The recoverable first stage version of the Space X Falcon V1.1 series of launch vehicles successfully placed the NASA DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) on a trajectory towards the L1 position, the place on the Earth-Sun line line where the Sun and Earth gravitational fields balance. The launch took place from the Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida at 2303 GMT on 11 June 2015 after delays including a fault with a ground radar and a delay due to high winds. The planned attempt to land the first stage of the launch vehicle on a remotely controlled barge landing pad was scrubbed due to high seas and the stage made a mock hover to land splash down into the sea instead.
Originally designed as a long-range Earth observational spacecraft promoted by the then Vice President of the US, Al Gore, the DSCOVR spacecraft – dubbed Triana and nicknamed Goresat – was mothballed in 2001 after losing financial and political support. The project was resuscitated in 2009 and the spacecraft removed from storage and modified to become a solar weather sentinel. It was able to give warning of and measure solar storms via their effect on the solar wind.
The Deep Space Climate Observatory is managed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a partnership with NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
While Space X has given up on pursuing the development of a reusable second stage – at least for now – it is completing the development of a new “enhanced” high thrust version of the Falcon V1.1 launch vehicle in which its Merlin 1D engines will be rated at 117% with concomitant and necessary changes to the engine’s cooling systems, tankage and rocket structure. The satellite operator SES has just agreed to put its new 5,300kg SES-9 spacecraft on the first launch of this type in the second quarter of this year.
In addition, SpaceX is planning the first flight of its Falcon 9 Heavy, which is a Falcon 9 first stage core and two Falcon 9 first stage booster version of the Falcon 9. Eventually there are plans to recover these stages back to a launch site in Florida. The US Air Force has signed a five year lease of the defunct Launch Complex 13 site with SpaceX for this purpose.
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