I know, I know. Another potential “historic” SpaceX launch. But this week is a big one. Thursday’s launch will see the vision of reusable rockets become a reality.
Nearly one year ago, a Falcon 9 rocket shook the ground as it began a journey to send cargo to the six folks aboard the International Space Station. After getting the cargo part of the way, the first stage of the rocket separated and began its descent back towards Earth. Cheers sounded across the control room and in thousands of homes as the rocket landed upright on a floating drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
After a battery of tests to make sure the rocket was in good condition, SpaceX announced it was ready to send the same first stage rocket back into the skies. And a customer was waiting and willing to make history again with SpaceX. SES is entrusting SpaceX with the launch of the SES-10 communications satellite.
Thursday evening (March 30th), SpaceX will attempt to make history once more with the first launch of a reusable rocket. The static fire test went off without a hitch yesterday setting the stage for Thursday’s launch.
Launch is set for 6:00 pm ET. Right now, there’s a 70% chance weather conditions will be in SpaceX’s favor according to Patrick Air Force Base and the 45th Weather Squadron. Rain isn’t the issue. It’s thick clouds ahead of a storm system that may cause a delay.
New weather forecasts are issued each day leading up to launch. You can keep tabs on them here.(Update March 29 – There is now an 80% chance of favorable conditions for Thursday’s launch.)
You know how sometimes a boat will stray into the launch hazard area and the rocket launch is delayed until it leaves? Here’s a map showing the area for Thursday’s launch.
While most of us are here just to see the launch and landing of the rocket, the folks at SpaceX are most concerned about the payload onboard. Customers pay the bills, and it’s best to keep them happy. For this launch, SpaceX is delivering the SES-10 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
Basically, SES-10 will hover over the same point for the duration of its mission. It’s a communications satellite that will serve all of Latin America.
Another drone landing
This week’s launch has a lot of moving parts. Not only is SpaceX launching a reused rocket for the first time, but they are delivering a payload to GTO. That adds another layer of complexity to landing a rocket back on Earth. Because the orbit is higher, the rocket needs to be going even faster to deliver the payload.
That means the return trip is even more strenuous on the rocket. Last May, SpaceX nailed a first stage landing after launching JCSAT-14 into GTO. On Thursday, we’ll see if this first stage rocket can make it two-for-two on landings. Of Course I Still Love You will be waiting patiently in the Atlantic Ocean for the first stage rocket.
SpaceX’s Elon Musk talks up how a single vehicle may one day be reused 10 to 20 times. It’ll be interesting to see how this rocket fares after its second launch. Will it get a third? Or, will SpaceX save another piece of history?
This week’s launch is the culmination of a big, bold idea. Reusability promises to reduce the exorbitant costs of aerospace. If successful, Thursday’s launch moves the idea from the realm of fantasy to reality. It will be the beginning of the end for throwing away tens of millions of dollars each launch.
I’ll keep this post updated if there is any change in the timing for this week’s launch.