July 17, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

Launch Roundup: Falcon Heavy Returns with GOES-U, Firefly Launches an Alpha

After a week in which Tropical Storm Alberto caused high seas, wind and rain-related delays to the launch schedule in Florida, SpaceX hopes to get back on track this week with launches planned for all three active launch pads of Falcon, including a Heavy Falcon.

Towards the end of the week, the Japan Exploration and Aerospace Agency (JAXA) will attempt the third launch of the H3 rocket from JAXA's Tanegashima launch site in Japan. Additionally, Firefly's Alpha returns with its first mission of the year from Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) in California.

Given the reconfiguration of the Falcon Heavy launch pad from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX has not been able to schedule any Falcon 9 launches from this pad since May 24. SpaceX will therefore try to make the most of its other East Coast platform, Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

However, the inclement weather may not be over in Florida just yet. With hurricane season underway and more tropical storms brewing, launch schedules are likely to be affected. Weather also impacts marine assets as recovery vessels have to dodge storms, causing further disruption and delays.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 9-2

Launched on Sunday, June 23 at 8:47 pm PDT (Monday, June 24 at 03:47 UTC) from VSFB's SLC-4E, a SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted the second batch of Group 9 Mini Starlink v2 satellites. The drone Of course I still love you supported the mission and was stationed approximately 600 km down. The booster landed on the drone after completing ascent, second stage separation and a controlled return, using an intake burn to reduce the descent rate and a landing burn to bring it to a soft landing.

The mission launched on a southeastward trajectory, placing the payload of 20 satellites into a 53-degree inclined orbit. Thirteen of the Starlinks have Direct-to-Cell capability, a pioneering feature that allows a mobile phone to communicate directly with the satellite when no other service exists.

B1075, the booster for this mission, flew after a period of 97 days, this mission being its eleventh flight. Previously, the booster flew Starlink Group 2-4, Transport and Tracking Tranche 01, Starlink Group 2-9, Starlink Group 5-7, Starlink Group 6-20, Starlink Group 7-3, Starlink Group 7-6, SARah 2 and 3, Starlink Group 7-12, Starlink Group 7-16 and USA 350 and 351.

The booster has flown all of its previous missions from Vandenberg, flying for the first time on January 19, 2023. It previously landed twice at Landing Zone 4 and eight times at Of course I still love you.

Falcon Heavy lifts GOES-U (Credit: Max Evans for NSF)

SpaceX Falcon Heavy | GOES-U

The tenth flight of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, June 25 at 5:16 p.m. EDT (21:16 UTC). Launched from the historic LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Falcon Heavy will lift the GOES-U weather satellite into a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), flying east to take full advantage of Earth's rotation for additional performance. . A little over an hour before the T-0 mark, SpaceX announced a 10-minute delay to the launch time, to 5:26 p.m. EDT (21:26 UTC). The weather also improved to a 70 percent chance of good launch conditions as teams received the 'Go' to begin loading propellant into the vehicle.

The launch was on time and with a payload of more than 5,000 kg, the central core of the Falcon Heavy, B1087, was exhausted because, as expected, it could not retain enough propellant to land softly on a drone. The two side boosters, B1072 and B1086, performed a return-to-launch site landing on landing zones 1 and 2, respectively, marking the 249th and 250th consecutive successful landings of the Falcon boosters.

All three boosters flew for the first time.

Following separation of the core stage, the second stage completed the first of three burns that will carry the payload to an orbit just short of the final orbit. The vehicle was equipped with a Mission Extension Pack, which is painted a distinctive light gray color to allow the second stage to maintain good thermal balance for more than four hours prior to payload deployment.

Ceres 1S | Unknown payload

Chinese company Galactic Energy will launch a four-stage Ceres 1S rocket on Thursday, June 26 at 05:30 UTC. The mission will be a sea launch from coastal waters adjacent to the Haiyang spaceport. The mission's payload is currently unknown. This will be the fourth Ceres 1 launch in 2024.

Alpha Firefly FLTA005 | ELaNa 43 “Summer noise”

Firefly FLTA005 static fire. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

On Wednesday, June 26 at 9:03 p.m. PDT (Thursday, June 27 at 04:03 UTC), Firefly Aerospace’s two-stage Alpha rocket will conduct its first flight of 2024 from SLC-2W at VSFB carrying an array of cubesats into orbit.

This mission is part of the Venture-Class Launch Services Demonstration Contract 2 between NASA and Firefly. The eight satellites in the payload are mostly university-built cubesats, while three are built by NASA. Venture-Class aims to provide better access to space for universities and other small-scale businesses. Payloads built by the university are selected through NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) intended to assist such projects, with each flight given a collective mission name in the Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) range. , forming this flight ELaNa 43.

NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston is flying two R5 satellites, S4 and S2 2.0. These small, free-flying devices are built using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and are intended to test their suitability as low-cost in-orbit inspection devices.

NASA Ames Research Center also has a satellite on board, TechEdSat 11 (TES 11), the latest and largest iteration of the NASA Ames exobraking experiment, which uses an umbrella-like device to increase the resistance of a spacecraft and get it out safely. orbit in a controlled reentry.

The remaining satellite payloads feature small experimental features designed by students. A novel experiment is performed aboard CatSat, a 6u CubeSat built by the University of Arizona. CatSat will almost reach a Sun-synchronous orbit and use it to remain in constant daylight. Designed to operate for about six months, the cubesat will take high-resolution images of the Earth, use HAM radio signal tracking to measure the ionosphere, and test an inflatable antenna.

This launch livestream will be hosted by Firefly in collaboration with NSF.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 10-3

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster will launch another batch of Starlink v2 Mini satellites into orbit. The mission will launch from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Thursday, June 27 at 7:00 am EDT (11:00 UTC).

Flying northeast, the booster will burn for about 150 seconds before separating from the second stage, which will then ignite its single Merlin vacuum engine to carry the payload into a 53-degree inclined orbit.

The thruster will land again on the unmanned autonomous ship Just read the instructions parked about 600 km down the platform.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | NROL-186

This launch is already confirmed and will carry a second batch of a constellation of reconnaissance satellites for the US National Reconnaissance Office.

The mission will launch from SLC-4E at Vandenberg SFB on Friday, June 28 at 7:14 pm PDT (Saturday, June 29 at 03:14 UTC) and fly in a southeast direction. The booster will land on an autonomous drone ship. Of course I still love you.

As things stand, this mission will constitute the 125th orbital launch attempt of 2024.

JAXA H3-22S | ALOS-4/Daichi-4

The third launch attempt of JAXA's H3 rocket will take place from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the JAXA Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, on Sunday, June 30 at 03:06 UTC. The first H3 mission, the launch of Daichi-3, failed after a malfunction in the second stage.

This payload, the Advanced Land Observation Satellite-4 (ALOS-4), was built at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Kamakura plant and is named “Daichi 4.” The Japanese word “daichi” means wisdom of the Earth and part of a growing family.

The booster for this mission is a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H3 with the designation 22S, indicating two LE-9 engines, two solid rocket boosters (SRBs), and a shorter payload fairing. It has been reported that this mission was originally expected to fly on an H3-30, a tri-engine first stage without an SRB. However, the H3-30 is slightly behind schedule and still requires engines and static fire testing. The previous flight demonstrated that the H3-22 was powerful enough to lift this payload.

The previous launch of an H3-22. (Credit: JAXA)

The LE-9 engines used in the first stage use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants and the expander purge cycle engine cooling method, in which the combustion chamber is cooled with cryogenic liquid fuel. The cooling process causes the fuel to change phase into gas, which is subsequently used to drive turbine pumps, pushing more fuel and oxidizer into the engines. This is believed to be the first successful use of the expander bleed cycle in a bi-fuel engine.

The second stage has a single LE-5B engine, which uses the same liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants as the first stage.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 8-9

Another batch of Starlink v2 Mini satellites will launch from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral on Sunday, June 30 at 3:11 amEDT (07:11 UTC). Early indications suggest a trajectory toward the northeast, with the support drone parked 618 km away, where the booster will land once the launch is complete.

The timing of this release suggests another ambitious change to the SLC-40 platform. The current platform response time record is two days, 19 hours and 40 minutes, set just a few days ago by the Starlink Group 10-2 mission.

(Main image: Falcon Heavy atop LC-39A. Credit: Sawyer Rosenstein for NSF)

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