Tag Archives: Falcon 9

SpaceX launches another satellite and recovers another Falcon 9 first stage

The competition heats up: SpaceX this morning successfully put another satellite in orbit while also recovering another Falcon 9 first stage.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, after hiking out today. More on that later, when I am not so beat and have the energy to write.

ULA and SpaceX to compete for GPS launch

The competition heats up: ULA and SpaceX will likely face-off for the right to launch the Air Force’s next GPS satellite.

SpaceX won the last GPS launch with an unopposed bid of $83 million. ULA has said that their average price for an Air Force launch under the EELV program has been $225 million. I suspect that their bid here will be significantly less than that.

SpaceX test fires one of its recovered first stages

The competition heats up: SpaceX has completed a full duration test firing of one of its recovered first stages.

The JCSAT-14 stage [which was the third recovered stage and the second to land on a barge] isn’t expected to fly again due to the initial evaluations into damage received via its high-velocity return. However, it will still provide useful test data. “Most recent rocket took max damage, due to very high entry velocity,” noted Elon Musk. “Will be our life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good.”

That testing on the JCSAT-14 booster began on Thursday, with the stage placed on the test stand at McGregor – ironically after the stand was vacated by the JCSAT-16 first stage – which recently completed testing and has since been shipped to Florida for its launch next month. The returned stage is also sported a new cap, which may be providing some simulated weight to aid the required data gathering during the test firing.

The booster conducted a long firing of 2 minutes 30 seconds (the duration of first stage flight), that began around 7pm local time on Thursday (per L2 McGregor), which will provide vital data on the returned stage as SpaceX continue preparations for validating one of its recovered booster for a re-launch later this year.

It is once again important to point out that SpaceX’s engineers here have an enormous advantage over every other rocket engineer who has ever lived. They have in hand a recovered first stage that was actually used to launch a satellite into orbit, giving them the ability to test it and find out precisely how such equipment fares during launch. This will give them the ability, unavailable to others, to make engineering improvements that will make future first stages even more reliable and reusable.

Reused Dragon cargo capsule to ISS within a year

The competition heats up: SpaceX hopes to launch a previously flown Dragon capsule to ISS sometime with the next year.

This fall, SpaceX plans to refly one of its landed Falcon 9 rockets for the first time — and a Dragon capsule should make history by launching on a repeat ISS resupply mission shortly thereafter, a NASA official and a SpaceX representative said during a postlaunch news conference Monday. “I think we’re looking at SpaceX-11,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s deputy manager of ISS utilization, referring to the 11th resupply mission the company will fly with Dragon and the Falcon 9. (Monday’s launch kicked off SpaceX-9.)

I had been wondering when SpaceX would try to reuse a Dragon, and had assumed the reason it hadn’t happened yet was partly because of NASA reluctance combined with the delays connected with the launch failure last year. Either way, it appears that NASA is now on board and that the company is beginning to gear up for that first reflight.

SpaceX seeks two more pads for returning 1st stages

The competition heats up: SpaceX is asking for permission to establish two more landing pads so that it will have the capability of landing three first stages all within minutes of each other.

“SpaceX expects to fly Falcon Heavy for the first time later this year,” the company said in a statement responding to questions. “We are also seeking regulatory approval to build two additional landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. We hope to recover all three Falcon Heavy rockets, though initially we may attempt drone ship landings” at sea.

This news suggests two things: 1. The first Falcon Heavy launch is definitely coming soon. 2. They are going to try to return all three 1st stages during that first launch.

Another successful Falcon 9 launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX has successfully launched a Dragon freighter to ISS.

As importantly, they have also landed the first stage successfully in Florida. At this point, they are demonstrating that they have the basics of this task down pat, and can now reliably return that first stage on practically every mission.

Next step: Reuse a first stage, coming later this year.

SpaceX chooses recovered first stage to reuse

The competition heats up: SpaceX has chosen as the first Falcon 9 first stage to reuse the one that was the first to land successfully on a barge on April 8.

Though they have not announced the mission it will fly, I strongly suspect it will be one of the two SES communications satellites scheduled to launch in the fall. SES has already said they want to buy a launch using a re-used first stage, and the two SES satellites scheduled for the fall have some redundancy between them.

Iridium’s next generation constellation of satellites

The competition heats up: Iridium prepares the first 10 of a total of 81 new satellites for launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in September.

The Iridium Next program is a $3 billion investment by Iridium, according to Matt Desch, Iridium’s chief executive officer. Iridium’s purchase of 81 satellites represents approximately $2.2 billion of that cost, Desch said, and the company’s launch contract with SpaceX for seven Falcon 9 flights was valued at $492 million when the parties signed it in 2010. That was the largest commercial launch contract in history until last year’s 21-launch order by satellite Internet provider OneWeb with Arianespace.

The first 10 Iridium Next satellites will fly on a Falcon 9 rocket in September, followed by a second launch as soon as December with the next batch. Iridium managers will give the go-ahead for the second launch once the first 10 satellites finish initial in-orbit tests, Desch said. The other five launches should occur about once every two months next year to fill out the Iridium Next fleet 485 miles (780 kilometers) above Earth. Iridium’s contract with SpaceX calls for all the missions to fly on newly-built Falcon 9s, a situation unlikely to change any time soon since insurance arrangements for the initial launches have been finalized.

But Desch said he is open to purchasing reused Falcon 9 boosters in the future “if they’re the right price.”

To meet this schedule SpaceX’s launch schedule will have to ramp up considerably from its present rate of one launch about every three weeks.

Airbus Safran merger completed

The competition heats up: The expected merger of Airbus and Safran to create a rocket company called Airbus Safran Launchers is expected to be finalized today, allowing the new company to move forward in its construction of Ariane 6, designed to compete with SpaceX’s lower cost rockets.

SpaceX’s first stage teaches them how to land on Mars

The competition heats up: This update on the status of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule also provides this interesting detail about the engineering knowledge gained from the company’s effort to vertically land its Falcon 9 first stages:

The company is also using the propulsive landings as a way to practically and physically test landing systems in a near-Mars atmospheric environment. “Earth’s upper atmosphere is also a really good analogue for Mars’ atmosphere,” noted [Garrett Reisman, Director of Space Operations]. “When you get up high enough, the density and consistency of the atmosphere is very similar to what you face during Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) on Mars. So every time we land, we take one of these rockets and we perform hypersonic retrograde propulsion, the data from which we’re sharing with JPL because it’s the first time this has ever been demonstrated on a major scale.”

To this end, Reisman pointed out that the Falcon 9 first stage landings are really serving as test beds for the EDL systems of eventual Mars missions. “Every time you see one of those rockets coming back, not only is it enabling a whole new paradigm for launching things into space, but it’s also bringing us one step closer to Mars.

As for Dragon, it now appears the company wants to do a full unmanned demo flight to and from ISS before it performs its launch abort test. They will then follow this with a manned demo mission to ISS. All three flights are planned for 2017.

Damaged Falcon 9 first stage returns to port

The remains of the damaged Falcon 9 first stage that tipped over during its barge landing last week returned to port this past weekend.

Video and images of it can be seen at the link, all of which suggest that there is a slight chance the engines might be salvageable. Regardless, SpaceX once again has valuable used space hardware that no one else has ever had which it can study to improve its future rocket designs.

Florida demands $15K port fee from SpaceX

Nice first stage you got there, be a shame if something happened to it: The Florida port where SpaceX has been offloading its recovered first stages from its barge has announced that it wants to charge the company $15,000 each time.

“We view their cargo passing over our dock just like any other cargo passing our dock,” Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said. “We’re not looking at this as an adversarial relationship. It’s no different than anything else coming across the dock. You have to pay for use of port facilities. That’s how a port makes its money.”

“The proposed wharfage fee is 14 times higher than what any other business is being charged for using port facilities,” SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said in an email to FLORIDA TODAY. “Port Canaveral is an important partner in our recovery operations. But we expect fees to be fair and reflect our actual use of the port. We’re looking forward to participating in the meeting later this week.”

The port notes that the size and the weight of the first stages cause significant wear and tear to the port, and thus should pay more. They have a point, but this still looks like they have noticed they have a customer with deep pockets that they now are trying to pick.

Posted from Linthicum, Maryland.

Another successful Falcon 9 launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX has successfully put two commecial satellites in orbit. The first stage hit the barge, but the landing was unsuccessful. More details to come.

The full video of the entire launch is embedded below the fold. One interesting part includes a view from inside the first stage looking back at the second stage at separate, followed with images from the first stage on its way back to Earth..

» Read more

SpaceX to launch again on Wednesday

The competition heats up: SpaceX will attempt another commercial launch on Wednesday morning, this time putting two satellites into orbit.

They will once again try to land the first stage in what they say are difficult circumstances. They are also picking up the launch pace, with this the second commercial launch in less than three weeks. It will also be their sixth launch of the year, matching what they did in each of the last two years, with more than half the year to go.

Musk hints details of SpaceX Mars project

The competition heats up: In an interview with the Washington Post this week, Elon Musk gave some more hints at his company’s future plans to send its Dragon capsules to Mars.

“Essentially what we’re saying is we’re establishing a cargo route to Mars,” [Musk] said. “It’s a regular cargo route. You can count on it. It’s going happen every 26 months. Like a train leaving the station. And if scientists around the world know that they can count on that, and it’s going to be inexpensive, relatively speaking compared to anything in the past, then they will plan accordingly and come up with a lot of great experiments.”

The key to Musk’s effort is that he plans on doing it. He isn’t sitting around waiting for others, or trying to convince others to join him in a partnership before proceeding. He is simply doing it, and is welcoming others to take advantage of the opportunity he is offering.

Elon Musk sends a tweet and the world listens

The competition heats up: Yesterday Elon Musk sent out a tweet that simply repeated something his company has been saying now for several months — but with one slight additional detail — and the press went gaga.

What Musk said was that SpaceX hopes to reuse one of its used Falcon 9 first stages by September or October. Previously they had merely said they were aiming to do it before the end of the year. Since SES has offered one of its satellites for the job, and since it has had for months two such satellites scheduled for launch by SpaceX in September and October, this announcement by Musk is not really much of a surprise. Yet, the tweet was enough for all of the following mainstream news sources to gin up news-breaking headlines:

I am not really complaining. What I am really noting is how serious the world now takes what Musk and SpaceX are doing. They say they plan to do something new and revolutionary, and people sit up and take notice. And the reasons are twofold. First, everything they have said they were going to do, they have done. Musk’s announcement has to be taken seriously. Second, Musk owns SpaceX, and does not really need anyone’s permission to do this. He isn’t in a negotiation with numerous other players, as has been the case with NASA and its projects for the past half century. We know that if he wants to try something, the only things that could stop him are lack of capital and lack of good engineering, neither of which are an obstacle in this case.

So, be prepared for the first relaunch of a rocket’s first stage sometime this fall. And don’t be surprised if that isn’t the only new thing SpaceX accomplishes at the time.

Falcon 9 first stage returns to port, with a noticable list

The competition heats up: The first stage from SpaceX’s most recent Falcon 9 launch returned to port today, showing a visible lean.

Musk said that the stage was probably OK, but there was some risk of tipping. This was due to the fact that the contingency “crush core” was used up. He described on Twitter that the crush core was an aluminum honeycomb for energy absorption in the telescoping actuator. Once the stage was within sight of land, it became clear that the booster had a noticeable lean to it, due to the aforementioned contingency crush core being used up. The ramifications of this are still unclear, but Musk’s tweet implied that the crush core is easily replaceable.

High speed Falcon 9 first stage camera view

SpaceX has released a high speed version of the camera view taken from the camera mounted on the Falcon 9 first stage that successfully landed on a barge on Friday.

I have embedded that video below the fold. Quite entertaining, though it emphasizes how much the flight resembles a high speed roller coaster ride.
» Read more

SpaceX does it again!

SpaceX is beginning to make the landings of its Falcon 9 first stage routine. They just successfully landed another first stage on their drone ship, even though this was once again a difficult geosynchronous satellite launch with high speeds and limited available fuel.

It also appears that they will also successfully place the commercial satellite in orbit.

Status of the third recovered Falcon 9 first stage

The recovered first stage from SpaceX’s last Falcon 9 launch experienced significant wear and tear during its high speed descent and landing.

They do not think they will be able to use the stage again, but will instead test it to determine the engineering tolerances that need to be met to make recovery and reuse in these situations more likely. The data will also help them increae the likelihood of reusability on launches that are less stressful.

Posted from Belize.

SpaceX’s second first stage barge landing

Below is video of the Falcon 9 first stage landing last night. There isn’t really much to see, because this happened at night. However, I must repeat that this happened at night. In other words, SpaceX was able to bring its first stage down accurately in the middle of the ocean onto a tiny barge in the dark.

Who says the impossible is not possible?

During the live telecast, the audience broke out into a chant of “USA! USA!”, as they did after the previous first stage landings. Can you guess why?

SpaceX lands the first stage again!

The competition heats up: In tonight’s launch, SpaceX not only put a commercial satellite into geosynchronous orbit, it successfully landed the first stage on a barge, a landing they did not expect to succeed.

Go here to watch a launch replay. The landing is at about 38 minutes.

With this success, I think they have demonstrated that they can recover that first stage in almost every circumstance. The next big challenge: Launch Falcon Heavy and recovering all three of its first stages.

SpaceX updates its prices

The competition heats up: SpaceX this weekend updated the prices and listed capabilities for buying a Falcon 9 launch, while also adding the price and capabilities of its not-yet flown Falcon Heavy. Here’s the link to the SpaceX page.

The damage shakes out to $62 million for a Falcon 9 rocket launch with a payload of 4,020 kilograms (8,860 pounds) and $90 million for a ride on the much-anticipated Falcon Heavy rocket, set to debut in late 2016, which can ferry 13,600 kilograms (29,980 pounds) to Mars. In addition to adding an interplanetary destination to its wares, SpaceX has also upped the payload capacity of the Falcon 9 to low Earth orbit from 29,000 pounds to over 50,000 pounds.

The Falcon Heavy is expected to put slightly more than 50 tons into low Earth orbit, half of what a Saturn 5 could do, and about two thirds what the first version of SLS will be able to do. Yet, their price to buy a launch is actually less than what every other rocket company is charging for rockets approximately comparable to the Falcon 9 and about 500 times less than the cost to build that SLS rocket (what an SLS actually costs to launch is anybody’s guess, but it certainly ain’t anywhere near $100 million). And the upgrades on the Falcon 9 have also made it better than those other rockets because it can now put 25 tons into low Earth orbit, only slightly less than the space shuttle.

That they have added the Falcon Heavy is also more evidence that they are confident that its first test flight will be this year.

SpaceX gets its first official Air Force contract

The competition heats up: On April 27 the Air Force made it official and announced that SpaceX has won its first military contract, breaking ULA’s launch monopoly.

This contract award really isn’t a surprise, as SpaceX had been certified by the Air Force as a qualified bidder, and ULA had declined to bid on this particular contract, leaving SpaceX as the Air Force’s only possible contractor.

Update: The Air Force has admitted that SpaceX’s $83 million price is 40% less than what ULA has typically charged for a comparable launch, confirming what Elon Musk and SpaceX (and many others, including myself back in 2005) have claimed all along, that the Air Force’s EELV bulk buy (giving ULA an Air Force launch monopoly) was a bad idea, discouraging innovation, forcing costs up, and guaranteed to force the government to spend a lot of unnecessary extra money.

I must add that it is definitely worthwhile reading my UPI column from 2005 again, now, more than a decade later. I predicted quite accurately what has subsequently happened following the merger of Lockheed Martin and Boeing to form ULA.

A close look at Falcon 9’s reusable cost savings

Link here.

The analysis is interesting and thoughtful, though some of the negative comments quoted from a former NASA engineer only illustrate why NASA was unable to do this very well. Moreover, these comments from Arianespace’s chief suggest that Arianespace doesn’t understand basic economics.

Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel, in an April 23 briefing at Europe’s Guiana Space Center here on the northeast coast of South America, said Europe’s launch sector can only guess at how much SpaceX will need to spend to refurbish its Falcon 9 first stages. Israel said European assessments of reusability have concluded that, to reap the full cost benefits, a partially reusable rocket would need to launch 35-40 times per year to maintain a sizable production facility while introducing reused hardware into the manifest.

…Israel’s argument, which he has made before, is that even if first stages can be recovered and refurbished in a cost-effective way, the launch rate needed for maximum cost savings – and hence price reductions to customers – is beyond Europe’s reach. The only nations today whose governments are launching sufficiently often to reach those rates are the United States and China, and even these government markets may be insufficient, in and of themselves, to close the business case.

The customer base is not static. If you lower the price, the customer base grows, a fact that Elon Musk understands and which has been driving his effort from day one.

Video of recovered Falcon 9 first stage on the road

The competition heats up: SpaceX’s recovered Falcon 9 first stage was moved by road back to the company’s testing facility in Florida yesterday, a journey that was recorded by bystanders, including people in a Kennedy Space Center tour bus.

I have embedded the longest video below the fold, because it provides the best closeup view of the booster. Look especially at the booster’s top, where you can see practically no damage. This thing looks ready to fly.
» Read more

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