Photographer Tom McCool was lucky with an open hangar door on Pad 39A on November 27, capturing a new Falcon 9 Block 5 reinforcement in the final stages of pre-launch integration.
It is likely to launch one of the two particularly important payloads sometime in the next 4 to 8 weeks, this alignment drive is aligned with what is expected to be a fairly busy December for SpaceX, marked by four possible launches and preparations for the imminent inaugural flight test of the crew Continue.
– Tom McCool (@ Cygnusx112) November 27, 2018
At this time, SpaceX is sending juggling, integration and pre-flight checks of at least three shiny new Falcon 9 Block 5 rockets before the critical launches of the US Air Force. UU And NASA in December and January. In order of anticipated release date, those impellers are B1050, B1054 and B1051 for CRS-16 (Cargo Dragon), an improved GPS III satellite and DM-1 (Crew Dragon), respectively.
On the east coast, the next SpaceX launch is the 16th operational refueling mission for Cargo Dragon, scheduled to deliver several tons of critical supplies to the International Space Station not before (NET) December 4. Ready to be launched from the Launch Complex of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) of SpaceX (LC-40), the new Booster B1050 of Block 5 is already integrated and ready for use inside the LC-hangar. 40 of the company, pending the arrival and coupling flight of Dragon-tested cargo.
While it is not known what the Dragon's capsule will be, SpaceX has between 4 and 8 spacecraft recovered to choose from, although disposable logs (a removable stern section adorned with solar panels and storage space) must still be built for each future mission of refueling. According to CEO Elon Musk and other SpaceX executives, Cargo Dragon was designed from the start to be capable of at least three orbital missions with renewal, and it is possible that CRS-16 is the third launch of a capsule of this type.
After sending Cargo Dragon and the upper stage to its path, Falcon 9 B1050 will likely make the first recovery from the Return Site to Block 5 (RTLS), making a 180 degree turn and returning to the Florida coast to land. just a few miles away from the launch site.
A cargo dragon tested in flight prepares to launch in support of CRS-14. (Tom Cross)
The CRS-14 flight-tested cargo dragon was captured in orbit in April 2018 by astronaut Oleg Artemyev. (NASA / Oleg Artemyev)
GPS III-01 (the first of many)
Of the five launch contracts competed for the first ten GPS III satellite launches, SpaceX won all five, while Delta IV of ULA received a launch contract for one of those satellites, leaving four more in play in the coming years. The first 'Space Vehicle', the GPS III 01 series number (GPS III-01), is now ready for launch, pending the completion of certain USAF revisions of the recent update of Block 5 Falcon 9 from SpaceX.
Now pointing to NET on December 18, perhaps the most curious aspect of Falcon 9's first GPS launch is the obvious reality that most signals now point to an intentionally expendable configuration of the GPS. new Falcon 9 Booster 5 Booster. Given that SpaceX has made it clear that Block 5 enhancers at least aspire to be able to perform 10 launches with little or no renewal, spending a new reinforcement without even a single reuse would carry a potentially immense opportunity cost.
Booster B1054 is ready to be involved with this mission. Currently it is classified as "Gastable", which means that there is no recovery in the Eastern Range.
This is the passenger: pic.twitter.com/ohJFIz197P
– Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) November 19, 2018
By all reasonable estimate, Falcon 9 Block 5. should be able to place the GPS III satellite of ~ 3900 kg (8600 lb) in a medium Earth orbit with much remaining margin for the recovery of an unmanned ship in the Atlantic. It is likely to be launched aboard Falcon 9 B1054, the only possible explanation for a dispensable mission would be an application (or demand) from the SpaceX customer, the USAF.
The orbital debut of Crew Dragon (DM-1)
Finally, SpaceX and NASA have established, perhaps for the first time in the history of the Commercial Crew Program (PCC), a real date for the first orbital launch of a spacecraft developed under the scope of the program, in this case, the Crew Dragon from SpaceX on a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket. NET on January 7, 2019, that date is certainly tenuous, but it effectively indicates that SpaceX is confident that hardware, software and the operations side in general are ready. SpaceX is now more or less waiting for NASA's terrible and slow bureaucracy to perform the much more mundane tasks of completing the paperwork, coordinating the ISS schedules so that they fit into Crew Dragon and other miscellaneous tasks.
In this illustration, a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is displayed in low Earth orbit. (SpaceX)
DM-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley train for their first flight on the Crew Dragon. (POT)
B1051 made its last static fire in Texas last month and has since been sent to Florida. (SpaceX)
Time will tell, but Operations Director and President Gwynne Shotwell declared in October 2018 that it hoped that Falcon 9 and the first Crew Dragon prepared for orbit were upright on Pad 39A before the end of December. , basically ready for the launch as soon as NASA and the ISS programming is ready to allow it. It is almost impossible to know for sure, but the rocket seen on Tuesday in the Pad 39A hangar could be the Falcon 9 B1051 and a ready-for-crew top stage preparing for the first Crew Dragon autonomous test flight, or it could be B1054 ( unconfirmed) in the last stages of preparation for the imminent launch of the Space III GPS III.
Everything will be clarified in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the next SpaceX launch, SSO-A on the west coast, has slipped in early December thanks to unusually harsh weather conditions above the launch pad.