SpaceX is now targeting Nov. 25 for its first launch of an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, one week after NASA’s planned launch of the Maven mission to Mars on an Atlas V rocket from a neighboring launch pad.
“We wanted a little bit more time to make sure the launch site was ready for us, and wanted to give the crew a little bit of rest,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said today. “They’ve been working really, really hard to get this flight off.”
In addition to begin the first Florida launch of the taller, more powerful Falcon 9, after a test flight from California, the mission is also SpaceX’s first launch of a commercial communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit about 22,000 miles above the planet.
NASA, meanwhile, is targeting a 1:28 p.m. EST launch this Monday of the $671 million Maven mission atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The mission features an orbiter that will study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere and how it has changed over time.
Shotwell’s update about the commercial launch, which had been planned for Nov. 22, came during a press conference celebrating the end of a NASA program that helped SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. develop new rockets and spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station.
The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, or COTS, became a model NASA expanded to crewed flights. The agency hopes to fly astronauts to the station commercially by 2017.
SpaceX’s 1st Commercial Comsat Launch Slips Three Days
WASHINGTON — Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s (SpaceX) first launch of a commercial telecommunications satellite will be delayed to Nov. 25 from Nov. 22, SpaceX President and Chief Operations Officer Gwynne Shotwell said Nov. 13.
“We wanted a little bit more time to make sure the launch site was ready for us, and we wanted to give the [launch vehicle] crew a little more rest,” Shotwell said during a press event at NASA headquarters here.
The event was held to mark the end of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Program, a development effort that helped fund new rockets and spacecraft from SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. now being used to resupply the international space station.
Shotwell would not be more specific about the delay.
SpaceX’s customer for the Florida launch is satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg, who is entrusting its SES-8 communications satellite to the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket’s maiden launch to geostationary transfer orbit, the drop off point for most commercial communications satellites. The launch will take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40.
SpaceX has accrued a substantial backlog of commercial communications satellite launches, and a successful launch of SES-8 will open the door for the company to begin fulfilling those orders.
Falcon 9 v1.1, the latest version of the company’s nine-engine Falcon 9 rocket, made its debut Sept. 29 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., when it launched the Canadian Space Agency’s Cassiope space-weather satellite. On that flight, Falcon 9’s upper stage failed to reignite — something it will have to do in order to get SES-8 to geostationary transfer orbit.
Meanwhile, Shotwell said work is progressing on the Falcon 9 v1.1 that will launch Thailand’s Thaicom 6, another communications satellite bound for geostationary transfer orbit.
“The elements [of Falcon 9] are ready and we’re going to start shipping them to the Cape right after a static fire test on Nov. 19,” Shotwell said. “And we will continue to hold the Thaicom 6 launch date of Dec. 20.”