SpaceX successfully launches first surveillance satellite

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Capitalism in space: SpaceX this morning successfully launched its first National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) surveillance satellite.

They also successfully landed the first stage at the cape. Video below the fold. These first stage landings are becoming entirely routine, which in the long run will probably be their biggest single achievement. Expect this stage to fly again.

Last night John Bachelor emailed me a link to a podcast I did with him from April 2011, six years ago. He has reposted it, entitling it “SpaceX underbids Big Space & the beginning of commercial space supremacy.” During that appearance I noted the signing of SpaceX’s first contract with NRO. That contract led to today’s launch.

About the same time I posted a story describing NASA’s first small development contracts for commercial manned capsules, awarded to Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Boeing. In that post, I predicted the following about this commercial effort:

I bet they all get their rockets/capsules launched and in operation, supplying cargos and crews to low Earth orbit, before NASA even test fires its heavy-lift rocket [SLS].

Looks like that’s a prediction that will turn out true.



  • geoffc

    I cannot wait for Falcon Heavy to launch, and see two cores landing side by side at LZ-1 then 10 minutes later, another core landing on the ASDS or back at LZ-1.

    Just imagine how cool seeing two stages coming in on a pillar of flame to land side by side, and if timed right, their landing legs coming out together as if they were synchronized swimmers.

    Or else SpaceX may chose to loft one, and drop the other, so that they land a few seconds or longer apart. I hope they land side by side together.

    The music video from that will be epic!

    How fun to live in this time of true innovation in space.

    And of course, Falcon Heavy with no crossfeed, and expendable is hitting a 64,000Kg payload to LEO. That is within spitting distance of SLS Block 1. So very close. What is 6,000Kg between friends?

  • LocalFluff

    Where have you found the 64 ton for Falcon Heavy figure?
    That’s 280% times the LEO figure for Falcon 9. Delta IV Heavy takes 306% more than a single core Delta IV without solid boosters, so it is quite similar. Since November 3rd China holds the record for the world’s largest launcher in operation, 25 tons on Long March-5. I bet they hastened that project to beat Falcon Heavy.

    Since the central core is different from the Falcon 9 anyway, maybe it would be worthwhile to introduce a larger booster with more engines? As was planned for Angara 7. A larger central booster not only allows for a wider fairing, but it’s larger mass and volume budgets might easier allow for a cross feeding system too. And since more central core engines consume more fuel there’s a potential for emptying the side boosters even earlier. That could come closer to SLS Block II (Block I will only fly once, and as a test, with a unique upper stage, so it is Block II that’s the foreseen competitor). Since the payload to LEO seems to grow linearly with the number of engines, adding a ring of 16 Merlin to the central booster should give 102 tons to LEO. And then hopefully cross feed on top of that. And a new upper stage with a Raptor.

  • geoffc

    The number is 63,800 from the bottom to middle of:

    Musk had tweeted about the update a few weeks back I think.

    They did not update the top part which still says 54,000..

    They do need a better upper stage.

  • wayne

    geoffc– this all is, Amazing Stuff!! I can sense your enthusiasm!

    Excellent launch video, and (I think Localfluff mentioned in the other thread)– telemetry for the 1st stage, up & down, in meters/second.
    You really get a sense how fast the 1st stage is dropping.

    [YouTube does host this in a file-version at 1080p & 60 frames-second, .mp4. I can’t stream at that speed, but I did download the file and portions are crystal-clear. 205 MB’s in size.)

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.,
    –Where did I hear you say, that you had been invited to attend a SpaceX launch?
    Was that historic, or in the future? (Way cool!)

    tangentially– informative appearance on The Space Show April 25th.
    I’m getting a better sense of how Space Advocacy functions (or doesn’t) and I especially like the thought– paraphrasing Dr. Livingston– “1st rule of Space advocacy is, you aren’t allowed to rain on other people’s parades.” [Edward– sarcasm alert!]

    Referencing Pratt On Texas— please (please) ask Mr. Pratt if he can link to your specific segment at his website. I can never find them after the fact.

  • Wayne: I have not been invited to any launch yet. I have reason to believe however that I will be invited to the first Falcon Heavy launch.

  • Calvin Dodge

    So, did anyone notice that the Falcon Heavy page now includes “Payload to Pluto” (3500 kg)?

  • Tom Billings

    geoffc said:

    “And of course, Falcon Heavy with no crossfeed, and expendable is hitting a 64,000Kg payload to LEO. That is within spitting distance of SLS Block 1. So very close. What is 6,000Kg between friends?”

    I guarantee you that Senator Shelby is *not* gonna be friends with *anyone* helping Falcon Heavy launch!

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