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The Mission




Rocket: Falcon 1
Mission: Flight 003
Payloads: Trailblazer, PRESat, NanoSail-D
Date: August 2, 2008
Launch Window: 7:00 p.m. to 12 midnight EDT (2300-0400 GMT)
Site: Omelek Island, Kwajalein Atoll

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BY JUSTIN RAY

Follow the third flight of the SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket. Reload this page for the latest on the mission.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6, 2008
2350 GMT (7:50 p.m. EDT)


SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket was brought down Saturday night when the vehicle's first stage collided with the second stage due to residual thrust from the upgraded Merlin engine, the company's founder said Wednesday.

Read our full story.

2132 GMT (5:32 p.m. EDT)

The investigation into Saturday night's failed SpaceX Falcon 1 launch has revealed the spent first stage separated and then recontacted the second stage due to residual thrust from the main engine, the company's founder says.

In a news briefing currently underway, Elon Musk says the explosive bolts fired and stage separation pushers worked as planned but the first stage propelled itself back toward the second stage because of an unexpected "thrust transient" from the Merlin 1C engine.

The rocket was lost in the accident, marking the third straight failure to reach orbit for the privately-developed booster.

He says a quick change to the timing that would delay the stage separation event by 1-2 seconds will prevent this mishap from occurring in the future.

SpaceX will fly its next Falcon 1 -- known as Flight 4 -- on another demonstration test launch, Musk announced. That means the Malaysian satellite payload slated for the next launch will slip to Flight 5.

Check back later today for a full story.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 3, 2008
0557 GMT (1:57 a.m. EDT)


The Falcon 1 rocket, a sleek black-and-white booster built to usher in an era of low-cost space travel, was bitten by failure for the third time in three tries during a dramatic Saturday night launch from the central Pacific.

Read our full story.

0505 GMT (1:05 a.m. EDT)

In the news media briefing that just concluded, Diane Murphy, SpaceX vice president of marketing and communications, described the scene at the company's headquarters where employees gathered to watch the launch:

"There was great elation when we watched the first stage, which was absolutely picture-perfect. And then there was concern when we knew, you know, that something had happened in the stage separation. Interestingly, people here have great resolve. As Elon addressed the employees immediately following this, you know, he addressed the employees and said we will go straight forward with Flight 004. And one of our employees immediately spoke up and said with great resolve 'yes we will, we will get to orbit' and everyone stood up and cheered."

The message from Musk tonight says the next two Falcon 1 rockets being prepared for launches. "SpaceX will not skip a beat in execution going forward. We have Flight 004 of the Falcon 1 almost ready for flight and Flight 005 right behind that."

He's also given a go-ahead to begin fabrication of Flight 006.

An investigation into tonight's mishap is beginning.

0457 GMT (12:57 a.m. EDT)

A statement from SpaceX founder Elon Musk, as delivered to the news media by Diane Murphy, SpaceX vice president of marketing and communications:

"It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit on this Flight 003 of the Falcon 1. On the plus side, the flight of our first stage with the new Merlin 1C regenerative engine that will be used in Falcon 9 was picture-perfect. Unfortunately, a problem occurred at stage separation causing the stages to be held together. This is under investigation."

0452 GMT (12:52 a.m. EDT)

SpaceX is addressing the news media following today's launch of the Falcon 1 rocket. The company says a failure of the first and second stages from separating properly during the launch doomed the rocket.

0445 GMT (12:45 a.m. EDT)

Our initial story on today's failure can be read here.

0355 GMT (11:55 p.m. EDT)

No further information is available from SpaceX at this time. The fate of the rocket is not known.

To recap, the third flight of the SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket began at 11:34 p.m. EDT (0334 GMT) today from Omelek Island in the Kwajalein Atoll of the Central Pacific Ocean.

An initial countdown experienced a shutdown of the main engine moments before liftoff due to a propulsion system parameter being slightly out of limits, SpaceX said. But the launch team was able to resolve the issue quickly. Another countdown was started and the rocket lifted off just 34 minutes later.

Climbing skyward on the power of its kerosene-fueled Merlin 1C engine, the rocket was headed for orbit to deploy the U.S. military's Trailblazer satellite as part of the Operationally Responsive Space effort and NASA's PharmaSat Risk Evaluation spacecraft and the NanoSail-D solar sail payload.

A video camera mounted on the rocket appeared to show some oscillations during the ascent. Whether that was normal or a sign of trouble is not yet clear.

About two minutes, 20 seconds into the ascent, the video broadcast provided by SpaceX was abruptly terminated. A company spokesperson then said there had been "an anomaly" with the launch vehicle.

"We are hearing from the launch control center that there has been an anomaly on the vehicle," said Max Vozoff, a mission manager at SpaceX. "We don't have any information about what that anomaly is at this time. We will, of course, be doing an assessment of the situation and providing information as soon as it becomes available."

The rocket was still flying with no obvious indication of a serious malfunction when the video feed was cut. What sort of "anomaly" that struck the rocket is not unclear.

The two earlier Falcon 1 launches also failed to reach orbit.

0337 GMT (11:37 p.m. EDT)

The SpaceX video broadcast of the launch was terminated about two minutes, 20 seconds into the flight. A spokesperson then announced that there had been "an anomaly" with the launch vehicle.

0336 GMT (11:36 p.m. EDT)

SPACEX SAYS THERE HAS BEEN AN ANOMALY.

0336 GMT (11:36 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 2 minutes. Falcon is soaring entirely on the thrust generated by the Merlin powerplant, which was developed in-house by SpaceX.

0335 GMT (11:35 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 1 minute, 45 seconds. The vehicle is heading eastward with a velocity of 1,050 meters per second at an altitude of 35 kilometers.

0335 GMT (11:35 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 82 seconds. Falcon has passed the region of maximum aerodynamic forces, or MaxQ. The vehicle is traveling at 600 meters per second at an altitude 18.5 kilometers.

0335 GMT (11:35 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 60 seconds. One minute into flight. The Merlin main engine continues to fire, burning a mixture of kerosene fuel and supercold liquid oxygen.

0334 GMT (11:34 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 45 seconds. Falcon systems are reported normal as the vehicle nears Mach 1.

0334 GMT (11:34 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 30 seconds. The 70-foot tall rocket is climbing away from its tropical launch island of the Pacific, riding nearly 78,000 pounds of thrust.

0334 GMT (11:34 p.m. EDT)

T+plus 20 seconds. Falcon is a kilometer up.

0334 GMT (11:34 p.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket, beginning a satellite delivery mission to space for the U.S. military and NASA. And the vehicle has cleared the tower.

0333 GMT (11:33 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 10 seconds. The vehicle tanks have been pressurized. Standing by for ignition of the Merlin 1C main engine.

0333 GMT (11:33 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 30 seconds. The pad's water system has been activated to dampen the acoustics and blast of launch.

0333 GMT (11:33 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 60 seconds. Just one minute away from the launch of Falcon.

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 75 seconds. The vehicle has switched to internal power.

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute, 25 seconds. The Kwajalein Range is "go" for launch.

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute, 45 seconds. The SpaceX launch director has given his final approval for launch.

0332 GMT (11:32 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes and counting.

0331 GMT (11:31 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes, 25 seconds. The liquid oxygen topping is ending.

0331 GMT (11:31 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes. The ignition commanding is enabled by the ground safety officer.

0330 GMT (11:30 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes, 30 seconds.

0330 GMT (11:30 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes. Battery heaters are being turned off.

0328 GMT (11:28 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes, 20 seconds. Vehicle pyrotechnics are being enabled.

0328 GMT (11:28 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 6 minutes. The flight termination safety system has been confirmed ready.

0326 GMT (11:26 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 7 minutes, 20 seconds. The strong-back has reached its launch position.

0325 GMT (11:25 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 9 minutes. The strong-back structure is lowering away again.

0324 GMT (11:24 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 10 minutes and counting. SpaceX has recycled the countdown and will attempt to launch the Falcon 1 rocket in just a few minutes.

0323 GMT (11:23 p.m. EDT)

The countdown has been restarted from the T-minus 11 minute mark.

0310 GMT (11:10 p.m. EDT)

SpaceX says one of the propulsion parameters was about one-percent out of range, triggering the launch abort in the final moments before liftoff. Engineers are analyzing the situation in hopes of making another launch attempt today. The advertised launch window extends until 12 midnight EDT (0400 GMT).

"At this point it is looking promising that we can reset the countdown clock, possibly in the vinicity of T-10 minutes," said Max Vozoff, a mission manager at SpaceX.

0305 GMT (11:05 p.m. EDT)

The strong-back structure has raised back into position next to the rocket. The launch team is assessing what caused the countdown abort and will soon determine whether another liftoff attempt can be made today. During the last Falcon mission a year ago, a similar situation occurred and SpaceX was able to reset the countdown for launch in a relatively swift amount of time after an engine cutoff.

0302 GMT (11:02 p.m. EDT)

The Merlin 1C main engine was firing to life when some sort of issue prompted the computer sequencer to abort the liftoff. The engine shut down and the launch team began the preplanned safing procedures.

0300 GMT (11:00 p.m. EDT)

Some glitch was detected in the final moments of the countdown and the rocket was prevented from lifting off. Safing of the Falcon is underway.

0300 GMT (11:00 p.m. EDT)

ABORT!

0259 GMT (10:59 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 10 seconds. The vehicle tanks have been pressurized. Standing by for ignition of the Merlin 1C main engine.

0259 GMT (10:59 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 30 seconds. The pad's water system has been activated to dampen the acoustics and blast of launch.

0259 GMT (10:59 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 60 seconds. Just one minute away from the launch of Falcon.

0258 GMT (10:58 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 75 seconds. The vehicle has switched to internal power.

0258 GMT (10:58 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute, 30 seconds. The SpaceX launch director and Kwajalein Range have given their final approvals for launch.

0258 GMT (10:58 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes. The liquid oxygen replenishment has been stopped and the systems are being configured for launch.

0257 GMT (10:57 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes. All systems remain "go" for launch as the ignition commanding is enabled by the ground safety officer.

0256 GMT (10:56 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes. Battery heaters are being turned off.

0255 GMT (10:55 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes.

0253 GMT (10:53 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 7 minutes. The strong-back is fully retracted for launch.

0252 GMT (10:52 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 8 minutes. The strong-back structure used to transport and erect the Falcon 1 rocket is slowly lowering away from the vehicle.

0250 GMT (10:50 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 10 minutes. The Terminal Countdown sequence is being initiated. The final phase of today's countdown is underway for liftoff at 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT; 3 p.m. local on Omelek Island).

0248 GMT (10:48 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 12 minutes and counting.

0245 GMT (10:45 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 15 minutes. A readiness poll of the launch team indicates all elements are "go" for liftoff. The Falcon now stands fully fueled for flight.

0240 GMT (10:40 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 20 minutes and counting.

About 10 minutes after liftoff, the U.S. military's Trailblazer satellite will be deployed into Earth orbit from the Falcon 1 rocket.

Developed by SpaceDev of Poway, Calif., the experimental spacecraft is part the Jumpstart Program of the Defense Department's Operationally Responsive Space to demonstrate the rapid construction, testing and launch of a low-cost satellite for the military. The 184-pound craft aims to prove that small spacecraft can be built and put aboard a rocket within a few months.

Once Trailblazer is released, two NASA satellites will separate from the launch vehicle. Release of the PharmaSat Risk Evaluation spacecraft, or PRESat, is expected to occur at about T+plus 14 minutes, followed about four minutes later by the NanoSail-D payload.

PRESat is a micro-laboratory equipped with sensors and optical systems that can detect the growth, density and health of yeast cells. NanoSail-D will unfurl a 100 square foot solar sail, made of ultra-thin, light gossamer fabric.

"We have an experimental payload loaded into an experimental satellite, onboard a privately developed vehicle," says Sandy Montgomery, NanoSail-D payload manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. "We're thrilled with this opportunity to combine our solar sail experience and technology with a new way of doing business."

Scientists hope to detect the slight changes in NanoSail's orbit due to solar pressure and aerodynamic drag a few days into the mission, proving the concept of propellant-less space propulsion technologies using a solar sail.

0235 GMT (10:35 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 25 minutes. SpaceX says the helium loading issue has been resolved. The helium mass and temperature requirements look good now.

0232 GMT (10:32 p.m. EDT)

There are no weather constraints. It's a pretty day in the Kwajalein Atoll.

0225 GMT (10:25 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 35 minutes. The launch team is now active loading both the first and the second stages with RP-1 fuel. And the liquid oxygen tanks are being topped off again.

0215 GMT (10:15 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 45 minutes. Kerosene propellant is being pumped back into the launch vehicle as SpaceX targets a liftoff time of 11:00 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT).

0206 GMT (10:06 p.m. EDT)

The Falcon launch team has initiated the countdown from the T-minus 55 minute mark, heading for another shot at liftoff tonight.

0203 GMT (10:03 p.m. EDT)

The countdown clocks have been reset from T-minus 16 minutes all the way back to T-minus 55 minutes and holding.

0200 GMT (10:00 p.m. EDT)

Our detailed launch preview story posted earlier today can be read here.

0135 GMT (9:35 p.m. EDT)

A SpaceX spokesperson says this launch-delaying problem centers around getting all of the helium aboard the rocket. It's a warm day on the island and it's taking longer than expected to load the final three percent of helium.

While the launch team works through this situation, the kerosene fuel off-loading option was exercised to ensure the propellant doesn't get too cold during the lengthy hold in the countdown.

There's been no official announcement of a new launch time.

0115 GMT (9:15 p.m. EDT)

The propellant offload sequence has been completed as part of this countdown recycle to ensure the chilled helium doesn't make the fuel too cold for launch. The team will soon refuel the rocket with the highly refined kerosene, known as RP-1, in preparation for the upcoming resumption of the countdown to liftoff.

0110 GMT (9:10 p.m. EDT)

SpaceX says officials remain "very confident" the rocket will be able to launch during today's window. The issue being worked is described as "minor."

0102 GMT (9:02 p.m. EDT)

The rocket's flight termination safety system is being taken offline during this extended countdown hold.

0100 GMT (9:00 p.m. EDT)

Weather still looks good. Skies are partly cloudy, temperatures are in the mid 80s F and there's an easterly breeze.

0055 GMT (8:55 p.m. EDT)

This hold in the countdown was called because of the extended time needed to prepare the rocket's helium system. SpaceX has not announced any estimate on when the count could resume this evening. The advertised launch window extends to 12 midnight EDT (0400 GMT).

0049 GMT (8:49 p.m. EDT)

And now the second stage off-load has started. The team is putting the countdown into a recycle.

0048 GMT (8:48 p.m. EDT)

The launch team has been instructed to begin the first stage fuel off-load procedures.

0045 GMT (8:45 p.m. EDT)

There's no word on the cause for this unplanned hold or how long the wait will last.

0040 GMT (8:40 p.m. EDT)

The countdown has stopped at the T-minus 16 minute mark.

0035 GMT (8:35 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 20 minutes. SpaceX is not reporting any technical issues as the countdown continues toward an 8:55 p.m. EDT liftoff.

0033 GMT (8:33 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 22 minutes. Final topping of the helium systems is being performed. Helium is necessary for pressurizing the rocket.

0030 GMT (8:30 p.m. EDT)

A check of the weather indicates conditions are acceptable.

0027 GMT (8:27 p.m. EDT)

The rocket's first and second stages have received their supplies of RP-1 kerosene propellant for flight.

0025 GMT (8:25 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 30 minutes and continuing to count down to the launch of Falcon 1.

0013 GMT (8:13 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 42 minutes. The topping sequence for the first and second stage liquid oxygen tanks has started.

0005 GMT (8:05 p.m. EDT)

Filling of the rocket's first and second stages with their loads of highly refined kerosene propellant has started.

Meanwhile, the Range is making checks of the rocket's flight termination safety system as the countdown proceeds in preparation for today's launch.

0000 GMT (8:00 p.m. EDT)

T-minus 55 minutes and counting. The countdown is proceeding again after experiencing a hold. If all goes well, liftoff will occur at 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT).

2351 GMT (7:51 p.m. EDT)

The launch team is now setting up for an 8:55 p.m. EDT target liftoff time.

2337 GMT (7:37 p.m. EDT)

SpaceX says it expects to resume the countdown shortly, leading toward a liftoff time of 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT).

2333 GMT (7:33 p.m. EDT)

The countdown continues to hold at T-minus 55 minutes. But the liquid oxygen loading operations are proceeding. The second stage has passed the 87 percent level, while the first stage already reached 95 percent to await the topping sequence.

2323 GMT (7:23 p.m. EDT)

The first stage liquid oxygen tank filling has been completed. The second stage LOX tank is half-full.

2320 GMT (7:20 p.m. EDT)

It is late morning on the Omelek launch island. The local time is 11:20 a.m. Sunday. Skies are mostly clear, winds are easterly at 13 mph and a temperature of 86 degrees F.

2312 GMT (7:12 p.m. EDT)

The countdown apparently went into another hold, this one at T-minus 55 minutes. However, there's been no official word from the SpaceX about another launch time adjustment.

2257 GMT (6:57 p.m. EDT)

Fueling of the Falcon 1 rocket is underway. Bright white streams of vapor are being emitted from vents on the vehicle as supercold liquid oxygen is pumped into the rocket.

2235 GMT (6:35 p.m. EDT)

Clocks are running again, ticking down from the T-minus 90 minute point.

2227 GMT (6:27 p.m. EDT)

NEW LAUNCH TIME. Falcon's launch time has been pushed back to 8:00 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT).

2203 GMT (6:03 p.m. EDT)

NEW LAUNCH TIME. Liftoff has been retargeted for 7:30 p.m. EDT today, a SpaceX spokesperson confirms. Fueling is slated to start around 6:35 p.m. EDT.

2140 GMT (5:40 p.m. EDT)

A timeline explaining the events to occur during today's launch can be seen here.

2100 GMT (5:00 p.m. EDT)

The launch countdown has commenced on the tropical island of Omelek. The remote seven-acre island is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. The U.S. military operates the launch range covering the Kwajalein Atoll as part of the Reagan Test Site.

SpaceX says launch pad preparations have been completed and tanks have been purged. The two-stage Falcon 1 rocket will be fueled as the clocks tick closer to liftoff time.

2050 GMT (4:50 p.m. EDT)

Read our detailed launch preview story here.

1812 GMT (2:12 p.m. EDT)

SpaceX today revealed its intentions to launch a Falcon 1 rocket from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Central Pacific. Liftoff is targeted for 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) tonight at the opening of a five-hour launch window.

The company announced the launch plan less than six hours before the appointed liftoff time.

Watch this page for live updates during today's launch.

The rocket will carry small satellites for the U.S. military and NASA. It is the third flight of the privately-developed Falcon 1 following two earlier test launches.

Originally slated to launch without a paying customer's satellite, this Falcon 1 mission was awarded a contract with the Department of Defense's Operational Responsive Space, or ORS, office headquartered at the Pentagon and run from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

The rocket will launch the first mission of the initiative's Jumpstart project, which intends to demonstrate the rapid construction, testing and launch of a low-cost satellite for the military.

The Jumpstart mission also tests the flexibility of payload managers and launch providers by simultaneously preparing three payloads for a single launch. Engineers had to be prepared to support launching any of the spacecraft reviewed by military leaders.

Military officials evaluated three spacecraft for the Jumpstart mission, eventually selecting the Trailblazer spacecraft built by SpaceDev Inc. The satellite was constructed in less than five months, meeting schedule and budget criteria set by the ORS program office.

The Falcon 1 will also carry PreSat and NanoSail-D, two tiny satellites developed by NASA to conduct experiments in orbit.

PreSat will host a self-contained biology experiment, and NanoSail-D will unfurl a small solar sail.

Space Services Inc. will launch two small capsules containing the ashes of more than 200 people, including astronaut Gordon Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan.

The Falcon 1 will also test a payload adapter developed by Malaysian engineers. The adapter will connect the rocket to the RazakSat 2 spacecraft from Malaysia on the Falcon 1's next launch later this year.

Copyright 2008 SpaceflightNow.com, all rights reserved.


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