Tuesday, January 7, 2014

SpaceX Lights the Candle

Click the arrow to watch the SpaceX Thaicom-6 launch on YouTube.

Two friends in the space industry had birthdays on January 6, so it was only appropriate that SpaceX would light one big candle for them.

It was also a big candle for SpaceX, which continues to silence detractors who claim their vehicles are unsafe and unreliable.

The Thaicom-6 launch was perhaps the most uneventful of all Falcon 9 launches to date, leaving me to wonder as I left NASA Causeway if SpaceX will become so routine that we'll find their launches boring.

So routine for them, that their next launch is scheduled for late February, sending the Dragon capsule to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

I was on NASA Causeway filming the launch, about four miles to the southeast just outside the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station gate. This is a popular place for badged employees, with bleachers and volunteers doing traffic control. For NASA and United Launch Alliance launches, speakers carry the audio of the launch broadcasts. With SpaceX, I rely on their webcasts which I can hear over my cameraphone, although it's usually running a few seconds behind.

SpaceX has twelve more Cape Canaveral launches on their 2014 manifest — seven commercial launches, four ISS resupply flights and their first military payload. It's unlikely that all those will fly in 2014, but if they come anywhere close to that it will shake the launch industry to its core.

A military global positioning system satellite, GPS IIF-5, has been postponed since October. It's been on the pad at Launch Complex 37 ever since, as Delta tries to decide what to do about an upper stage motor issue. If SpaceX had sat there for three months and counting, their critics would heap abuse on the company for its failure to launch on schedule.

The Delta IV and its earthbound payload were clearly visible yesterday from NASA Causeway, as if watching helplessly as the Falcon 9 launched from the neighboring Pad 40.

I know that a failure is in SpaceX's future, but I wonder when the day will come that the space industry won't hold SpaceX to a different standard than its OldSpace competitors.

It's a busy week for NewSpace, with the Orbital Sciences Antares scheduled to launch the Cygnus cargo carrier to the ISS on January 8.

Click the arrow to watch the SpaceKSC.com video of the launch from NASA Causeway.

Media reports:

Aviation Week “Falcon 9 Launches With Thaicom 6; Deployment Confirmation Tardy”

BBC News “Second High-Orbit Launch for SpaceX”

CBS News “SpaceX Rocket Launches, Boosts Satellite into Orbit”

Florida Today “SpaceX Starts New Year with Success”

Forbes “SpaceX Successfully Launches Thaicom Satellite”

Reuters “SpaceX Falcon Rocket Lifts Off with Thaicom Digital TV Satellite”

Spaceflight Now “SpaceX Kicks Off the Year with Launch of Thai Satellite”

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