Second Falcon 9 of 2018 readied to loft Luxembourg’s GovSat-1
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — While the world might be waiting with breathless anticipation for the first test flight of its Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX is pressing forward with its 2018 launch manifest. The next mission the Hawthorne, California-based company is working to send aloft is the GovSat-1 satellite for Luxembourg.
SpaceX is working to send a “Full Thrust” Falcon 9 rocket to space Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The mission is poised to launch under clear and cool skies with the roughly 2-hour, 14 minute-long launch window scheduled to open at 4:23 p.m. EST (21:23 GMT).
Weather conditions, while sunny, also suggest winds might cause a delay and, therefore, forecasters are only giving a 40 percent chance of favorable conditions for the launch. If the flight slips a day, those odds more than double to 90 percent.
The tiny nation of Luxembourg is fielding the satellite to honor its obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). GovSat-1 will use both X-band as well as military grade Ka-band frequencies via high power and highly-steerable mission beams, making the spacecraft capable of supporting multiple operations.
The communications satellite is planned to be operated jointly in a partnership between the Luxembourg government and SES.
If it launches on time, it will mark SpaceX’s second flight of 2018, coming less than a month after the classified Zuma mission reportedly ended with the $1 billion U.S. national defense payload at the bottom of the ocean. SpaceX has publicly maintained its Falcon 9 performed nominally and has denied responsibility for the alleged loss of the spacecraft (given the classified nature of the mission, little is known about the payload’s status) and the U.S. Air Force is expressing support for the NewSpace firm.
The last milestone on the road to launch, the static test fire of the “flight-proven” Falcon 9 first stage was successfully conducted Friday, Jan. 26. It was the second time in two days that a member of the Falcon family of rockets had used its host of Merlin 1D engines to rattle windows for miles around Florida’s Space Coast.
Whereas Friday’s test saw nine Merlin engines demonstrating their capability, two days earlier on Jan. 24, the 27 of the engines of the Falcon Heavy fired in unison for about 10 seconds at Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A.
As noted, all eyes are on the company’s next planned mission after GovSat-1, the first flight of the Falcon Heavy. At present, that mission is slated to take place Thursday, Feb. 6. The payload for that maiden flight is a Tesla Roadster belonging to SpaceX’s CEO and founder Elon Musk. As such, the mission has a dual purpose of both demonstrating the viability of the new heavy-lift launch vehicle and as a publicity stunt for Musk’s Tesla Inc. automobile company.
For fans of the Falcon 9’s first stage returning near the launch site and hearing the accompanying triple sonic booms, this launch might be slightly disappointing as there are no plans to have the rocket land either on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship or over at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1.
SpaceX has pioneered the recovery and reuse of what was formerly the purview of expendable launch vehicles. The company has refurbished and reflown five of the rocket’s first stages since the boosters first successfully demonstrated this capability late in December 2015.
The GovSat-1 Falcon 9 first stage carried out its first mission in May of 2017 with the classified NROL-76 mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.
Video courtesy of GovSat
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.