SpaceX Successfully Delivers Eutelsat/ABS Satellite Duo to Orbit

Today's launch marked the sixth flight of the Upgraded Falcon 9 in less than six months. Photo Credit: John Kraus/AmericaSpace

Today’s launch marked the sixth flight of the Upgraded Falcon 9 in less than six months. Photo Credit: John Kraus/AmericaSpace

Nineteen days after its most recent mission, SpaceX has successfully delivered a pair of commercial payloads toward Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), at an altitude of about 22,300 miles (35,900 km). The Upgraded Falcon 9 successfully rose from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 10:29 a.m. EDT Wednesday, 15 June, right on the opening of a 44-minute “window.” Within the next 35 minutes, the Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS-2A communications satellites were deployed on behalf of the French-led European Telecommunications Satellite Organisation and Bermuda-headquartered Asia Broadcast Satellite. Despite the success of the primary mission, the secondary “experimental” objective of bringing the Upgraded Falcon 9’s first stage onto the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean appeared to have succumbed to a “hard” landing and failure.

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SpaceX Primed for Deja Vu Double-Deploy Mission Wednesday

The Upgraded Falcon 9 first stage for the Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS-2A double-deployment mission arrives at Cape Canaveral on 27 May. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The Upgraded Falcon 9 first stage for the Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS-2A double-deployment mission arrives at Cape Canaveral on 27 May. Photo Credit: SpaceX

If all goes according to plan, the morning of Wednesday, 15 June, should bring a pinch of déjà vu for SpaceX, as the Hawthorne, Calif.-headquartered launch services organization aims to deliver a pair of familiar-sounding satellites to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Eutelsat 117 West B, flying on behalf of the French-led European Telecommunications Satellite Organisation, and ABS-2A, lofted for Bermuda-based Asia Broadcast Satellite, will be the second such pairing launched on the same mission by SpaceX, following the Eutelsat 115 West B and ABS-3A double-deployment mission last March. If it flies as intended, the mission will tie with 2014 and 2015 for the greatest number of flights executed successfully in a single calendar year by SpaceX, which brought its Upgraded Falcon 9 booster into operational service last fall. Liftoff of the sixth Upgraded Falcon 9 is targeted during a 45-minute “window,” which according to SpaceX opens at 10:29 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

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A Review of SpaceX's Launch Manifest History

SpaceX CRS-7 launch. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

SpaceX CRS-7 launch. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

For SpaceX, the last year has been a time of struggle and success. After launching six customers into orbit in the first half of 2015, SpaceX faced a second-stage launch failure on its seventh launch. Yet, in less than five months, SpaceX completed its launch contract with Orbcomm by launching OG2–2, and landed the first stage booster back at the Cape just a few miles south.

For 2016, SpaceX has set for itself an agressive launch schedule and the introductory launch of the Falcon Heavy, now expected to fly no earlier than December. The company has so far launched five times and landed three times in the first five months of 2016, and is currently in final preparations to launch their sixth mission of the year this week from Cape Canaveral AFS. Yet, challenges have reared their head.

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One Man and His Catheter: 25 Years Since the Shuttle's First Life Sciences Mission (Part 2)

Having ridden to orbit wearing a heart catheter, Drew Gaffney (left) offers his arm to Jim Bagian and Millie Hughes-Fulford for one of many blood draws. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Having ridden to orbit wearing a heart catheter, Drew Gaffney (left) offers his arm to Jim Bagian and Millie Hughes-Fulford for one of many blood draws. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

A quarter-century ago, this week, one of the most complex scientific research missions ever undertaken rocketed into orbit aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. The first Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS-1) flight—utilizing the bus-sized Spacelab module in the shuttle’s payload bay—was the first mission totally dedicated to the life sciences. And the STS-40 crew, including a pair of physicians, a cardiologist, and a biochemist, also marked the first time in history that three women had flown together on the same mission.

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Spectacular Delta-IV Heavy Lofts Secret NRO 37 Eavesdropper

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta-IV Heavy booster lofting a classified multi-billion dollar NRO satellite from Cape Canaveral AFS Launch Complex-37B on June 11, 2016. Photo Credit: John Kraus / AmericaSpace

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta-IV Heavy booster lofting a classified multi-billion dollar NRO satellite from Cape Canaveral AFS Launch Complex-37B on June 11, 2016. Photo Credit: John Kraus / AmericaSpace

America’s critical intelligence capabilities in geostationary orbit have been doubled with the apparently successful flight of a multi-billion-dollar secret Advanced Orion/Mentor eavesdropping satellite on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta-IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on June 11.

The $375-million, 235-ft-tall, 53-ft-wide, 1.6-million-lb, hydrogen/oxygen vehicle lifted off on 2 million lbs thrust, at 1:51 p.m. EDT, after an initial launch attempt was rained out June 9.

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'To Get Back Together': 25 Years Since the Shuttle's First Life Sciences Mission (Part 1)

Carrying the bus-sized Spacelab module in her payload bay, Columbia drifts above Earth in June 1991. Twenty-five years ago, this week, STS-40 marked the shuttle program's first mission fully devoted to the life sciences. Photo Credit: NASA

Carrying the bus-sized Spacelab module in her payload bay, Columbia drifts above Earth in June 1991. Twenty-five years ago, this week, STS-40 marked the shuttle program’s first mission fully devoted to the life sciences. Photo Credit: NASA

For Bryan O’Connor, commander of the space shuttle’s first dedicated life sciences mission, the key concern on STS-40 was not that his flight was the first in history to feature three women, but the first in history to include three medical doctors! Twenty-five years ago, this week, O’Connor and his crew—Pilot Sid Gutierrez, Mission Specialists Jim Bagian, Tammy Jernigan, and Rhea Seddon, and Payload Specialists Drew Gaffney and Millie Hughes-Fulford—launched aboard Columbia for a nine-day voyage which comprehensively examined how the bodies of humans, animals, and fish were influenced by the strange microgravity environment.

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Mammoth Eavesdropping Satellite Set for Launch Atop Delta-IV Heavy

Armed and with his identity protected this swordsman guards the American Flag Behind a shield marked 37 in Roman numerals. Image Credit: NRO

Armed and with his identity protected, this swordsman guards the American Flag
behind a shield marked 37 in Roman numerals. Image Credit: NRO

UPDATE: NRO-37 will attempt to launch again on Saturday at 1:51pm EDT. The first launch attempt June 9 was scrubbed due to weather violations.

Story published originally June 8: The biggest spacecraft in the world—a top secret multi-billion dollar National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Mentor/Advanced Orion eavesdropping satellite—is ready for launch from Cape Canaveral AFS as soon as June 9 at 1:59 pm EDT, on board the most powerful operational rocket in the world, a$375 million United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy.

Carrying a mammoth eavesdropping antenna spanning 330 feet, the Mentors “are the largest satellites ever launched,” said Air Force 4-star Gen. Bruce Carlson (ret), who headed NRO from 2009-2012.

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'Only Tom Really Knows': 50 Years Since the Challenging Mission of Gemini IX (Part 2)

A view of Gemini IX, including its maneuvering thrusters, taken by Gene Cernan. His lengthy tether is clearly visible. Photo Credit: NASA

A view of Gemini IX, including its maneuvering thrusters, taken by Gene Cernan. His lengthy tether is clearly visible. Photo Credit: NASA

Five decades ago, one of the hairiest and most difficult missions in America’s space history unfolded. Gemini IX-A was already complex—a three-day flight, involving rendezvous, docking, maneuvering, and spacewalking—but had endured additional challenges: the death of its prime crew in an aircraft accident and the destruction of its primary docking target in a launch failure. A replacement target, known as the Augmented Target Docking Adaptor (ATDA), had been hastily launched, but as outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, its own docking collar had only partially opened and remained attached to the vehicle. On 3 June 1966, Gemini IX crewmen Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan arrived in orbit, ready for trouble.

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'Like an Angry Alligator': 50 Years Since the Challenging Mission of Gemini IX (Part 1)

Gemini 9A launch Titan rocket Cape Canaveral NASA image posted on AmericaSpace

Gemini IX finally flew in June 1966, carrying astronauts Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan. Photo Credit: NASA

In many ways, NASA’s Gemini IX mission—tasked with spending three days in space, performing a lengthy spacewalk, a rendezvous, and a docking with an unmanned Agena target vehicle—was hamstrung by bad luck. First, in February 1966, its crew of astronauts Elliot See and Charlie Bassett were killed in an aircraft crash, pushing their backups, Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan, into the prime position. Then, in mid-May, the Agena itself was lost in a launch accident, as Stafford and Cernan waited patiently aboard Gemini IX for their scheduled launch, 90 minutes later. Fortunately, NASA had fabricated a replacement docking target, called the Augmented Target Docking Adapter (ATDA), which was ready for launch at the beginning of June. Fifty years ago, this week, Gemini IX staged one of the most spectacular missions ever undertaken: a mission which underscored the dangers inherent in the highly unforgiving space environment.

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New Improved Antares Conducts Successful Test Fire Ahead of July Return to Flight

Clouds of smoke billow above Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). Following the ORB-3 failure in October 2014, repairs and modifications to the pad were completed in the fall of 2015. Photo Credit: Patrick J. Hendrickson/Highcamera.com

Clouds of smoke billow above Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). Following the ORB-3 failure in October 2014, repairs and modifications to the pad were completed in the fall of 2015. Photo Credit: Patrick J. Hendrickson/Highcamera.com

Nineteen months after the catastrophic loss of its ORB-3 mission—laden with a Cygnus cargo spacecraft, headed for the International Space Station (ISS)—Orbital ATK yesterday (Tuesday, 31 May) completed a full-power hot-fire test of the upgraded first-stage of its Antares 230 booster. Utilizing a pair of Russian-built RD-181 engines, fed by liquid oxygen and a highly refined form of rocket-grade kerosene, known as “RP-1,” the first stage was installed on Pad 0A at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va., for the 30-second test. This was the same pad used for the five prior Antares missions, including the short-lived ORB-3 on 28 October 2014. The maiden voyage of the Antares 230 is currently scheduled for early July 2016, delivering the OA-5 Cygnus toward the space station.

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