Images credit & copyright: SpaceX.
LAUNCH ALERT: Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 01:35 EDT (05:35 UTC), SpaceX will be launching a Falcon 9 Full Thrust (FT) from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) carrying the EchoStar XXIII (23) communication satellite.
This will be SpaceX’s 31st Falcon 9 flight (F9-32) however, due to the large size of this satellite and the fact that it’s being sent into a high energy Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), Falcon will need all the fuel and burn time it can muster to deliver the satellite. That means there will be no landing attempt on land or sea. I know it seems like this is brand new but the last time Falcon flew without legs was April 27, 2015.
Back on January 21, 2017 Elon Musk stated in a Twitter conversation that this will be the final expendable Falcon 9 launch as the new “Block 5” Falcon 9 and or the Falcon 9 Heavy (F9H) will take over from here on. He also stated that the new Block 5 Falcon will be the “final upgrade in the Falcon architecture.” From what I’ve been learning about the Block 5 is that the main upgrades will be increased thrust and improved landing legs.
To date, SpaceX’s has 8 successful landings overall; 5 on drone ships and 3 on land.
The Rocket: The greatly improved Falcon 9R FT rocket is a 2-stage partially reusable rocket with future ambitions of becoming fully reusable. The new version is 3.7 m (12 ft.) in diameter and 70 m (229.6 ft.) tall which is about 1.6 m (5.6 ft.) taller than the Falcon 9 v1.1 or “Block 2” in order to house a higher volume fuel tank. It is also fitted with upgraded Merlin family main engines. They have replaced the 9 Merlin-1D (and before them were the 1C engines), with the more powerful Merlin-1D+ engines that will provide a thrust of nearly 694,000kg (1.53 million lb.) at sea level. Each Merlin-1D+ provides 180,000 lb. (81,600 kg) of thrust at sea level, which equates to roughly a 20% increase in overall performance. If you add that with the new process of densifying the fuel and improving the overall airframe, the total gain in performance is about 33%.
Dragon Spacecraft (when in use) = The Dragon spacecraft is about 23.6 ft. (7.2 m) tall with trunk attached and 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide. It’s comprised of two main sections; the pressurized cargo area which can carry 388 cubic ft. of cargo as well as the unpressurized cargo area. The trunk (unpressurized area) carries 494 cubic ft. of cargo as well as the solar arrays. OR: Main Composite Payload Fairing (when in use) = the composite payload fairing is 13.1 meters (43ft) in length and 5.2 meter (17ft) in diameter. Dragon, along with Russia’s Progress & Soyuz, Europe’s (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Orbital ATK’s Cygnus and Japan’s (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), is one of only six vehicles that can fly to the Space Station. While Russia’s Soyuz is currently the only crewed means of reaching and returning from Station, SpaceX’s Dragon is currently the only means of returning experiments and supplies back to Earth from Station.
Second Stage: Powered by a single Merlin-1D+ Vacuum engine with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (LOX/RP-1). The Merlin 1D+ are basically the same Merlin-1D engines used previously but instead of utilizing them at only 80%, they will now be operating at 100%. This stage can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into desired orbits. For maximum reliability, the second stage has redundant igniter systems and has a burn time of 375 seconds.
Interstage: a composite structure that connects the first stage to the second stage and holds the release and separation system. Its al all pneumatic stage separation system for low shock, highly reliable separation that can be tested on the ground, unlike pyrotechnic systems used on most launch vehicles.
Core/Boost Stage is powered by nine (9) Merlin-1D+ engines in their circular “octaweb” configuration with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (LOX/RP-1). The Merlin 1D+ engines are basically the same Merlin-1D engines used previously but instead of utilizing them at only 80%, they will now be operating at 100%. The core stage has a burn time of 180 seconds and is gradually throttled. Its 9 Merlin-1D+ engine system can sustain up to two engine shutdowns during flight and still successfully complete its mission.
The first stage is fitted with four independently steerable grid fins that help control pitch, yaw and roll during vertical decent. It’s also fitted with four landing legs that will extend before touchdown.
SpaceX Webcast: http://www.spacex.com/webcast/
SpaceX YouTube (Hosted Webcast): Should be posted soon.
SpaceX YouTube (Technical Webcast): Should be posted soon.
EchoStar XXIII Mission Info:
45th Space Wing L-1 Weather Forecast: http://www.patrick.af.mil/About-Us/Weather
EchoStar XXIII Press Kit: http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/echostarxxiiifinal.pdf
Heroicrelics Launch Complex 39 (LC-39): http://heroicrelics.org/info/lc-39/lc-39-abcd.html
Wiki Launch Complex 39 (LC-39): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennedy_Space_Center_Launch_Complex_39
SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 page: http://www.spacex.com/falcon9
Elon Musk Twitter: https://twitter.com/elonmusk
SpaceX Twitter: https://twitter.com/SpaceX
SpaceX Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SpaceX
SpaceX YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/spacexchannel
SpaceX Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+SpaceX
SpaceX Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spacexphotos
SpaceX launches (Wiki): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Falcon_9_and_Falcon_Heavy_launches
SpaceX booster landing attempts (Wiki): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9_booster_controlled-descent_and_landing_tests
SpaceX Stats: https://spacexstats.com/
Space Systems Loral (SSL):