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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket spied on Pad 39A while the December launch quartet aligns



Photographer Tom McCool was lucky on an open shed door at Pad 39A on Nov. 27, catching a new reminder of Falcon 9 Block 5 in the final stages of pre-launch integration.

Likely to launch one of two particularly important payloads over the next 4 to 8 weeks, this recall is in line with what should be a busy December for SpaceX, marked by four possible launches and preparations in view of the impending inaugural flight of Crew. Dragon.

For now, SpaceX is boarding, integrating and pre-flight checks of at least three new brilliant Falcon 9 Block 5 rockets before the critical launches of the US Air Force and NASA in December and January. In order of expected launch date, these boosters are B1050, B1054 and B1051 for CRS-16 (Cargo Dragon), an upgraded GPS III satellite and the DM-1 (Crew Dragon), respectively.

CRS-16

On the East Coast, the next SpaceX launch is Cargo Dragon's 16th operational replenishment mission, which will deliver several tons of critical supplies to the International Space Station by December 4 (NET). Launched from SpaceX's Cap Canaveral Air Force (CCAFS) Complex Complex 40 (LC-40), the new Block 5 B1050 booster is already integrated and ready for use in the LC-40 hangar of the company, in anticipation of the arrival and fixing of a tried – and – tested Dragon Cargo in flight.

A cargo dragon approaches the ISS. (Oleg Artemyev)

Although the Dragon capsule is not known, SpaceX offers a choice of 4 to 8 spacecraft retrieved, although expendable trunks (a removable rear section with solar panels and storage space) still need to be built for each upcoming replenishment mission. According to CEO Elon Musk and other SpaceX executives, Cargo Dragon was designed from the ground up to perform at least three refurbished orbital missions and it is possible that CRS-16 is the third launch of such a capsule .

After sending Dragon Cargo and the upper tier on their way, the Falcon 9 B1050 will likely perform the first recovery of the Block 5 Launch Return Site (RTLS), flipping 180 degrees and returning back to the Florida coast to land a few miles away. from the launch site.

GPS III-01 (the first among others)

SpaceX has won five launch contracts for the first ten GPS III satellite launches, while ULA Delta IV has been awarded a launch contract for one of these satellites, leaving four more in the coming years. The first "spacecraft", the GPS III 01 (GPS III-01) serial number, is now ready for launch, pending the completion of some US Air Force reviews of the upgrade recent block 5 Falcon Falcon 9 by SpaceX.

December 18, the most curious aspect of the first launch of GPS by Falcon 9 is the NET. This is the glaring reality that most signs currently indicate an intentionally lost configuration of the system. New Falcon 9 Block 5 booster. Given that SpaceX has made it clear that Block 5 thrusters are aiming at least to be able to make 10 launches with little or no renovation, spending a fresh booster without even a single re-use would be an opportunity cost. potentially huge.

According to any reasonable estimate, Falcon 9 Block 5 should to be able to place the GPS III satellite of approximately 3900 kg (8600 lb) in a medium Earth orbit with a large margin for the recovery of a drone vessel in the Atlantic. Likely to embark on the Falcon 9 B1054, the only possible explanation for an expendable mission would be a request (or a request) from the SpaceX customer, the US Air Force.

Dragon Crew Orbital Debut (DM-1)

Finally, SpaceX and NASA have – perhaps for the first time in the history of the Commercial Crew Program (PCC) – set the actual date of the first orbital launch of a spacecraft developed under the responsibility of the program, in this case the SpaceX Crew Dragon at the top of a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket. NET January 7, 2019, this date is certainly tenuous, but it does indicate that SpaceX is certain that hardware, software and general operations are entirely acceptable. SpaceX now more or less expects NASA's terribly slow bureaucracy to perform much more mundane tasks of performing administrative tasks, coordinating ISS schedules to adapt to Crew Dragon. and other miscellaneous tasks.

Time will tell, but the operations director and President Gwynne Shotwell said in October 2018 that she was fully expecting Falcon 9 and the first orbit-ready Dragon Crew to be at Pad 39A before the end of December, ready to be launched from NASA. and ISS planning are ready to authorize it. It is almost impossible to know for sure, but the rocket spotted on Tuesday in the Pad 39A hangar could very well be the Falcon 9 B1051 and a high stage ready to welcome the crew preparing for the first flight. Crew Dragon standalone test, or B1054 (unconfirmed) in the final stages of preparation for the imminent launch of SpaceX GPS III.

Everything will be specified in the coming weeks. At the same time, the next launch of SpaceX – SSO-A on the west coast – gained momentum in the early days of December due to unusually severe weather conditions over the launch pad.


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