Falcon 9 Rocket Proves Itself As Viable Orbital Launcher

January 7, 2014
Image Caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Jan 6, 2014, with the goal of carrying the THAICOM 6 satellite to geostationary orbit. Credit: SpaceX

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

UPDATE: Jan. 7, 2014 (5:10 a.m.)

SpaceX has completed its first Falcon 9 launch of the New Year, putting Asian satellite operator THAICOM’s latest spacecraft into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). Falcon 9 delivered THAICOM 6 to its targeted 295 x 90,000 km GTO at 22.5 degrees inclination, meeting 100 percent of the mission objectives.

The launch occurred January 6 at 5:06 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. At about 184 seconds after launch, the rocket’s second-stage Merlin vacuum engine ignited for a five minute, 35 second burn to put THAICOM 6 into a temporary parking orbit. About a minute later, the second-stage engine relit for a little over another minute to carry THAICOM 6 to its GTO.

“Today’s successful launch of the THAICOM 6 satellite marks the eighth successful flight in a row for Falcon 9,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX. “SpaceX greatly appreciates THAICOM’s support throughout this campaign and we look forward to a busy launch schedule in 2014.”

This successful mission marks Falcon 9’s second flight to GTO and kicks off a series of launches planned for SpaceX in 2014. The Elon Musk-founded company has nearly 50 launches scheduled for the year, with more than 60 percent of those going to the commercial sector.

This launch also marked the third of three qualification flights for the Falcon 9. With all qualification flights in the record books, SpaceX may now be on track to begin missions under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. Once the company’s updated Falcon 9 is certified, its next goal will be to launch satellites for the US Air Force.

MAIN STORY: Jan. 6, 2014 (10:03 a.m.)

SpaceX is kicking off what is expected to be a big year today with the scheduled launch of its Falcon 9 rocket. The launch window for the private company’s rocket is from 5:06 p.m. to 7:08 p.m. EST.

The launch will be the eighth flight for the Falcon 9 and the third flight of the v1.1 model. The goal of this mission is to deliver a Thai broadcasting satellite into orbit. The third flight of this model also makes it eligible for bidding on the Department of Defense’s national security missions and the launching of high-value NASA research satellites.

United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is the only private company currently certified to fly those missions. However, the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program is aimed at fostering competition in the hopes of ultimately lowering launch costs.

“Competition for EELV launches benefits both the Air Force and the American taxpayer,” SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin told Florida Today. “SpaceX greatly appreciates the Air Force’s ongoing support throughout the certification process and we look forward to providing the US with highly reliable launch services for national security satellites.”

The new model has a different engine configuration and is 224 feet taller than original Falcon 9 model, which was used to launch three cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Air Force has yet to officially sign off on the validity of the first two flights of the v1.1 model.

“We will observe the upcoming Thaicom launch and evaluate the flight data against the criteria agreed to by SpaceX,” said Air Force spokesman Eric Badger. He added that the first EELV-class mission that SpaceX could potentially fly would be awarded for the 2015 budget year, a 2017 launch.

In June 2010, the first Falcon 9 was launched to orbit a demonstration payload, the Dragon Spacecraft Qualification Unit. The second Falcon 9, launched six months later, released a prototype Dragon spacecraft for a test flight that lasted only a few hours.

Three successive flights of the original Falcon 9 were launched to the ISS between 2012 and 2013: a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration mission and two operational Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) flights. During the first launch to resupply the space station, a first-stage engine failure forced the launch team to burn the second stage for longer than had been expected. The failure is the only flaw on the Falcon 9’s record.

The launch later today marks what should be a big year for the private space exploration company. In December, NASA officially decided to begin negotiations with SpaceX over the use and maintenance of Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ending a highly-charged selection process.

“Permitting use and operation of this valuable national asset by a private-sector, commercial space partner will ensure its continued viability and allow for its continued use in support of US space activities,” NASA said in a statement announcing the decision to negotiate with SpaceX.

Source: Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

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