SpaceX scrubbed two launches of its latest SES-9 mission. Now, finally, the mission is set later today at 6:46 p.m., a launch that can be watched live online. However, if the latest SpaceX mission for some reason can’t be launched today, it’ll be scheduled for tomorrow evening, (February 29th.)
Last week, weather worried SpaceX command on Wednesday, causing them to postpone the launch. On Thursday, issues arose concerning the loading the spacecrafts cryogenic liquid oxygen fuel. SpaceX says now that the fuel loading issue has been solved, and the weather forecast is clear for this evening, so as of this point, all signs point to a successful launch (knock on wood).
A “loading” issue when it comes to rocket fuel might seem like something that should be well in hand before a rocket lifts off for space. However, the SpaceX SES-9 mission’s cryogenic liquid oxygen fuel is a bit unique. The SpaceX cryogenic liquid oxygen used to launch the SES-9 spacecraft is chilled to between negative 300 and 340 degrees Fahrenheit. As such, due to the mild winter weather in Florida, the SpaceX SES-9 isn’t fueled until approximately 30 minutes before actual launch, so that the fuel doesn’t warm up enough to be ineffective. According to SpaceX, the cryogenic nature of the fuel enables the liquid oxygen to be denser, which, in turn allows engineers to load much more fuel into the rocket. Also, the denser fuel equals more thrust for the rocket, allowing to lift heavier payloads – in this case, satellites – into a higher orbit. In addition to that, using cryogenic fuel on the SpaceX rocket gives the company a “bit more breathing room” when attempting first stage rocket landings.
So, what’s so important about the SpaceX launch scheduled for later today? Not only will the SES-9 mission take a geostationary satellite into orbit, it will also attempt one of its much-maligned drone ship landings. In the past SpaceX has tried several such landings onto barges located in the ocean, with limited success.
Not suprisingly, SpaceX is already downplaying the odds of a successful stationary landing.
“…given this mission’s unique GTO profile, a successful landing is not expected.”
At the moment, all SpaceX seems to be worried about is getting the SES-9 mission into orbit successfully. Yes, a landing is scheduled, but it does not seem as if anyone at SpaceX is holding their breath, even according to their own press release. The drone ship being launched today is codenamed: “Of Course I Still Love You.”
Still, SpaceX holds out hope for its landing protocol. Even if the SES-9 rocket crashes and burns upon attempting its landing, SpaceX engineers understand that this real world event will provide crucial data pertaining to future landing attempts. The private spacecraft company realizes that the ability to launch and reuse rockets – something that a safe landing will provide – is crucial to the economic success and viability of its company. While critics have focused on SpaceX’s lack of success when it comes to landing a spacecraft on a barge in the ocean, others have cited how amazing it is that SpaceX has had even limited success. The amount of engineering marvel that has to go into a reuseable spacecraft like the rockets that SpaceX uses is amazing.
SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, is headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and a former PayPal entrepreneur. SpaceX’s goal is to create private technologies that reduce transportation costs. To date it has developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles which are both designed to land safely back on earth once used.
You can watch the SpaceX launch here.
[Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images]