Tag Archives: Falcon 9

SpaceX successfully completes dress rehearsal for Saturday launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its standard dress rehearsal countdown, including a static firing of the Falcon 9 first stage, in anticipation of its schedule launch of a commercial communications satellite on Saturday.

The first stage will be the third reused first stage to fly into space.


Elon Musk’s economic version of SLS

Last night Elon Musk gave a speech providing an update on his vision for building an interplanetary spaceship, and in the process described at length how he intends to make such a rocket/spacecraft affordable, efficient, and profitable. His update included outlining how he hopes this rocket could even be used as a transportation vehicle on Earth. However, this was what I consider the most significant:

But most importantly came a timeline that, while aspirational – something even Mr. Musk noted – is encouraging.

Currently, SpaceX will begin full-scale construction of the first BFRs in the second quarter of 2018, with the aim to launch the first two BFR missions in the 2022 interplanetary alignment and launch window to Mars. Those first two BFR missions will be scouting missions of sorts to “confirm water resources and identify hazards and place power, mining, and life support infrastructure for future flights” on the surface. Those two missions will then be followed by four BFR missions in 2024 to the red planet.

Excitingly, two of those missions will be crew missions taking the first people to Mars, while the other two will be cargo ships bringing more equipment and supplies.

Will Musk achieve this schedule? I have doubts, but I also think he has a reasonable chance, based on his track record. More important, if he even comes close he, along with Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin with their New Glenn rocket, will demonstrate the utter absurdity of our federal government spending a further dime on SLS, Orion, or NASA’s new boondoggle, a lunar space station.


ArianeGroup’s transition to Ariane 6 rocket

Link here. It appears that this transition not only includes replacing Ariane 5 with Ariane 6, but also the phase out of Russian Soyuz rockets by 2022. This loss of business is going to hurt Russia, as the government there desperately needs cash with the drop in oil prices.

The article also noted that ArianeGroup will charge two prices for Ariane 6, depending on configuration and payload, $85 million and $130 million per launch. These prices seem high, but because they likely cover the launch of two satellites, customers will be charged half these amounts, $40 million and $65 million, which is competitive in today’s market.

Will these prices be competitive in 2020s? I have my doubts. I estimate, based on news reports, that SpaceX is charging about $40 million today for a launch with a reused first stage, and $62 million for a launch with an entirely new rocket. Give them another five years of development and I expect those prices to drop significantly, especially as they shift to entirely reused first stages for almost every launch and begin to demonstrate a routine launch cadence of more than one launch per month.

This quote below explains how ArianeGroup really intends to stay alive in the launch market:

The price targets assume that European governments — the European Space Agency, the European Commission, Eumetsat and individual EU nations — agree to guarantee the equivalent of five Ariane 62 missions per year, plus at least two missions for the light-lift Vega rocket.

In other words, ArianeGroup really doesn’t wish to compete for business. It wants to use government coercion to force European space agencies and businesses to buy its product. They might get that, but the long term result will be a weak European presence in space, as everyone else finds cheaper and more efficient ways to do things.


Dragon successfully returns from ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s last new Dragon capsule today returned successfully from ISS, splashing down in the Pacific.

I had originally described this Dragon capsule as the first reused capsule. It is not. That capsule returned to Earth in July. Thank you to SCooper, one of my readers, for noting my mistake. It is now corrected.


How not to land a rocket

The SpaceX blooper reel! It shows some crash footage that had not been released earlier. Also, the captions almost certainly were written by Musk himself, and if not, reek of his sense of humor, and also reveal the humbleness that he and his company bring to this effort. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you will make it hard to spot the moment when you are making a major error.


Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched a commercial satellite

The competition heats up: Russia today successfully placed a Spanish communications satellite into orbit using its Proton rocket.

Russia remains one launch behind SpaceX, 13 to 12, for 2017, but they have three more launches scheduled for September, while SpaceX has nothing planned. Overall I think it is going to be a neck and neck race between the American private company and Russia, the former perennial leader in launches, for the final 2017 lead.


SpaceX’s flight suit for manned trips to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this week unveiled the flight suit that passengers will wear during their Dragon flights to and from ISS.

This is not strictly a spacesuit. It has limited capabilities, and can essentially only be used during the ferry flights. Nonetheless, I guarantee it as well as Boeing’s were developed for far less and much quicker than anything NASA could have come up with.


SpaceX launches commercial satellite, lands 1st stage

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched Taiwan’s first homemade commercial satellite.

They also landed the first stage successfully on their barge.d

After a short hike this morning Diane and I decided to relax the rest of the day. Time to catch up on other stuff.


SpaceX launch today

SpaceX is scheduled to resume launches at Kennedy, after a month of range upgrades by the Air Force. You can watch it live here, or here.

Launch is presently scheduled for 12:31 Eastern time to send a Dragon capsule to ISS. At the moment all looks good for an on-time launch.

The launch was a complete success, including a picture-perfect first stage landing at Kennedy.


SpaceX completes static fire for next launch, advances its Falcon Heavy prep

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its routine dress rehearsal static fire in preparation for a Monday launch of a Dragon cargo capsule to ISS.

Two items of note regarding this launch. First, it will be the last cargo capsule launched by SpaceX that has not been used before. From now on they plan on recycling all cargo ships, and have actually shut down the production line building new cargo capsules. Instead, they want to focus on building new upgraded manned Dragon capsules.

Second, even as this launch goes forward, with the first stage expected to land at Kennedy on their landing pad there, they are building the second landing pad at this same site to accommodate the planned November first launch of Falcon Heavy. For that launch, the two side mounted first stages will return to Kennedy, while the core stage will land on a barge in the ocean.


SES agrees to a second Falcon 9 launch with used first stage

Capitalism in space: SES has agreed to launch a second commercial satellite using a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage.

The launch of the SES 11 spacecraft, also named EchoStar 105, will be the third time SpaceX has sent a customer’s satellite into orbit with the help of a reused rocket stage. Industry officials said SES, EchoStar and SpaceX agreed in recent weeks to shift the satellite from an all-new rocket to one with a previously-flown first stage. The SES 11/EchoStar 105 satellite will likely ride a Falcon 9 first stage that first flew Feb. 19 with a Dragon supply ship heading for the International Space Station, one source said, but a firm assignment has not been confirmed. That vehicle returned to a vertical touchdown at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Liftoff from a Florida launch pad is scheduled no sooner than around Sept. 27, a couple of days after a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is set to haul a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency.

The most wonderful aspect of this is how routine it is steadily becoming.


SpaceX now one of the world’s most valuable companies

Data from a new round of investment capital fundraising says that SpaceX is now valued at $21 billion, placing it among the only six venture-backed companies worth more than $20 billion.

The article also notes that this new valuation is up from the $12 billion listed only two years ago.

Update: As noted by my readers, I have revised the post to note that this story refers not to all companies but to those that obtained their financing privately.


The damage and repair of TDRS-M creates complicated scheduling problems

Because of the launch delay caused by the accident that damaged the antenna of NASA’s TDRS-M communication satellite, requiring its replacement, the agency is now faced with a cascading series of scheduling problems.

They are now aiming for an August 10 launch of TDRS-M on a ULA Atlas 5. This will then force a delay in the August 12 launch of a Dragon capsule to ISS to August 14, which can’t be delayed past August 16 because of a scheduled Russian spacewalk on ISS that must happen on August 17 because it involves the release of two satellites. Making things even more complicated is Dragon’s cargo, which includes mice for a rodent experiment. If it doesn’t occur before August 16, the mice will then have to be replaced with fresh mice, causing further delays.

There is then even the chance that these scheduling problems might impact SpaceX’s scheduled August 28’s launch of the X-37B, as well as ULA’s scheduled August 31 launch of surveillance satellite.

One additional tidbit: This Dragon will be the last unused cargo capsule. All future SpaceX cargo missions will use previously flown capsules.

I should add that these scheduling issues illustrate starkly the growing need for more launch sites. There is money to be made here, fulfilling this need.


News from SpaceX

Capitalism in space: At the annual convention of the National Space Society, Elon Musk revealed some significant new details about his company’s future engineering and launch plans.

The first two stories are related, as it had been powered landings that SpaceX hoped to use for its Red Dragon Mars landings. Dropping powered landings, at this time, means that the first Dragon mission to Mars will likely not happen in 2020. While Musk outlined a number of good engineering reasons for this decision, to me this quote from the first article was significant:

SpaceX planned to transition from splashdowns, which is how the current cargo version of the Dragon returns to Earth, to “propulsive” landings at a pad at some point after the vehicle’s introduction. Certification issues, he said, for propulsive landings led him to cancel those plans. “It would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety, particularly for crew transport,” he said.

In other words, NASA was balking at this innovation, and was putting up so many obstacles that it just wasn’t worth the company’s effort at this time. NASA is their main customer for manned launches, and NASA doesn’t like daring or creativity or innovation. The powered version of Dragon will probably have to wait for other private customers looking for a way to get into space.

The third story outlines the engineering challenges that SpaceX has been dealing with in its effort to build the Falcon Heavy, and includes this tidbit from Musk:

With all of these elements in consideration, Mr. Musk is urging caution regarding public expectation for Falcon Heavy’s first flight, saying that there is a “real good chance that the first vehicle [won’t] make it to orbit. So I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly.”

Even more telling was how Musk continued on this point, stating that he hoped Falcon Heavy makes it far enough away from LC-39A before failing so the pad will escape significant damage. “I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it’s not going to cause damage. I would consider that a win, honestly,” said Mr. Musk.

Thank God NASA is not involved in the development of the Falcon Heavy. SpaceX would have probably had to abandon this as well.

Meanwhile, this detailed article by Eric Berger gives us Elon Musk’s position on NASA’s contracting system. Not surprisingly, much of what Musk says mirrors what I wrote in Capitalism in Space:

During his remarks Saturday, Musk said NASA could avoid unnecessary delays and costs by transitioning to a system of competitive awards for fixed-price contracts, in which companies are only paid when they meet “milestones” such as completing a flight test or satisfying NASA about the safety performance of a vehicle. Additionally, he said, at least two entities should compete during the development process.

There’s a lot more there, and it is worth a full reading.


Five satellite Air Force contract up for bid

Capitalism in space: The Air Force has announced that it will be soliciting bids from SpaceX and ULA for a 5-satellite launch contract.

Claire Leon, director of the Launch Enterprise Directorate at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, told reporters that grouping launches together was an effort to streamline and speed the acquisition process at a time when the national security sector is demanding ever-increasing access to space. “By doing five at once, it makes our acquisition more efficient and it allows the contractors to put in one proposal,” she said.

This grouping however might make it impossible for SpaceX to win the contract, as the company’s Falcon 9 rocket might not be capable of launching all five satellites, and its Falcon Heavy has not yet flown the three times necessary before the Air Force will consider using it.


Falcon 9 launch aborted at T minus 10 again today

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch of a commercial communications satellite was once again aborted today 10 seconds before launch.

They have not yet pinned down what caused the abort, but assuming they can figure things out, they will try again tomorrow, since the launch abort took place at the end of today’s launch window.


Reused Dragon makes second splashdown successfully

Capitalism in space: The first Dragon capsule to make a second flight to ISS splashed down and was recovered successfully today in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, they apparently have identified and fixed the cause of yesterday’s launch abort, and will try to launch a commercial satellite today at 7:37 pm Eastern.


Dress rehearsal completed for SpaceX’s Sunday launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday successfully completed the static fire dress rehearsal countdown for its planned Sunday Falcon 9 launch, which would be the third SpaceX launch in 9 days.

The article also provides some good information about the company’s efforts to recover the first stages and the fairings from the past two launches. For example:

This mission [the Florida launch of a Bulgarian satelltie] also included another test per SpaceX’s fairing recovery aspirations. Classed as the best attempt to date, SpaceX has added steerable parachutes to guide the fairing halves to the ocean surface, before it deploys a “bouncy castle” that protects it while it awaits recovery. The technology is still being refined, but Elon Musk believes full recovery could be achieved later this year.


SpaceX expanding facilities in Florida for refurbishing used first stages

Capitalism in space: SpaceX is proposing to expand its facilities at Port Canaveral for refurbishing used first stages.

It appears they need the approval for the work from the port’s Board of Commissioners, though I suspect this board will rubber stamp its approval as quickly as it can.

One tidbit from the story. SpaceX has so far recovered 13 first stages and flown two again. One (the first) has been put on display, which leaves 10 available for reflight. They plan to use two on the first Falcon Heavy launch. The remaining 8 are likely for sale (maybe 10 if the two reflown fly a third time), which explains the negotiations going on with Iridium and others.


SpaceX to try another launch on Sunday

Capitalism in space: SpaceX is aiming for another launch on July 2 in Florida, only 9 days after their last launch there.

That will make three launches in nine days.

Meanwhile, in an interview on The Space Show with David Livingston, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell revealed that, after this year’s planned demo launch of the Falcon Heavy, they plan two commercial launches of the rocket in 2018.

That means the Falcon Heavy will have flown at least three times before SLS even comes close to its first test flight.


SpaceX launches 10 Iridium satellites, lands first stage

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched 10 Iridium satellites while also once again successfully landing the Falcon 9 first stage.

This gives them 9 launches for the year, more than any other company or country in the entire world.

One cool personal detail about today’s launch. Diane and I were doing a hike with two friends, and at about 1:20 pm I asked Brian if his Iphone might have signal and could we maybe then watch the launch. Lo and behold, he did have signal, and we were able to connect with SpaceX’s live stream, and were able to take a fifteen minute hiking break to watch the launch and first stage landing while sitting on a mountain trail in the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson.

Ain’t technology wonderful?


SpaceX launches satellite with reused first stage, recovers stage

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has done it again. They have placed a Bulgarian television satellite into orbit, using a previously flown first stage.

The landing of the first stage had a moment of fear. Just before the stage was to land, as it was firing its engines during the landing burn, the video showed something hit the water next to the barge, then the image froze and was lost. For about fifteen seconds it appeared that possibly something had gone wrong during the burn. Then the image returned, showing the stage sitting neatly and upright and apparently unharmed, on the barge. Whether this stage will fly a third time will have to wait until they inspect it, but if it does, they will certainly prove without question that the decades of big space engineers telling us that such things were impossible was childish and narrow-minded hogwash.

Remember that the next time someone tells you something is too hard to try to do.


Bulgaria credits SpaceX’s low costs for making its satellite possible

Capitalism in space: The CEO of the Bulgarian company that built the television satellite that SpaceX plans to launch later today said that it was SpaceX’s low costs that made the satellite possible.

Maxim Zayakov, CEO of BulgariaSat and its affiliate television provider Bulsatcom, told Spacefight Now that SpaceX’s push to reduce the cost of space transportation has yielded tangible results for his country. “People don’t realize that, for small countries and small companies like us, without SpaceX, there was no way we would ever be able to even think about space,” Zayakov said. “With them, it was possible. We got a project. I think, in the future, it’s going to be even more affordable because of reusability.”

This is what I have been saying for more than a decade. You lower the costs, you make it possible for more customers to enter the market. This increase in customer base makes it possible for more launch companies to enter the market in response, and that forces the costs to drop further, which starts the whole cycle again. In the end we not only get a robust launch industry, the human race gets to settle the solar system.

The article also confirms that, at this time, SpaceX is only offering a 10% discount for the use of a reused first stage. They say this is because they wish to recoup their $1 billion investment to develop reusability. While this might be true, the real truth is that SpaceX doesn’t need to provide a larger discount. The discounted price of $55.8 million saves satellite companies another $6.2 million, which isn’t chicken feed, and offers them the cheapest launch price anywhere by far. SpaceX in turn makes more money per launch.

Should another company begin to challenge this launch price I would then expect SpaceX to lower the price further. They have the profit margin to do this.

Note that you can watch today’s Falcon 9 launch of the Bulgarian satellite at 2:10 pm Eastern at SpaceX’s website.


House lawmakers push Air Force to use reusable rockets

Capitalism in space: House lawmakers today added an amendment to the Air Force budget that would require the military to “move rapidly to evaluate the potential use of reusable space launch vehicles such as those being flown by SpaceX.”

The amendment was approved by a voice vote in committee.

As noted by Eric Berger at the link, this marks an amazing shift by Congress in a very short time. A few years ago, SpaceX had to sue the government for the right to bid on Air Force launch contracts. At that time Congress was exceedingly skeptical of allowing military satellites to launch on new Falcon 9 rockets, no less ones using used first stages. Moreover, Congress was then eager to protect its big buddy ULA, which then had a monopoly on military launches and was making gobs of money per launch. Now, Congress is all for re-usability and saving money and competition.

This change demonstrates the importance of success. SpaceX has been successful, and with that success the nay-sayers have suddenly vanished. Now, everyone loves them, when only a few years ago they were considered risky and unreliable.

When SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy succeeds and flies several times prior to the first launch of SLS, watch for this same process to occur there as well. SLS will no longer be sacrosanct, and Congress will suddenly discover how much a waste of money it is.


Iridium launches might use reused Falcon 9 first stages

Capitalism in space: Iridium is considering using Falcon 9 previously flown first stages for its later already contracted launches with SpaceX.

Iridium is launching 75 of its 81 second-generation Iridium Next satellites using eight Falcon 9 launches, the first of which took place Jan. 14. In a conference call with reporters June 19, Desch said Iridium’s original contract with SpaceX calls for new Falcon 9s for each mission, but if SpaceX can improve its launch schedule with pre-flown stages, Iridium would consider them for missions in 2018. “While we are currently flying first flown launches, I’m open to previously flown launches, particularly for the second half of our launch schedule,” said Desch.

Desch said there are three criterion by which Iridium would decide whether to use a pre-flown rocket: schedule, cost and reliability — of which schedule is the most important. “Would [pre-flown rockets] improve the current launch plan that I have with brand-new rockets that I’ve basically contracted for a number of years ago and have budgeted for and have paid for?” Desch asked. “That’s the first thing: will they improve my schedule, because schedule to me is very very important.”

I think this tells us that Iridium is waiting to see if this week’s launch of a Bulgarian satellite on a reused first stage is successful. The article also also notes that they are still negotiating over price for using “flight proven” first stages.

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