Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule to launch before EchoStar 23

SpaceX facilities at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A photo credit Jared Haworth / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX’s horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: Jared Haworth / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX has decided to switch the order of its next two Falcon 9 launches. The CRS-10 Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will now launch ahead of the EchoStar 23 satellite.

The Dragon cargo mission is scheduled for no earlier than mid-February, while EchoStar 23, originally scheduled for Feb. 3, will launch in late February, both from the Space Shuttle-era Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center.

An archive photo of a SpaceX Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

An archive photo of a SpaceX Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

“This schedule change allows time for additional testing of ground systems ahead of the CRS-10 Mission,” SpaceX said in a statement. “The launch vehicles, Dragon, and the EchoStar satellite are all healthy and prepared for launch.”

This will be SpaceX’s first launch from LC-39A and the first since the last Space Shuttle mission in 2011. The NewSpace firm signed a 20-year lease on the complex back in 2014. Since then, it has been modifying it to be able to process and launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

The first big change to the complex was the addition of a horizontal integration facility just outside the gates of the seaside launch pad. On the pad itself, changes were made to allow for Falcon rockets to be transported up the pad on a Transporter Erector (TE) and attached to a launch mount at the top.

This will also mark SpaceX’s first launch from the Space Coast since the Sept. 1 launch pad explosion at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station just south of Kennedy Space Center. The explosion not only destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and its Amos 6 satellite payload but also damaged the pad itself. It is currently undergoing repairs and is expected to re-enter service later this year.

SpaceX has fixed the problem that caused the explosion and returned the rocket to flight in mid-January with the Iridium-1 mission.

In addition to needing more time to ready LC-39A, according to NASA Spaceflight, the ISS program has said the number of experiments for the crew to conduct aboard the space station is low. There are only a limited amount of launch dates and windows available for commercial cargo vehicles and there is an emphasis on the need for Dragon and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus to increase their launch rates.

The CRS-10 Dragon cargo capsule is set to bring 4,473 pounds (2,029 kilograms) of pressurized cargo and 2,154 pounds (977 kilograms) of unpressurized cargo to the outpost. One of the external payloads will be SAGE III, which is a fourth generation Earth-observation instrument designed to study the ozone layer. It will be mounted on one of the station’s ExPRESS Logistics Carriers located on the station’s truss.

Following CRS-10 will be EchoStar 23, which is expected to use an expendable Falcon 9. Then, likely in early March, SpaceX will launch the SES-10 communications satellite. That mission will be of particular interest as it will be the first re-flight of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy hangar at Launch Complex 39A located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX has been making upgrades to the historic Launch Complex 39A in Florida over the last number of years in order to launch its Falcon rockets from this pad. Photo Credit: NASA



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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