SpaceX teams are still working toward the early Monday launch of a unique Falcon 9 rocket that features a combination of previous and next-generation stages designed to take a massive communications satellite to orbit.
Teams have four hours – 12:29 a.m. to 4:29 a.m. – to launch the previously flown Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 with SES-12, the most powerful commercial communications satellite ever developed by Luxembourg-based SES. The mission is expendable, so SpaceX will not deploy its Of Course I Still Love You drone ship to recover the first stage.
The Air Force’s latest weather forecast points to 70 percent favorable conditions for the mission that will feature SpaceX’s next-generation second stage, referred to as Block 5. The first complete Block 5 rocket – first and second stages combined – launched from Kennedy Space Center on May 11 with a Bangladeshi communications satellite.
“The first stage is a Block 4, and the upper stage is a Block 5,” Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer for SES, said during a pre-launch conference Thursday at Port Canaveral’s Exploration Tower. “We get a lot of performance from this vehicle.”
He wasn’t exaggerating: By firing the Merlin engine on that second stage an additional three to five seconds during its second burn, the spacecraft could achieve up to seven more years of operational life in geostationary orbit. The spacecraft won’t need to use as much of its own fuel to achieve its target altitude 22,300 miles above the equator, likely extending its ability to stay on orbit from 15 to 22 years.
[How to watch SpaceX’s late night Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral]
“It’s such a powerful upper stage,” Halliwell said. “That engine is a monster. So five seconds more to burn, a little bit more fuel, and it completely changes the dynamics of the project.”
SpaceX is in the process of flying and discarding older, less advanced Block 4 first stages to clear inventory – the company will likely fly just one more before moving its entire manifest to the Block 5 iteration, which CEO Elon Musk says can fly up to 10 times with minimal refurbishment between missions. Beyond that, the boosters could launch up to 100 times with moderate inspections and changes.
The next-generation vehicles feature improved reusability, upgraded thrust, retractable black landing legs that can reduce time between launches, a new black interstage and a slightly larger payload fairing, to name a few. It will also help SpaceX reduce costs from $60 to million to about $50 million per launch8, Musk said in May.
The massive SES-12 spacecraft, built by Airbus Defense and Space, will serve the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions with a variety of communications abilities. Halliwell said the “brute” of a satellite just barely fits in the Falcon 9’s fairing.
“We’re almost going to the limits of what we can do with this spacecraft,” he said. “This is going to be a really, really good mission.”
Contact Emre Kelly at email@example.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook at @EmreKelly.
- Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9 (re-flight)
- Mission: SES-12 communications satellite
- Launch Time: 12:29 a.m. Monday
- Launch Window: To 4:29 a.m. Monday
- Launch Complex: 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
- Landing: None
- Weather: 70 percent “go”
Join FloridaToday.com/Space for countdown updates and chat at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, including streaming of SpaceX’s launch webcast starting about 15 minutes before liftoff.
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