June Space Update

There have been 10 space orbital launches from American soil so far this year and 9 of those have been from SpaceX.  That has been a tremendous feat since in the past before SpaceX came onto the scene, there would be roughly a dozen to a bakers dozen flights a year.  June was a very busy month for SpaceX and in this article, I’ll go through the launches that took place in June and it’s accomplishments.

CRS-11 (Dragon reflight-1)/ KSC – LC 39A/ June 3, 2017, 5:07pm EDT

The first launch of June saw SpaceX launch their Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station for its customer, NASA.  This flight brought up more supplies and experiments for the astronauts living aboard the orbiting laboratory. After launch, the first stage booster successfully landed back at Landing Zone 1.  This mission marked the first re-flight of a Dragon spacecraft, which was last flown on the CRS-4 mission that was launched on September 21, 2014 and landed in the Pacific Ocean on October 25, 2014.  This launch also saw the 100th launch that took place from Launch Pad 39A from Apollo 4 in the 1960s (it’s first launch from Pad 39A) and during the Space Shuttle program, 82 out of the 135 missions launched from Pad 39A.  The Dragon spacecraft is due to undock from the International Space Station and splash down in the Pacific Ocean on July 3, 2017.


BulgariaSat-1/ KSC LC-39A/ June 23, 2017 @ 3:10:00 p.m. EDT

The second flight of June saw SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch Bulgaria’s first communications satellite on June 23rd.  This flight saw the second flight of a “flight proven” Falcon 9 first stage.  The flight made use of Core 1029 that last flew from Vandenberg Air Force Base back in January of this year when it launched the first 10 satellites for the Iridium-NeXt satellites into low Earth orbit, and the first stage made the first successful landing on the ocean barge in the Pacific Ocean named “Just Read The Instructions”.  Launch took off into blue Florida skies and after the first stage burned out and separated from the second stage, onboard cameras showed the long decent back to Earth as the first stage once again landing on an ocean barge (Of Course I Still Love You) in the Atlantic Ocean.  The stage had a lot more energy and had a higher risk that it may not survive the landing as Elon Musk tweeted earlier.  Despite the warning, the first stage successfully landed on the barge, but landed hard that it used almost all of its crush cushion that was built into the landing system and had a slight lean.  It is not known if this stage will fly again.

The satellite that was launched will provide broadcast coverage for much of Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East, with a smaller portion providing coverage for the Balkans.  This was the first communications satellite for Bulgaria, but only the second satellite that was last launched 32 years ago, but was a modified Soviet weather satellite with scientific instruments mounted on it.  SpaceX driving down cost gave the company (Space Systems/Loral) the opportunity to have access to space.  Hopefully the trend will enable other smaller companies who have not had the opportunity to launch satellites into space the opportunity to do so with lower cost using reused rockets.

Iridium NeXt-2 (11-20)/VAFB LC-4E/ June 25, 2017 @ 4:25pm EDT (1:25pm PDT)

Just two days after the successful BulgariaSat-1 mission from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, attention shifted to the west coast as another Falcon 9 was ready to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the second mission to launch the next 10 satellites dubbed Iridium NeXt.  The launch occurred just 49 hours and 15 minutes after the previous Falcon 9 launch.  The quick time between launches was due to the fact that SpaceX has launch teams on both coasts and they worked in parallel with one another without disruption of either launch campaign.  The launch occurred in heavy, dense fog, but long range tracking cameras were able to capture good footage of the newly built first stage racing toward orbit.  Elon Musk tweeted that landing had a 50/50 chance due to rough weather conditions out at sea.  The barge, “Just Read The Instructions” had to change position due to the heavy seas.  The cameras captured beautiful pictures of the first stage decent, this time sporting new fins on the first stage.  The older fins made of aluminum caught fire during reentry and needed to be replaced after each mission.  The new fins are made out of titanium and can be reused indefinitely.  The change of the more durable guidance fins may have helped the first stage make a successful landing.  The video feed cut out just prior to landing, adding to the tension watching the live webcast, but once footage was restored, there was the first stage, Core 1036, on deck, off center, but successfully back on its platform.

At around 57 minutes, 10 seconds into the flight, the first satellites began deploying from the structure that kept the 10 satellites secure during ascent; the final satellite departed about 5 minutes later at an altitude of 388 miles (at the orbit’s low point).  These satellites are extremely important because our first responders use Iridium equipment to communicate.  These include firefighters, policemen, people who work out in the oil industry rely on these satellites and they help save lives.  This is one way that the technology can have a positive impact on us all, but hopefully none of us will be in the situation where we need a first responder on the scene to save any one of you readers.

Intelsat 35e/ KSC LC 39A/ NET: July 3, 2017

I wanted to include this mission into this article because this mission would be the third mission in 10 days.  The launch was scheduled for today (July 2), but was scrubbed at the T-9 second point when computers in the guidance and navigation data saw something not in tolerance and with just a 58 minute launch window, managers decided to scrub for today.  SpaceX’s ambitious launch schedule is one to be impressed with.  If the launch goes off tomorrow successfully, weather permitting (a 60 percent go forecast), then this will be the shortest turnaround Launch Pad 39A has seen since missions STS-51D and STS-51-B that were flown by Discovery and Challenger on April 12th and 29th respectively in 1985.

Honorable Mentions:

Long March 5/Shijian 18/ Wenchang, China/ July 2, 2017 @ 7:20 a.m. EDT

The second flight of China’s heavy lift Long March 5 failed to put the Shijian 18 satellite into orbit in what was described as an rocket failure that happened sometime during the second stage engine firing.  The maiden flight in November 2016 was successful, and this launcher was also going to send a sample return mission to the moon around November and will also launch missions to Mars.

On July 14th, Russia will launch the tiny Mayak satellite into orbit aboard a Soyuz 2.1v vehicle fro the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan IFLScience and the New York Post reported.  The satellite will orbit about 370 miles above the planet and its reflective surface should make it at least the fourth brightest object in the sky after the Sun, Moon and Venus.  The Mylar reflector that will span 170 square feet, is about 20 times thinner than the human hair.  Keep a lookout for this in the coming weeks.


Credits:  Steinbuch, Yaron, New York Post, June 30, 2017


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