SpaceX Falcon 9 Lifts Off on a Midnight Ride

Merlin 1-D Vacuum Engine Glows as it Drives Second Stage: Image Credit SpaceX

Lit by the glow of 9 Merlin 1-D engines generating 1.3 million lbs. of sea level thrust, a SpaceX Falcon 9 V1.1 lifted off from Cape Canaveral in the early hours of Sunday morning, carrying with it the AsiaSat 6 communications satellite. Liftoff was delayed for 10 minutes, from 12:50 AM EDT until 1:00 AM (Midnight in the Central Time Zone) in order to allow for weather to clear.

Lightning Strike  Credit : Elon Musk

Lightning Strike
Credit : Elon Musk

It was probably a good thing, considering what the weather looked like earlier in the day in this picture tweeted by Elon Musk.

The launch, which took place without incident, hiccup or hold, followed an a 11 day delay which was ordered in the wake of a RLV testing mishap in Texas. That incident saw a 3 engine F 9R-Dev test vehicle order its own destruction after a blocked sensor allowed it to drift outside of a pre-ordained safety cordon, leading to a spectacular mid-air detonation which became an instant YouTube sensation.

With a weight of just under 10,000 lbs., the AsisaSat 6 satellite was too heavy to allow for an attempt at first stage booster recovery, and thus the absence of landing legs, but as with the AsiaSat 8 spacecraft which was launched on August 5th, SpaceX did perform a first stage re-ignition following stage separation.

Meanwhile, powered by its single Merlin 1-D Vacuum engine, the second stage placed its payload in a preliminary parking orbit of 202 x 175 kilometers at an inclination of 27.7 degrees. Following a brief delay, the Merlin re-ignited to boost the payload to a GTO with a planned apogee of 22,236 miles and a perigee of 114 miles at an inclination of 25.3 degrees to the equator. AsiaSat 6 was successfully deployed at 1:32 AM EDT.

Image Credit: SpaceX

Image Credit: SpaceX

Tonight’s launch marks the seventh flight of the Falcon 9 V1.1 and the 12th overall for the Falcon 9 series. Each has been a success, and with last month’s testing failure in Texas now in the rear view mirror, and a verdict in the Commercial Crew program still ahead, it may have been sweeter than most.

Next up for SpaceX is the NASA CRS-4 mission to the International Space Station, which is currently listed to take place on September 19. Following that will be a second Orbcomm mission, and then the CRS-5 flight. Somewhere in that schedule will be a launch which will not come anywhere close to reaching orbit,  but will be critical nonetheless; a long awaited pad abort test for the SpaceX entry in NASA’s Commercial Crew competition. The pad abort test, which is scheduled to take place in November will occur from a specially built tower, and will see the Dragon V2’s SuperDraco engines blast the spacecraft away from a simulated launch pad failure, landing by parachute in the Atlantic.

Barring a major change in NASA plans, that test, which is a SpaceX milestone under the CCiCap phase of the program, will occur well after the winner or winners in the final phase, CCtCap has been announced. With another successful launch under its belt, SpaceX has placed itself in what can only be called a favorable position to walk away with a win, and a chance to return to the United States a domestic crew launch capability which it lost with the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

Official Mission Patch

Official Mission Patch

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3 Comments on "SpaceX Falcon 9 Lifts Off on a Midnight Ride"

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  1. Keith Pickering says:

    Falcon 9 v1.1 has now completed its touchstone 7th flight without failure in just 343 days. Has any other booster even come close to that schedule?

    • Keith Pickering says:

      Answering my own question: only the Titan II, in its first 7 flights (all suborbital) achieved 7-for-7 successes in less time (224 days).

      Among orbital boosters, the Falcon 9 v1.1’s record of 7 launches in 343 days without a failure is unmatched.

      Second place: Delta B, 7-for-7 in 373 days.
      Third place: Delta E1, 7-for-7 in 383 days.

      • Stewart Money says:

        And the Titan II was part of a heavily funded federal development program, whereas the SpaceX launches consist of one mostly internally funded development flight, one government funded flight carried out under a bid contract, and five purely commercial flights.

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