Third recovered Falcon 9 First Stage sails into Port Canaveral

by Chris Bergin

Fresh from its unique three engine landing success, the Falcon 9 first stage (F9-0024-S1) has arrived back to the Florida coast from where it successfully launched the JCSAT-14 satellite. Proudly stood in the middle of the deck on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), this is the third Falcon 9 first stage to be recovered after a launch.

The Primary Mission:

A huge amount of attention has been placed on SpaceX’s ever-advancing reusable aspirations, which are aimed at providing a game-changer in bringing down the costs associated with launches.

However, those goals will only become a reality if the rockets can continue to successfully achieve their primary goals.

2016-05-10-031649For F9-0024-S1, the primary mission was to provide the first stage ride uphill for the JCSAT-14 satellite. That mission, completed by the second stage, proved to be successful.

Launched from SpaceX’s SLC-40 pad at Cape Canaveral, the satellite was placed into its Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) ahead of its series of tests and preparations for its role in expanding communication services in the Asia and Pacific regions.

The satellite is confirmed to be in good health and has successfully performed post-launch maneuvers according to plan.

“We are very pleased that JCSAT-14 will soon enter service as part of our fleet,” noted Shinji Takada, Representative Director, President and CEO of SKY Perfect JSAT.

“SSL has been an excellent partner in the development of this satellite, and our teams look forward to continued collaboration as two additional satellites complete assembly and test for launches later this year.”

SSL (Space Systems Loral) will complete the satellite’s checkout ahead of its employment with SKY Perfect JSAT.

2016-05-10-031751“I would like to thank the teams at SKY Perfect JSAT, SpaceX, and SSL, whose hard work and close collaboration ensured JCSAT-14’s successful launch,” added John Celli, president of SSL.

“As our first satellite together with SKY Perfect JSAT in many years, we have strengthened our long relationship and built a culture of teamwork and trust which extends to the other SKY Perfect JSAT satellites that we are building.”

The launch marked the 102nd satellite that SSL has delivered based on its SSL 1300 platform while the company continues work on building JCSAT-15 and JCSAT-16 – which are both scheduled to launch in 2016.

First Stage Return:

It’s a hat-trick of first stage return successes for SpaceX, although each of the three returns have provided their own unique achievement.

2016-05-10-032610Following a number of close calls with landing attempts on the ASDS, it was the OG-2 first stage that conducted the first successful landing, returning to SpaceX’s LZ-1 near the launch site.

After the SES-9 first stage failed to land on the ASDS during the following mission, SpaceX racked up two major ocean successes in a row.

CRS-8’s first stage provided the first successful drone ship landing, utilizing additional margin that could have been employed with a LZ-1 follow up.

The reason for targeting the ASDS was due to the requirement to fine-tune sea-based landings, because that will be the only option for a large number of future missions.

One such example was the JCSAT-14 mission, which required the Falcon 9 to loft the satellite to a GTO destination, as opposed to the Low Earth Orbit target of Dragon’s CRS missions.

2016-05-10-042439With the more challenging ascent profile, F9-0024-S1 employed the alternate return path that was concluded by a three engine landing burn to counter the faster dive towards “Of Course I Still Love You”.

With the live webcast image from the ASDS updating to show the stage safely in the middle of the deck, SpaceX’s Elon Musk failed to hide his excitement.

“Woohoo!!” He tweeted. “This was a three-engine landing burn, so triple deceleration of last flight. That’s important to minimize gravity losses.”

While the CRS-8 stage had to battle strong sea state conditions, resulting in several days passing before it arrived in Port Canaveral, the JCSAT-14 stage was back in double quick time, arriving late Monday evening.

2016-05-10-032917Its dockside processing may also be conducted in a shorter period of time, now that the engineers have the roadmap of the CRS-8 core to follow.

Those procedures will include the crane driven translation on to its processing mount, which will allow for additional safing and the removal of the four landing legs.

The stage will then be translated horizontal on to its transporter for the trip to the 39A Horizontal Processing Facility (HIF), where it will join the CRS-8 and OG-2 cores.

The HIF is designed to host three stages, as it is designed with the Falcon Heavy in mind.

“May need to increase the size of rocket storage hangar,” joked Mr. Musk, referencing the growing collection of flown stages ahead of the arrival of three new cores for the Falcon Heavy debut mission late this year.

2016-01-16-010057While the OG-2 stage is destined to go on display, the CRS-8 stage is preparing to undergo a series of static fire tests.

Those tests are expected to take place at SpaceX’s Pad 39A – which will be the first use of the pad since its conversion from hosting the Space Shuttle fleet. However, the most recent comment from SpaceX appeared to point towards a flow decision that yet to be taken.

It was claimed – during the JCSAT-14 webcast – that the static fire tests will take place at “either” 39A or at SpaceX’s test center in McGregor, Texas. The cited speed at which the stage would be turned around for a relaunch, should the tests go to plan, has also been delayed until later this year.

However, the turnaround of the CRS-8 stage will at least provide its own pathfinder flow for F9-0024-S1, which may also find itself being involved in a future launch.

(Images: SpaceX, Jacques van Oene/, NSF member Marek Cyzio and L2 SpaceX – including 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*)

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