SpaceX Primed for JCSAT-14 Launch to GTO, Challenging Drone Ship Landing Attempt

Thursday's mission will be the fourth flight of an Upgraded Falcon 9 and its second with a payload bound for Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace
Thursday’s mission will be the fourth flight of an Upgraded Falcon 9 and its second with a payload bound for Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Three weeks after the spectacular landing of its Upgraded Falcon 9 first-stage hardware onto the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS)—affectionately dubbed “Of Course I Still Love You”—in the Atlantic Ocean, SpaceX plans to push the capability envelope on its next launch, targeted for no sooner than Thursday, 5 May. Not only does the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services provider aim to repeat the feat of bringing the core of the Upgraded Falcon 9 back to a soft landing on the ASDS, but it will do so with a markedly diminished propellant load, having boosted the JCSAT-14 communications satellite toward Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Launch is expected from the storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., during a two-hour “window,” which opens at 1:21 a.m. EDT Thursday.

This mission represents the 24th launch of a member of the Falcon 9 family, which debuted back in June 2010, as well as SpaceX’s fourth flight in the first five months of this year. Having suffered the catastrophic high-altitude breakup of its Falcon 9 v1.1 during first-stage flight, last 28 June, the company made a historic return-to-flight (and “Return to Land”) in December, then pushed ahead with an aggressive salvo of missions for 2016. In January, SpaceX bade a fond farewell to its Falcon 9 v1.1, which redeemed its tarnished reputation by successfully delivering NASA’s Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite into orbit. This was followed by a pair of Upgraded Falcon 9 missions: the first, in March, which delivered the SES-9 communications satellite to GTO and, most recently, on 8 April, the resumption of Dragon cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS). On this latter mission, after coming within a whisker of success on several occasions, SpaceX triumphantly brought the first stage of the Upgraded Falcon 9 safely onto the ASDS deck.

The JCSAT-14 satellite during testing. Photo Credit: SKY Perfect JSAT
The JCSAT-14 satellite during testing. Photo Credit: SKY Perfect JSAT

Thursday’s mission will be the eighth time in 29 months that the booster has been utilized to deliver a payload to GTO altitude, some 22,300 miles (35,900 km) above Earth. That payload is the JCSAT-14 communications satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) on the framework of its highly reliable SSL-1300 satellite “bus,” which can provide power ranges between 5-12 kilowatts and support up to 70 active transponders. After the Upgraded Falcon 9 delivers it to orbit, JCSAT-14 will assume a position at 154 degrees East longitude, where it will replace the JCSAT-2A satellite and support the growing demand for telecommunications infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific Region. Specifically, JCSAT-14—designed to support a 15-year on-orbit operational life—will carry 26 optimized C-band transponders for broadcast and data networks and 18 Ku-band transponders for high-speed connectivity for maritime, aviation, and resource-exploration usage, covering Asia, Russia, Oceania, and the Pacific Islands. It will provide about 10 kilowatts of power at end-of-life.

JCSAT-14 boasts a proud heritage. Japan Communications Satellite Company was formed in 1985, immediately after the enactment of the island nation’s Telecommunications Business Law. When JCSAT-1 and JCSAT-2 rose to orbit in March and December 1989, they marked the dawn of Japanese commercial communications satellite services. Over the course of the next two decades, several JCSAT spacecraft—built variously by Hughes, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and now SS/L—were placed into orbit. In fact, JCSAT-14 will actually replace the aging JCSAT-2A satellite, launched in March 2002, which itself replaced the 1989-launched JCSAT-2 at the critical 154 degrees East orbital “slot.” Renamed JSAT Corp. in April 2000, the company merged in October 2008 with SKY Perfect Communications, Inc., and Space Communications Corp. Since then, it has become the SKY Perfect JSAT Group. Identifying itself as the leading satellite operator in the Asia-Pacific Region, it currently boasts 16 active operational satellites in GTO.

Contracts to build JCSAT-14 were awarded in June 2013, with SS/L President John Celli expressing hope that it marked “the beginning of a long and successful relationship for both of our companies.” Added SKY Perfect JSAT President and CEO Shinji Takada: “SS/L is a world leader in satellite manufacturing and has the ability to meet our rigorous schedule requirements for this important satellite.” Surprisingly, in view of the delays which have plagued several earlier SpaceX missions and the near-six-month down time enforced in the wake of last June’s ascent mishap, the JCSAT-14 launch will fly only a few months later than originally manifested. When SpaceX announced in January 2014 that it would carry the satellite, the company anticipated a launch in the second half of 2015.

Official mission emblem for the JCSAT-14 payload. Image Credit: SKY Perfect JSAT
Official mission emblem for the JCSAT-14 payload. Image Credit: SKY Perfect JSAT

In readiness for flight, SS/L delivered JCSAT-14 to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in March 2016, whereupon the satellite underwent testing, prior to integration with the Upgraded Falcon 9. Targeted to fly from SLC-40 in late April, the launch date moved slightly to the right, eventually alighting somewhere in the first week of May and finally settling in the pre-dawn hours of the 5th. According to the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, conditions are expected to be 70-percent favorable for this opening launch attempt, with the Thick Cloud Rule and Anvil Cloud Rule being potential violating factors. With “more widespread rain and thunderstorms” expected by Wednesday, associated with a frontal boundary, it is anticipated that conditions will clear later that evening, ahead of the countdown. “However, timing of the frontal passage remains a concern,” the 45th explained in its weekend summary, “since guidance has shown a consistent slowing trend on when the front will clear the area over the past several days.” Conditions are expected to improve to about 90-percent favorable in the event of a 24-hour delay.

In the meantime, “Of Course I Still Love You”—one of two drone ships currently in use by SpaceX, the other being the West Coast-based “Just Read the Instructions”—departed Port of Cape Canaveral at 7:27 p.m. EDT Saturday. Accompanied by the Elsbeth III tug, it was bound for a position in the Atlantic Ocean, where it will standby to receive the Upgraded Falcon 9’s first stage, about 10 minutes after liftoff. It has been a busy month for Of Course I Still Love You: Following its sterling support of the CRS-8 Dragon mission on 8 April, it returned triumphantly to Port of Cape Canaveral overnight on 11/12 April, with the somewhat blackened first stage looking tired, yet proud. Three weeks later, the ASDS is set to do the same again … with the notable exception that the returning first stage from the JCSAT-14 launch will have endured a higher-altitude and higher-energy (and thus “hotter”) re-entry. This places a correspondingly increased demand upon the stage’s limited propellant reserves for the Supersonic Retro-Propulsion, Re-Entry and Landing burns, making a successful ASDS touchdown a more challenging prospect.

Thursday’s launch will proceed in a manner which has characterized the countdown regime of Upgraded Falcon 9 missions since December 2015. The 230-foot-tall (70-meter) booster was moved horizontally from its nearby processing facility and erected at SLC-40 for a standard Static Fire Test of its nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines on Sunday, 1 May. The test reportedly passed without incident. “Static Fire complete, teams reviewing data,” SpaceX tweeted shortly after 8:30 p.m. EDT Sunday. “Falcon 9 launch of JCSAT-14 communications satellite targeting May 5 at 1:21 a.m. ET.”

Loading of liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (known as “RP-1”) aboard the vehicle will not begin until about 35 minutes before T-0. This marks a distinct difference between the Upgraded Falcon 9 and its earlier Falcon 9 v1.0 and v1.1 cousins and is due to the use of densified liquid oxygen, which is chilled much closer to its freezing point and loaded much later in the countdown. A final “Go/No-Go” polling of all flight control stations will occur at T-13 minutes, prior to Terminal Countdown operations at T-10 minutes. After engine chilling, the retraction of the launch pad’s strongback, arming of the Flight Termination System (FTS) and completion of fueling, at T-60 seconds the 53 nozzles of the Niagara deluge system will flood SLC-40 with 30,000 gallons (113,500 liters) of water per minute to suppress acoustic energy at the instant of engine-start.

The Upgraded Falcon 9 will power off the pad under the combined impulse of 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kg) from its nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines. A little under three minutes later, in the rarefied high atmosphere, the Merlins will shut down and the first stage will separate, to begin its complex sequence of Supersonic Retro-Propulsion, Re-Entry, and Landing Burns to reach the ASDS. Meanwhile, the single Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine of the rocket’s second stage will execute the first of two planned “burns” —during a period which will also see the bulbous Payload Fairing (PLF) jettisoned—to deliver JCSAT-14 into its correct orbital position. Thus will conclude the first of at least two JCSAT missions atop Falcon 9 vehicles. In September 2014, SpaceX contracted with SKY Perfect JSAT Group to deliver the JCSAT-16 satellite into orbit. This will serve as an on-orbit spare, providing more stable and continuous services to the company’s existing Ku- and Ka-band telecommunications assets.



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  1. Yes, a successful mission and two landings in a row would be a good indicator.

  2. Yes, a successful mission and two landings in a row would be a good indicator.

    • Don’t forget level of difficulty is high for this one as GTO mission. Still would be very nice for them to get a stage back on the higher end of performance curve to compare with CRS-8 and OG2. That would give them a lot of insights into the range of repair/refurbishment required.

      • This is nothing but a pr stunt for Obummers pal Elion to get more money from NASA. Mission difficulty doesnt matter. There is no way for the hobby rocket to return and be reused. Its all right there in the rocket equation. Must has just pulled the wool over everyones eyes.

        • What success rate of re-using stages do you need before you admit you are wrong Gary?

          • There is no level of success that would convince jr. His con I took is unshakable

            • So what does he do when SpaceX does what he claims is mathematically impossible?

              • He just moves the goal posts. Like he always does. First gary said SpaceX would never launch a falcon 1, then they did, it would never launch a payload, then it did. Then the falcon 9 would never launch. Then it did. It would never launch a dragon capsule to the ISS, Then they did, Never recover a dragan, then they did. Would never land a first stage. Then they did. Would never land a 1st stage on the barge, then they did. Now it is SpaceX will never launch people, never fly the falcon heavy, never reuse a first stage.

                gary lives on fantasy island.

                  • Conway, you seem to be taking someone spoofing Gary very personally…

                    • Just like you do when someone says you are coastal Ron.
                      “Spoofing” makes it all sound like such good clean fun. You bunch of creeps. Disgusting.

                    • None of these posts are from Conway Costigan or Gary Church. The last comments made by Conway Costigan were on March 5th 2016. Jim Hillhouse and the rest of the staff at America Space let the NewSpace trolls run rampant in their efforts to silence anyone who speaks out the truth against their Ayn Rand in space bizarro libertarian lies. They will not stop until they have completely killed human spaceflight and exploration in order to promote their LEO tourist fantasy Ponzi Scheme.

                      “Clio Marsden” AKA “Coastal Ron” started posting shortly after I began commenting as Conway Costigan. I have always been honest about who I am, but the New Space Mob keeps using their sock puppets to troll me into oblivion. When I tried to post using my real name over on Parabolic Arc this antagonistic cabal did the same thing to me there. When that did not stop me here the trolls began posting as Conway Costigan and Gary Church and Larry Church and Gary’s drinking game and….etc. etc. Besides Dr. Spudis’ site America Space was the only other place I was allowed to express my views. Hillhouse expressed his opinion that my comments are not really important by mocking me with a cartoon.

                      I am done commenting anywhere except of course, for Dr. Spudis’ site where he actually moderates.

                      When you see a comment from Gary Church, Conway Costigan, Larry Church it is just the New Space Mob trolling you too. I’m not their whipping boy anymore.

                    • 1 drink every time Gary says “hobby rocket” or “Toxic Dragon”.
                      2 drink every time Gary accuses someone of cyberbullying while he is cyberbullying
                      1 shot every time Gary uses one of his sock-puppet accounts to say another post wasn’t from his sock-puppet account.
                      Down the pint when Gary says he’s not posting anymore…. again.

                      DRINK IT DOWN!

                  • That was not Conway Costigan- and the moderators here do not seem to care about this kind of blatant trolling. The editors have the ability to identify me and disqualify these trolls who are using my name and pseudonym. But despite my requests they do nothing. They claim impartiality and no tolerance for trolls yet will not moderate their site.

                    • Having used so many sockpuppets, having made your psychopathy so evident, you should have no sympathy.

                    • You are a disgusting bunch of cyberthugs. You think you own this forum and it looks like Mike Killian does to. I am just wondering why I have not been banned like I have on the other SpaceX propaganda sites. Jim Hillhouse claimed this was a no troll zone. What a joke.

                    • You using sockpuppets is you making a joke of yourself.

                      Just to beat it into your head, SpaceX is doing what you claim is impossible.

                      It is what you claim is the only way it can be done which is impossible.

                      “A 20-35 million pound thrust launch vehicle using twin monolithic solid rocket boosters and hydrogen upper stage is what we need to the moon to harvest ice for shielding on a nuclear powered spacecraft. That is the only real path beyond cis lunar space. There is no cheap.”

                      Au contraire. At $8,000/lb, there is not much cis-lunar and maybe none of any manned travel happening.

                      But at the $200~300/lb the SpaceX BFR will cost, there might be.

                      Your buddy Spudis is a bit precious to say we have no idea what the Falcon Heavy will cost because it hasn’t flown. To presume the best of intentions on his part, he presumes for no reason substantive inaccuracy on SpaceX’s part with regard to the stated cost of a fully loaded to LEO launch.

                      $750.00/lb for the FH.

                    • NewSpace trolls are posting comments using my name and my real name both. Just to beat it into your head you idiot, you and your bunch of goons are doing something that is despicable and lower than whale crap. Shame on you. It is truly disgusting. Zero integrity or honor.

                    • Am I replying to Gary Church? Does Gary Church use sockpuppets?

                      How am I to know?

                      I can;t believe you, whomever youa re.

                      But this “A 20-35 million pound thrust launch vehicle using twin “monolithic solid rocket boosters and hydrogen upper stage is what we need to the moon to harvest ice for shielding on a nuclear powered spacecraft. That is the only real path beyond cis lunar space. There is no cheap”

                      Is perfectly consistent with Gary Michael Church’s concepts of how space travel must be done.

                      And it is laughable concept.


                    • And I am laughing at the guy with the argument which does not respect reality.

                    • Laugh away. You will not stop attacking me and showcasing that you are a troll and that is fine with me. You can’t stop.

                    • “A 20-35 million pound thrust launch vehicle using twin monolithic solid rocket boosters and hydrogen upper stage is what we need to the moon to harvest ice for shielding on a nuclear powered spacecraft. That is the only real path beyond cis lunar space. There is no cheap.”

                      Why would I want to. It’s comedy gold.

                    • “A sick twisted evil juvenile troll that mocks and ridicules the truth.”

                      You haven’t mentioned any relevant truth yet, Gary.

                      What they read is you providing the best propaganda SpaceX could buy if they bothered to, but why would they? You do it for free.

  3. Conway er Gary is really just ahead of the curve…at the rate that SpaceX is going…Maybe the cost getting to space will be as cheap as a hobby rocket!

  4. Musk says “unlikely” to have successful barge landing….Another great explosion coming our way!!! This is better than the Theme Parks in Orlando!

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