SpaceX rocket enters California port after interplanetary launch
The first SpaceX Falcon 9 booster to help launch a payload directly into interplanetary space has arrived safely at a California port.
On November 24, the Falcon 9 B1063 took off from SpaceX’s SLC-4E west coast launch site for the second time in about a year, successfully sending a non-reusable upper stage and the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART ) from NASA en route to interplanetary space. In addition to marking the first time SpaceX has sent a paid customer’s functional spacecraft past the Earth-Moon system’s gravity “sink”, SpaceX has done so with a flight-proven Falcon booster – a first for NASA’s Launch Service Program (LSP).
For the Falcon 9 B1063, this was also the first time the thruster had performed a landing and recovery in the Pacific Ocean, landing on the recently relocated Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) drone at approximately 650 km (~ 400 mi) southeast of the central coast of California.
Towed behind the tug Scorpius, the Falcon 9 B1063 sailed into the Port of Long Beach (adjacent to the Port of Los Angeles) aboard the drone ship OCISLY two and a half days after landing. SpaceX’s oldest and best-known drone, OCISLY, supported 52 Falcon thruster recovery attempts off the East Coast (45 successfully) before the company decided to transfer the ship to its salvage fleet from the West Coast. In its relatively advanced age, OCISLY is undernourished and relatively difficult to operate and maintain compared to the newer ships Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) and A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG). This makes it a perfect fit for SpaceX’s California launch facilities, which are also relatively old and are only able to support one Falcon launch per month.
In comparison, JRTI and ASOG are designed to support at least one or two Falcon booster landings every two weeks, while SpaceX’s more modern LC-39A and LC-40 Florida pads have both supported two launches. consecutive Falcon 9 in ten days. or less. On the flip side, SLC-4E’s record-breaking turnaround time is 36 days – almost four times slower – and SpaceX’s best goal for the newly revived pad is to perform an average launch on the west coast monthly. Perhaps due to Starlink’s production shortages and / or issues with the redesigned V1.5 satellite, it seems increasingly unlikely that SpaceX can come close to that pace in 2021.
There are still some reasons to be optimistic. Even if SpaceX were to “just” match its previous 36-day Vandenberg turnaround record, that would technically preserve the possibility of a December 30 or 31 launch. More importantly, photos from NASA’s DART launch campaign recently revealed that SpaceX already has a second fully integrated (no payload) Falcon 9 rocket inside its SLC-4E hangar. This rocket – Falcon 9 booster B1051 with a new top stage already installed – was originally scheduled to launch Starlink 2-3 (laser-linked satellites in polar orbit) on October 17.
Several weeks of delays – most likely involving the mission’s Starlink payload – prevented an October launch and ultimately pushed the launch back to December once it occurred within four or five weeks of NASA’s DART mission. , which was a priority. Hopefully, SpaceX has fixed all of the issues that have anchored the mission over the past six weeks, potentially allowing a West Coast Starlink launch just a month after DART – around the last full week of December.
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