UPDATE 7:50PM ET: The launch of the Thaicom Mission has been delayed until at least tomorrow for "additional data review." According to a tweet by SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, "There was a tiny glitch in the motion of an upper stage actuator. Probably not a flight risk, but still worth investigating."
Today, SpaceX will attempt to launch another rocket into space and then land it safely back on Earth. If all goes as planned, the Falcon 9 rocket will return from orbit to land on a robotic drone ship, endearingly named "“Of Course I Still Love You.” This would be the fourth time SpaceX has recovered one of its Falcon 9 rockets, and the third landing at sea.
The current mission objective is to deliver a commercial communications satellite for Thaicom, a leading Asian satellite operator, into a supersynchronous transfer orbit that will later be reduced by the satellite to a geostationary orbit of around 35,800 kilometers. The launch will take place at 7:40pm tonight from Cape Canaveral, Florida and the satellite will be deployed about 32 minutes after liftoff.
Following stage separation, the real challenge begins. The first stage of the Falcon 9 will return to Earth and attempt to land on the drone ship. According to SpaceX, the first-stage will be subject to extreme velocities and heating during re-entry heating, making a successful landing "challenging". We'll either witness another successful recovery, as in this image from SpaceX's ORBCOMM 2 mission in December, 2015, or a stupendous explosion.
SpaceX has provided the mission timeline as follows:
- 00:38 Launch Conductor takes launch readiness poll
- 00:35 RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) and LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway
- 00:10 Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
- 00:02 Range Control Officer (USAF) verifies range is go for launch
- 00:01:30 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
- 00:01 Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks
- 00:01 Pressurize propellant tanks
- 00:00:03 Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
- 00:00:00 Falcon 9 liftoff
LAUNCH AND SATELLITE DEPLOYMENT
- 00:01:17 Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
- 00:02:35 1st stage engine shutdown/main engine cutoff (MECO)
- 00:02:39 1st and 2nd stages separate
- 00:02:46 2nd stage engine starts first burn
- 00:03:37 Fairing deployment
- 00:08:56 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
- 00:27:07 2nd stage engine restarts for second burn
- 00:28:20 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
- 00:31:56 THAICOM 8 satellite deployed
[Image credit: SpaceX]