New SpaceX Ship Ready to

September 15, 2016 – 09:27 pm

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SpaceX is gearing up for its seventh paid cargo run to the International Space Station, and the third attempt to catch the spent first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The company is scheduled to launch a Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral this Sunday, June 28 at 10:21 a.m. EDT (14:21 UTC). Dragon is carrying about 1.8 metric tons of cargo and supplies. After the Falcon first stage gives the launch vehicle its initial boost toward orbit, it will separate, perform a boostback burn and come in for an upright landing on a thruster-powered landing platform. The first two attempts were unsuccessful, but close—Falcon made it to the ship both times.


Of Course I Still Love You
SpaceX's second drone ship is dubbed "Of Course I Still Love You, " a nod to a ship from the Iain M. Banks novel "The Player of Games."

Of Course I Still Love YouFor this try, SpaceX’s new drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" will be waiting. It takes over the role originally held by "Just Read the Instructions, " the company’s first autonomous vessel. The names of both ships are a nod to the Iain M. Banks novel "The Player of Games."

In January, Falcon’s hypersonic grid system ran out of hydraulic fluid, causing the rocket to smash awkwardly into the drone ship’s deck. The second outing, in April, was much closer, with the rocket coming down nearly vertical as intended. However, lag in the vehicle’s engine system doomed the attempt, as explained by SpaceX in a recent update:

"That controlled descent was spectacular, but about 10 seconds before landing, a valve controlling the rocket’s engine power (thrust) temporarily stopped responding to commands as quickly as it should have. As a result, it throttled down a few seconds later than commanded, and—with the rocket weighing about 67, 000 lbs and traveling nearly 200 mph at this point—a few seconds can be a very long time. With the throttle essentially stuck on "high" and the engine firing longer than it was supposed to, the vehicle temporarily lost control and was unable to recover in time for landing, eventually tipping over."

SpaceX continues to double down on their efforts to build a reusable rocket system. It’s all part of the company's increasingly large footprint on the Florida coast, where a former Atlas rocket launch site is being converted to a rocket stage landing complex. (Future Falcon landings may skip the barge altogether.) Meanwhile, over at Launch Complex 39A, the space shuttle's old pad, construction continues on a Falcon Heavy launch site.

Jason Davis / The Planetary Society

SpaceX hangar at pad 39A
SpaceX's rocket assembly building is located just down the hill from pad 39A. The facilities will be used for the Falcon Heavy.


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