SpaceX is deep into preparations for its 16th launch of 2017 and is scheduled to carry KT Sat’s Koreasat 5A communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) at 3:34 p.m. EDT October 30.
As is routine for SpaceX, the Falcon 9 booster performed a brief ~3 second static fire of its 9 Merlin 1D engines at its LC-39A pad on Thursday, Oct. 26. However, SpaceX’s static fire procedure is better described as a complete launch rehearsal that includes everything except the rocket’s liftoff. This serves to thoroughly test Falcon 9’s mission-critical avionics and hardware and thus catch any latent bugs that managed to slip through quality assurance checks in the Hawthorne, CA factory and similar static fire procedures conducted at SpaceX’s McGregor, TX test facilities.
Koreasat 5A, Falcon 9’s Halloween payload of choice, is a geostationary communications satellite owned by the Korean satellite operator KT Sat, a subsidiary of KT Corporation. Manufactured by Franco-Italian aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space, the satellite is estimated to weigh approximately 3500 kg or 7500 lb, and will thus allow Falcon 9’s first stage, numbered 1042, to be recovered aboard the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You some 650 miles off the coast of Florida. While the vessel’s friendly robot companion and several onboard components were thoroughly roasted in a small fire that followed the recovery of SES-11’s booster stage, SpaceX’s exceptional recovery crew managed to rapidly conduct repairs of OCISLY in time to catch Falcon 9 1042 tomorrow afternoon. Roomba/Optimus Prime has been removed from the drone ship indefinitely, but there is hope that the robot will be able to return to its boat garage after some thorough refurbishment.
Regardless of recent trauma, OCISLY is marching straight back into the line of fire and is likely already at its holding position, ready to catch yet another Falcon 9. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the relatively lightweight commsat being launched will permit SpaceX to notch its 19th successful recovery of a Falcon 9. This is an incredible accomplishment, given that the company achieved its first successful recovery less than two years ago, on December 21 2015.
2017 has been a year of milestones after milestones, including a major internal launch cadence record, the first three commercial reflights of Falcon 9s, the first commercial reuse of an orbital spacecraft (Cargo Dragon), and even an updated strategy for the colonization of Mars. The year is not over yet, however, and SpaceX may have one or two additional milestones to check off before 2018 arrives.
While a link to the launch’s livestream has not yet been provided, you can expect to be able to follow along live tomorrow afternoon (3:34 p.m. EDT, 12:34 p.m PDT) on YouTube or Facebook as SpaceX continues to make the extraordinary look ordinary.