SpaceX realigns next Falcon 9 missions
SpaceX has completed a static fire test on a Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket will send the Iridium-3 mission into space. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, the launch of a flight-proven Falcon 9 with the SES-11 satellite has been postponed by several days.
On Twitter, SpaceX confirmed a successful test of the Falcon 9 that will take the third set of 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites into space. The company is currently targeting an instantaneous launch window of 5:37 a.m. PDT (8:37 a.m. EDT / 12:37 GMT) on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017.
A static fire test involves rolling the whole booster, sans the payload and fairing, to the launch pad to be raised into a vertical position. The vehicle is then fueled during a simulated countdown culminating in a brief three-second firing of the nine Merlin-1D engines on the first stage of the Falcon 9. This is done to ensure everything is operating as expected.
Over the next several days, the Falcon 9 will be lowered back into the horizontal position and returned to the nearby hangar to integrate the payload onto the rocket.
The rocket for this mission is new, but SpaceX will attempt to recover the first stage by propulsively landing it on the Automated Spaceport Drone Ship Just Read The Instructions located downrange in the Pacific Ocean.
Launch doubleheader planned
On the East Coast, SpaceX has opted to postpone the launch of the flight-proven Falcon 9 that will be used to send the SES-11 satellite into space. The company is reporting a new target date of Oct. 11, 2017. The reason for the delay has not been announced; however, Spaceflight Now has reported a SpaceX spokesperson saying that “[t]he shift gives us extra time to complete final launch preps with the bonus of bypassing some bad weather headed for the Cape this weekend”. Also, another source said that the company needed to carry out some “minor engine rework” on the Falcon 9.
Now targeting October 11 for the launch of EchoStar 105/SES-11 from Pad 39A in Florida.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 5, 2017
Should the two missions launch as currently scheduled, there will be a separation of only two days. It will be only the second rapid doubleheader attempted by SpaceX; the first occurred in June 2017 with the launch of the BulgariaSat and Iridium-2 missions on the East and West Coasts respectively just 49 hours, 15 minutes apart. The next two flights will also be the 14th and 15th Falcon 9 launches of 2017, with as many as five more planned before the year is finished.
The launch will be the third time one of the Hawthorne, California-based rockets has been reused. The first stage of this booster, core 1031, previously sent the CRS-10 mission into space in February 2017. Additionally, this mission will mark the first repeat customer for a flight-proven booster.
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.