Tag Archives: Falcon 9

Europe has shut down the production line producing their ATV cargo craft for ISS.

Is this good or bad news? Europe has shut down the production line producing their ATV cargo craft for ISS.

Confronted by parts obsolescence and waning political support, the European Space Agency has shut down subsystem production lines for the Automated Transfer Vehicle as member states debate how they will contribute to future international space exploration efforts, according to top spaceflight officials.

ESA has launched three of the five ATVs it agreed to launch, with the remaining two scheduled in 2013 and 2014. What happens after that remains unclear. It seems from the article the European partners don’t seem interested in upgrading the ATV, and instead seem willing to let the as-yet untried U.S. commercial companies carry the load.

Commercial flights by U.S. spacecraft will make up the rest of the lost capacity with the end of the ATV program.

The pressure continues to build on a successful Falcon 9/Dragon flight on April 30.

New dates, March 20 and May 15 respectively, have been set for the ISS launches of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and the next manned Soyuz capsule.

New dates, March 20 and May 15 respectively, have been set for the ISS launches of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and the next manned Soyuz capsule.

The launch date for Dragon, however, is far more tentative.

Some details on the cause of the Dragon/Falcon 9 launch delay

Bill Harward has some details on the cause of the Dragon/Falcon 9 launch delay.

Essentially, nothing seems critical. They found a few minor issues that they felt needed more testing, and are simply making sure these issues are resolved before launch. All in all I find this report very encouraging. Stay tuned.

SpaceX outlines its new design goals for Falcon 9

What competition brings: SpaceX outlines its new design goals for Falcon 9 and its Merlin rocket engine.

[U]pcoming upgrades to the engine (Merlin 1D) will provide a vast improvement in performance, reliability and manufacturability – all of which could provide a timely boost to aiding the potential for success for the fully reusable Falcon 9.

Increased reliability: Simplified design by eliminating components and sub-assemblies. Increased fatigue life. Increased chamber and nozzle thermal margins,” noted SpaceX in listing the improvements in work.

Improved Performance: Thrust increased from 95,000 lbf (sea level) to 140,000 lbf (sea level). Added throttle capability for range from 70-100 percent. Currently, it is necessary to shut off two engines during ascent. The Merlin 1D will make it possible to throttle all engines. Structure was removed from the engine to make it lighter.

Improved Manufacturability: Simplified design to use lower cost manufacturing techniques. Reduced touch labor and parts count. Increased in-house production at SpaceX.

That’s just the engine. Most of the article however talks about the company’s effort to make as much of Falcon 9 reusable as possible. Hat tip to Clark Lindsey.

Space exploration and the unexpected consequences of government decisions

On Thursday, December 15, 2011, NASA management announced what seemed at first glance to be a very boring managerial decision. Future contracts with any aerospace company to launch astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) will follow the same contractual arrangements used by NASA and SpaceX and Orbital Sciences for supplying cargo to the space station.

As boring that sounds, this is probably the most important decision NASA managers have made since the 1960s. Not only will this contractual approach lower the cost and accelerate the speed of developing a new generation of manned spaceships, it will transfer control of space exploration from NASA — an overweight and bloated government agency — to the free and competitive open market.

To me, however, the decision illustrates a number of unexpected consequences, none of which have been noted by anyone in the discussions that followed NASA’s announcement back in mid-December.
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NASA has announced a February 7 launch date for SpaceX’s next test flight of Falcon 9 and Dragon

NASA has announced a February 7 launch date for SpaceX’s next test flight of Falcon 9 and Dragon to ISS.

They also have approved allowing Dragon to do a test berth with ISS on this flight, assuming the first test approach goes well.

The case against SpaceX

The case against SpaceX. From one of the company’s biggest supporters.

Trent Waddington raises many good points, all of which must be considered to have a clear, educated sense of where the future stands for American manned spaceflight. Two quotes:

The goal of SpaceX is human spaceflight, and the greatest repository of knowledge about human spaceflight is NASA. As such, it would appear obvious that getting NASA to help you to fly humans safely is a good idea. The way to do that is with Space Act Agreements. This is what SpaceX did under the COTS program, and later under the CCDev program.. and they got paid for the privilege. As a result, the Dragon spacecraft will soon be fully qualified as safe for human habitation on orbit as it will be berthed to the ISS and have astronauts inside it.

The problem is that NASA is a precocious customer. They know what they want, they think they know even better than you do how to make it, and they feel no guilt about changing their mind halfway through the project. As such, Space Act Agreements just totally grind NASA’s gears. They don’t have enough control. [emphasis in original]

NASA money is like heroin.. once they start taking it, most people find it very hard to stop. There’s a dependence that has grown between NASA and SpaceX, and although it is obviously a love-hate relationship, it’s going to be very hard for SpaceX to let go.. but, inevitably, they must. The current needs of NASA are very different to the long term goals of SpaceX.

And this:

Fundamentally, SpaceX has a shoddy business case which is best described as a house of cards.. that they’re still trying to play poker with.. and there’s dogs at the table, and they’re smoking cigars! Yeah, metaphor.

Read the whole thing. It’s quite good.

Reality always wins

Elon Musk’s talk yesterday at the National Press Club revealed several interesting things, about SpaceX’s rocket effort, about the state of the American commercial space industry, and about Elon Musk himself.

First, the company’s rocket design effort. Musk centered his talk on SpaceX’s new effort to make its Falcon 9 rocket completely reusable. Though he produced little specific details, and the moderator at the event asked no questions about it, it seems the engineering centers around these three concepts:
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SpaceX Acknowledges Falcon 9 Engine Anomaly

This is not good if true: SpaceX has admitted that in its December 2010 test flight of Falcon 9 there was a problem with its first stage.

During the August meeting, held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, SpaceX told to the two advisory bodies that there had been an engine anomaly during the most recent Falcon 9 launch, according Charles Daniel, a shuttle and space station safety expert at Herndon, Va.-based Valador Inc., and a member of the ISS Advisory Committee. “There was no explanation or root cause analysis or corrective action for this particular anomaly,” Daniel said Sept. 9 during the public meeting. “This is a relatively troublesome statement not to recognize that a premature engine shutdown was a significant event.”

The state of the new commercial manned space efforts

Chris Bergin at NASAspaceflight.com today wrote a report on the four companies NASA is subsidizing to build manned capsules. The status of each company tells us something of whether they can eventually provide the United States with a replacement for the shuttle, and do it soon. Let’s take a look at each.
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Elon Musk defends his vision and success

Elon Musk defends his vision and success. Key quote:

For the first time in more than three decades, America last year began taking back international market-share in commercial satellite launch. This remarkable turn-around was sparked by a small investment NASA made in SpaceX in 2006 as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. A unique public-private partnership, COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor — even an all-American one — can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

China has the fastest growing economy in the world. But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation.

To put it simply, Musk is right, on all counts.

China finds SpaceX’s launch prices challenging

Competition! China finds SpaceX’s launch prices low — and a challenge to meet.

Declining to speak for attribution, the Chinese officials say they find the published prices on the SpaceX website very low for the services offered, and concede they could not match them with the Long March series of launch vehicles even if it were possible for them to launch satellites with U.S. components in them.

SpaceX Unveils Plan for World’s Most Powerful Private Rocket

SpaceX unveils its plan for the Falcon 9 Heavy, what would be the world’s most powerful private rocket.

The new rocket will be able to carry about 117,000 pounds (53,000 kilograms) of cargo to orbit – about twice the payload-carrying capability of the space shuttle. The Falcon Heavy would launch more than twice as much weight as the Delta 4 heavy, currently the most powerful rocket in operation. Only NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rocket, which last launched in 1973, could carry more cargo to orbit, SpaceX officials said.

Musk said the rocket should lower the launch cost of cargo to about $1,000 per pound, about one-tenth the cost per pound on NASA shuttle launches.

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