It headed through the grapevine

Whoa, what an exciting day! We jumped right into a high-density test series for our as-if SpaceX Iridium Mission #aSpIrM.

Setting up shop

Our first step was to set up some infrastructure. We had to do this very quickly, since the temperature was despicably cold and we were freezing our buttons off right from the start. We ran around like ๐ŸŽถ time-lapse lunatics, ๐ŸŽถ tripping over wires and yelling commands into the frosty air.

We quickly installed a pad with a hold-down clamp to perform a static fire test and laid out the ignition wiring. At the same time, our mobile launch office was set up to test on-site real-time communication for social media purposes.

Burn, baby, burn

We were surprised at how quickly we were ready for our first item on the long agenda: We put one of our new hot bad-ass rocket babes, our beautiful cool sexy Falcon 9, through a static fire test. Why on earth did we do this? Well, we are the ๐ŸŽถ Grandmasters of Oxidan rockets, but us Furious Five had not yet received the Message of the fiery Flash ๐ŸŽถ that comes with solid fuel boosters. So we needed to check the performance of the ignition sequence: ๐ŸŽถ Burn, baby, burn ๐ŸŽถ And since we are awesome, we had modified the rocket, because we need it to carry payload. We want to emulate the launch of Iridium satellites, remember? Well, the sats need to go somewhere and the standard model F9 design by SpaceX does not have a payload bay behind the nose cone, but harbors the parachute. So we had to make sure that our modifications allowed for proper stage separation and deployment of the recovery parachute.

The static fire test was hugely successful. And as you can see in this video, it created quite some ๐ŸŽถ smoke on the water ๐ŸŽถ:

The test was accompanied by several fringe activities, e.g. frantic tweeting by Iridia, whose fingers hurt like hell due to the ๐ŸŽถ cold. ๐ŸŽถ There were a lot of glitches in the communication process, so we still need to work on that.

Then we quickly dismantled the whole set-up and drove out to the launch site.

Winds of change are blowin’

The cold got even worse, since the ๐ŸŽถ wind had changed and started blowing ๐ŸŽถ vilely into our faces. The wind-chill factor brought the temperature down even more.


First up was the launch of a very light and agile little rocket named ๐ŸŽถ Elektra. ๐ŸŽถ We equipped her with an A6-4 propellant. The objective was to test our igniters and the launch-pad and to assess whether we had picked a suitable propellant. Remember: This was our first flight with a solid fuel booster. The first ignition failed, but the second attempt was highly successful โ€“ a picture-perfect premiere, and well-documented, one could say:

We were not sure whether to carry on due to the ๐ŸŽถ stone-cold killing chill, ๐ŸŽถ but who knows: Conditions might turn out to be even worse for our next attempt, so we decided to bite the bullet and were immediately go for launch of our Falcon 9 beauty.

It headed through the grapevine

Legal restrictions do not allow us to use the motor recommended by SpaceX, so we chose a C6-3 propellant. We were not sure whether it would provide enough lift to allow for stage separation and deployment of the recovery parachute. The F9 is quite heavy, and we had also hidden an Easter egg under the nose cone: our dummy dispenser and ten Iridia satellites for Launch 1 served as patient passengers, adding another few grams.

model Falcon 9 rocket in a field
American Beauty

First ignition: fail. It turned out that we had a short circuit in the ignition system. Second ignition: fail. The igniter was a dud and had to be replaced. Third time lucky, though! Our booster lifted off like a pro, leaving behind a dark bad-ass plume.

Then the booster hit an inflection point and went on a quirky northbound trajectory. Why? Well, because we have always wanted to land a rocket in a vineyard, as one does. Or don’t you? Video analysis later taught us that the booster had been nudged sideways during our remedial efforts after the short circuit. Taking this into account, it did remarkably well. The altitude was just good enough to allow stage separation and chute deploy the very last moment before hitting the ๐ŸŽถ grapevines.๐ŸŽถ

This added another thing to our list of actionable items: The launch pad needs to ๐ŸŽถ hold the rocket much tighter ๐ŸŽถ to allow for a good trajectory.

After that, we were just go for lunch. Maintaining body temperature uses up a lot of calories which we needed to replace, you dig us?

The bottom line

We’re grateful for everything that did not go perfectly well today: valuable lessons learned! The tests made us confident that we can bring our launch date forward by a couple of weeks.


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