SpaceX is lining up its next two missions, with Falcon 9 hardware currently in pre-launch preparations for launch. In Florida, the Falcon 9 tasked with the JCSAT-16 launch is preparing for a Static Fire test on August 10, while at SpaceX’s test center in Texas, the Amos-6 first stage has been static fired on the test stand ahead of shipping to the Cape.
SpaceX’s next launch is currently scheduled for August 14, with liftoff from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40 targeting a two hour launch window that opens at 01:26 local time.
The JCSAT-16 spacecraft will be operated by Sky Perfect JSAT Corporation. The Japanese telecommunications behemoth formed through mergers and acquisitions that have amalgamated almost every Japanese commercial operator except B-SAT.
Space Systems/Loral constructed the satellite, which is based on the SSL-1300 bus.
JSAT current fleet amalgamates fifteen active satellites from the original JCSAT fleet, the Space Communications Corporation Superbird series, the NTT DoCoMo N-Star satellites, the Horizons joint venture with Intelsat and the future DSN Japanese military network, plus some co-owned with other operators.
Since 1985 they have launched from Atlas IIAS, Ariane 4 and Commercial Titan III rockets, used Sea Launch’s Zenit 3SL and ILS Proton-M and more recently Arianespace’s Ariane 5 that lofted the JCSAT-13 satellite from Kourou in May, 2012 – sharing the ride uphill with the VINASAT-2 satellite.
The Japanese company then opted to deal with SpaceX for the first time, with the contract award for the launch of its JCSAT-14 spacecraft.
That spacecraft is tasked with replacing 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 is being used to extend JCSAT’s geographical footprint and “address fast-growing mobility markets across the Asia-Pacific region,” per the company’s ambitions.
The May launch of JCSAT-14 to its Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) was successful and included the Falcon 9 first stage concluding its flight by landing on the deck of the SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You”.
The follow-on mission with JCSAT-16 will be a near-repeat of the May mission, with the SSL-1300 spacecraft again sporting twenty-six C-band and 18 Ku-band transponders and heading to GTO.
Its operator is classing this spacecraft as an on-orbit spare, a task currently entrusted to JCSAT-RA. As is customary for the Japanese operator, JSCAT-16 will be rechristened after a successful launch, probably as JCSAT-RB.
Preparations for the launch saw the first stage, F9-S1-0028, departing its Hawthorne birthplace for a trip to SpaceX’s McGregor test center in Texas.
It was fired up on the test stand last month to validate its propulsion systems were in good working order.
It has since arrived at Cape Canaveral and will undergo a dress rehearsal on the SLC-40 launch pad, culminating in a Static Fire of its Merlin 1D engines for a couple of seconds. SpaceX is currently aiming for an August 10 test, per L2 KSC/Cape schedules.
The departure of F9-S1-0028 from McGregor freed up the test stand for testing of the returned JCSAT-14 booster (F9-S1-0024).
Despite suffering “max damage” from its high velocity return, a major milestone in the goal of reusing returned first stages for additional missions was achieved via three full duration firings in the space of three days.
The stage has since been removed from the test stand and is being inspected to gain additional data on the condition of the booster.
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It may yet return for additional firings, given SpaceX has noted this stage is now a ground test article and won’t be reflown.
However, the new resident of the test stand will be flown, with F9-S1-0029 conducting its own static fire in Texas.
It was spotted on the stand late this week (L2 McGregor), and completed its near one minute firing in the late afternoon on Friday.
Its job will be to help launch the Amos-6 satellite late in August, or early September.
SpaceX signed the contract to launch Amos-6 on behalf of Space Communication Ltd (Spacecom) in early 2013.
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.
Amos-6 – to be launched into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) – will replace Amos-2, which is expected to end its service life later this year.
The two most recent Amos satellite launches were conducted by Proton-M in 2011 (Amos-5) and a Zenit 3SL in 2013 (Amos-4).
Amos-6 sports 43 Ku- and Ka-band transponders and 2 S-band transponders. Eutelsat and Facebook will lease some of the satellite’s Ka-band spot-beam broadband capacity via a deal signed in 2015.
This 5.4 ton spacecraft is the second implementation of the AMOS-4000 platform (previous was AMOS-4). It has a power generation capacity of around 10kW and will use electric propulsion for station keep for the first time in the AMOS family.
It will be a stepping stone before the introduction of the fully electric AMOS-E NET 2018.
In other McGregor news, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has renewed the Experimental Permit for SpaceX to continue Dragonfly testing through into 2017.
Dragonfly began testing last year, with the test article attached to a large crane, ahead of a series of test firings of its SuperDraco thrusters to set the stage towards the eventual goal of propulsive landings for the Dragon 2 spacecraft.
Dragon 2 – which is set to launch crewed missions to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Crew contract – will initially land under parachutes, prior to progressing towards propulsive landing attempts. Parachutes will remain installed on the spacecraft, in order to provide redundancy.
SpaceX’s also recently announced an ambitious Falcon Heavy/Dragon mission to Mars, which will involve the use of the SuperDraco’s for a propulsive landing.
Red Dragon is aiming to touch down on the Red Planet as early as 2018.
(Images: SpaceX, JSAT Corporation, NSF L2 member Gary Blair (McGregor Testing F9-S1-0029) and Joe Hunter (McGregor overhead).
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