SpaceX’s banner year continues with dual ABS / Eutelsat launch
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With the year halfway over, Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX conducted its sixth launch of the year today at 10:29 a.m. EDT (14:29 GMT) when a “Full Thrust” Falcon 9 was scheduled to take to the skies with the ABS-2A and Eutelsat 117 West B satellites.
SpaceX successfully carried out a static test fire of the two-stage rocket on Sunday, June 12. This final step in SpaceX’s normal mission flow cleared the way for Wednesday’s flight. This test was conducted without the satellites attached and saw the nine Merlin 1D rocket engines in the Falcon 9’s first stage ramped up to an estimated 1.9 million lbf (8.45 MN) of thrust. This confirmed that the latest version of SpaceX’s launch system was ready to support the flight.
As noted, SpaceX has already conducted five missions this year so far – all of them successful. If everything goes well, this will be the fifth time Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida has born the fury of the Falcon (the sixth flight took place from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4 East in California).
Today’s window opened at 10:29 a.m. EDT, and it remained open for approximately 45 minutes. Earlier weather predictions provided an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions for launch with cumulus clouds being the chief concern.
Eutelsat 117 West B is being launched to provide video, data, and mobile services to Latin America for Paris-based Eutelsat.
Meanwhile, according to the 45th Space Wing, ABS 2A is being sent aloft so to distribute direct-to-home television, mobile, and maritime communications services across Russia, India, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean region for Asia Broadcast Satellite of Bermuda and Hong Kong.
According to a report appearing on SpaceFlight Now, both of the satellites were produced by Boeing.
As has been the case since January 10 of last year (2015), with the flight of a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on CRS-5, SpaceX has attempted to land the Falcon 9’s first stage on one of the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships (ASDS). In the case of the company’s East Coast operations, that has been the Of Course I Still Love You barge.
While encountering four initial drone ship landing failures, today’s landing attempt was not successful.
The company carried out its first landing on one of the ships after the rocket’s first stage had completed its part in sending the CRS-8 Dragon spacecraft to the ISS on April 8, 2016.
SpaceX proved that this wasn’t a fluke a little more than a month later, on May 6, when another Falcon 9’s first stage, this one tasked with launching the Japanese JCSAT-14 telecommunications satellite, again landed, even after SpaceX CEO and Founder Elon Musk predicted that recovery of the stage was unlikely.
The launch of the Thaicom 8 communications satellite proved yet again that SpaceX had developed a proven method to have the first stage conduct a controlled landing (on both land and water). Moreover, as the mission occurred on May 27 – just three weeks after the aerospace firm had sent JCSAT-14 on its way – it highlighted the ability of the 14-year-old company to launch missions and land stages at a quick pace.
As noted, today, however, things did not go as planned in terms of landing, with the rocket’s first stage encountering, according to Musk via Twitter, “Maybe [the] hardest impact to date.” Upon impact, the stage encountered, as Musk put it, “RUD = Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly :)”.
The other four stages that were successfully recovered have been used to test the recovered stages’ engines and other systems to ensure that they are capable of reuse. The first of these, the one used to propel 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites to orbit on Dec. 22, 2015, will eventually be displayed at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, with another planned to carry out the first re-flight of a stage in September or October of this year (2016).
For the 45th Space Wing, the entity tasked with managing the Eastern Range, today’s launch was yet another mission that got its start from Florida’s Space Coast.
“I am proud of the entire professional team here on the Space Coast who worked together flawlessly to make this mission a success,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander and mission Launch Decision Authority via a release. “Congratulations to SpaceX. Assured access to space is a challenging endeavor and today’s launch once again clearly demonstrates the collaborative efforts required for mission success. The 45th Space Wing team continues to shape the future of America’s space operations and serve as the ‘World’s Premier Gateway to Space’.”
Video courtesy of SpaceX
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.