SpaceX launches another satellite, recovers 1st stage

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Capitalism in space: SpaceX today has just successfully launched a commercial satellite, using a previously flown first stage, which it was able to successfully land and recover for the second time. I can’t wait for the first time they fly one of these first stages for the third time.

This was SpaceX’s 15th launch for the year, which ties them with the Russians for most launches so far in 2017. It also puts them one short of doubling their previous yearly launch record of 8, and also puts them only one behind the record for most launches by a U.S. company since 1986 (ULA launched 16 times in 2009).



  • Kirk

    Even if you’re taking Falcon 9 launches for granted, video of these last two are worth watching.

    Highlights from Monday’s Iridium NEXT 3 early morning launch from Vandenberg include the floodlight illuminated LOX venting during the last four minutes (18:30 into the video), S2 exhaust impinging on S1 during its turn for boostback and interaction of the plumes during the first few seconds of boostback (start watching at 24:30, shortly before MECO), and deployment of the ninth satellite, with three of the earlier deployed satellites visible in the upper left of the frame (1:32:30).

    From yesterday’s SES-11/Echostar 105 sunset launch from Florida, the launch itself was beautiful (13:40 to pick up at T-20), but the true highlights were S2 ignition as seen from the interstage, since S1 did not perform a quick turn for a boostback burn (16:38 for MECO), and the blisteringly hot S2 reentry with plasma and sparks shooting up from the base of the stage and the grid fins so hot they were brightly glowing until they lost their video feed (20:25 for the entry burn).

    Comparing the two booster reentries, with the the boostback burn, Monday’s first stage started its reentry burn at 4418 km/h, slowed to 3136 km/h, then picked back up to 3350 km/h before atmospheric drag started slowing it down, while without a boostback burn, Wednesday’s first stage started its reentry burn at 8336 km/h, slowed to 5991 km/s, then picked back up to 5999 km/h before atmospheric drag started slowing it down. Expect to see a lot of damage to the latter’s aluminum grid fins when OCISLY returns to Port Canaveral.

  • Kirk

    Thanks for digging up that launch history, Bob. I see that ULA’s 16 2009 launches comprise 5 Atlas V, 8 Delta II, 2 Delta IV, and 1 Delta IV Heavy.

    Barring disaster — and I still feel the specter of last year’s AMOS-6 loss — I expect that we will see 19 SpaceX launches this year. They plan to launch Koreasat-5A (GTO, from the Cape) on 30 October. That gives them two more months to put up Hispasat 1F (GTO, from the Cape), CRS-13 (LEO from the Cape), and Iridium NEXT 4 (LEO from Vandenberg).

    SpaceX set a goal of 20 launches this year, and Mr. Musk reiterated it at IAC 2017 two weeks ago. I thought they might get the SES-14 launched in December, but SES now says they are targeting January, probably again using a booster. (Interestingly, SpaceflightNow reported Martin Halliwell of SES saying that they didn’t receive a significant financial discount for flying a reused booster this time — as opposed to the first reuse with SES-10 — but that they did get and earlier launch date out of the deal.)

    Surprisingly, Ms. Shotwell said yesterday that they are still trying to launch the Falcon Heavy before the end of the year. That would be quite a feat, and I believe a January or February Heavy launch is more likely.

  • Kirk

    Today’s Space Intel Report has an article by Peter B. de Selding reporting that SpaceX Senior Director Tom Ochinero said that they plan to launch 5 more Falcon 9 (his remarks were made shortly before yesterday’s launch, but I interpret him as not including that launch in the “5 more”) *and* the Falcon Heavy by the end of the year. Should be interesting to see.

  • Edward

    Thanks for pointing out those beautiful views. It isn’t every day that you get to see a spacecraft deploy while three others are in frame.

    The damage to the aluminum grid fins is, I believe, why SpaceX will start using titanium, with a melting point closer to 3,000 F rather than aluminum’s 1,000 F.

  • Kirk

    For a ground view of all ten satellites, taken from Hiratsuka, Japan about twelve and a half hours after deployment, enough time for them to have gained some separation but before they’ve had a chance to spread out across their plane, check out this NSF post:
    It includes some very cool long exposure photographs and a video of them transiting the field of view.

    [Bob, something funny happened when I hit POST as the CAPTCHA was still processing, so this might be a duplicate.]

  • Kirk

    Oops, I messed up both time zone and date. Those photos of the ten Iridium satellites was taken about 29.5 hours after deployment.

  • Edward

    Another nice video. Thank you.

    I also noticed the photos of the grid fins, below the video. It looks like the damage was mostly cosmetic, the paint is in bad shape, more damage on some fins than others. My understanding is that on past flights the aluminum itself had been damaged by the heat.

  • Kirk

    Observed grid fin damage has been a function of the reentry profile. Those fins on the booster from the Vandenberg Iridium NEXT 3 launch (with the boostback burn and gentler reenry) look pretty good, with some missing SPAM (SPray on Ablative Material), but no obvious damage to the underlying structure. We are still awaiting the arrival in Port Canaveral of the booster from the SES-11/Echostar 105 launch which had the hot reentry.

    The most grid fin damage I recall seeing so far was on the booster used for the 23 June 2017 launch of BulgariaSat-1. Here are some photos:

    I believe that their titanium grid fins have only flown once, on the 25 June 2017 launch of Iridium NEXT 2. They are expected to be the standard at some point, but in the mean time SpaceX has an inventory of aluminum grid fins to burn through. The titanium grid fins are larger, uncoated, and have a much more aggressive leading edge, perhaps for a better bite in the transonic regime.;topic=42097.0;attach=1435312;image

  • Kirk

    FCC licenses have been approved for a 10 November Falcon 9 launch from Florida, with a RTLS (return to launch site) recovery of the first stage. This is 12 days after the planned Koreasat-5A launch, and is not thought to be any payload which has yet been publicly announced. We are expecting RTLS with CRS 13, but this is too soon for that, and their upcoming Hispasat 1F launch is expected to expend its booster.

    Speculation ranges from it being another military launch (either a satellite, LEO or very light GTO, or the second X-37B, though they have never flown both spaceplanes at the same time before) to it being prototypes for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

    Interesting times!

  • Edward

    Nice photos. Thanks.

    I will have to remember “SPAM.” Ablative material would help delay the heating of the aluminum, but that one fin had a really rough flight. Paint, of course, would have burned off during that glowing reentry heating, but that was the only word I had to describe the coating on the fins.

    Interesting times, indeed. I am looking forward to watching the next few years unfold. The past five years have been fun to see.

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