Wednesday, August 31, 2016

SpaceX JCSAT-16 Mission: A Beautiful Night Launch...And Landing!

On Sunday, August 14, SpaceX launched a Japanese satellite into orbit, the JSAT 16, as part of a beautiful night launch, topped off by a perfect landing of the rocket's first stage on SpaceX's ocean-going barge "Just Read The Instructions".

Image credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 on the pad at Cape Canaveral after sunset on launch night

Image credit: SpaceX
JCSAT 16 mission patch

This was the second time that a JSAT Corporation satellite traveled to orbit atop a SpaceX rocket.The first was JCSAT 14. The JCSAT network is designed to support and expand communication services across Asia. Prior to choosing SpaceX as a launch provider, JSAT Corporation's satellites usually launched on Europe's Ariane rocket from Kourou, French Guinea.

Image credit: SpaceX
Liftoff of Falcon 9 with JCSAT 16 payload at 1:26 am EDT, right at the start of a 2-hour launch window

Source: SpaceX
Graphic illustrating Falcon 9 launch and landing arc

JCSAT 16 was launched to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), an orbit much further out than a low Earth orbit (LEO) destination such as the International Space Station. Since Falcon 9 had to travel further, it had little fuel left prior to re-entry, and thus fewer options to maneuver using controlled burns to reach the landing destination. A Falcon 9 returning from geostationary transfer orbit lands harder than one returning from a mission to the ISS. After a previous mission to GTO, Falcon 9's recovered first stage listed visibly to one side on the barge as it returned to port, an indication that at least some of the rocket's struts and dampers had been pushed to the limits of their capability during touchdown.

Below is SpaceX's full webcast for the launch and landing. As always, the entire video is worth watching, but if you want to skip to the good parts, the legend on the bottom tells you when the launch, landing and payload delivery events occur.

Video source: SpaceX
Live webcast from SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, CA, detailing all the stages of the mission.