SpaceX Launches 13th Mission of 2018 With Telstar 19 Vantage Satellite, Lands Booster Offshore

Telstar 19 VANTAGE headed to orbit atop SpaceX’s second ‘Block 5’ Falcon 9 rocket on July 22, 2018 at 1:50am EDT from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Ten weeks after launching the first Block 5 of its Falcon 9 fleet—laden with Bangladesh’s first geostationary-orbiting mission, Bangabandhu-1—SpaceX has successfully delivered a second upgraded booster to orbit with a high-throughput communications satellite for Ontario, Canada-based Telesat. The Telstar 19 Vantage spacecraft, alternatively known as “19V”, rose from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 1:50 a.m. EDT on Sunday, 22 July, right on the opening of a four-hour “window”.

Weather conditions were exceptionally clear for SpaceX’s 13th launch of the year, which has so far seen a rapid-fire tempo of two launches every month, since January, an achievement set to continue in the final days of July with the West Coast flight of ten Iridium NEXT global mobile communications satellites currently slated for the middle of next week.

Telstar 19 VANTAGE launch. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The ‘Block 5’ is what NASA will certify to launch crews on soon, but first SpaceX needs to fly it in a “crew configuration” seven times before NASA will clear it to put their astronauts onboard. However, the rocket which launched Telstar 19 VANTAGE did not count towards that certification, and neither did the maiden flight of a ‘Block 5′ back on May 11, because SpaceX has yet to implement a critical new design for the rocket’s second stage cryogenic helium pressurant tanks.

One of three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank failed back in 2016, which led to an on-pad explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket back in 2016. COPVs are used to store cold helium which is used to maintain tank pressure.

Telstar 19V represents the first of two Telesat payloads to be lofted by SpaceX this summer, with its near-twin, Telstar 18V, slated to fly in mid-August from SLC-40. Both utilize one of the world’s most reliable and flight-proven satellite buses, the Space Systems/Loral (SS/L)-1300, which saw its maiden voyage almost three decades ago and has been used on more than a hundred successful missions for a range of different operators. All in all, Telstar 19V marks the eighth SS/L-1300 to be lofted by a Falcon 9, ranging from AsiaSat-8 in August 2014 and most recently the Hispasat 30W-6 mission last March. The SS/L-1300, whose launch mass tops out at 12,000 pounds (5,500 kg), can support payload power ranges of 5-12 kilowatts continuously throughout a 15-year operational lifetime and as many as 70 active transponders.

When fully operational at a geostationary altitude of close to 22,300 miles (35,900 km), Telstar 19V will be “co-located” with the Telstar 14R satellite at the critical 63 degrees West slot, allowing it to deliver high-throughput Ku-band and Ka-band services across the Americas, the Caribbean Sea, the North Atlantic region and Canada. Although SS/L has not revealed how long Telstar 19V will require to complete its post-launch checkout and activation, AmericaSpace was advised that “in-orbit testing before going into service can range anywhere from two weeks to three months”. Telstar 14R, which was launched back in May 2011, suffered a failure in the deployment of one of its electricity-generating solar arrays and this has yielded an expectation that it will likely be able to use around 60 percent of its capacity and operate for 12 of its planned 15-year lifetime.

Telstar 19 VANTAGE shown in antenna testing at SSL in Palo Alto, Calif, before it was shipped to Cape Canaveral AFS. Photo: SSL / Telesat

SS/L was selected to build Telstar 19V back in November 2015 and it will form part of a new generation of Telesat payloads optimized for bandwidth-intensive applications increasingly used across the satellite industry. Three months later, in early 2016, it was announced that a SpaceX booster would deliver Telstar 19V to orbit. Late last fall, as the satellite underwent pre-launch environmental testing at SS/L’s Palo Alto, Calif., facility, Telesat announced that Bell Canada had signed a 15-year contract for substantially all of the High Throughput Satellite (HTS) spot-beam capacity over northern Canada on Telstar 19V. “Bell Canada subsidiary Northwestel will use the capacity to dramatically enhance broadband connectivity for communities in Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory,” it was noted.

All told, the new satellite will bring more than 20 times more capacity to this isolated region of the Canadian Arctic. Also utilizing Telstar 19V’s high-throughput capacity across five South American nations is Hughes Network Systems, which has a hosted Ka-band payload on the satellite and will bring “substantial capacity” to more than 90 percent of the populations of Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.

Last month, it was reported that Telstar 19V had been shipped from California to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., for pre-launch checkout and fueling. Interestingly, it was highlighted that this represents the 50th SS/L-built communications satellite to be launched in the current decade.

Following a customary Static Fire Test of the nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines on Wednesday, 18 July, SpaceX pressed ahead for an opening launch attempt on Sunday, 22 July, during a four-hour “window”, extending from 1:50 a.m. EDT through 5:50 a.m. EDT.

Loading of the Block 5 with liquid oxygen and a highly refined form of rocket-grade kerosene (known as “RP-1”) got underway an hour prior to Sunday morning’s launch. Passing T-10 minutes, the terminal countdown autosequencer was initiated and the Merlin 1D+ engines were chilled, ahead of ignition. At T-2 minutes, the Air Force Range Safety Officer declared all ground assets as “Go for Launch” and the Upgraded Falcon 9 transitioned to Internal Power and assumed primary command of all critical functions, going into “Startup” at T-1 minute. At this stage, the Niagara deluge system began flooding the pad surface with 30,000 gallons (113,500 liters) of water, per minute, to suppress the acoustic energy. The Eastern Range declared its readiness to support the launch as “Green”. Three seconds before liftoff, the Merlins roared to life, pumping out a combined thrust of 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kg) of thrust. Liftoff occurred on-time at 1:50 a.m. EDT.

Immediately after clearing the tower, the Upgraded Falcon 9 executed a combined pitch, roll and yaw program maneuver to establish itself onto the proper flight azimuth to inject the heavyweight Telstar 19V into its high orbit. Passing the point of maximum aerodynamic turbulence (colloquially dubbed “Max Q”) at 70 seconds into the flight, the booster later throttled back two of the Merlins to reduce the rate of acceleration at Main Engine Cutoff (MECO). Two and a half minutes after launch, the seven remaining Merlins fell silent and the first stage separated from the stack. It was now the turn of the second stage, equipped with a single, restartable Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine, capable of 210,000 pounds (92,250 kg). This now picked up the baton for a pair of lengthy “burns” to deliver its payload into orbit. The first burn lasted 5.5 minutes, after which the stack coasted for almost a half-hour, prior to a brief second burn of less than 60 seconds. Telstar 19V was successfully deployed some 32 minutes after leaving Cape Canaveral.

Launch of Telstar 19 VANTAGE. Photo: SpaceX

Although the primary focus of today’s launch was to launch Telstar 19V, the discarded first stage was assigned the secondary objective of returning to a soft landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS)—dubbed “Of Course I Still Love You”—at a location some 420 miles (680 km) off the Cape, in the Atlantic Ocean. Today’s smooth touchdown on OCISLY marks the fifth landing of 2018, as SpaceX has been discarding their older stock ‘Block 4’ Falcon 9 cores and is now fully transitioned to the Block 5.

So all SpaceX launches will make landing attempts moving forward, and this morning’s launch marked the 15th successful landing of a Falcon 9 first stage on the deck of a drone ship since April 2016.



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3 comments to SpaceX Launches 13th Mission of 2018 With Telstar 19 Vantage Satellite, Lands Booster Offshore

  • Tracy The Troll


    “The ‘Block 5’ is what NASA will certify to launch crews on soon, but first SpaceX needs to fly it in a “crew configuration” seven times before NASA will clear it to put their astronauts onboard. However, the rocket which launched Telstar 19 VANTAGE did not count towards that certification, and neither did the maiden flight of a ‘Block 5′ back on May 11, because SpaceX has yet to implement a critical new design for the rocket’s second stage cryogenic helium pressurant tanks.”

    I am curious as to why this C/HPT has not been replaced since this was concluded as requirement for a Crewed Launch Booster. Is there politics going on here or perhaps SpaceX is intentionally dragging their feet? Could this be part of the Boeing Crew Ship problem in order to give them time? Or is this just a ploy for the US to provide funding for the Russian Space Program now that they have lost so much Launch Market Share?

  • john hare

    My guess is that a manned launch is not that urgent for NASA, so SpaceX is not prioritizing it either. Why leave already built hardware on the ground to move up a certification date if the customer doesn’t need it moved up?

    IMO, if manned flights in American vehicles were a national priority, there would have been capsules flying on EELVs before the last Shuttle landing. SpaceX wouldn’t have been a player.

    • Tracy The Troll

      For me this just points out the glaring dubious nature of the COPVs being the final cause of the on-pad explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket back in 2016. Especially that we are finding out that SpaceX has not replaced the “faulty design” and their clients don’t seem to think that it is an issue. Also is strange that NASA does not think saving $30M+ a seat from what Russia charges to what Boeing and SpaceX will charge is a big deal.

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