Making its fourth flight of the year, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has deployed the JCSAT-14 communications satellite Friday. The rocket's first stage also carried out a controlled landing on an offshore barge, or "droneship," the second such successful landing in a row. Friday's mission began at 1:21 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) when the Falcon 9's nine Merlin 1D first-stage engines ignited with a rush of flame, quickly pushing the 229-foot-tall rocket away from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Liftoff was delayed 24 hours by stormy weather earlier in the week, but it was clear sailing Friday.
After two second stage rocket firings, the satellite was released into an elliptical geostationary transfer orbit about 32 minutes after launch.
JCSAT-14 was the ninth geostationary communications satellite launched by SpaceX, with Friday’s mission the eighth time Falcon 9 has targeted a geosynchronous transfer orbit.
The JCSAT-14 spacecraft will be operated by Sky Perfect JSAT Corporation, a Japanese telecommunications company formed in 2008 through the merger of Sky Perfect Communications, JSAT Corporation and Space Communications Corporation. Space Systems/Loral constructed the satellite, which is based on the SSL-1300 bus.
JCSAT-14 carries twenty-six C-band and 18 Ku-band transponders, providing a total bandwidth of 2,853 megahertz. It will be used to provide communications services to Asia, Oceania and Hawaii. The satellite is designed for fifteen years of service.
SpaceX managers said before launch they were not optimistic given the satellite's trajectory and the high speed of the booster at stage separation. But the stage made it back to the droneship "Of Course I Still Love You" and settled to a picture-perfect powered landing.
The booster's four landing legs deployed and it settled to a smooth touchdown, prompting a rousing cheer from SpaceX flight controllers watching the descent from a control room at the company's Hawthorne, Calif., plant.
SpaceX pulled off its first successful offshore landing April 8 after sending a Dragon cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station. The first and, so far, only successful return to a Cape Canaveral landing occurred last December. The company's record now stands at three successful landings in seven attempts.
"Woohoo!!" tweeted SpaceX founder Elon Musk, adding a few moments later: "May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar."
|Falcon 9 first stage on droneship. Credit: SpaceX|
Recovering, refurbishing and relaunching rocket stages is a key element in Musk's drive to dramatically lower launch costs. SpaceX hopes to relaunch the stage recovered in April sometime this summer.
"This was a three engine landing burn, so triple deceleration of last flight," Musk tweeted. "That's important to minimize gravity losses."
For SpaceX, Friday's launching was the fourth of more than a dozen flights planned this year, an ambitious launch rate that reflects the company's growing presence in the commercial launch industry.
Already in the delivery business for NASA, SpaceX hopes to start transporting U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the end of next year in the company's next-generation Dragon capsules. But its ultimate goal is Mars.
In a groundbreaking announcement last week, Musk said his company will attempt to send a Red Dragon to Mars in 2018 — and actually land on the red planet. His ambition is to establish a city on Mars.