By sea, land and space – Busy week for SpaceX hardware

by Chris Bergin

As the landed booster from the JCSAT-16 mission sailed into Port Canaveral on Wednesday, the next first stage – set to launch September’s Amos-6 mission – is expected to complete a road trip to Cape Canaveral over the coming days. Meanwhile, robotic assets on the ISS have removed the IDA-2 payload from the trunk of the CRS-9 Dragon on Thursday morning.

By Sea:

It has only been just over four months since the first booster to be recovered at sea sailed into Port Canaveral on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS).

2016-08-17-231421That milestone came via the landing of the first stage involved with helping push the CRS-8 Dragon on a path towards the International Space Station. It was only the second time SpaceX had successfully landed a booster, following up on the LZ-1 landing of the OG-2 first stage.

Since then, SpaceX has enjoyed more successes, both on land and at sea, with the JCSAT-16 mission showing further refinement to the company’s approach.

With JCSAT-16 launched on the more challenging Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) mission – when compared to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) destinations – SpaceX has previously added a three engine landing burn, designed to counter the high velocity of the return.

However, for this landing, SpaceX returned to a single engine landing burn, firing the center Merlin 1D engine for a longer duration, citing more control on the approach to the ASDS, but also – and importantly – reducing the stress on the stage during its landing.

Utilizing lessons learned from the JCSAT-14 mission, where the landed stage suffered “max damage” from its landing, the single engine landing burn for the JCSAT-16 stage will provide vital data points into how that stage has fared after its return, not least when compared to the JCSAT-14 booster.

2016-08-17-163834Heading into Port Canaveral on Wednesday, the booster was offloaded within four hours of arrival, will be safed on the dockside and then transported to the 39A Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) for inspections.

The aim will be to eventually prepare it for a future re-flight, which is the next major goal for SpaceX in its ongoing reusability aspirations.

Notably, several static fire tests on the “max damage” JCSAT-14 stage at SpaceX’s test center in McGregor are playing a major part in pushing towards that historic milestone, with the potential for a re-flight mission of a returned booster to occur this year.

By Land:

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s primary missions continue to be lined up for their upcoming launch dates, with the next mission set for September 3 (Window 0300-0500 Eastern).

That mission will involve the launch of the Amos-6 satellite, launching from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral.

The Amos-6 satellite, built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), will provide communication services including direct satellite home internet for Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

2016-08-04-235552The booster for this mission was static fired at McGregor, as per the usual process of firing up all nine Merlin 1D engines to validate the health of the stage’s propulsive systems, prior to being removed from the test stand for transportation.

Although SpaceX doesn’t publicize its transport schedules, it was expected to be sent on a road trip to the Cape this week.

However, there has been a large amount of flooding along the route usually taken by stages in transit, which may delay its arrival at the Cape, although it will still be at the launch site in plenty of time ahead of the latest launch date target, with its static fire now showing on L2 schedules as September 1.

By Space:

In space, the CRS-9 Dragon is in the latter segment of her berthed mission at the ISS and is looking forward to handing over her trunk payload.

After her arrival at the orbital outpost, Expedition 48 crewmembers began to offload the 1,790 kg (3,946 lb) of cargo in the pressurized module. They have since started to reload the vehicle with downmass that will be returned to Earth when Dragon splashes down in the Pacific later this month.

However, first up is the removal of the 467-kilogram (1,030 lb) International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2), located in the unpressurized trunk section of the spacecraft.

2016-06-23-002650The International Docking Adapters are devices designed to convert APAS-95 docking mechanisms – which were used by the Space Shuttle – to the new NASA Docking System (NDS) or Low Impact Docking System (LIDS) standard which is to be used by future US manned vehicles including the Dragon v2, Boeing CST-100 Starliner and Orion.

IDA-2 will be affixed to the docking port of Pressurised Mating Adaptor 2 (PMA-2), at the aft end of the Harmony module.

Preparations for Wednesday night’s task began with the Mobile Transporter (MT) relocating to Worksite 6.

This transition allowed for the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) to be in position to translate the Dextre robot towards Dragon’s trunk.

2016-08-18-113610Grappling operations began around 11pm UTC – with the adaptor clear of the trunk via ground robotic ops overnight.

With the new adapter extracted, it is now being maneuvered to a point about three feet away from its installation point at PMA-2.

On Friday, the final task of installation will take place, requiring the assistance of human hands.

This will involve a 6.5 hour spacewalk (EVA-36) scheduled to begin Friday at 8:05 am EDT with astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins.

(Images: SpaceX,, NASA and L2 – including Dragon 2 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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