Tag Archives: Falcon 9

SpaceX successfully launches commercial satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully launched a commercial satellite using a previously flown first stage.

They did not attempt to recover the used first stage as it was one of their older stages, which they are clearing out as they move to the final Block 5 version of the Falcon 9.

The top leaders in the 2018 launch race:

16 China
11 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

In the national standings the U.S. has moved back ahead of China, 17-16.

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Reuseability lowers SpaceX launch price to $50 million

Capitalism in space: Reuseability lowers SpaceX launch price to $50 million.

The article is mostly about tonight’s commercial launch of an SES communications satellite. In it however it notes this comment by Musk:

SpaceX is in the process of flying and discarding older, less advanced Block 4 first stages to clear inventory – the company will likely fly just one more before moving its entire manifest to the Block 5 iteration, which CEO Elon Musk says can fly up to 10 times with minimal refurbishment between missions. Beyond that, the boosters could launch up to 100 times with moderate inspections and changes.

The next-generation vehicles feature improved reusability, upgraded thrust, retractable black landing legs that can reduce time between launches, a new black interstage and a slightly larger payload fairing, to name a few. It will also help SpaceX reduce costs from $60 million to about $50 million per launch, Musk said in May. [emphasis mine]

This price is about a third less than what both Arianespace and ULA have estimated they will charge for their new rockets, Ariane 6 and Vulcan respectively. This is also about half the price that the Russians had been charging for their Proton, which used to be the lowest price in town.

I’ll make a prediction: The drop in prices has only just begun.

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The upcoming Falcon Heavy schedule

Link here. After the estimated October launch of an Air Force technology demonstration satellite, the next launch is a communications satellite for Saudi Arabia set for the December/January time frame.

After that there are no scheduled Falcon Heavy launches, though three companies, Intelsat, Viasat, and Inmarsat, have options for launches.

In related SpaceX news, the company came within 200 feet of catching one half of the fairing from last week’s launch. The picture of the fairing coming down by parachute is very cool, and indicates that SpaceX is very close to recovering them.

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A close look at SpaceX’s new domination in the commercial launch industry

Link here. This is a surprisingly accurate and detailed article outlining the present state of the worldwide launch industry and how SpaceX has come to dominate it. It includes a graph that illustrates what I noted in my own summary in January: SpaceX has served to rejuvenate the American rocket industry.

From the Pentagon to financial analysts, many are heralding SpaceX as responsible for bringing the rocket industry back to the United States. For decades, rockets built by United Launch Alliance flew U.S. Air Force and NASA missions on Russian engines or other systems bought overseas. “They’re an all U.S. launcher. For a long time our military and intelligence capability was not launched using all U.S. capability,” Carissa Christensen, CEO of consulting firm Bryce Space and Technology, told CNBC.

The Air Force continues to award SpaceX hundreds of millions of dollars in launch contracts, with Secretary Heather Wilson telling Congress in March that the decreasing cost to launch is “enabling business plans to close in space that never were possible before.”

“For a decade and a half, launch costs were ballooning until SpaceX came in and said, ‘We can do it cheaper,'” Sam Korus, ARK Invest analyst, told CNBC.

SpaceX senior vice president Tim Hughes told Congress in a July testimony that “the U.S. had effectively ceded” the commercial rocket launch market “to France and to Russia.” Hughes showed how, before 2013, the U.S. lacked a foothold in this market. SpaceX helped the United States reclaim not just a portion but a majority in the global launch market in 2017 and represented more than 60 percent of U.S. launches while doing so.

The lower costs introduced by SpaceX has not merely allowed the U.S. to retake market share from the Russians and Europeans. It is also causing a re-awakening of the entire space industry. Satellites are being built and launched now that could not have been financed in the past, solely because the cost to put them in orbit has dropped. As a result the total number of launches is rising, providing more business for everyone.

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SpaceX successfully launches seven satellites, including two NASA science satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched seven satellites, including two NASA science satellites and five Iridium communications satellites.

They did not attempt to recover the first stage, and though they tried to recover the rocket’s fairing it missed the ship and landed in the Pacific.

Intriguingly, all of these satellites were originally going to launch on a Russian/Ukrainian rocket.

Tuesday’s launch came about as a result of Russia’s Dnepr rocket becoming unavailable, in part due to the ongoing political situation in Ukraine. Grace Follow-On had been booked to fly aboard Dnepr, while Iridium had contracted for launches of the Russian vehicle to carry pairs of its spacecraft into orbit for testing, and later replenishment of its constellation. Early last year, Iridium and the GFZ – who are responsible for arranging GRACE’s ride to orbit – agreed to share a launch on SpaceX’s more powerful Falcon 9 rocket, splitting the costs while allowing the GRACE mission to continue and Iridium to get further satellites into orbit.

In other words, SpaceX has taken this business directly away from Russia.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

15 China
10 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

In the national rankings, the U.S. is now in the lead with 16 total launches (including Orbital ATK’s Antares launch on Monday).

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Block 5 Falcon 9 first stage returns to port

SpaceX’s first Block 5 first stage for its Falcon 9 rocket, designed to fly a minimum of ten times, has returned to port after its first flight last week.

This is the most interesting detail revealed:

While not visible, the most significant improvements are likely to be found at the base of the first stage’s octaweb – now assembled with bolts instead of welds – in the form of a dramatically improved heat shield around its nine Merlin 1D engines (also upgraded, of course). One of the Falcon recovery technicians showed some exceptional interest in the shield and Merlins, likely documenting their condition in extreme detail to inform engineering reviews of the pathfinder rocket after its first flight test.

The pictures show those bolts quite clearly.

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SpaceX successfully launches in Block 5 Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully placed in orbit Bangladesh’s first communications satellite, successfully using its upgraded Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket, its first stage designed to be reused a minimum of ten times.

They successfully recovered the first stage, and will now take it apart to confirm this new version worked as planned. If so, it will be put back together and returned to service.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

14 China
9 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

The U.S. and China are once again tied at 14 for the nation lead. SpaceX’s launch rate is presently double what it achieved last year, when it launched the most rockets of any private company ever.

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A new net for Mr. Steven

Photos of the ship, Mr. Steven, that SpaceX wants to use to recover its rocket fairings show that the company has installed a new net for catching those fairings.

The article theorizes that this heftier net has actually been installed for eventually catching the Falcon 9’s upper stage.

[T]he newly-installed net is by all appearances magnitudes larger, heavier, and stronger than the minimal mesh specimen it is clearly replacing. Given the fact that SpaceX thus far has self-admittedly failed to catch a gliding fairing half in the net, it seems unlikely that such a drastic upgrade would be necessitated by any field-testing that occurred since Mr. Steven’s debut late last year. Rather, a significantly more capable net seems to more readily fit alongside CEO Elon Musk’s tweet reveal three weeks prior that SpaceX would attempt to close the final major loop of Falcon reusability by recovering the orbital upper stage (S2). Estimated to weigh approximately 4000 kilograms empty, the upper stage is a minimum of four times heavier than Falcon 9’s payload fairing halves, Mr Steven’s current meal of choice.

Judging from the new net’s beefy rigging, broader bars, and general appearance, one could safely argue that it looks at least several times stronger than the mesh net before it. One could also argue that the absolutely massive metal arms installed on Mr. Steven are far larger than what might be required to catch the extremely low mass-to-area ratio payload fairings, with structural heft and bulky netting more reminiscent of safety nets present on naval vessels that are designed to catch aircraft and helicopters weighing five metric tons or more.

This is an interesting theory, but I have my doubts. At the same time, I would not dismiss Musk’s willingness to try daring engineering approaches.

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SpaceX sets May 10 for next launch, the first for Falcon 9’s final design

Capitalism in space: After analyzing the data from Friday’s static fire dress rehearsal, SpaceX has now scheduled the launch of Bangabandhu-1, Bangladesh’s first communications satellite, for May 10.

The significance of this launch is that it will be the first of what SpaceX calls the Block 5 version of this Falcon 9 first stage, a final design intended for many reuses and quick turnaround.

The star of the show is the new, unflown first stage core 1046, which is the first “Block 5” Falcon 9 first stage. Block 5 is the final major upgrade to the Falcon 9, the culmination of over 10 years of development and evolution of SpaceX’s workhorse rocket.

Block 5 has numerous advantages over past versions of the Falcon 9, notably including higher thrust engines, improved and more resilient recovery hardware, and the ability to be reflown within 48 hours of landing after a previous mission. Block 5 was also designed to meet – and in some cases exceed – NASA’s strict Commercial Crew Program requirements, which SpaceX must follow in order to be able to fly NASA astronauts, expected to begin in early 2019.

Block 5 cores are also expected to be reused 10 times before undergoing any major refurbishment, and SpaceX hopes to fly each booster up to 100 times before it is retired.

NASA has demanded that SpaceX fly at least seven different launches with the Block 5 stages before it will permit its astronauts on board (unlike SLS, where NASA has even considered flying astronauts on board with no previous test flights). Thus, getting this rocket flying is crucial to getting Americans back in space, on an American-made rocket.

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Musk releases image of Falcon 9 fairing floating back to Earth

On Tuesday Elon Musk released an image of a Falcon 9 fairing as its parafoil opened to slow and guide the fairing back to Earth.

The image is pretty, but doesn’t really provide any information about SpaceX’s effort to recover its rocket fairings. The next attempt should come during their next Vandenberg launch in mid-May.

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SpaceX successfully launches NASA new exoplanet telescope

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully placed NASA’s new explanet space telescope, TESS, into orbit.

The first stage, which was making its first flight, successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic. They hope to reuse this booster on a future Dragon launch.

Update: TESS’s solar arrays have successfully deployed.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

11 China
8 SpaceX
4 ULA
3 Japan
3 Russia
3 Europe
3 India

The U.S. is now ahead of China, 12 to 11, in the national list.

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Elon Musk hints at using a “giant party balloon” to recover Falcon 9 upper stages

In several tweets yesterday, Elon Musk said that SpaceX is considering using “a giant party balloon” to recover Falcon 9 upper stages.

No timetable was mentioned. It seems that Musk and SpaceX is still looking at ways to reuse the Falcon 9 upper stage. Whether this proposal ever makes it to hardware however is a different question. Musk and his engineers have floated many concepts over the years, not all of which have flown.

The balloon idea has some merit, as it has been successfully used to land landers and rovers on the Moon and Mars.

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New information on SpaceX’s rocket fairing recovery effort

Link here. In requesting permission to recover Dragon capsules in the Gulf of Mexico, SpaceX submitted a great deal of information to the FAA about its effort to recover and reuse the fairings of its Falcon 9 rocket. Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc has done a nice job of excerpting that information at the link.

For example, SpaceX is not only trying to recover the fairings, it is trying to recover the new fairing drogue chutes that it uses to slow the fairings down and then ejects before splashdown.

To me, however, one tidbit that stood out like a beacon and actually tells us more about SpaceX’s future anticipated launch rate was this quote:

From 2019-2024, SpaceX anticipates the frequency of launches involving fairing recovery to increase. In 2018, SpaceX anticipates approximately two recovery attempts, and from 2019-2024, SpaceX anticipates approximately three recovery attempts per month. Thus, for all seven years, SpaceX anticipates up to 480 drogue parachutes and 480 parafoils would land in the ocean.

This is further confirmation of SpaceX’s public prediction that it will soon be launching about 30 to 40 times per year. These numbers also equal the best yearly rates the entire United States launch industry ever achieved, and suggest that the entire launch industry in the next decade will be experiencing a significant boom, since aggressive competition usually causes an increase in business for all competitors.

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Two investigations blame Northrop Grumman for Zuma failure

Two independent investigations have now placed the blame for the failure of the classified Zuma satellite to reach orbit on Northrop Grumman, not SpaceX.

Two independent investigations, made up of federal and industry officials, pointed to Northrop’s payload adapter as the cause of the satellite’s loss, the report said, citing people familiar with the probes. The payload adapter is a key part of deploying a satellite in orbit, connecting the satellite to the upper stage of a rocket.

…The investigations tentatively concluded that onboard sensors did not immediately communicate to ground systems that the satellite did not separate from the rocket, according to the Journal. Unbeknownst to officials at the time, the planned return of the rocket’s upper stage — a method of disposal to avoid adding space debris around the Earth — brought the satellite back down with it. By the time the satellite separated from the rocket it was too late, putting Zuma too low in orbit to save, according to the report.

I still have a nagging suspicion that Zuma actually did reach orbit, and this entire story that it never separated from the upper stage is all a disinformation campaign to help distract people from the satellite’s existence in orbit. At the same time, by this time I don’t put much faith in my own suspicions. These two reports appear to settle the matter.

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NOAA admits it wants the power to license all camera use in space

Government power grab: At a conference today a NOAA official revealed that its lawyers have decided to liberally interpret federal law so that the agency has the power to license all camera use in space.

According to Tahara Dawkins, director of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office,

[p]art of the licensing review for commercial remote sensing systems involves a check of any national security implications of that system, but it’s not clear what issues an onboard camera system, whose views of the Earth are typically low resolution and often obscured by the rocket itself, might pose.

Dawkins said that no previous SpaceX launches had NOAA commercial remote sensing licenses, even though many have flown onboard cameras, including several previous Iridium missions. An April 2 launch of a Falcon 9 from Florida carrying a Dragon cargo spacecraft had no such restrictions, she said, because that was considered a government mission. While the spacecraft is performing a mission under contract to NASA, the launch itself was considered commercial and licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

NOAA was not aware of the previous launches that featured onboard cameras. “Our office is extremely small, and there’s a lot of things out there that we miss,” she said. “The onus is on the companies to come to us and get a license when needed.” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words prove that the big publicity of the Falcon Heavy launch, showing the Tesla with the Earth in the background, instigated this stupidity. This office doesn’t have the slightest idea what is going on. Footage from rocket launches have become routine now for almost a decade. They saw the Tesla images and decided to exert their power, despite the fact that, as the article notes,

Part of the licensing review for commercial remote sensing systems involves a check of any national security implications of that system, but it’s not clear what issues an onboard camera system, whose views of the Earth are typically low resolution and often obscured by the rocket itself, might pose.

This is government overreach at its worst. If Trump is serious about cutting back regulation, he should step it now to shut this down.

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SpaceX launches Dragon to ISS

SpaceX successfully launched a reused Dragon capsule into orbit yesterday, once again using a reused first stage.

To show you how routine this has become, I myself completely forgot the launch was happening yesterday, and spent that time doing my monthly bills. Oy.

They did not attempt to recover the first stage, using it instead to do re-entry flight tests as it landed in the Atlantic Ocean. I suspect they have decided that it is not cost effective to recover used first stages, and would rather dump them in the ocean than pay the cost to recover, test, and store them.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

10 China
7 SpaceX
4 Russia
3 Japan
3 ULA

China and the U.S. continue to be tied in the national standings.

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SpaceX ship returns with this week’s fairing apparently intact

Despite tweets from Elon Musk suggesting it had hit the water at “high speed,” SpaceX’s recovery ship appears to have returned with one half of the fairing intact.

There are several images at the link showing the fairing on the ship. That it recovered it out of the water without damage seems surprising and unlikely. Nonetheless, that it looks intact means that the parafoil managed to slow it down enough to limit damage as it hit the water, and the company seems to be making real progress towards making these fairings reusable.

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NOAA bureaucracy shuts down SpaceX telecast because stupid

Government marches on! The NOAA bureaucracy forced SpaceX to shut down its launch telecast this morning because agency bureaucrats had decided that views of Earth in the background were the equivalent of a satellite remote sensing system that the agency is required to regulate.

It was definitely an issue with NOAA, the rocket company said. Apparently NOAA recently asserted that cameras on the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, which SpaceX uses for engineering purposes, qualify as a remote sensing system, which are subject to NOAA’s regulation. A provisional license obtained by SpaceX for Friday’s launch of the Iridium-5 mission required it to end views once the second stage reached orbit.

This raises some questions about the real purpose behind NOAA’s action, as the regulation specifically exempts “small, hand-held cameras.” SpaceX intends to obtain a full license for such camera views, and as of now there is apparently no restriction in place for SpaceX’s next launch of a NASA cargo ship from Florida, happening as early as Monday.

One theory put forth is that some bureaucrats at NOAA might not have liked the good press that SpaceX got when it broadcast views of the Tesla in space, launched by the Falcon Heavy, and wanted to exert their petty power. This might not be true. What is true is that this interference by NOAA in SpaceX operations is beyond stupid.

But then, why should be expect anything different from our present federal government?

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SpaceX successfully launches ten Iridium satellites into orbit

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this morning successfully placed ten Iridium satellites into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket.

They did maneuver and landing tests with the first stage, which was making its second flight, but did not try to recover it. They did attempt to catch one half of the rocket’s fairing with their fast-moving ship and its giant net. No word yet on whether that attempt worked. Fairing recovery failed. See comments below.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

9 China
6 SpaceX
4 Russia
3 Japan
3 ULA
2 Europe
2 India

The U.S. and China remain tied at nine for the lead in the national rankings.

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First commercial crew flights still set for 2018 with chance of delay

NASA’s manager of the commercial crew program provided an update to the agency’s advisory board on Monday, noting that both SpaceX and Boeing are making good progress to their scheduled first flights late this year.

The bottom line however is that there is a good chance the flights will slip into 2019, though based on the update it appears to me that the flights will not slip that much beyond that.

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SpaceX using up old used boosters as it shifts to final Falcon 9 design

Capitalism in space: As SpaceX prepares to introduce its final Falcon 9 design, dubbed Block 5, it also plans to use up its stock of old used boosters, with four of the six launches scheduled through the end of April using previously flown boosters.

The article’s review of SpaceX’s stock suggests that the company will only have two used boosters after these launches. It also notes that the company appears to have decided that these earlier Falcon 9 designs can only fly two or three times safely, and that it will be the Block 5 final design that they hope will finally be the booster that can fly repeatedly and reliably.

Since NASA won’t let astronauts fly on anything other than Block 5, and insists it fly at least seven times successfully before the agency will allow its astronauts on it, SpaceX has a lot at stake with this final design. If it has problems, the company will be in trouble. If not, the company will cement the dominate position it presently holds in the launch industry.

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SpaceX’s August launch created largest shockwave from rocket ever measured

The August launch by SpaceX of a communications satellite created the largest rocket shockwave in the atmosphere ever measured.

In the new study, Lin and his colleagues used GPS signals to determine how the FORMOSAT-5 launch affected the upper atmosphere. They found Falcon 9’s vertical trajectory created a circular shock wave above the western United States that had never before been seen from a rocket launch. The only similarly-shaped shock wave Lin had seen was from an eruption of Russia’s Sarychev volcano in June 2009.

Not only was the shock wave circular, it was also the largest one Lin had ever seen – roughly four times the area of California. In the new study, he ran computer simulations of rocket launches and found the momentum from a vertical trajectory would tend to create a much stronger atmospheric disturbance than a curved one, which could explain why the shock wave was so large.

In addition to creating a gigantic shock wave, the launch created a hole in the ionosphere above California. Water vapor in the rocket’s exhaust reacted with the ionosphere’s charged particles to create a hole in the plasma layer that took up to two hours to recover.

The rocket’s vertical trajectory was because the overall payload was light. Heavier payload cause the trajectory to curve more as the rocket rises.

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Port of Los Angeles approves SpaceX portside construction site

The Port of Los Angeles has granted SpaceX approval to begin construction of a booster construction and refurbishment facility on a large abandoned lot with direct ocean berthing access.

A request summary completed on March 6 details SpaceX’s proposal, laying out a bright future of rocket manufacturing for the abandoned 18-acre lot at Berth 240, one that might soon support “composite curing, cleaning, painting, and assembly [of commercial transportation vessels]” that “would need to be transported by water due to their size.

The article then speculates that this facility will be used to build SpaceX’s BFR. Maybe so, but my guess is that the facility is needed now for bringing reused Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters back after launch and prepping them for reuse.

While it is likely to take a fair amount of time to prepare the lot for the construction of a facility capable of manufacturing advanced composite rocket components, the wording in the Port documentation also suggests that SpaceX means to transfer its Falcon 9 recovery work to the new berth as soon as it’s available. Indeed, the comparatively massive space would give SpaceX far more room for recovery operations with the drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI), and could potentially become a one-stop-shop for booster recovery and refurbishment. As of now, boosters recovered on the West Coast are transported to the Hawthorne factory for all refurbishment work, operations that themselves already require brief road stoppages to accommodate the sheer size of Falcon 9.

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New Air Force launch contracts for SpaceX and ULA

Capitalism in space: The Air Force announced yesterday that it has awarded launch contracts to ULA and SpaceX worth nearly $650 million.

Colorado-based ULA was awarded a $355 million contract for its launch services to deliver two Air Force Space Command spacecraft, labeled AFSPC-8 and AFSPC-12, to orbit. The missions are expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by June 2020 and March 2020, respectively.

…SpaceX, meanwhile, secured a $290 million contract to launch three next-generation Global Positioning System satellites for the Air Force, known as GPS III. The first is expected to launch from the Space Coast by March 2020, either from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 or Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A.

Note the price difference between the ULA and SpaceX.launches. ULA’s cost is $177.5 million per launch, while SpaceX’s is $96.7 million per launch. While it could be that the ULA launches need to cost more because of the nature of the payloads, I don’t buy it. The company simply charges too much, partly because its rockets are expensive. The Air Force however has a strategic need to have more than one launch company, so they bite their tongues and pay the larger amount.

I should add one positive aspect about ULA’s price. The price is considerably below what they used to charge, before SpaceX entered the game. Then, their lowest launch price was never less than $200 million, and usually much more. This lower price indicates they are working at getting competitive. Though SpaceX offers the Falcon Heavy at $90 million (with reused boosters) and $150 million (all new) to commercial customers, its price for the Air Force will likely be higher because of the Air Force’s stricter requirements. This means that ULA’s per launch price of $177.5 here is getting quite close to being competitive with the Falcon Heavy.

Note that the article mentions that SpaceX has also gotten two more commercial launch contracts with DigitalGlobe, so that company’s business continues to boom.

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NASA concludes design error caused June 2015 Falcon 9 launch failure

NASA’s independent investigation into the SpaceX’s June 2015 Falcon 9 launch failure has concluded, like SpaceX, that it was caused by the failure of a strut holding an internal tank, but unlike SpaceX the report cites a “design error” for that failure.

In simpler terms, the steel strut that SpaceX chose was not certified to be used in such conditions. Furthermore, SpaceX did not meet the 4:1 redundancy requirement that the manufacturer had instructed. Therefore, the IRT recommended that SpaceX applied greater care when certifying commercially sourced parts for flight.

Interestingly, the IRT also discovered another area of concern not directly related to the accident that arose during the investigation. The report found that the telemetry architecture on the upcoming “Full Thrust” version of the Falcon 9 included a new method of handling packets that increased latency, and thus vital data could have been lost in the event of a similar anomaly.

The IRT report finished by noting that all of the key findings in the report were addressed by SpaceX in time for the successful Jason-3 mission for NASA.

I suspect a political decision at NASA explains the timing of the release of this report, far later than normal. At this point the issues it raises are mostly moot, as SpaceX has upgraded the Falcon 9 and is no longer using the older version that failed on that June 2015 launch. Moreover, NASA has certified those upgraded rockets, which suggests they have reviewed the company’s methods and have decided it is now using parts that are properly certified.

However, the recent successful launch of Falcon Heavy has created a big threat to SLS. This report, released now, is certainly going to be used by SpaceX’s enemies to argue that it is dangerous to buy its heavy lift rocket. “Look, SpaceX is sloppy! It uses uncertified parts that cause its rockets to blow up!” I can see the op-eds, paid for covertly by the big space companies Boeing and Lockeheed Martin, being typed even as I write this.

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SpaceX successfully launches commercial communications satellite

SpaceX tonight successfully launched a commercial communications satellite. They did not recover the first stage because the seas were too rough to send out the drone ship.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

7 China
5 SpaceX
3 Japan
3 ULA
2 Russia

Though I have removed Rocket Lab as an American company, crediting it instead to New Zealand, the U.S. still has 8 successful launches total, one more than China.

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A detailed look at SpaceX’s attempt to recovery its rocket fairings

Link here. The article contains lots of good information and background, including some cost figures that suggest this recovery scheme will only work if they can recovery a lot of fairings while doing a lot of launches. Since SpaceX’s goal is to do a lot of launches, the numbers seem reasonable.

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SpaceX successfully launches Spanish radar satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a Spanish radar satellite.

They also intended to try to recover the rocket’s fairing, but they did not telecast this, and there is no word yet whether they were successful. In fact, their low-key approach here suggests a shift in policy. Previously, SpaceX was eager to show off its test programs. Now, this silence suggests a desire to throttle back on that openness, possibly in order to protect their proprietary engineering.

Update: It appears that at least one fairing half landed in the water intact, though that also means they were unable to catch it. According to a Musk tweet at the link, the fairing missed the ship net by “a few hundred meters.” Musk also indicates the need for larger chutes in the future. Either way, I wonder if the fairing in the water can still be reused.

The 2018 launch standings:

7 China
4 SpaceX
2 ULA
2 Russia
2 Japan

As a nation, the U.S. now has 7 launches total, tying China.

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