SpaceX line up latest Falcon 9 rockets for upcoming missions

by Chris Bergin

SpaceX is working a conveyor belt of Falcon 9 rockets for what it hopes will be a record year of missions and achievements. The Falcon 9 that will be tasked with lofting the Thaicom-8 satellite enjoyed a static fire test at Cape Canaveral on Tuesday evening, while the following Falcon 9 first stage is undergoing testing at the company’s McGregor test site.

SpaceX Launch Flow:

SpaceX is preparing to conduct its next launch just over three weeks since successfully lofting the JCSAT-14 communications satellite.

This increasing launch cadence is being achieved via just its SLC-40 pad at Cape Canaveral, providing a glimpse into the company’s launch rate potential once it has four active pads at its disposal.

2016-05-23-133619With “next door’s” Pad 39A preparing to host the debut Falcon Heavy rocket at the end of this year, SpaceX also has its West Coast facility at Vandenberg and is currently into early construction at its new launch site in Texas.

The SpaceX South Texas Launch Site is a spaceport being built at Boca Chica Village near Brownsville in the Lone Star State.

SpaceX’s next launch is dedicated to the deployment of the Thaicom-8 satellite.

This satellite was ordered shortly after the Thaicom-6 spacecraft launched into orbit in January 2014 via a Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket.

2016-05-23-151123Thaicom-8 is a Ku-Band satellite built on Orbital ATK’s GEOStar-2TM platform. The payload includes 24 active transponders that will deliver broadcast and data services to customers in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.

“We built and delivered this high-quality communications satellite for Thaicom PLC two months ahead of schedule, demonstrating our ability to manufacture reliable, affordable and innovative products that exceed expectations for our customer,” noted Amer Khouri, Vice President of the Commercial Satellite Business at Orbital ATK.

“As one of Asia’s leading satellite operators, we are grateful for Thaicom’s continued confidence and look forward to more successful partnerships in the future.”

A key milestone for the launch is the Static Fire test, which helps the launch team ensure the functionality of the propellant and propulsion systems of the Falcon 9 as well as all of the launch pad’s systems in the days prior to launch.

Involving a full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown and engine ignition operations, along with the testing of the pad’s high-volume water deluge system, the test provides the teams with a full dress rehearsal for the actual launch and allows them to identify and fix issues with the vehicle and/or pad prior to the commencement of actual launch operations.

With SpaceX confirming the Static Fire was conducted on Tuesday, the vehicle will be detanked and rolled back into her HIF for final processing ahead of a launch that is currently targeting a window that has been slightly extended to 17:40 Eastern, through to 19:40, on May 26.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 will be aiming to follow the recent landing successes, with a return to the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), positioned in the Atlantic Ocean. The drone ship set out to sea over the weekend.

2016-05-23-152130The primary mission of the Falcon 9 is to deliver the satellite into its targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit where it will enter a 30-day testing phase.

Following in-orbit activation and after reaching its final orbital slot, Orbital ATK will then turn over control of the satellite to Thaicom to begin normal operations – where the bird is expected to enjoy a service life of more than 15 years from its orbital location at 78.5 degrees east longitude.

SpaceX is already deep into preparations for the following missions, with the next First Stage already into testing at the company’s McGregor test site.

2016-05-23-144111The booster, understood to be F9-0026-S1, was spotted on the test stand last week by a NSF L2 Member.

The rocket will be tasked with a dual satellite launch, with Eutelsat 117W B and ABS 2A set for a ride uphill on the Falcon 9.

The launch, again setting sail from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral – is aiming for a placeholder in mid-June.

This will be followed by the next Dragon mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The CRS-9 mission is scheduled for July 16.

While the Eutelsat 117W B and ABS 2A mission is again likely to involve a return attempt for the booster to the ocean-based ASDS, the CRS-9 mission holds the performance margins for a return to the LZ-1 landing site at the Cape, following on from the debut success for the F9 that launched the OG-2 satellites. SpaceX is known to be preparing LZ-1 for the CRS-9 landing.

A total of three boosters have successfully made it back home and currently reside inside the 39A HIF. While only one of the stages is being prepared for testing towards a potential re-flight, the advancements made by SpaceX – per its reusability aspirations, are nothing short of stunning.

2016-05-23-151022The test cycle has seen incremental successes where even a few landing mishaps were actually very close to nailing the landing.

One such example was the final launch of the Falcon 9 in her v1.1 configuration.

After successfully helping the Jason-3 satellite uphill, the first stage made a return to the ASDS out in the Pacific Ocean.

The landing all went to plan, prior to one of the landing legs failing to lock, resulting in the stage toppling and exploding on the deck of the drone ship.

2016-05-23-150318The remains of that stage were returned to California, as spotted by a NSF L2 member who had travelled to Los Angeles to view the street journey of the Shuttle External Tank ET-94.

After greeting the tank, he began his journey back home only to notice the unmistakable sight of a grid fin poking over a low wall in what is believed to be a SpaceX storage yard. The yard is viewable from a public street.

The yard also contains numerous other elements of SpaceX hardware – possibly fairings, or even Dragon OML hardware – although they are all covered in tarpaulin.

(Images: via SpaceX, Orbital ATK, NSF Member Bocachicagal and L2, including L2 Member photos (McGregor) and (SpaceX Storage Yard).

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