Falcon 9 booster preparing for reuse testing at KSC

by Chris Bergin

The first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9, that successfully helped launch the CRS-8 Dragon to the ISS prior to landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic, has completed its Port Canaveral processing. The stage has now been transported to KSC for a series of static fire tests, with the ultimate goal to clear it for an upcoming mission that would mark the first reuse of a returned SpaceX booster.


Born in Hawthorne, California, this stage was assigned as part of SpaceX’s return to Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) missions with the Dragon spacecraft.

Transported to the McGregor test facility, the stage underwent a static fire test to ensure its nine Merlin 1D engines were ready for the first leg of pushing the Dragon uphill.

Another road trip resulted in the stage taking up residency at SpaceX’s Florida launch site at SLC-40, prior to a final quick burst of the engines via the static fire test that also provides a full dress rehearsal for the launch team.

Launching without issue, at the first attempt, during what was an instantaneous window, the Falcon 9 staged at T+2:40, allowing the Second Stage to complete the final leg to deploy the Dragon spacecraft.

2016-04-19-145004The first stage flipped shortly after staging, before conducting a boostback burn with three of its Merlin 1D engines to begin the return leg for the stage. A re-entry burn sent the stage on the path towards the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You”.

A landing burn was already underway as the stage came into sight over the ASDS, followed by the historic landing on the drone ship at T+8:36.

Following up on the success of the OG-2 S1 landing at SpaceX’s LZ-1, the more challenging landing out at sea is a key requirement for SpaceX’s reusability goals, based on the amount of future missions that require the stage to return to the deck of a deployed ASDS.

Secured on deck, the ASDS and support ships then made the long trip back to the Florida coast, arriving into Port Canaveral in the early hours of April 12, on the 55th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight and the 35th anniversary of Columbia’s STS-1 launch.

2016-04-19-150303The stage was then lifted off the deck of the ASDS via a large crane on site, surrounded by cherry pickers and soon to be joined by the KAMAG modular platform trailer, tasked with the transportation of the stage from Port Canaveral to the Kennedy Space Center.

A large amount of work has taken place since the S1 was lifted on the support structure next to the dock, with SpaceX engineers working to safe the vehicle on Wednesday, including the burn off of the remaining onboard TEA-TEB (first stage ignitor source).

Last Thursday was highlighted by the initiation of work to remove the four landing legs from the base of the stage, beginning with the detachment of the four pistons.

2016-04-19-150625Although SpaceX CEO and lead designer Elon Musk had noted in the post-landing media briefing that the legs would be “folded up”, they were to be fully detached from the stage by Friday and placed onto a separate transporter.

The pace of the work slowed over the weekend, prior to Monday’s final operations to ready the stage for the translation to horizontal.

Future port processing is expected to be completed on a shorter timeline, with the CRS-8 S1 providing the role of a pathfinder.

2016-04-19-173017Mr. Musk had described this first-time processing event as like a “dog catching a bus”, per working out what to do next.

However, the processing work was completed by the end of the work day on Monday, as the stage was secured atop the transporter and prepared for transportation.

The move began around 10am Eastern on Tuesday – to SpaceX’s new Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at KSC’s Pad 39A.

The slow journey, which included a full escort, took most of the day, prior to arriving at the 39A HIF, to be parked alongside the OG-2 core that landed at LZ-1.

2016-01-16-010057Additional work was conducted on the returned OG-2 booster inside the new HIF, prior to heading back to SpaceX’s Cape pad at SLC-40 for a short static fire test to prove the engines would still ignite after their adventure.

However, the CRS-8 S1 is hoping to provide the transformed 39A with its first fire and smoke since the final Space Shuttle launch via up to ten static fire tests, per Mr. Musk’s earlier comments.

It is currently unknown when these tests will take place although the goal is to launch the stage on a future – as yet undetermined – mission, possibly in June. However, following the arrival of the booster at the 39A HIF, Mr. Musk refined that timeline to “3-4 months” until its potential re-flight.


One static fire that is upcoming is the test of the recently arrived first stage for the JSCAT-14 mission.

JCSAT-14 is a Space Systems/Loral (SSL) telecommunications satellite that will succeed and replace JCSAT-2A, providing coverage to Asia, Russia, Oceania and the Pacific Islands.

With 26 optimized C-band transponders and 18 Ku-Band transponders, the satellite will extend JCSAT-2A’s geographical footprint and address fast-growing mobility markets across the Asia-Pacific region.

This mission was aiming to launch on April 28 in an early morning window ranging from 01:22 Eastern, through to 03:22. UPDATE: However, this has since been moved to May 3, with the same launch window.

The first stage tasked with this mission is now documented (L2) to undergo a static fire test at SLC-40 on April 24, pending an acceptable flow towards that date. UPDATE: This has since moved to the right following a change to the launch date target.

2016-04-19-144828It will also be aiming to be the second time SpaceX successfully lands a first stage on the ASDS, with the drone ship already being prepared for its journey back out into the Atlantic.

Despite the success of the CRS-8 S1’s return, ocean landings on the ASDS are expected to suffer a number of failures due to the difficulties involved with such a return.

However, a second ASDS landing success in a row, via a mission with a different launch profile to that involved with the CRS-8 Dragon launch, would provide a massive boost for SpaceX’s advances at refining its reuse technology.

Eutelsat 117W B & ABS 2A:

Launches for the following month are also deep into preparations, with the booster for the Eutelsat 117W B & ABS 2A dual-payload launch already undergoing testing.

2016-04-19-141949That stage was recently spotted on the test stand at SpaceX’s McGregor test site, ready for its static test fire.

It too will follow the path of the previous cores, making the road trip to Florida ahead of its launch – and it is understood the booster will also attempt an ASDS landing.

Manufactured by Boeing Defense and Space, EUTELSAT 115 West B is the first all-electric satellite of the fleet.

Following launch, EUTELSAT 115 West B will be located at 114.9 degrees West, providing coverage from Alaska and Canada down to South America, including Pan-American coverage over the Galapagos and Easter Island. A semi-hemispheric C-band beam provides coverage from Alaska to Peru.

Ku-band resources, connected to three fixed beams covering the Americas from Alaska to Patagonia, will provide optimized regional coverage of Canada, Mexico and South America for data services.

2015-02-25 17_33_00-SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 - ABS-3A_Eutelsat 115 West B - SLC-40 - March 1 - UPDATESABS-2A is a Boeing 702SP satellite that also utilizes all-electric propulsion.

Designed with 48 transponders and five dedicated high powered Ku-band beams, ABS-2A will serve South Asia, South East Asia, Russia, Sub-Sahara Africa and MENA regions.

Following launch, ABS-2A will be co-located with ABS-2 at the prime location at 75 degrees East. ABS-2 was launched by one of Falcon 9’s rivals, the Ariane 5, in 2014.

The frequency of SpaceX launches is expected to pick up the pace in June with up to three launches planned, potentially including the historic reuse of the CRS-8 S1.

(Images: SpaceX, NSF members Marek Cyzio and “Thomas Moore” at Port Canaveral, Jim at the Cape and L2 SpaceX – including McGregor testing for JSCAT-14 core by NSF member ScaryDare and F9 S1 39A testing render from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

(To join L2, click here: //www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)

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