End of 2015 and beginning of 2016 were full of successes of SpaceX. Now it is time to face with reality - is reusable technology this for Elon Musk, what "Spruce Goose" was for Howard Hughes?
At Vandenberg AFS Falcon-9 was covered with thick fog but in spite of that, all other weather conditions were good far enough for launching Falcon-9 1.1v on 18:42 GMT as scheduled. Although slight wind around the top of the rocket appeared at 18:56 GMT but still everything was set to "go". At 19:05 GMT rocket was already fueled with Rocket Propellant-1 and liquid oxygen. Twenty one minutes later, at 1926 GMT propulsion problem appeared in prevalve in the upper stage, but engineers managed to fix it and at 18:32 GMT liquid oxygen started to float into engines. After next four minutes, Falcon-9 was switched into internal power and on 18:41 GMT countdown was started. Fog became so thick that it was hard to spot rocket, but when engines started, there was no problem to see, how Falcon-9 1.1v lifted off. At 18:45 GMT stages separated, as soon as first stage shut down engines. Payload fairing was jettisoned in the second stage and first stage started to turn around to prepare for boost back burn. To understand this maneuver please take a look at the picture below:
Second stage was still continuing flight and reached altitude of 200 km; at 19:47 GMT first stage has completed its reboost and targeted the landing platform on Pacific Ocean. One minute after first stage was starting deploying landing grids. Second stage and Jason-3 started flight to parking orbit. At 19:57 GMT first information about first stage and landing - failed. One of grids after deploying missed to lock correctly in place, and after landing it failed -first stage was crashed. At 20:37 GMT Merlin-1D restarted for twelve seconds in second stage, and Jason-3 separated from Falcon-9 on 1320 km x 1305 km orbit. Second stage will deorbit at 21:24 GMT. At 21:30 GMT Jason-3 transmits data, solar panels are deployed and are working correctly. Satellite started its mission and will remain in space for 3 years.
More about Jason-3 mission objectives You can read here.
List of recent achievements of SpaceX is impressive. Generally since 21 December 2015 SpaceX Elon Musk could be satisfied. Please have a look below, it is surely nice beginning of 2016 (or end of 2015):
- 21 December 2015 - first successful landing of first stage of Falcon-9 1.2v after lifting Orbcomm satellites - read more here.
- 14 January - winning contract for launching Eutelsat Quantum in 2018 and further Eutelsat communication satellite in following years.
- 15 January 2016 - winning CRS 2 contract for supply missions to International Space Station along with Sierra Nevada Corporation and Orbital ATK.
- 15 January 2016 - static test of recovered stage - in spite of minor problems with thrust in outer engine number 9 everything seems to be fine - read more here.
Still we could not add to this list next successful landing on sea platform. Of course it was important for SpaceX but there will be plenty of missions to perform further attempts in 2016. Probably, as Elon Musk stated, most of attempts will be performed on sea platform. Due the technical reasons it is crucial for recovering Falcon-9. As we can read on Elon Musk Twitter:
"As mentioned before, ship landings are needed for high velocity missions. Altitude & distance don't mean much for orbit. All about speed...If speed at stage separation > ~6000 km/hr. With a ship, no need to zero out lateral velocity, so can stage at up to ~9000 km/h."
So probably next attempt will be performed already during next mission - SES-9 on February 2016.