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Old 23rd Feb 2016, 11:18
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Sick burn, brah: SpaceX test fires rockets for SES bird launch this week
Get ready for another launch, another attempt for water landing

23 Feb 2016 at 01:56, Iain Thomson

SpaceX reports that it's ready to roll for Wednesday's satellite launch, which will be followed by another attempt to get one of the Falcon 9 rockets to land on a water-borne platform.

Luxembourg-based SES is paying SpaceX to loft a new communications satellite into geostationary orbit along the equator at 108.2 degrees east longitude. The current launch window is available from Wednesday at 1846 ET (2346 UTC) and for about two hours after that point.

The new satellite, dubbed SES-9, will be used to provide data and video services across Asia. The SpaceX rocket will deliver the satellite most of the way, then its electrically powered ion thrusters will take the hardware into the required orbital position over the next few months.

On Monday, SpaceX lit up the rocket that will (hopefully) deliver its hardware cargo. Because the rocket uses liquid rather than solid fuel, the rockets can be switched off and on again without too much trouble. These static burns all look good to go, SpaceX reports.

Full-duration static fire completed. Targeting Wednesday for launch of SES-9 satellite @SES_Satellites pic.twitter.com/lp6nxGvUuH

Once the payload has been delivered, SpaceX will attempt to land the rocket again for testing and possibly reuse it. Because this is a launch to the Clarke orbit (35,786 kilometres (22,236 mi) above Earth), the Falcon isn't going to have much fuel left, so instead of the land-based landing pad the firm used successfully, SpaceX is going to make another attempt at a water landing.

All of SpaceX's attempts at a water landing to date have failed, as it's intrinsically much harder to get a rocket down on a barge that's in moving water compared to a static Earth-based pad. The last attempt, in January, nearly succeeded, but one of the landing legs on the rocket failed to lock down, leading to a biggish bang.

Elon's Musketeers think they have cracked that problem and confidence is high for a world-first water landing. SpaceX will use its East Coast landing barge, named Of Course I Still Love You as an homage to British science fiction author Iain Banks, and has a similar ship, the Just Read the Instructions on the West coast for later launches.

This kind of satellite delivery shows why such barges are needed. Landing on land is a lot easier, but with geosync launches fuel is tight and water landings are the only possibility. They are going to be key to SpaceX reusing its hardware a move that would slash the costs of orbital delivery.

Wednesday's launch currently has a 60 per cent chance of going ahead, thanks to weather conditions, but if all looks good than another Musk bird will fly and hopefully land in one piece this time on Wednesday afternoon.
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