Tag Archives: Falcon 9

The Russians announced that they plan nine more Proton rocket launches in 2013, for a total of twelve.

The competition heats up: The Russians announced today that they plan nine more Proton rocket launches in 2013, for a total of twelve.

I note this to give some context to what SpaceX will do with Falcon 9 this year. SpaceX has just updated its launch manifest schedule, and if the American company does what it says, it should have at least six more Falcon 9 flights this year, for a total of seven.

Should these predicted launches all take place, it will clearly demonstrate that SpaceX has grabbed a significant share of the launch market, but that the Russians are also holding their own.

Note also that the updated launch manifest still includes the first test flight of Falcon Heavy in 2013. Very interesting.

Update: The Russians are also preparing to launch their new Angara rocket family, which will replace their older rockets and allow them to launch from their new spaceport.

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SpaceX is about to finalize a deal with the Air Force to launch satellites on both its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

SpaceX is about to finalize a deal with the Air Force to launch satellites on both its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

For the Dscovr mission, scheduled for late 2014, a Falcon 9 will be used to launch an Earth and space weather satellite to the Sun-Earth Lagrange point L1, a location approximately 930,000 mi. from Earth. The Dscovr program, which will provide warning of space weather events, is a joint effort between the Air Force, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The STP-2 mission, which is targeted for launch on a Falcon Heavy in mid-2015, includes two space vehicles: the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate-2 (Cosmic-2), designed to monitor climate behaviors; and the Demonstration and Science Experiments (DSX), which will conduct radiation research. [emphasis mine]

The big story here is that even before it has flown the Falcon Heavy once SpaceX already has a customer for it.

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SpaceX is moving its Grasshopper test program to New Mexico’s spaceport.

SpaceX is moving its Grasshopper test program to New Mexico’s spaceport.

The move confirms big plans for the test bed. Flights to date have been conducted at SpaceX’s engine test site in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX received a waiver from the FAA to fly Grasshopper up to 11,500ft from McGregor, but Spaceport America is an FAA-certified spaceport where no where no waivers are required. “Spaceport America offers us the physical and regulatory landscape needed to complete the next phase of Grasshopper testing,” says SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

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Elon Musk confirms that on future Falcon 9 launches they will do tests of a powered return of the first stage.

The competition heats up: Elon Musk confirms that on future Falcon 9 launches they will do tests of a powered return of the first stage.

For the upcoming flight, after stage separation the first stage booster will do a burn to slow it down and then a second burn just before it reaches the water. In subsequent flights they will continue these over-water tests. He repeatedly emphasized that he expects several failures before they learn how to do it right. If all goes well with the over-water tests, they will fly back to launch site and land propulsively. He expects this could happen by mid-2014.

These tests are an extension of the Grasshopper tests, only this time they will take place during an actual launch.

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ILS, the company that launches the Russian Proton rocket, has lowered its prices.

The competition heats up: ILS, the company that launches the Russian Proton rocket, has lowered its prices.

The reason they have given is that the insurance rates to use their rocket have risen due to the three Proton rocket failures in the past two years and that they want to offset that cost for their customers. I suspect a second reason is the price pressure that the Falcon 9 is placing on them.

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After successfully reaching orbit, there appears to be a problem with the Dragon capsule.

Bad news: After successfully reaching orbit, there appears to be a problem with the Dragon capsule.

They have not yet released any information about what happened. The link above says that it appears to be related with the communications link, but NASA and SpaceX have as yet released no information other than to say they will hold a press conference in a few hours.

UPDATE: it appears the problem is with Dragon’s thrusters. Engineers have delayed the deployment the capsule’s solar panels while they try to get the thrusters activated. See the second link above.

UPDATE: Solar panels have been successfully deployed.

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Comparing the price of Falcon 9 with the Atlas 4.

Comparing the price of the Falcon 9 with the Atlas 4.

Today’s launch was conducted aboard the “plain Jane” version of the Atlas V, the 401, which has no strap on boosters, a single upper stage engine and a 4 meter fairing. It was originally awarded to Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services in 2007 for a $124 million fixed fee contract. By contrast the first NASA science launch awarded to the SpaceX Falcon 9, that of the Jason -3 satellite for 2014, was for $82 million. With current pricing for similarly equipped Atlas V 401 vehicles for NASA launches at roughly $150 million, based on awards from 2011, the difference is hardly trivial.

In other words, Falcon 9 is almost half the price. No wonder satellite companies are flocking to buy a launch on it.

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SpaceX has pinpointed the cause of the Falcon 9 engine shutdown during its October 7 Dragon launch.

SpaceX has pinpointed the cause of the Falcon 9 engine shutdown during its October 7 Dragon launch.

At the moment, however, they are not telling anyone what that cause is. They are telling us that the next Dragon launch is going to happen in late February or early March, which is slightly earlier than previous reports.

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SpaceX’s launch manifest for 2013 included three commercial launches in addition to its cargo flights to ISS.

SpaceX’s launch manifest for 2013 includes three commercial launches in addition to its cargo flights to ISS.

All told, it appears that 2013 will a crucial year for SpaceX. They first need to solve the question of that engine failure from their October Falcon 9 launch. Then they need to begin putting into orbit the long list of private satellites that they have contracts for but have held off launching pending the success of the NASA deal. Once they do that, set to begin next year, they will have proven – beyond a shadow of a doubt — that they are for real.

And on that subject, Elon Musk had some thoughts yesterday about his European competitors: “Europe’s rocket has no chance.”

SpaceX’s Falcon is a new entrant to the launcher market. It has so far made only four flights, but it has a backlog already of more than 40 contracted launches. Its quoted price under $60m per flight is proving highly attractive to satellite operators who have to pay substantially more to get on an Ariane. “Not only can we sustain the prices, but the next version of Falcon 9 is actually able to go to a lower price,” warned Mr Musk. “So if Ariane can’t compete with the current Falcon 9, it sure as hell can’t compete with the next one.”

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It appears that NASA is at the moment unconcerned should the investigation into the Falcon 9 engine failure on October 7 cause a delay in the next Dragon supply mission to ISS.

It appears that NASA is at the moment unconcerned should the investigation into the Falcon 9 engine failure on October 7 cause a delay in the next Dragon supply mission to ISS.

The supply cache delivered to the station in early to mid-2011 by the now-retired space shuttle placed the six-person orbiting science lab on a firm footing well into 2013, according to Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager. “The launch date itself, in January, is not really critical to the program from a supply standpoint,” Suffredini told an Oct. 26 news briefing. “So we have some flexibility.”

In the short run a delay here would not be critical. A long delay, which is unlikely, would however not be good for operations on the station, and illustrates why it is very important to get the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo capsule up an running as soon as possible.

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Faced with stiff competition in the launch market, Europe struggles to come up with a competitive replacement for Ariane 5

Faced with stiff competition in the launch market, Europe struggles to come up with a competitive replacement for Ariane 5

“I strongly believe we have to decide, as quickly as possible, to develop a new-generation launcher to be competitive in the market as it is forecast, and with the competitors,” [ESA Director General Jean-Jacques] Dordain said at the Berlin air show last month, a reference to new launch vehicle developments in India, China and the U.S., where Space Exploration Technologies’ low-cost Falcon 9 is challenging the global launcher market.

While space cadets might argue about launch prices till the cows come home, the actual competitors in the industry know better: SpaceX’s low prices are real and are forcing everyone to find ways to lower costs or lose business.

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The Orbcomm communications satellite put in a wrong orbit in the Falcon 9 launch has fallen to Earth.

The Orbcomm communications satellite that was put in the wrong orbit by the Falcon 9 rocket Sunday has fallen to Earth.

According to the company insurance will cover most of the loss. They also said that “had Orbcomm been the primary payload on this mission, as planned for the upcoming launches, we believe the OG2 prototype would have reached the desired orbit.” This appears to be a strong endorsement of the Falcon 9 rocket from the company, which has a contract with SpaceX to launch 17 more satellites on two Falcon 9 launches, scheduled for 2013 and 2014.

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An update on the Falcon 9 engine problems.

An update on the Falcon 9 engine problems.

Based on SpaceX’s press release, the rocket functioned as designed to overcome the engine failure. Nonetheless, it behooves them to find out why that engine shut down prematurely.

More worrisome for the company is the failure the Falcon 9 rocket to place in its proper orbit a secondary payload, an Orbcomm communications satellite. The satellite ended up in too low an orbit, probably because of the engine failure during launch. Orbcomm has a contract with SpaceX to launch a whole series of these satellites. This failure now, right at the get-go, won’t do them much good in terms of public relations.

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One engine of the Falcon 9 failed during launch.

Confirmed: One engine of the Falcon 9 exploded during launch.

Video at the link. The other 8 engines picked up the slack — as designed — and got Dragon into orbit.

This spectacular engine failure will of course have to be reviewed. However, if I were a commercial satellite company looking for a rocket to get my satellites into orbit, this failure would be recommendation, not a deterrent. The Falcon 9 demonstrated that even if one engine fails (and this one did by blowing up!), the rocket can survive the failure and make it to orbit. If that isn’t clear proof that this is a well designed and well built rocket, nothing is.

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Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada the winners of NASA’s commercial crew contracts.

It’s official: Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are the winners of NASA’s commercial crew contracts.

Boeing will receive $460 million, SpaceX $440 million, and Sierra Nevada $212.5. All are planning to launch by 2015.

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The cost of launch

Two news items from NASA today:

What I find most interesting about these stories is the fees charged by the two companies. SpaceX will be paid $82 million for its one launch, while ULA will be paid $412 million for its three launches, or about $137 million per launch.
» Read more

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Clark Lindsey posted today this interesting cost comparison between the Falcon 9 and the Russian-built Proton rocket.

The cost of launch: Clark Lindsey posted today this interesting cost comparison between the Falcon 9 and the Russian-built Proton rocket.

The essence is this: The Proton rocket costs twice as much as the Falcon 9. If SpaceX can make a profit charging these low numbers, the launch industry is going to see a major shake out in the coming years.

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More details on both SpaceX’s Merlin engine test yesterday as well as Orbital Sciences’ test firing of its Antares AJ-26 rocket engine on Monday.

More details on both SpaceX’s Merlin engine test yesterday as well as Orbital Sciences’ test firing of its Antares AJ-26 rocket engine on Monday.

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