SpaceX to Conduct First Polar Launch from Cape in over 50 Years

SpaceX is targeting Sunday evening for the first polar launch from Florida since 1969. On… The post SpaceX to Conduct First Polar Launch from Cape in over 50 Years appeared first on

SpaceX to Conduct First Polar Launch from Cape in over 50 Years

SpaceX is targeting Sunday evening for the first polar launch from Florida since 1969. On board the Falcon 9 rocket is the Argentinean SAOCOM-1B satellite and two American secondary payloads. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) is targeted for 7:18 PM EDT (23:18 UTC) on Sunday, August 30, during a launch window that lasts ten minutes.

The 45th Weather Squadron predicts a 40% chance of acceptable weather for Sunday’s launch window. Should weather, a technical issue, or anything else prevent a liftoff on Sunday, a backup launch opportunity exists on Monday, also with a 40% chance of acceptable weather for that attempt.

Unlike most launches from Cape Canaveral, which take advantage of the Earth’s spin in order to reach low inclination orbits, the SAOCOM-1B mission will fly southward, along the east coast of Florida, along a flight path known as the polar corridor. This is the first mission to launch to polar orbit from Florida since February 26, 1969, when a Delta E1 rocket launched the ESSA-9 meteorology satellite.

SAOCOM-1B will be deployed into a Sun Synchronous Polar orbit, inclined 97.9 degrees at an altitude of 620 kilometers. The satellite will compliment the SAOCOM-1A satellite, which was also launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on October 7, 2018.

Falcon 9 launches the SAOCOM-1A mission from SLC-4E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on October 7, 2018 – via SpaceX

Vandenberg has been the regular launch site for missions to polar orbits, which orbit Earth over the poles, aligned north to south. Vandenberg is preferable for these launches as the Pacific Ocean offers an unpopulated area directly south of the launch site, minimizing risk to public safety in the unlikely event of a launch failure. SpaceX continues to operate Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg, and still plans to launch missions from California, including the Sentinel-6A mission for NASA no earlier than November 2020.

However, in order to enable more frequent launches to polar orbits, SpaceX has worked with the US Space Force’s 45th Space Wing, which controls the eastern range including Cape Canaveral, to resume polar launches from Florida as well. Cape Canaveral is located closer to the equator than Vandenberg, which is beneficial for rocket performance to low inclination orbits but worsens performance to high inclination orbits such as Sun Synchronous Orbit.

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  • Unlike launches from Vandenberg, launching directly to a polar inclination from Florida would result in overflying populated areas of Florida. Therefore, Falcon 9 will initially fly southeast along the coast of Florida. After stage separation, the second stage will perform a “dogleg” turn to the south to achieve the proper inclination.

    While this will avoid overflying Florida, it will result in the second stage and its payloads flying over Cuba. However, at this point in flight, the vehicle will be much higher, and the risk from falling debris from a potential anomaly is much lower than during the earlier phases of flight.

    The risk of an early flight failure was a major consideration in scheduling the SAOCOM-1B launch. Due to the unique flight path, Falcon 9 will nearly overfly the Cape Canaveral launch pads to the south of SLC-40, which includes SLC-37B, where a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and its valuable, classified NROL-44 payload currently stand.

    While both ULA and SpaceX have agreed to allow launches to the polar corridor to overfly each other’s pads (Polar ULA Atlas V launches from SLC-41 would overfly SpaceX at SLC-40), the National Reconnaissance Office had specially requested that SAOCOM-1B not be launched while the NROL-44 payload is at SLC-37B.

    So when the Saturday morning launch attempt for NROL-44 was aborted just seconds before liftoff, it was believed that SAOCOM-1B would be delayed in order to wait its turn. However, the NRO reevaluated the risk from a nearby overflight, and granted SpaceX permission to launch SAOCOM-1B while NROL-44 is still on the ground. This may have been influenced by the minimum seven-day delay to NROL-44’s liftoff.

    The SAOCOM-1B spacecraft was initially shipped to the launch site on February 22, 2020. Initially scheduled or a launch in spring, the mission was indefinitely delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented CONAE team members from travelling to Florida to support the launch.

    The 1600-kilogram satellite is operated by CONAE, Argentina’s government space agency. The pair of SAOCOM-1 satellites carry L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instruments to measure soil moisture and other parameters in support of emergency response and disaster relief. The SAOCOM constellation will work in cooperation with the four Italian COSMO-SkyMed satellites.

    Also on board the launch are two secondary payloads. One is the GNSS Navigation and Occultation Measurement Satellites (GNOMES-1) satellite, a 30-kilogram microsatellite built by Blue Canyon Technologies for American Earth science company EarthIQ. GNOMES-1 receives signals from four Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS): the American GPS constellation, Russian GLONASS, European Galileo, and Chinese BeiDou satellites. By measuring these signals as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere, PlanetIQ aims to improve weather forecasting models.

    The second rideshare payload on board is Tyvak-0172, a satellite from Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems. Details on the size and mission of this satellite are unknown.

    The SAOCOM-1B launch is also the one hundredth ever launch for the Falcon family, including the Falcon 1 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Also notable is the stage one landing, which will occur at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral, not a drone ship in the ocean. This will be the first Return to Launch Site (RTLS) landing since the CRS-20 mission on March 7, 2020.

    B1059 performs a Return to Launch Site (RTLS) landing at LZ-1 during the CRS-20 mission – via SpaceX

    The booster that performed that landing is the same first stage launching SAOCOM-1B. B1059.4 previously launched the CRS-19, CRS-20, and Starlink v1.0 L10 missions.

    In addition to stage one recovery, the SpaceX fairing recovery vessel GO Ms. Chief is stationed downrange, west of The Bahamas, to attempt to catch one half of the payload fairing. The other half will be recovered after a soft splashdown. Both halves cannot be caught due to the other recovery vessel, GO Ms. Tree, being stationed northeast of Cape Canaveral for the Starlink v1.0 L11 mission. That recovery attempt will occur approximately 45 minutes after launch, weather conditions permitting.

    After the second stage reaches orbit and shuts down its Merlin Vacuum engine, there will be a four minute long coast phase prior to deployment of the primary payload, SAOCOM-1B. There will then be a 47 minute long coast phase prior to deployment of GNOMES-1 and Tyvak-0172.

    (Lead photo via SpaceX)

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    SpaceX postpones first Super Sunday flight due to weather

    As SpaceX continued to roll through its 2020 launch campaign, the company was slated to… The post SpaceX postpones first Super Sunday flight due to weather appeared first on

    SpaceX postpones first Super Sunday flight due to weather

    As SpaceX continued to roll through its 2020 launch campaign, the company was slated to launch another batch of Starlink internet satellites to help complement the current constellation in low Earth orbit. The mission was set to launch on a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket from historic LC-39A on Sunday.

    However, inclement weather the night before forced a delay to the mission, which is now — pending Range approval — set to launch Tuesday, 1 September at 09:29 EDT (13:29 UTC)

    Tuesday’s mission, also known as Starlink V1.0 L11, will be the 14th orbital launch for SpaceX in 2020, and the 94th flight of the company’s workhorse two-stage Falcon 9 since its maiden launch in June 2010.

    Starlink V1.0 L11 was also set to be the 100th mission launched by SpaceX, thereby marking a major milestone in the company’s history since their conception in May 2002 and the debut flight of the Falcon 1 – the first rocket to be built by SpaceX – in March 2006.

    That milestone, if the schedule holds, will now be the SAOCOM 1B mission — the second of the Sunday planned double-header.

    Since March 2006, SpaceX have enjoyed a 95% launch success rate over the 99 flights they’ve conducted to date using their indigenously-developed Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy launchers. SpaceX hopes to carry that trend of success into the future with their next-generation Starship/Super Heavy launch system, which will help the company achieve their main aim of colonizing Mars and making humans an multiplanetary species.

    Falcon 9 booster B1060 launches the third GPS Block III satellite to orbit – credit: Julia Bergeron for NSF

    The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch Tuesday’s mission is core B1060.2. This designation originates from SpaceX’s internal booster naming/numbering scheme, with B1060 being the 60th Falcon 9/Heavy booster core built by the company at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and the “.2” signifying that the booster has been configured for its second flight.

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  • B1060 was previously used to launch the third GPS Block III satellite to orbit for the United States Space Force on June 30, 2020. During that mission, the booster safely landed on the deck of the droneship “Just Read The Instructions”, which was then towed back to Port Canaveral. Once safely in port, B1060 was lifted off of JRTI and taken back to SpaceX’s facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for refurbishment.

    B1060 will be used once again to support Tuesday’s morning’s Starlink mission, which will see a full batch of 60 Starlink internet satellites deployed in low Earth orbit.

    A batch of 60 Starlink satellites, fully stacked and ready for launch – credit: SpaceX

    The Starlink V1.0 L11 mission will be the eleventh launch of operational Starlink satellites to date, with a total of 593 V1.0 spacecraft already launched as part of the initial deployment phase of SpaceX’s satellite internet constellation. This first phase will see 1,584 Starlink satellites launched over multiple missions, with additional deployment phases and satellite launches to follow.

    SpaceX has begun to offer the opportunity to test the beta version of the Starlink internet service to private users, with public beta testing set to be offered later this year. Updates on beta testing will be provided on the company’s website.

    Each Starlink satellite features a flat-panel design with multiple high-throughput phased array antennas, a single solar panel for on-orbit power generation, and a star tracker navigation system. A single Krypton-fueled Hall-effect thruster is equipped for in-space propulsion, and is used for orbit raising maneuvers and deorbit burns.

    Like on previous Starlink missions, each Starlink satellite will also feature a sun shade, or visor, which will block sunlight from reflecting off of the majority of the spacecraft body while in orbit and reducing its overall albedo/intrinsic brightness as observed from the ground. These visors will deploy shortly after spacecraft separation.

    Artist’s impression of a Starlink satellite using its visor to block incoming sunlight – credit: SpaceX

    Each operational Starlink satellite weighs in at approximately 260 kilograms (573 pounds), which leads to a full batch of Starlinks weighing in at about 15,600 kilograms (34,380 pounds) at liftoff. These are some of the heaviest payloads that can be launched on a Falcon 9 when in its reusable configuration.

    The Starlink V1.0 L11 mission is currently scheduled to launch no earlier than Tuesday morning 09:29 am Eastern time (09:29 UTC) from historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

    This mission will go into the books as the 21st launch of a Falcon rocket from LC-39A, and the 114th total launch from the site since its debut in November 1967, which saw the maiden flight of the Saturn V Moon rocket take place as part of the Apollo 4 mission.

    The countdown will officially commence at the T-38 minute mark, when the launch director will poll the mission teams to proceed into propellant loading operations. When the “go” is given, chilled RP-1 fuel (a high-grade form of kerosene) will flow into both stages of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle starting at 35 minutes before liftoff, along with liquid oxygen (LOX) loading into the first stage. LOX loading onto Falcon 9’s second stage will start at T-16 minutes.

    At T-7 minutes prior to liftoff, the liquid oxygen pre-valves on the nine Merlin-1D first stage engines will open, thereby allowing LOX to flow through the engine plumbing and condition the turbopumps for ignition. This process is known as “engine chilling”, and is used to prevent thermal shock that could damage the motors upon startup.

    At the T-1 minute mark, the Falcon 9’s onboard flight computers will run through final checks of the vehicle’s systems and finalize tank pressurization before flight. The launch director will give a final “go” for launch at T-45 seconds if all conditions are met.

    The nine Merlin-1D engines on the first stage will ignite at T-3 seconds, with liftoff taking place at T-0 following a quick final check by the onboard computers to verify that all systems are operating nominally.

    Planned mission profile for a Falcon 9 launch and droneship landing – credit: SpaceX

    After lifting off from LC-39A, Falcon 9 will begin pitching downrange as it accelerates towards orbital velocity. At around 1 minute and 12 seconds into the flight, the vehicle will pass through the region of maximum aerodynamic pressure, or “Max-Q”. During this portion of flight, the mechanical stresses on the rocket are at their highest.

    The nine Merlin-1D engines on Falcon 9’s first stage will continue to burn until around T+2 minutes and 32 seconds, at which point they will all shut down simultaneously in an event known as MECO, or Main Engine Cutoff. Stage separation will occur shortly afterward, with second stage Merlin Vacuum engine ignition set to take place at the T+2 minute 43 second mark. Upon engine startup, the second stage will continue to carry the 60 Starlinks to a low Earth orbit, with an inclination of 53 degrees.

    The Falcon 9 rocket’s 5-meter payload fairing, which housed the payloads during the initial phases of launch, will deploy at approximately 3 minutes and 12 seconds into the flight. After separation, both halves of the fairing will descend back to Earth to be recovered by GO Ms. Tree, one of the two ships that SpaceX has at their disposal for fairing recovery operations (the other being GO Ms. Chief).

    While Falcon 9’s second stage and the Starlink payloads continue to press onward to low Earth orbit, Falcon core B1060.2 will return to Earth to attempt to conduct a propulsive landing on the droneship “Of Course I Still Love You”, stationed approximately 630 kilometers (391.4 miles) downrange from the launch site.

    The first stage will perform an entry burn at around 7 minutes into the flight, in order to slow its descent and refine its trajectory to the droneship. The final landing burn will be completed at the T+8 minute 19 second mark, with B1060.2 attempting to touch down softly on the deck of OCISLY under the power from a single Merlin-1D engine.

    The Merlin Vaccum engine on Falcon 9’s second stage will shut down at 8 minutes and 51 seconds into the flight, in an event known as SECO, or Second Engine Cutoff. This will be the only second stage engine burn of the mission.

    At approximately 14 minutes and 47 seconds into the flight, the full batch of 60 Starlink satellites will be deployed all at once. This marks the completion of the launch phase of the mission.

    At this point, SpaceX will begin conducting data reviews of each Starlink satellite to ensure that all systems are working as intended before proceeding to orbit raising operations. Any satellites that are unable to raise their orbits will be left in the initial deployment orbit, so as to quickly deorbit and decrease the risk of a collision.

    The Starlink V1.0 L11 mission was originally to be the first of two Falcon 9 launches that are set to occur Sunday, with the other being the launch of the SAOCOM 1B spacecraft for CONAE, Argentina’s space agency. That mission will be the first launch from Florida to use the southern polar corridor since the launch of the ESSA-9 environmental studies satellite on a Delta E rocket in February 1969. SAOCOM 1B is currently slated to fly at 7:18 pm Eastern (23:18 UTC).

    SpaceX is also looking to conduct a 150 meter up-and-down hop test with their Starship SN6 prototype vehicle at their launch and production facility in Boca Chica, Texas, as soon as Sunday. The vehicle is currently equipped with a series of reaction control system (RCS) thrusters and a single Raptor engine (Raptor SN29), which will propel the Starship vehicle off of its launch mount, into the air, and down towards the landing pad located next to the launch site.

    SN6 is aiming to become the third Starship vehicle to conduct a successful test flight, with the two others being the Starhopper testbed (which performed a series of hop tests in July and August 2019, respectively) and the Starship SN5 prototype (which safely flew to 150 meters on August 4, 2020).

    SpaceX is also pressing towards the launch of the fourth GPS Block III satellite, which is scheduled to fly on a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida no earlier than September 30. Like all previous GPS satellite launches on Falcon 9 rockets, this mission will utilize a new Falcon 9 first stage booster, which is slated to be B1062.1.

    SpaceX is still aiming to launch a total of 24 Starlink missions before the end of 2020.

    (Lead photo from Starlink V1.0 L9 via Julia Bergeron for NSF)

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