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SpaceX successfully launches Thaicom6 satellite to geostationary transfer orbit (spacex.com)
117 points by creativityland 1354 days ago | hide | past | web | 15 comments | favorite

A couple things are neat about this that aren't necessarily obvious.

First off, the Falcon 9 v1.1, of which this is the 3rd launch, uses a reusable first stage. Whether that stage is used in an expendable launch profile or in a reusable launch profile it's still the same hardware, the only significant difference is whether or not it has landing gear bolted on (which apparently they'll try to do for the next ISS cargo resupply launch). That's pretty significant because it means that they get additional testing and validation of their reusable first stage in a full up flight profile even on expendable launches like this one. The more they launch with this stage the more experience and confidence they get and the easier it will be to transition to a reusable flight profile.

Secondly, this launch should complete the certification program that enables the Falcon 9 v1.1 to be able to compete in EELV launches from NASA and DoD. Currently only the Atlas 5 and Delta IV fill that role (the original launchers developed out of the EELV program) and as a result United Launch Alliance (which operates both vehicles) get a significant amount of highly lucrative business. In 2014 there are 8 EELV launches, for example, and by around 2016 SpaceX could be launching EELV payloads. That's a tremendous amount of potential income for SpaceX (up to billions of dollars a year).

Do you (or anybody else) have any idea if they did any testing with the reusability of the first stage on this flight? My understanding was that they aren't near ready to land from a full launch yet, but they seemed to be using the launches to test the ability to re-light the first stage and control its flight profile after separation and falling most of the way back to Earth. I wonder if they did any tests like this on this launch, and if so, what the results were.

I believe the ULA gets something like $2 billion per year just for maintaining the capability of launching, even if they don't launch a single rocket. Talk about an industry that seems ripe for disruption...

It is worth noting that today's launch was just barely more than one month after the last (December 3rd). They are getting pretty good at this.

They have a total of 13 planned launches of Falcon 9 from the Cape in 2014. An extremely ambitious plan; good thing they're hitting the right tempo from the start.


I know 'within one month' is the next exciting milestone, but I can't wait for days with multi-launch schedules. I assume the launches will be from a large number of companies - which makes it even more exciting.

Having multiple launch sites is starting to make more sense. I guess they can be integrating and testing several at the same time. It seems like a very quick ramp up. It will be interesting to see if they can keep to that schedule and launch a Falcon Heavy, recover a first stage and do a Dragon launch abort all in the same year.

Multiple sites makes sense for more than that. Different places on the globe are good for different sorts of launches. Vandenberg's better for polar launches, Canaveral is better for launches that are more equatorial in nature.

In fact, if they'd tried either of their last two launches at Vandenberg, there would have been a very substantial performance penalty. From Canaveral, the rockets head generally eastward, in the direction of the eventual orbit. From Vandenberg, they can't --- it would take them over populated land. So, if you want to launch into an equatorial orbit from Vandenberg, you have to have the rocket initially head south, over water, and then turn. This wastes a lot of fuel, and it's not something anyone wants to do if they can avoid it.

So, the SpaceX Manifest lists only two launches from Vandenberg in 2014 --- and one of them is the Falcon Heavy demo flight, for which no payload has yet been announced.

Manifest here: http://www.spacex.com/missions

Although that was kind of accidental, since the December 3rd launch was originally supposed to be November 25th but was delayed twice.

Aye, they didn't exactly plan it out this way, but the fact that they were able to do the launch on the 6th even after the SES-8 launch was pushed back demonstrates that they are capable of quick turnaround.

Here is the launch video, from "T minus one minute". https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=An...

Just before the launch, when the strongback retracted, did anyone else notice how the umbilical cables became snagged, as the strongback was still retracting? Sure enough, there was a moment where there was no slack, and the strongback actually pulled the Falcon 9 rocket a slight amount, causing it to rock back and forth on the launchpad. You could see it rocking back and forth perhaps by 6 inches or more. The cable snag freed itself and the retraction continued nominally, but the rocket kept teetering for another minute. Pretty interesting. Wonder if they plan for such contingencies.

I doubt the umbilical moved the rocket. What you were seeing was probably the effect of wind -- it's a very tall, narrow structure with a big fairing on top. Once the clamp is released, it's only held down at the bottom, so like any tall building it flexes noticeably in the wind.

Watch the video. I'm pretty certain the umbilical snag caused the rocket to teeter.

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