A Preview of Falcon 9’s Flight From Vandenberg

Mission Overview

Company: SpaceX
Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9 v. 1.1
Date: Sept. 14, 2013
Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Orbit: Elliptical Polar
Primary Payload: CASSIOPE (CAscade, SmallSat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer)
CASSIOPE Funding Authority: Canadian Space Agency

CASSIOPE Description:
Cascade commercial communications system  and a scientific payload called ePOP (enhanced Polar Outflow Probe)

Secondary Payloads: CUSat-1 and CUSat-2 microsatellites (Cornell University); DANDE (Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer) microsatellite (University of Colorado at Boulder); and three POPACS (Polar Orbiting Passive Atmospheric Calibration Sphere) 3U CubeSat (Morehead State University, University of Arkansas, Planetary Systems Corporation, Montana State University, Drexel University)

Mission Firsts

This launch features a number of firsts for SpaceX and the Falcon 9:

  • first flight of the upgraded Falcon 9 version 1.1, which features more powerful Merlin 1-D engines in a new configuration and stretched fuel tanks;
  • first use of a payload shroud;
  • first flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base;
  • first launch of a satellite into polar orbit; and
  • first powered descent of the first stage after initial burnout, a precursor to flying Falcon 9 boosters back to their launch sites for reuse.

The upgraded Falcon 9 has longer fuel tanks and towers 69.2 meters (227 feet), a significant increase over the F9 height of 53 meters (173.9 feet).

The new rocket also features Merlin 1D engines, which are 56 percent more powerful than the Merlin 1C predecessors. One engine will be in the center with eight others arranged in an octagonal pattern around the perimeter. Previous Falcon 1 have launched with the engines three across in a tic-tac-toe pattern.

After burnout and separation, the first stage will fire three of its engines in an effort to make a controlled descent toward the Pacific Ocean. Prior to reaching the water, one engine will fire so the stage will “impact the water with minimal velocity.”

SpaceX eventually hopes to recover both Falcon 9 stages for multiple re-use. The company says if it succeeds, it will be able to radically reduce the cost of getting into orbit.

This will be the sixth launch of a Falcon 9 rocket. Four of the five previous launches have carried Dragon freighters without payload shrouds. The other launch was the inaugural test flight of the Falcon 9.

CASSIOPE Description

cassiope_logoWith the launch of the hybrid small satellite CASSIOPE, scheduled for 2013, Canada will make a significant contribution to unraveling the mysteries of space weather. To accomplish this feat, the satellite will use the scientific payload ePOP (enhanced polar outflow probe), which will observe the ionosphere, and a technology demonstrator Cascade payload, which will provide a ‘proof of concept’ for a digital broadband courier service for commercial use.


The ePOP probe will observe the Earth’s ionosphere, where space meets the upper atmosphere; ePOP comprises a suite of eight scientific instruments, including plasma imagers, radio wave receivers, magnetometers and cameras. These will collect data about the effects of solar storms and, more specifically, their harmful impact on radio communications, satellite navigation and other space and ground-based technologies.


Cascade will provide CASSIOPE with information storage and large downlink capacity for ePOP data destined for Canadian and international researchers. The daily transmission volume could be up to about 15 gigabytes of data. (Credit: CSA)
Cascade will provide CASSIOPE with information storage and large downlink capacity for ePOP data destined for Canadian and international researchers. The daily transmission volume could be up to about 15 gigabytes of data. (Credit: CSA)

Like a courier in the sky, Cascade’s operational concept is to pick up large digital data files and deliver them to almost any destination in the world. The concept supports the efficient transfer of these huge files, equivalent to 50 to 500 pickup trucks filled with paper.

Small and Versatile

CASSIOPE’s hexagonal platform measures only 180 cm long and 125 cm high. It is more cost effective to construct and launch several small satellites with different goals than combining all the functionality on one big satellite. In addition to reducing the risk, this means that the satellites achieve their scientific or commercial objectives at a more reasonable cost.

The new platform produced for the CASSIOPE mission will also be versatile: it will be possible to adapt and use it for various missions involving science, technology, Earth observation, geologic exploration and information delivery.

Professor Andrew Yau of the University of Calgary directs the ePOP project and a team comprised of researchers and engineers from seven Canadian universities. The Communications Research Centre, located in Ottawa, as well as the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of Japan and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are also partners in the project.

Moreover, CASSIOPE benefits from a solid partnership between the private and public sectors. Bristol Aerospace, based in Winnipeg, has constructed the satellite platform. Vancouver’s MDA is the project’s prime contractor and directs a group of Canadian companies with a view to developing terrestrial and space-based infrastructures and operating the satellite.