First Falcon Heavy side first stage ready for initial tests


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Capitalism in space: SpaceX prepares for first Falcon Heavy launch this fall, with the first side stage ready for its first hot fire static tests while the company prepares the launchpads.

They need to finish repairing the launchpad damaged in the September 1 explosion so that the Falcon 9 can once again launch from there. Once this is done, they have an estimated sixty days of additional work to do with the Falcon Heavy pad. It is expected the switch back to the old pad will take place by August. meaning that the first Falcon Heavy launch will likely happen no earlier than October.

Posted while in the air over Nova Scotia on the way to Israel.

11 comments

  • DougSpace

    I would like for the inaugural launch of the FH would result in the recognition that the FH is the right launcher for lunar development. Although it is about half the capability of the Saturn V, one-way launches of a hydrolox lander could deliver nearly 10 tonnes to the lunar surface. If telerobotic hardware, the landers could potentially be refueled from lunar ice and launched from the Moon to retrieve nearly three times the payload per launch. As such, each FH launch could deliver more payload than a single Saturn V or even SLS Block 2. But without SpaceX pushing for the Moon and with Trump/NASA/Congress/Bridenstine being unclear about the right approach back to the Moon, it’s not clear that the FH will be recognized as the lunar workhorse that it could be.

  • Tom Billings

    DougSpace said:

    “But without SpaceX pushing for the Moon and with Trump/NASA/Congress/Bridenstine being unclear about the right approach back to the Moon, it’s not clear that the FH will be recognized as the lunar workhorse that it could be.”

    That’s OK, …It seems that Blue Origin has a more networked approach to Solar System development. They do not ignore the Moon. They do not ignore the asteroids.

    They have already proposed putting their New Shepard sub-orbital vehicle on top of the New Glenn launcher without the NS stabilizing fins and ring, as a “Blue Moon” lunar lander. They say they can land 5 tons on the Moon at Shackleton Crater. That doesn’t mean they won’t be serving other markets.

    FH may take the market for Mars probes for the next 8 years or more, but its a big Solar System!

  • Bob, have you heard anything new about the Spacex’s Brownsville site? I know you had a story around a year ago about delays due to dirt work. But haven’t heard any updates since then. Do we know how many pads will be in Brownsville and will it be able to launch Falcon Heavy?

  • LocalFluff

    God created the Moon for humans to walk upon. It serves no other purpose. Already its tide heaves us towards it, urging us to take the next step in the same direction. It wasn’t the wings of the birds that showed humans the way to space, but the tidal upheaval of the oceans. An invisible attraction and a rhythm of human fertility.
    “- Look, there’s an island in the sky! We’ve run out of islands, so why don’t we go there too?”
    If it weren’t for the dream of walking on the Moon, I doubt there would’ve been any idea of spaceflight at all. I somehow understand those who doubt that it has been done, it kind of robs them of their intuition of the unattainable. We need the Moon landing deniers, at least Neil deGrasse Tyson needs them to pay for his “work”!

    Enough of poetry, back to topic:

    Saturn V and its equal SLS Block II are too tony to launch humans directly to the surface of the Moon (and bring them back). Apollo requires extensive in-flight assembly. Undocking the upsidedown lander, turning it around and docking it again (to simplify pre-launch stowage, I suppose). Then undocking the lander again in Lunar orbit. Then docking the ascent part of it with the Lunar orbiter. Then undocking it in Lunar orbit to get to Earth.

    The smaller Falcon Heavy would maybe add one or two such maneuvers to such a mission, but then mostly in LEO for assembling three FH needed for one crewed Lunar mission, There’s no difference in principle. Not even the huge SpaceX ITS is designed to land humans on the Moon and get them back with one single launch. Of course FH could land humans on the Moon.

    And I think we can all agree that no human should ever be launched on the SLS! It is much safer to use the (soon) proven commercial smaller sized launchers for that purpose.

  • Cotour

    Talk about heavy.

    https://youtu.be/6e5B7EKVg48

    Is this thing or something a bit smaller a real possibility?

  • Alex

    Does anybody know something about a design, which may be called super FH design, which uses 4 cores as first stage?

  • LocalFluff

    @Alex
    5 or 7 common first stages bundles together, as on the Russian Angara which actually has made a successful test launch with 5 cores, sounds like a modest next step to take.

    But, big buts: more than 3 common cores for Falcon Heavy would be a huge step. Falcon is assembled horizontally on the ground, then erected by a crane on the launch pad. With Falcon Heavy the three stages lie flat next to each other. Having more cores bundled together in some kind of clover shape would require that some stages rest their weight on other stages. Even the robust reusable Falcon 9 first stage is like a coca cola can. You can stand on it as on a solid block of aluminium if it is straight up, but it is easily dented from the sides. And the launch pad would have to be redesigned to fuel and service five stages from all around rather than just from one tower.

    Five Falcons bundled together could launch alright. The problem is how to make it and get it to the launch pad. It’s manufacturing process is not designed for that. Rocket scientists roll their eyes and say NO WAY!

    And on the meta-level that I can speculate about, Elon Musk would’ve bragged about FH5 and FH7 if he had imagined them. He’s not shy about his futuristic ambitions. But even in his mouth, Falcon Heavy never has more than three first stages. (However, I wonder if five cores in a flat row, rather than in a clover like Angara-bundle, would be that much of a problem to handle… I might pester some rocket scientist with another stupid question again.)

  • Alex

    @LocalFluff: Thank you for discussing the 5-core-issue in detail. I assume using 5*9=45 engines (assuming second stage is ignited at altitude) may become somewhat critical, in respect to system reliability.

  • LocalFluff

    @Alex,
    Actually, more engines, as SpaceX uses them, INCREASE reliability! If one or a few fail, the other engines compensate for it. And a Falcon 9 has already done that during launch, saving its payload to the ISS:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9#Engine-out_capability

    The perception that more engines is bad for reliability maybe comes from the four spectacular failures of the Soviet Moon rocket N-1. They bundled up lots of engines just because they couldn’t produce bigger ones in time for the race to the Moon. And it turned out that they couldn’t make them all work together either. Antares has flown using some of those 40+ year old engines left over and found in some garage in Kazakstan. It did exploded again although Antares used only 2 at a time. The number of engines is not the problem. More engines is a potential strength. At least when they are reliable enough to not explode, and with modern sensors and controls, individual failures like non-ignition and low thrust can be immediately solidarily compensated for as if nothing happened.

    I watched some rocket scientist lecturing online. He said that simplicity looks like a good idea for safety only superficially. But every complication in rocket engine design is deliberately put in place in order to solve a problem and enhance reliability. Putting life boats on ships is a complication, but still a good idea.

  • Alex

    @LocalFull. It depends from the engine’s failure mode. A large number of engines is not so good if, in case of catastrophic “rapid disassembly”, an engine ruptures (propellant is also spilled after this event) and potentially also other engines are affected. The chance that one or more engine fails is higher for a larger as for a smaller number of engines, assuming a certain reliability of a single engine, but the effect of a single loss on performance and mission is smaller for a higher number of engines (assuming no catastrophic failure, only a shutdown), if the engine. The selection of engine number for space launcher stage is a typical trade-off situation. I would select a higher number if the engines failure behavior is well known, which requires many flights and tests. In principal, Elon Musk proves that Koroljow was not wrong to select 30 engines for his N-1 first stage, but he went wrong by not testing the whole stage.

  • Edward

    Alex and LocalFluff,
    More engines is not necessarily a bad thing. Several successful Russian rockets used a large number of engines. The Popular Mechanics article in this link shows a 20-engine Russian R-7 ICBM:
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/russians-use-wooden-matches-to-ignite-rocket-engines/

    The article also explains that a Soyuz has 20 combustion chambers fed by 5 pumps and an additional 12 thrusters running at launch.

    One of the problems to look out for is pogo, the structure that holds the engines can vibrate, sending vibrations to the other engines, the fuel/oxidizer plumbing, the pumps, and the rest of the rocket, including the payload.

    If the engine design is such that the engine shuts down before it explodes or when pogo starts (as happened on Apollo 13’s second stage, as seen in the movie “Apollo 13” but not explained in the movie), then reliability is improved. As shown by the Falcon 9 early shutdown on CRS-1/Orbcom-OG2 launch as well as STS-51L, an engine shutdown on a multiple-engine launch vehicle can result in mission completion, although NASA did not allow Orbcom-OG2 to attempt to go to it’s proper orbit for fear that another anomaly could endanger the ISS.

    When rockets are designed with multiple engines, I tend to worry less about engine reliability and more about structural integrity.

    Alex,
    I have not heard anything about a super FH, but SpaceX seems to have pondered other large rockets. As recently as May 2016, a Falcon XX was believed to be being designed.
    https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2013/05/from-atlas-v-falcon-xx-commercial-suitors-wanted-pad-39a/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YD0RKWDn2Is#t=114

    However, a few months later than this, Elon Musk announced a much larger rocket. I think that all this speculation, theorizing, and previously believed designs have been made obsolete by Musk’s announcement, last September, of SpaceX’s Mars rocket, or Interplanetary Transportation System launch vehicle. It, too, uses a lot of high power rocket engines.

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