SpaceX has conducted a Static Fire test on its latest Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket Saturday, paving the way for a February 8 launch attempt to loft the DSCOVR spacecraft uphill from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40. The launch will also mark the second attempt to conduct a propulsive landing of the core stage on to the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS).
DSCOVR Mission Preparations:
SpaceX is shooting for its second mission of the year, following hot on the heels of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch with the CRS-5/SpX-5 Dragon.
The Static Fire test is a key requirement ahead of launch, part of a well-rehearsed flow that involves the engines and tankage being born at SpaceX’s Hawthorne base, tested at its McGregor test site, prior to finally arriving at the launch site for pre-launch preparations.
A long eight hour window was allocated for this particular Static Fire test, allowing engineers additional time to troubleshoot any issues during the countdown and complete the requirement of firing up the Merlin 1Ds. On the actual launch day, engineers will have to work towards an instantaneous window.
The test involves a full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown operations, engine ignition operations and testing of the pad’s high volume water deluge system. In effect, it provides a full dress rehearsal for the actual launch.
With the rocket rolled out and raised by the Transporter Erector (TE), controllers first conduct a poll 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 is 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.
Per the countdown procedures, the tasks then 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 will have been concluded.
Pressurization of the propellant tanks follows, ahead of a short burst of the Merlin ID engines on the core stage of the F9, allowing for validation data to be gained on the health of the vehicle and pad systems.
With the required engine and vehicle data collected, detanking operations follow, before the rocket is lowered on to the Transporter Erector and rolled back to the hanger.
Once inside the barn, she will undergo final integration processing with the DSCOVR spacecraft.
While this is ongoing, a data review will be conducted at the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) – a key meeting that will confirm the launch date.
The February 8 launch date will utilize an instantaneous window of 18:10 Eastern. An alternate date of February 9 has been approved by the Eastern Range, with a 18:07 Eastern T-0.
The DSCOVR mission is a partnership between NOAA, NASA and the US Air Force, with the mission providing real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities for the NOAA’s space weather alerts and forecasts.
Formerly known as Triana, the spacecraft was originally conceived in the late 1990s as a NASA Earth science mission.
However, Triana was cancelled and the satellite went into storage in 2001, before the NOAA funded NASA to remove DSCOVR from storage at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 2008.
NASA inspected the instruments, tested the mechanisms, provided new electrical components and conducted environmental tests of the observatory.
The spacecraft’s ultimate destination will be the first sun-Earth Lagrange point (L1), located 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) sunward from Earth, a neutral gravity point between Earth and the sun.
The spacecraft will be orbiting this point in a six-month orbit with a spacecraft-Earth-sun angle varying between 4 and 15 degrees.
DSCOVR’s primary instrumentation includes NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument, which will provide spectral images of the entire sunlit face of Earth.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR) is the other DSCOVR NASA instrument, a cavity radiometer designed to measure the reflected and emitted energy (in the 0.2 to 100 micron range) from the entire sunlit face of Earth.
The launch will be SpaceX’s debut in the Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3) class of mission, following the awarding of the contract – that includes another mission known as STP-2 (Space Test Program 2), to fly on a Falcon Heavy – in December, 2012.
The DSCOVR launch will also provide SpaceX with the second attempt to successfully land the core stage on the ASDS located in the Atlantic.
The first attempt, after the launch of the CRS-5 Dragon, was a valiant effort stage, with footage showing the returning stage coming in hard, hitting the deck at an angle.
Most of the stage was lost off the side of the ASDS’ deck into the ocean.
The main problem was noted as a loss of stability during the landing burn, due to the stage’s grid fins running out of hydraulic fluid right before landing.
Elon Musk noted the next stage will have 50 percent more hydraulic fluid to mitigate that issue, although it will still be a massive coup for SpaceX if the stage nails the landing during this second attempt.
Based on a February 8 launch, the core will return to its Atlantic destination two days ahead of the CRS-5 Dragon’s return to the Pacific ocean.
Mr. Musk recently announced the naming of the ASDS as “Just Read The Instructions” – in tribute to the late science fiction writer Iain M. Banks.
The second ASDS – currently under construction for West Coast operations – will be named “Of Course I Still Love You”.
(Images: via SpaceX and NASA – plus L2 Artist Nathan Koga)
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