SpaceX notches 15th Falcon 9 launch in 2017 with SES-11 mission
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Hot on the heels of a Falcon 9 launch on the West Coast, SpaceX sent its 15th rocket into space in 2017. The SES-11/EchoStar-105 mission came less than 60 hours after the NewSpace company sent 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit. Liftoff occurred at 6:53 p.m. EDT (22:53 GMT) Oct. 11, 2017, from Launch Complex 39A.
“Partnering with the commercial space industry demonstrates just one of the many ways the United States Air Force is a multi-domain service in land, air, sea, space and cyberspace,” the 45th Space Wing, which supports Eastern Range launches in Florida, said in a statement on Facebook. “It’s a great privilege to work with this incredible team on the Space Coast and execute another flawless mission.”
This launch was the third to use a “flight-proven” first stage and the second time that Luxembourg-based SES has utilized used hardware to loft one of its satellites into space. The other was the SES-10 mission, which occurred in March 2017 and was the first Falcon 9 to utilize a recovered and refurbished first stage.
The first stage core for the Oct. 11 launch, core 1031, was previously flown on during the CRS-10 space station resupply flight in February 2017.
SES-11 is the next in a series of satellites by SES that are intended to accelerate the roll-out of high and ultra-high definition video services to North America. Manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space, SES-11/EchoStar-105 utilizes the Airbus Eurostar E3000 platform to serve as the core for the hybrid satellite. SES-11/EchoStar-105 serves as a dual-mission satellite for U.S.-based EchoStar and SES.
Weather conditions for this partly cloudy sunset launch were about as good as could be asked for since the probability of conditions violating launch were at 10 percent. The only concerns were cumulus clouds.
The countdown proceeded smoothly with no issues reported. At about 70 minutes before the planned liftoff, rocket grade kerosene, known as RP-1, began flowing into the first and second stage tanks. About 45 minutes later, liquid oxygen also began flowing into the rocket.
Some seven minutes before the ignition of the nine first-stage Merlin 1D engines, they began to chill to be conditioned for launch. Three seconds before liftoff, all nine roared to life to produce more than 1.7 million pounds-force (7,600 kilonewtons) of thrust.
Liftoff of the Falcon 9
After the launch restraints were released and the 230-foot (70-meter) tall Falcon 9 lifted off, it began a series of pitch and roll maneuvers as it set course for the final destination of SES-11 – a geostationary orbit at the 105 degrees West orbital slot. However, first, the vehicle had to deploy the satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
The Falcon 9 experienced maximum dynamic pressure, the point where atmospheric stresses on the vehicle were the highest, at about 1 minute, 10 seconds into its flight. Following the shutdown of the first stage at 2 minutes, 35 seconds, stage separation occurred. Once it moved sufficiently away from the first stage, the single Merlin vacuum engine took over to continue boosting SES-11 into an initial low-Earth parking orbit.
Following a parabolic trajectory, the flight-proven first stage performed an entry burn at about 6 minutes 24 seconds to cushion its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Core 1031 began its landing burn several minutes later to softly touch down on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship named Of Course I Still Love You. The landing took place at about 8 minutes 33 seconds after departing from Florida.
Meanwhile, after the first stage finished making its way to low-Earth orbit at 8 minutes, 38 seconds, the second stage engine cut off as expected. The vehicle then coasted for about 18 minutes before relighting its engine for one minute to push the spacecraft into a GTO.
At 36 minutes after leaving Florida, the SES-11/EchoStar-105 satellite was deployed. It will spend the next days and weeks using onboard engines to circularize its orbit into a geostationary one provide Ku- and C-band coverage across North America, including Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean.
The Oct. 11 launch was the 43rd Falcon 9 flight since the rocket design began flying in 2010. It was the 11th to fly out of Launch Complex 39A. Up to five more missions are planned by SpaceX before year’s end, with the next flight expected in late October carrying Koreasat 5A into orbit for KT Corporation.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Paul is currently a graduate student in Space and Planetary Sciences at the University of Akransas in Fayetteville. He grew up in the Kansas City area and developed an interest in space at a young age at the start of the twin Mars Exploration Rover missions in 2003. He began his studies in aerospace engineering before switching over to geology at Wichita State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2013. After working as an environmental geologist for a civil engineering firm, he began his graduate studies in 2016 and is actively working towards a PhD that will focus on the surficial processes of Mars. He also participated in a 2-week simluation at The Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in 2014 and remains involved in analogue mission studies today. Paul has been interested in science outreach and communication over the years which in the past included maintaining a personal blog on space exploration from high school through his undergraduate career and in recent years he has given talks at schools and other organizations over the topics of geology and space. He is excited to bring his experience as a geologist and scientist to the Spaceflight Insider team writing primarily on space science topics.
When I first heard of companies planning to land rockets after launching them, I thought it was kind of ridiculous that they had to go through all that extra engineering when it would have been easier to use parachutes and scoop them up at sea.
I stand corrected, they’re making it look easy even though it isn’t, and on rough seas no less. Tip of my hat to good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity.
SpaceX tried landings at sea. The sea destroyed the “landed” first stage in a very short amount of time. There is a reason that the hulls of ships are made of thick steel. Unfortunately liquid fueled rocket stages are mostly thin tanks to hold the propellants under moderate pressure. They don’t hold up to wave forces at all well.
The shuttle SRBs survived ocean landings only because the SRB casings were made of, you guessed it, thick steel. They had to be strong to contain the pressure of all of that burning solid propellant.
There was also the added problem of saltwater contamination and corrosion which made shuttle SRB reuse not even remotely cost effective.
At least by returning the F9 first stages onto an ocean landing pad it makes recyclability economically viable for SpaceX. If NASA had been serious about the shuttle as the be-all-and-end-all of spacecraft then it should never have gambled upon solids.
Thanks again Paul, for another thorough job. You guys continue to outshine the other space sites with more and better detail. Much appreciated. I would like more detail on the drone ship. How far out to sea, what were the seas like for this launch, why can’t they do a better job of getting TV pics. It seems a wireless router would do better. At the very least, they could capture video for an HD ‘instant replay.’ The landing video at sea is always crappy. I’d like to see multiple angles, close ups, vertical shots…