Tuesday, August 5, 2014

For the Record Books

Click the arrow to watch the Falcon 9 AsiaSat 8 launch. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.

SpaceX has made history many times since its first Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 4, 2010, but today's early morning launch from Pad 40 shattered several records to go along with a good night's sleep for Space Coast residents.

The 4:00 AM launch came 21 days 16 hours and 45 minutes (according to a SpaceX source) after their last launch on July 14 of the Orbcomm OG2 mission.

Using various lists online of launches at CCAFS pads in the 21st Century, I used a Microsoft Excel workbook to calculate the importance of today's launch.

The just-under-22-days turnaround is a modern-era (2000 - present) record for shortest turnaround of a CCAFS pad to launch again. The previous record holder? SpaceX, earlier this year — 34 days between SES-8 on December 3, 2013 and Thaicom 6 on January 6, 2014.

The other pads researched were Launch Complex 37 with the Boeing Delta IV, Launch Complex 41 with the Lockheed Martin Atlas V, and Launch Complex 17 with the Boeing Delta II. LC-17 went inactive in 2012; it had two pads, so each pad was counted as a separate facility.

The modern-era minimum turnarounds per pad:

  • Pad 17A — 53 days
  • Pad 17B — 41 days
  • Pad 37 — 72 days
  • Pad 40 — 22 days
  • Pad 41 — 42 days

It should be noted that SpaceX has a different business model from Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which operate Pads 37 and 41 in a partnership called United Launch Alliance. ULA was granted a legal monopoly by the federal government in 2005 in the hope that, by eliminating competition and paying the alliance for block-buy launches, the government would have launch vehicles available on demand. That drove the commercial satellite launch business overseas; the Falcon 9 SES-8 launch in December 2013 was the first commerical satellite launch at CCAFS since 2009.

So while ULA pads sit idle awaiting the next government order, SpaceX must deliver for a variety of government and commercial customers by keeping the launch line rolling.

SpaceX will try to break its new record later this month, when it's scheduled to launch AsiaSat 6 the night of August 25.

Another record fell with this morning's launch. The Cape pulled off three launches in eight days — the Delta IV on July 28, the Atlas V on August 2, and the Falcon 9 this morning. That's three launches in eight days. In the modern era, the prior record for three launches was 26 days in late 2004 - early 2005.

UPDATE August 5, 2014 7:00 PM EDT — Today's successful launch also assures it will have been at least sixteen years since the last time a rocket was destroyed on launch from CCAFS. The last was a Titan IV A20 launched from LC-41 on August 12, 1998.

Click the arrow to watch the Titan IV launch and explosion. Video source: Hamilton's Military Channel YouTube channel.

UPDATE August 6, 2014 — I found a shorter period for three launches than the just-broken 26 days, 20 days between September 27 - October 17, 2007. The launches were at Pad 17B on September 27, Pad 41 on October 11, and Pad 17A on October 17.

In doing the other calculations, I'd ignored the few Titan IV launches off Pad 40 in the early 2000s. They did not affect any of the above mentioned records.

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