BY JUSTIN RAY
Follow the launch of the first SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2005
The inaugural Falcon 1 rocket suffered structural damage during a launch attempt Monday when its first stage fuel tank was sucked inward from the vacuum created by a faulty pressure valve, technicians' initial investigation has revealed. Read our full story.
2045 GMT (3:45 p.m. EST)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has issued the following statement:
"Launch is scrubbed until early next year, as there is a structural issue with the 1st stage fuel tank that will require repair. I will provide further comment as soon as this has been carefully analyzed.
"Consistent with our policy, we must be 100% green for launch with no outstanding concerns whatsoever. It is not just a matter of repairing the damage, but also understanding at a fundamental level how to ensure it never happens again. We will also do another full review of all the vehicle systems, including propulsion, structures, avionics, software and ground support systems. Therefore, I expect that the earliest that launch would occur is late January. Third time's the charm."
2000 GMT (3:00 p.m. EST)
Safing of the vehicle and ground systems continue. Crews will be heading back to the launch island to examine the Falcon 1 rocket's first stage, SpaceX says. Officials at the company headquarters in California aren't exactly sure what the "structural issue" is with the vehicle.
1930 GMT (2:30 p.m. EST)
SpaceX says it will release additional information on the problem that has scrubbed today's launch of the Falcon 1 when details become available from Kwajalein.
1926 GMT (2:26 p.m. EST)
"We did find a structural issue on the first stage fuel tank. It will require repair," says Gwynne Shotwell, the SpaceX vice president of business development.
The U.S. Army-run launch range is closing on Wednesday for the holidays. That pushes the next available launch opportunity to January at the earliest.
1925 GMT (2:25 p.m. EST)
SCRUB! Launch of the first Falcon 1 rocket has been scrubbed until early next year. More details to follow.
1910 GMT (2:10 p.m. EST)
Standing by for further official information from SpaceX.
1900 GMT (2:00 p.m. EST)
Today's launch window is now open. However, the countdown has been stopped due to the strong winds at the launch site. Officials are waiting for the winds to ease before proceeding with the launch attempt of the first Falcon 1 rocket.
1854 GMT (1:54 p.m. EST)
T-minus 15 minutes and holding. The countdown has gone into a hold of some sort, presumably due to the weather.
1845 GMT (1:45 p.m. EST)
T-minus 15 minutes. The audio link between the SpaceX-hosted news media line and the launch site has been lost. We're awaiting further information on the countdown.
1838 GMT (1:38 p.m. EST)
T-minus 22 minutes and counting. "The folks on Kwaj. are feeling great," says Gwynne Shotwell, the SpaceX vice president of business development. "The winds were very low this morning. So we were hoping to not have weather issues. But as long as everybody remains patient we're going to get this rocket to go today, hopefully."
1837 GMT (1:37 p.m. EST)
T-minus 23 minutes and counting. The first stage RP-1 tank is 90 to 95 percent full, the second stage has reached the 75 to 80 percent level, SpaceX says.
1836 GMT (1:36 p.m. EST)
T-minus 24 minutes and counting. It is still dark in Kwajalein. The launch time is 7 a.m. local time.
1833 GMT (1:33 p.m. EST)
T-minus 27 minutes and counting. The fluctuating wind conditions at the launch site are now above the allowable limit for liftoff, officials just announced. Earlier, the winds were reported to be 7 knots. The 24-knot constraint is in place to ensure stiff winds don't force the rocket to drift into its pad structure at launch.
1830 GMT (1:30 p.m. EST)
T-minus 30 minutes and counting. The launch team is reporting winds of 24 knots. That is the upper limit allowed at launch time.
1829 GMT (1:29 p.m. EST)
T-minus 31 minutes and counting. Fueling of both stages with RP-1 fuel is proceeding. Both tanks are nearing half-full.
1827 GMT (1:27 p.m. EST)
T-minus 33 minutes and counting. Safety checks are being performed between the range and the rocket's flight termination system. Unlike other American-built rockets that use an explosive destruct system to destroy a vehicle that experiences a problem or veers off course during launch, SpaceX has designed Falcon with a "thrust termination system" that shuts down the main engine to end a flight.
1822 GMT (1:22 p.m. EST)
T-minus 38 minutes and counting. A round of checks between the rocket and the launch range is beginning. Crews are testing the link with the C-band beacon. This system is used to track the Falcon as it flies downrange.
1820 GMT (1:20 p.m. EST)
T-minus 40 minutes and counting. Falcon has been configured for loading the first stage with its supply of RP-1 kerosene.
1815 GMT (1:15 p.m. EST)
T-minus 45 minutes and counting. The "go" has been given to the launch team to begin pumping a highly refined kerosene fuel, called RP-1, into the Falcon rocket's second stage. The propellant will be consumed with the liquid oxygen loaded earlier today to power the stage's Kestrel engine.
1806 GMT (1:06 p.m. EST)
Gwynne Shotwell, the SpaceX vice president of business development, says everything is looking good for launch at 2 p.m. EST today.
The rocket's second stage liquid oxygen tank has been loaded. The first stage tank is being filled now, with 82 percent aboard.
Kerosene fueling of both stages is coming up.
The Army-run range is experiencing a problem with one of the radar sites. However, there is another site available and this won't be a constraint to launch, Shotwell said.
1755 GMT (12:55 p.m. EST)
SpaceX says launch is still scheduled for 2 p.m. EST. The company plans to begin providing updates to reporters around 1:30 p.m. We'll post the status updates here.
1650 GMT (11:50 a.m. EST)
The customer for today's launch is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
"DARPA invented the internet, stealth technology, and unmanned aerial vehicles, and we are excited about working with a small, commercial company to invent affordable and responsive space launch. DARPA understands that there is technical risk in the first flight of a commerciallydeveloped small launch vehicle, but that's what we are about - assuming some technical risks in order to take the technology excuses off the table and transition revolutionary technical capabilities to the warfighter, in this case the Air Force Space Command," said Dr. Steve Walker, DARPA mission director.
"We have teamed with SpaceX to prove this country can launch spacecraft in an affordable and responsive way. This is good for the American taxpayer and for the American warfighter. Over the past two years, DARPA has worked with SpaceX and the Reagan Test Site to prepare for this launch. The Reagan Test Site has been outstanding to work with and assures us this will be a safe launch. SpaceX recently completed engine acceptance and qualification testing, and a Limited Mission Risk Assessment (LMRA) by the Air Force Detachment 12 Rocket Space Launch Program concluded that there were "no show stoppers" on the launch vehicle side. After reviewing the RTS range safety status, SpaceX vehicle status, and the LMRA results, I gave the 'green light' to proceed to launch on November 26.
"On November 26, our team was disappointed that a second attempt could not be made due to a LOX shortage, but we feel that a complete wet dress rehearsal has now been accomplished and that the likelihood of a successful launch in the near future has increased. We are pulling for this young company to succeed and continue to be impressed with their work ethic and problem solving abilities. Finally, we commend the Reagan Test Site for all they have done in working with SpaceX to get to this point."
1540 GMT (10:40 a.m. EST)
Launch of Falcon is less than three-and-a-half hours away.
SpaceX says it has condensed the countdown timeline from the previous attempt, reducing an hour from the sequence. Today's count should take three hours.
CEO Elon Musk reported yesterday that his company has made these enhancements to the Falcon launch day procedure:
- More computer controlled operations vs manual
- Improved ground support equipment to load propellant/pressurant faster
- Worked with range safety to speed up checkout of the thrust termination system
- Changed to simultaneous load of LOX and fuel on both stages
"Having a responsive launch capability is important to DARPA and the Air Force (and us for cost reasons), so we've put a lot of effort into streamlining the countdown," Musk said.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2005
SpaceX is ready to take its second shot at launching the first Falcon 1 rocket. Liftoff of the completely new space booster is scheduled 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) on Monday.
Earlier problems with an engine computer and limited supplies of liquid oxygen and helium have been resolved.
Read our story previewing Falcon rocket's planned ascent to orbit here. The article was written prior to the initial launch attempt last month.
And watch this page for updates on Monday. We'll provide coverage as information becomes available.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2005
SpaceX has officially rescheduled the inaugural launch of the Falcon 1 rocket for 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) Monday. A launch window will extend eight hours to 10 p.m. EST.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2005
Fresh supplies for the commercially developed Falcon 1 rocket are en route to the tiny launch island in the Pacific, giving Space Exploration Technologies hopes of flying the booster's maiden mission before the holidays. Read our full story.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2005
A frustrating scrub Saturday ended the first shot at launching the privately-developed Falcon 1 rocket, delaying until sometime in December the debut mission of this new low-cost booster fleet that could revolutionize the space marketplace.
Space Exploration Technologies was hoping to get its initial rocket into orbit from Omelek Island, a tiny dot of land among the Kwajalein Atoll located in the Central Pacific Ocean. Technical snags with ground fueling equipment at the launch pad, however, thwarted efforts to ready the 70-foot tall vehicle for its planned liftoff.
"As I warned, the likelihood of an all new rocket launching from an all new launch pad on its first attempt is low," SpaceX founder Elon Musk said following the scrub.
It was a confusing day with conflicting information and spotty communications for reporters trying to cover the historic flight via SpaceX headquarters.
Read our full story.
0051 GMT (7:51 p.m. EST Sat.)
SCRUB! Today's launch attempt has been called off. The next opportunity comes at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) Sunday, a SpaceX spokesman says.
0050 GMT (7:50 p.m. EST Sat.)
The launch team is going through safing procedures and depressurizing the vehicle tanks. Standing by for further word.
0049 GMT (7:49 p.m. EST Sat.)
The countdown will not resume in one minute.
0043 GMT (7:43 p.m. EST Sat.)
The launch team is refilling helium tanks and performing some other procedures before the countdown resumes for liftoff this evening.
0040 GMT (7:40 p.m. EST Sat.)
T-minus 10 minutes and holding. The countdown has gone into a final hold. Liftoff time is now being targeted for 8 p.m. EST.
0025 GMT (7:25 p.m. EST Sat.)
The SpaceX team has successfully resolved the launch pad tank problem, clearing the way for liftoff the Falcon 1 rocket at 7:50 p.m. EST.
Earlier in the countdown, a valve on one of the ground liquid oxygen tanks refused to close. A manual hands-on fix was required, prompting the small crew to travel over to Omelek Island and make that adjustment.
The team has been racing to get the valve closed to prevent too much super cold liquid oxygen from escaping, which would cause a lengthy resupply of the pad commodities.
But that valve has now been closed, and reserve liquid oxygen has been transferred from low-pressure tanks to the high-pressure tanks used for re-fueling the rocket. The cryogenic oxidizer naturally boils away aboard the rocket, necessitating replenishment through the countdown.
0001 GMT (7:01 p.m. EST Sat.)
To recap, launch of the first Falcon 1 rocket is on hold while technicians resolve some sort of liquid oxygen fueling issue at the pad. The exact nature of the delay is not clear. Earlier information indicated the pad's storage tanks needed to be replenished; however, later updates from SpaceX said there was a pressurization problem that was interfering with fueling the rocket's upper stage.
In any event, a crew was dispatched to Omelek Island to do some kind of work. Liftoff has been delayed as a result. SpaceX has adjusted the end of today's launch opportunity to 10 p.m. EST (0300 GMT).
SpaceX also reported that cloud cover over the Central Pacific launch site was unacceptable for liftoff earlier today.
2353 GMT (6:53 p.m. EST)
The launch window has been lengthened an additional two hours -- to 10 p.m. EST (0300 GMT). A spokesman for SpaceX says it still looks good that launch will happen today.
2350 GMT (6:50 p.m. EST)
The team continues to work on the launch pad liquid oxygen tanks. Countdown activities remain on hold. A new launch time hasn't been established.
2325 GMT (6:25 p.m. EST)
There is the potential to extend today's launch window beyond the 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT) advertised closure time, SpaceX says.
2323 GMT (6:23 p.m. EST)
A SpaceX spokesman now says that there was a problem getting the needed pressure for loading liquid oxygen into the rocket's second stage. So the ground crew is working on ground tanks at the pad.
2315 GMT (6:15 p.m. EST)
A support crew has arrived back on Omelek Island where Falcon stands atop its launch pad. The workers are gathering around the ground propellant tanks.
2255 GMT (5:55 p.m. EST)
SpaceX officials say they still intend to launch today. But it is expected to take about two hours to refill the launch pad liquid oxygen system and refuel the rocket.
Today's launch window runs until 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT). Whether the window could be extended isn't clear.
2240 GMT (5:40 p.m. EST)
SpaceX says liftoff will be delayed at least one to two hours to refill the liquid oxygen supplies at the launch pad. The super cold oxidizer naturally warms up and boils away once loaded into the rocket, causing the vehicle to require continuous replenishment through the countdown. Today's extended delay apparently used up the pad's reserve. Whether liftoff can still occur today is unclear.
The resupply will come from the main island of Kwajalein, a SpaceX spokesperson said.
Both stages of the Falcon 1 rocket burns liquid oxygen and a highly refined kerosene propellant for its Merlin first stage and Kestrel second stage engines.
2215 GMT (5:15 p.m. EST)
Countdown clocks remain stopped at T-minus 10 minutes because of unfavorable weather conditions over the launch site. There is no information from officials on the weather forecast or the chances for improvement.
2200 GMT (5:00 p.m. EST)
Flying through thick clouds or electrically-charged clouds can cause a space booster to generate "rocket-triggered lightning" that would damage the vehicle's vital avionics. Exactly what the weather concern is today in Kwajalein has not been announced.
2155 GMT (4:55 p.m. EST)
There's no word on how long this weather-induced hold in the countdown could last. Also, it is unclear of the cloud cover was the reason for the earlier hour-long delay or if something else was to blame.
2150 GMT (4:50 p.m. EST)
T-minus 10 minutes and holding. SpaceX now says the countdown is holding due to unacceptable cloud conditions over the launch site.
2145 GMT (4:45 p.m. EST)
A SpaceX spokewoman says liftoff is now anticipated around 5:10 p.m. EST.
2142 GMT (4:42 p.m. EST)
The countdown has now progressed inside 20 minutes to launch, SpaceX says. Retraction of the mobile support trailer away from the Falcon 1 rocket is expected momentarily, a spokesman says.
2130 GMT (4:30 p.m. EST)
There has been no further update on the situation. Launch is believed to be rescheduled for 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT).
2105 GMT (4:05 p.m. EST)
Today's available launch window is expected to remain open for four hours, running from 4 to 8 p.m. EST (2100-0100 GMT).
2059 GMT (3:59 p.m. EST)
HOLD. A SpaceX spokesperson just announced that liftoff has been delayed an hour, according to an email company officials in the U.S. received from the Kwajalein launch site. At what point the countdown is holding, why the countdown has stopped and the nature of the problem are unanswered questions right now.
2050 GMT (3:50 p.m. EST)
The countdown should be entering the last 10 minutes to launch of Falcon 1.
2041 GMT (3:41 p.m. EST)
T-minus 19 minutes and counting. SpaceX says the countdown is continuing for liftoff at 4 p.m. EST.
2015 GMT (3:15 p.m. EST)
We're awaiting further information from SpaceX on the status of today's countdown to launch. Updates on the mission will be posted here when they become available.
1735 GMT (12:35 p.m. EST)
Today's launch of Falcon 1 remains on schedule. Fueling operations are coming up in the countdown.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2005
After three years of development, SpaceX's privately-made Falcon 1 rocket is set for its debut launch Saturday from a seven-acre isle in the Central Pacific. Liftoff remains targeted for 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT).
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. founder Elon Musk cautions, however, that delays could be inevitable for this critical inaugural launch.
"This is a brand new rocket from a brand new launch site, so I would characterize that time as the first launch attempt. Miracles can happen and it may actually happen on that exact time, but it is not a certainty," he told reporters at a news conference last week.
The day's launch opportunity extends four hours to 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT).
Read our story previewing Falcon rocket's planned ascent to orbit here.
And watch this page for updates on Saturday. We'll provide coverage as information becomes available.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2005
0125 GMT (8:25 p.m. EST Thurs.)
DELAY! Friday's flight of the first Falcon 1 rocket has been postponed 24 hours due to a scheduling conflict at the U.S. Army-run Kwajalein launch range where the commercial booster will lift off, SpaceX just announced.
"In order to facilitate preparations for a missile defense launch, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) has bumped the SpaceX Falcon 1 maiden flight from its officially scheduled launch date," SpaceX said in a statement.
The Falcon launch has been reset for 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) Saturday.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2005
A commercial space company, created by a wealthy man with lofty ambitions, stands on the verge of its inaugural rocket launch this week.
Much more than a small U.S. military payload is riding on Friday's blastoff of Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 1 rocket from a tiny island in the Central Pacific. A successful maiden flight of this remarkably low-cost booster has the potential to shake up the business of spaceflight.
But the Falcon 1 vehicle must prove it actually works as advertised.
Read our mission preview story here.