Japanese JCSAT-14 mission marks third successful landing for SpaceX Falcon 9
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Residents along Florida’s Space Coast hoping to get a sound night’s sleep were disappointed in the wee hours of Friday, May 6, as a SpaceX Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket turned the dark of night into day with its nine Merlin 1D engines lighting up the skies. SpaceX’s 24th mission got underway at the opening of a two-hour launch window at 1:21 a.m. EDT (05:21 GMT) – racking up another win for the company’s efforts to reuse portions of their rockets.
The payload for this mission, the JCSAT-14 telecommunications satellite, was constructed by Space Systems Loral and launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. It marked the fourth time this year that SpaceX has launched one of its highly successful Falcon 9 rockets – both from Cape Canaveral in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The flight had been scheduled to launch at 1:21 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 5. However, rough weather, in the form of thunderstorms, prevented normal launch operations from getting underway and forcing a 24-hour delay.
That weather had blown itself out today by the time the countdown clock had reached zero. Forecasters predicted a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions for launch – Florida’s skies delivered.
All of the other milestones for flight, including the May 1 Static Test Fire, had been successfully completed and the Hawthorne, California-based company was set to send the satellite to a geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) on behalf of SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation.
SpaceX had worked to recover the rocket’s first stage by having it land on the “Of Course I Still Love You” Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) positioned off the Florida coast. Those efforts paid off big time this morning. SpaceX and other organizations downplayed the chances of a successful landing for the JCSAT-14 mission with both the 45th Space Wing and SpaceX stating: Given this mission’s GTO destination, the first-stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing unlikely.
The mission’s payload, the JCSAT-14 telecommunications satellite, was constructed by Space Systems Loral and will now begin its planned 15-year long tour of duty.
In June of 2012, Space Systems / Loral announced that it had been awarded the contract to produce the JCSAT-14 communications satellite. This was followed about two years later with the announcement that SpaceX had won the contract to provide launch services for the satellite.
“SSL is a world leader in satellite manufacturing, and a valuable partner in the expansion of our fleet,” said Shinji Takada, Representative Director, President and CEO of SKY Perfect JSAT via a statement on the company’s website. “Our corporate goal is to protect safety and peace of mind while contributing to the formation of a vibrant society. We look forward to the launch of JCSAT-14, which helps to contribute to this overarching goal.”
Once it has been placed in its geostationary orbit, it will reside at 154 degrees east longitude and is being fielded to replace JCSAT-2A (JCSat 8). According to a post on Gunter’s Space Page, the JCSAT-14 satellite will help to provide the region’s growing demands for telecommunications services.
JCSAT-14 is equipped with 26 C-band transponders and 18 Ku-band transponders. It will use these to provide telecommunications services across Asia, Oceania, the Pacific Islands, and Russia. Broadcast and data networks will rely on the services provided by the C-band transponders, with the satellite’s Ku-band beams granting high-speed connectivity for sea, air, and other purposes.
Approximately 38 minutes prior to T–0 the launch conductor carried out a launch readiness poll, this was followed three minutes later by the loading of the rocket’s RP-1 (a refined version of kerosene) and liquid oxygen fuel.
Ten minutes before liftoff, the rocket underwent engine chill down and eight minutes after that the U.S. Air Force Range Safety Officer gave the go-ahead for the mission to get underway. Thirty seconds later, SpaceX’s launch director also verified that the Falcon 9 was “go” for launch.
At one minute before liftoff, two things happened at roughly the same time: the propellant tanks were pressurized and the Falcon 9’s command flight computer began final prelaunch checks.
Three seconds before T–0, the engine controller ordered the engine ignition sequence to begin.
Once the launch window had opened, the rocket promptly began thundering skyward, cutting an orange swath across the early morning sky.
Approximately one minute and twenty seconds into the flight, the Falcon 9, with its precious cargo bolted firmly to the top of the rocket’s second stage, entered into the region of the atmosphere known as maximum dynamic pressure – more commonly referred to as “max-Q”.
At two minutes and 38 seconds into the flight, the Falcon 9’s engine shutdown/main-engine-cutoff (MECO) took place, stage separation took place three seconds later. The first stage’s lone Merlin vacuum engine ignited at two minutes and 49 seconds elapsed time.
The rocket’s payload fairing, its job complete, was jettisoned some three minutes and 36 seconds after the rocket had left the pad.
SECO-1, the first of two second-stage cutoffs took place at eight minutes and 35 minutes into the flight. The engine re-ignited twenty-six minutes and twenty-seven seconds in. One second shy of a minute later and the second burn was completed. According to SpaceX, the JCSAT-14 satellite was deployed at 32:02 mission elapsed time.
“Congratulations to SpaceX and the entire professional team here on the Space Coast whose tireless efforts shook the earth and turned the night into day,” he said. “Assured access to space is a challenging endeavor and today’s launch once again clearly demonstrates the collaborative efforts required for mission success. It’s an honor to work alongside the entire Space Coast team as we shape the future of America’s launch and range operations, and continue to be the ‘World’s Premier Gateway to Space,’” said Col. Shawn Fairhurst, 45th SW vice commander, who served as the Launch Decision Authority for tonight’s mission.
Video Courtesy of SpaceVids.tv
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.