delayed by an umbilical issue, with engineers seen around the vehicle for several hours – per L2’s coverage of the mission’s flow to launch.

By the end of the window, the vehicle was clear of personnel. However, SpaceX opted to move the Static Fire to Friday. Despite this, SpaceX had not ruled out a Saturday attempt, which was still viable, dependant on Friday’s events.

The Static Test provides a dress rehearsal for the actual launch, with controllers first conducting 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 was followed with fuel and Thrust Vector Control (TVC) bleeding on the second stage, performed at T-1 hour.

At T-13 minutes, a final flight readiness poll is required, with a final hold point at T-11 minutes.

Z77Per the countdown procedures, the tasks enter 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 (FTS), used to destroy the rocket in the event of a problem during an actual launch, is armed three minutes and eleven seconds before launch, and seven seconds later oxidizer topping is concluded.

Pressurization of the propellant tanks follows, and while a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) – which are no longer required for the Falcon 9 – would have concluded the test at around T-5 seconds, the Static Fire continues the count through to ignition.

Z7A short burst of the Merlin ID engines on the core stage of the F9 would then take place, which allows for validation data to be gained on the health of the vehicle and pad systems.

However, with the vehicle confirmed as tanked, information noted a scrub had been called on Friday morning.

The specifics of the issue were not released, although it is known that no further attempts will be made to Static Fire the vehicle on Friday, thus ruling out Saturday’s launch attempt. SpaceX, however, are yet to officially confirm this scenario.

Detanking operations will currently be taking place, which may be followed by the lowering on to the Transporter Erector and rollback to the hanger.

Had the vehicle conducted her Static Fire, a Launch Readiness Review (LRR) would have followed, allowing for Saturday’s attempt, which held a launch window opening at 09:47 local time on Saturday, ranging for 53 minutes in length.

With Saturday’s attempt no longer likely to take place, SpaceX already had an alternate launch date of May 11 available, with a launch window ranging from 09:25 to 10:19 local. However, both have since been officially removed as options.

ORBCOMM note a launch will now take place “later this month”, with considerations also including the Eastern Range requirements for the next Delta IV launch, that is scheduled for next week. SpaceX since classed the next attempt as targeting “late May”.

Showing Some Leg Again:

As with the previous Falcon 9, the rocket tasked with the ORBCOMM OG2 launch will also provide another test towards SpaceX’s reusability goals.

Z11With this rocket also sporting four landing legs, SpaceX will attempt another soft splashdown of the First Stage, following its role with the launch of the satellites.

The debut of the Falcon 9 v1.1 – carrying the CASSIOPE satellite – involved the first “boost back” test of the first stage, while sources note there was also a boost back test during the SES-8 mission, or at least the restart of the first stage post staging.

More testing was involved on the F9 v1.1 mission, which successfully lofted the Thaicom-6 satellite.

However, an actual soft splashdown took place with the Falcon 9 v1.1 tasked with the noisy segment of the CRS-3 Dragon mission, with numerous firsts including the successful deployment of the four legs attached to the aft of the vehicle.

This huge milestone, resulting in the Core Stage reducing its velocity to zero ahead of touching the water, was captured by a camera on the Stage. However, the footage – transmitted to SpaceX’s Chase Plane – was heavily corrupted.

comparisonAs such, SpaceX requested help from video experts, in an attempt to clean up the video – and provided raw video footage to help with this task.

This effort has been centralized on NASASpaceFlight.com’s SpaceX forum section, with numerous video experts from around the planet making great progress in fixing the footage.

The process is highly technical, but ably described by one of the video experts via the footage repair thread.

With the repair task focusing on individual frames, the prospect of a fully repaired video remains a long way from completion, while additional information is likely to be required from SpaceX to provide key elements on some of the corrupted frames. That information has been requested and is expected after the next launch has been conducted.

Ironically, the next launch may provide a much clearer set of footage for that vehicle’s splashdown attempt. However, the historical first of the CRS-3 splashdown event will continue to be of great interest.

(Images: SpaceX, NASA, Jacques van Oene/Spacepatches.nl and via L2’s Special Sections. L2 SpaceX section now includes thousands of unreleased images from all Dragon ISS missions – including CRS-3)

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