Spaceline News Archives
Atlas V AEHF-6 On Launch Pad 41, Photo Courtesy United Launch Alliance
Atlas V Successfully Launches AEHF-6 Military Satellite
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket successfully launched the AEHF-6 military communications satellite at 4:18 p.m. EDT today from Launch Pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Launch had been set for 2:57 p.m. EDT but was postponed to allow troubleshooting of a bad amplifier cord in the rocket's ground systems hydraulic pump controller and to allow time for the rocket's guidance system to be reset to accommodate changes in high altitude winds. The rocket flown today was in the Version 551 configuration, the most powerful Atlas V variant, featuring a five-meter payload fairing, five solid rocket boosters and a single-engine Centaur second stage. AEHF-6 is the sixth in a constellation of six satellites in the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) System, a joint service geosynchronous satellite system that provides survivable, global, secure, protected and jam-resistant communications for high-priority military ground, sea and air assets. The system enables the National Security Council and Unified Combatant Commanders to control their tactical and strategic forces at all levels of conflict up to and through a nuclear war scenario. The AEHF system is a follow-up to the Milstar constellation and is intended to augment and improve existing Milstar capabilities. AEHF provides connectivity across the full spectrum of mission areas, including land, air and naval warfare, as well as special operations, strategic nuclear operations, strategic defense, theater missile defense, space operations and intelligence. The primary AEHF stated mission is to provide nearly worldwide secure and survivable satellite communications. The satellite payload consists of onboard signal processing with crossbanded Extremely High Frequency (EHF) and Super High Frequency (SHF) communications capability. The AEHF-6 satellite was built by primary contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.
Atlas V AEHF-6 Launch, Photo Courtesy United Launch Alliance
Falcon 9 Starlink On Launch Pad 39A, Photo Courtesy Lloyd Behrendt/Spaceline
Falcon 9 Loses Engine But Starlink Satellites Successfully Launched
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket suffered an engine failure but was able to successfully launch 60 Starlink broadband satellites. Liftoff occurred at 8:16 a.m. EDT today from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. One of the rocket’s nine first stage booster engines failed about two minutes after launch but the other eight engines fired longer than planned and the 60 SpaceX-owned Starlink broadband satellites were successfully deployed in orbit about 15 minutes after launch. Elon Musk, founder and head of SpaceX, had always claimed that having multiple engines on the first stage booster provided redundancy if there was an engine failure during flight and that proved to be the case today.
Falcon 9 Vapor Purge On Launch Pad 39A, Photo Courtesy Lloyd Behrendt/Spaceline
The first stage booster flown today was being used for the fifth time. It supported the Iridium-7 NEXT mission in July, 2018, the SAOCOM-1A mission in October, 2018, the Nusantara Satu mission in February, 2019 and the second launch of Starlink satellites in November, 2019. Unfortunately the first stage booster could not be recovered on the “Of Course I Love You” drone ship positioned on the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral. It was not announced whether or not the engine failure caused the booster to miss the drone ship, but it is highly likely that is the reason. In a rather rare event the “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief” vessels stationed on the Atlantic Ocean were able to catch the two halves of the rocket’s payload fairing. SpaceX had some difficulty determining how exactly to catch the fairing halves and had been unsuccessful recovering them on numerous attempts. The vessels move quickly over the water and catch the payload fairing halves as they descend using huge catch nets. Having a reusable first stage booster and reusable payload fairings will save the company multiple millions of dollars when preparing the vehicles for launch.
Falcon 9 Starlink Launch, Photo Courtesy Lloyd Behrendt/Spaceline
This was the sixth launch of 60 Starlink satellites in the constellation. Today's successful launch took the count of Starlink satelllites in orbit to 362, including two prototype satellites previously launched. Astronomers throughout the world have complained that having so many satellites in low-Earth orbit will interfere with space observations through cameras and telescopes. Apparently the federal government doesn't think so as they have approved SpaceX to launch as many as 12,000 of the small satellites into orbit. The Starlink constellation is designed to provide space-based broadband Internet service to unserved populations and those seeking an alternative to traditional Internet service providers. SpaceX says if all goes well they will begin offering the service to customers in the United States and Canada later this year and the entire world in 2021 but have not released details of what receiving equipment will be needed or how much the service will cost.
Falcon 9 Starlink Launch, Photo Courtesy Cliff Lethbridge/Spaceline
Falcon 9 Starlink Launch Pad Abort, Photo Courtesy Lloyd Behrendt/Spaceline
SpaceX Aborts Falcon 9 Launch
SpaceX attempted to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:22 a.m. EDT today. The launch was aborted milliseconds after the rocket's nine Merlin first stage booster engines fired on the launch pad. The abort caused a large plume of smoke which quickly rose above the launch facility. SpaceX said an on-board computer indicated a problem and produced unexpected data when an automated check of engine thrust was conducted. Since the launch required an instantaneous launch opportunity, SpaceX was not able to recycle and make another launch attempt today. SpaceX has experienced this type of abort before, most notably during the first launch of a Falcon 9 in June, 2010. On that occasion, however, SpaceX had a lengthy launch window available and was able to recycle and make a successful launch the same day. Depending on the nature of the technical difficulty identified and pending range availability, a new launch date has not been set. The Air Force says the next launch attempt will occur no earlier than Wednesday, March 18. If the launch is on that day it will occur during another instantaneous launch window at 8:21 a.m. EDT. Once launched the rocket will be carrying 60 SpaceX-owned Starlink broadband satellites into orbit.
Falcon 9 Starlink Launch Pad Abort, Photo Courtesy Cliff Lethbridge/Spaceline
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Photo Courtesy NASA
Air Force/NASA Suspend Public Access To KSC/CCAFS
NASA and the Air Force have announced public access suspensions in the wake of the ongoing Corona virus situation. The Air Force announced on March 13, 2020 that it has canceled all public tours and public access as well as official or unofficial gatherings on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station indefinitely. Facilities affected include the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, the Sands History Center and the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. NASA announced on March 15, 2020 that it will be closing the popular Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex effective March 16, 2020. Unlike the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station restrictions, NASA did not say how long the Visitor Complex closing will last. An employee of Delaware North Parks Services, the prime contractor and operator of the Visitor Complex, who wished to remain anonymous, told Spaceline that employees at the Visitor Complex have been informed that the facility, which hosts several million visitors each year, will remain closed for at least two weeks. It is likely, however, that the closing could last much longer depending on conditions related to the virus and its local impact. Spaceline will provide additional details as new information becomes available.
Air Force Space And Missile Museum, Photo Courtesy Air Force
Falcon 9 CRS-20 Launch, Photo Courtesy SpaceX
Falcon 9 Successfully Launches CRS-20 Payload For NASA
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the CRS-20 payload for NASA at 11:50 p.m. tonight from Launch Pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Launch was delayed several days to allow SpaceX to replace the rocket's second stage after anomalies were discovered during routine pre-launch testing. The first stage booster employed tonight was being flown for the second time, having flown previously for the CRS-19 mission in December, 2019. The Dragon spacecraft comprising the CRS-20 payload was flown for the third time, having been employed previously for the CRS-10 mission in February, 2017 and the CRS-16 mission in December, 2018. The spacecraft will be retired following the CRS-20 flight.
Falcon 9 CRS-20 Launch And Booster Landing, Photo Courtesy Joseph Sekora/Spaceline
The first stage booster used in tonight's launch was recovered with a successful landing at Landing Zone 1 on the Cape, providing a spectacular engine burn and twin sonic booms that thrilled spectators. CRS-20 will carry about 4,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and experiments to the International Space Station (ISS). This is the final SpaceX mission to ISS under the first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. However, NASA has granted a second CRS contract with SpaceX to continue their resupply flights to ISS through 2024. The CRS-20 Dragon spacecraft will be captured by the ISS robotic arm for berthing on Monday, March 9. The spacecraft will return to Earth carrying about 4,000 pounds of cargo following an approximately four-week stay at the space station.
Falcon 9 Booster Lands At Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1, Photo Courtesy SpaceX