‘Significantly improved’ SpaceX Falcon 9 set to soar on ‘unofficial’ Orbcomm mission
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is apparently even keeping the U.S. Air Force guessing in terms of when they will conduct the launch of the Orbcomm OG2 mission. When asking a representative with the 45th Space about access to cover the remaining launch(es) for 2015, SpaceFlight Insider was told that the next launch “officially” on the 45th’s schedule was “the Air Force GPS IIF-12 in 2016”.
This might come as a surprise to SpaceX CEO and Founder Elon Musk, who tweeted on Dec. 19: “Currently looking good for a Sunday night (∼8pm local) attempted orbital launch and rocket landing at Cape Canaveral[.]”
Musk reasserted that the new, improved “Full Thrust” or V1.2 version of the Falcon 9 could be taking to the skies again as early as this Sunday (Dec. 20). If so, the “significantly improved” variant of the rocket will have a three-hour launch window in which to take to the skies (although there have also been reports of an instantaneous or 1-second long window).
This follows a Dec. 18 tweet by the billionaire where he provided one of the first pieces of data as to when the launch was set to take place. In it, he stated the static test fire was “good” – meaning that the next step in the progression of the Orbcomm OG2 mission should be the launch.
In fact, Musk’s tweets, which he issued more than hourly, were the key source of information regarding the various attempts and aborts to complete the static test fire.
In terms of announcing its plans, NewSpace has enjoyed relative freedom when it comes to its various efforts. There is one entity from which close coordination is a prerequisite. In regards to the Eastern Range, if the Hawthorne, California-based aerospace firm wants to send one of their boosters into the black, they have to coordinate with the 45th Space Wing – the Range’s operators.
Moreover, all flights out of Cape Canaveral are closely monitored in the event something goes “off nominal”. Such was the case on June 28, 2014, when another SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 suffered a mishap.
The Falcon 9 used on CRS-7, which had been launched some two minutes and 19 seconds earlier, appeared to be well on its way to delivering supplies, experiments, and crew equipment to the International Space Station when it exploded.
Range Safety Officers closely monitor the flights of these rockets – and they may activate the boosters’ flight termination hardware in the event one of these powerful machines deviates from its flight path.
The last flight that SpaceX carried out, the CRS-7 mission, marked the 19th time that SpaceX had employed one of their Falcon 9 boosters for missions ranging from a geostationary transfer, polar, and low-Earth orbits, as well as to Lagrange Point 1.
As noted, SpaceFlight Insider reached out to the 45th Space Wing for clarification of how much time is needed prior to a launch taking place. As of this writing, we have not received a response.
This upcoming first flight of the “Full Thrust” variant is being carried out to send 11 second-generation Orbcomm satellites to orbit. Orbcomm, the customer on this flight, changed places with global satellite operator SES. With that change to the manifest decided, SpaceX began to work on other aspects of the flight.
It is likely that, if things go according to what SpaceX has planned, this mission will not be remembered as another “routine” satellite delivery run, but the mission that changed how spaceflight is handled.
SpaceX has been working to have the first stage of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters conduct controlled landings after they have completed the task of ferrying cargo to orbital destinations.
To date, there have been four attempts to “soft land” Falcon 9 rockets out in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, starting with the first test being conducted during the 2014 CASSIOPE flight (according to a report appearing on Parabolic Arc).
SpaceX has stated that it might attempt a ground landing on this mission. With the launch window opening tomorrow (Sunday) at 8:29 p.m. EST (01:29 GMT on Monday), it will mean that the rocket will have to carry out this historic effort at night.
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.