Tag Archives: Falcon Heavy

Falcon Heavy launch delayed?

In quelling a false rumor that said NASA was forcing SpaceX to change the launchpad location for its Falcon Heavy (it is not), SpaceX noted that Falcon Heavy’s first launch will occur “no earlier than the end of 2017.”

Previously they have said that they are aiming for November 2017, following the reconfiguration of the 39-A launchpad from Falcon 9 launches to Falcon Heavy launches. This statement suggests that a November launch is now considered unlikely. The reconfiguration will take 60 days, and cannot occur until SpaceX switches its Falcon 9 launches from launchpad 39-A back to launchpad 40. Since a Falcon 9 launch is presently scheduled for launchpad 39-A this Saturday, that reconfiguration cannot begin before then. Moreover, the launchpad for an October 30 Falcon 9 launch remains unnamed, suggesting that launchpad 40 might not be ready by then and therefore forcing SpaceX to use 39-A for Falcon 9. This would in turn delay the first Falcon Heavy launch to the very end of December, at the earliest.

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SpaceX completes static fire tests of Falcon Heavy first stages

Capitalism in space: SpaceX announced today that they have completed static fire testing of the three first stages that will be used on the first Falcon Heavy test flight, tentatively scheduled for sometime in November.

That November launch remains very tentative. The launchpad still needs to be prepped, and these stages still have to be shipped to Florida, assembled, and then undergo at least one static fire test, as a unit. Despite these caveats, it is clear that that SpaceX is getting closer to that first Falcon Heavy launch.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The press begins to turn against SLS

This report by Eric Berger of Ars Technica, describing the press teleconference today where NASA announced that they would not fly humans on the first SLS flight in 2019, reveals a significant political change.

In the past, most mainstream reporters would routinely accept NASA’s announcements about SLS. If the agency said it was great, their stories would wax poetic about how great it was. If NASA said its greatness was causing a delay, their stories would laud NASA had how well it was doing dealing with SLS’s greatness, even though that greatness was forcing another delay. Never, and I mean never, would NASA or these reporters ever talk about the project’s overall and ungodly cost.

This press conference was apparently quite different. The press had lots of questions about SLS and its endless delays. They had lots of questions about its costs. And most significant, they had lots of questions for NASA about why the agency is having so much trouble building this rocket, when two private companies, SpaceX and Blue Origin, are building something comparable for a tenth the money in about half the time.

During the teleconference, Ars asked Gerstenmaier to step back and take a big-picture look at the SLS rocket. Even with all of the funding—about $10 billion through next year—how was the agency likely to miss the original deadline by as much as three years, if not more?

“I don’t know,” Gerstenmaier replied. “I don’t know—I would just say it’s really kind of the complexity of what we’re trying to go do, and to build these systems. We weren’t pushing state-of-the-art technology, like main engines sitting underneath the rocket or new solid rocket boosters. But we were pushing a lot of new manufacturing, and I think that new manufacturing has caused some of the delays we’ve seen. No one welds the way that we’re welding material at the thicknesses we’re welding.”

…Later, the NASA officials were asked about private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, which are also building heavy-lift rockets but at a very limited cost to taxpayers. What would they have to say about just buying those vehicles off the shelf, at significantly lower cost than an SLS launch, and preserving NASA’s funds to execute in-space missions?

Gerstnmaier’s explanations for SLS’s delays and costs, that it is a very complex and advanced piece of rocket engineering, is total bunk. This was supposed to be an upgraded Saturn 5, but it will only be able to lift about 70% of the payload. It is using the actual shuttle engines, and upgraded shuttle solid rocket boosters. While new engineering was required to refit these for SLS, none of that should have been so hard or expensive.

The key here is that members of the press are finally aware of this, and are asking the right questions. With Falcon Heavy about to launched multiple times before SLS even launches once, the continuation of this boondoggle is becoming increasingly difficult to justify.

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Two Dragon Mars missions in 2020?

It appears that SpaceX is considering flying two test Dragon capsules to Mars in 2020.

NASA’s manager of science missions, Jim Green, said on Tuesday that the 2020 launch window when Earth and Mars are in favorable alignment for relatively short transits is getting crowded. Speaking Tuesday at the Humans to Mars conference in Washington, DC, Green said, “Every 26 months, the highway to Mars opens up, and that highway is going to be packed. We start out at the top of that opportunity with a SpaceX launch of Red Dragon. That will be followed at the end of that opportunity with another Red Dragon. Those have been announced by SpaceX.” NASA plans to launch a Mars lander in 2020 as well.

Two Red Dragon missions in 2020 have not yet formally been announced by SpaceX. Company spokesman John Taylor told Ars he would have to look into the question of sending two Dragons to Mars in 2020. However, other industry sources told Ars this is definitely under consideration by SpaceX, although no final decisions have been made.

That would mean two Falcon Heavy launches that year, just for this. And it would happen long before NASA manages its first launch of a complete SLS rocket.

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SpaceX completes first static fire test of Falcon Heavy core stage

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this week successfully completed the first static fire engine test of the core stage of its Falcon Heavy rocket.

In a tweet, the company said that it completed the first static fire of the core stage of the rocket at the company’s McGregor, Texas, test site last week. The company did not disclose the precise date of the test or its duration. The company included in the tweet a video showing about 15 seconds of the test.

The Falcon Heavy uses three Falcon 9 first stages, or cores, along with an upper stage, an approach similar to United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 Heavy. The two side booster cores for the first launch will be previously-flown Falcon 9 first stages, but the center core will be a new stage, modified to accommodate the side boosters.

The first launch is scheduled for sometime in the late summer, early fall.

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First Falcon Heavy side first stage ready for initial tests

Capitalism in space: SpaceX prepares for first Falcon Heavy launch this fall, with the first side stage ready for its first hot fire static tests while the company prepares the launchpads.

They need to finish repairing the launchpad damaged in the September 1 explosion so that the Falcon 9 can once again launch from there. Once this is done, they have an estimated sixty days of additional work to do with the Falcon Heavy pad. It is expected the switch back to the old pad will take place by August. meaning that the first Falcon Heavy launch will likely happen no earlier than October.

Posted while in the air over Nova Scotia on the way to Israel.

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SpaceX delays first Dragon Mars mission to 2020

SpaceX has decided to delay its first Dragon flight to Mars from 2018 to 2020 so as to focus on more immediate priorities.

Instead of aiming for the 2018 deadline, SpaceX will now try to launch a robotic mission to Mars — known as its Red Dragon mission — two years later, in 2020, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said during a press conference Friday.

This delay will allow the company to refocus on other more, earthly ambitions in the near term before setting its sights on Mars down the road. “We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program, so we’re looking more in the 2020 time frame for that,” Shotwell said.

They need to fly the Falcon Heavy several times first, and the delays caused by last year’s September 1 launchpad explosion, has pushed the first Falcon Heavy launch back from late in 2016 to the summer of 2017.

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SpaceX successfully completes Falcon 9 static fire test

SpaceX on Sunday successfully completed the launch dress rehearsal countdown and static fire test for its next Falcon 9 launch, which will loft a Dragon capsule to ISS and is set now for February 18.

The article at the link as well as a lot of other news organizations are making a big deal about the fact that this launch is taking place at the LC-39A launchpad, used during the Apollo program as well as by the shuttle. While the historic background is interesting, of more significance to me is that this test brings SpaceX closer to having two operational pads in Florida, one of which (LC-39A) is configured for Falcon Heavy launches.

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NASA guesses SpaceX’s Dragon-Mars mission will cost $300 million

At a meeting of NASA’s Advisory Council yesterday a NASA official estimated that SpaceX will probably spend about $300 million on its Dragon mission to Mars.

Asked by the committee how much SpaceX was spending, Reuter indicated that the company’s investment was 10 times that of NASA. “They did talk to us about a 10-to-1 arrangement in terms of cost: theirs 10, ours 1,” he said. “I think that’s in the ballpark.” Given NASA’s investment, that implies SpaceX is spending around $300 million on Red Dragon.

SpaceX has not disclosed its estimated cost of the mission, or how it will pay for it. “I have no knowledge” of how the company is financing the mission, Reuter said when asked by the committee.

I suspect that the guess is significantly wrong. NASA is providing $32 million. SpaceX plans to charge customers $90 million for a single Falcon Heavy launch, which means its cost for that launch is likely half that, say $45 million. That adds up to $77 million. The cost for a Dragon capsule is not even close to $223 million, which is what remains if NASA’s guess is right, which based on this rough estimate I seriously doubt. I would bet that a single Dragon probably costs far less than $20 million. Remember, they are nothing more than basic manned capsules, and SpaceX is building enough of them to almost have an assembly line going.

So, let’s round up and say that the cost for the mission is really about $100 million (including NASA’s contribution). Other costs, such as the staff to run the mission for at least a year, will increase this cost, but not enough to bring the total to NASA’s guess of $300 million. I suspect that SpaceX will not spend anything close to $100 million of its own money for this Dragon mission to Mars.

All in all, this amount of investment seems reasonable, based on the scale of costs in the launch industry. And SpaceX’s willingness to invest some of its own money for this mission is probably wise. In publicity alone it is priceless.

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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.

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SpaceX gears up for first Falcon Heavy flight

The competition heats up: SpaceX has already begun construction of one of the booster cores for its first test flight of Falcon Heavy, and expects to have all built by summer.

They have not yet decided on the payload or goal of that first test flight, though they appear to still be aiming for an November launch.

Meanwhile, they have a 1:21 am (eastern) Falcon 9 commercial launch tonight, in which they will also attempt another first stage barge landing.

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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.

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Dragon to go to Mars in 2018

The competition heats up: Though no details have yet been released, SpaceX has announced through its twitter feed that they plan to send a Dragon to Mars by 2018.

This is not really a surprise, as rumors have been circulating literally for years of Musk’s Martian goals. Nor am I doubtful they can do it. What is important about this announcement is that it suggests that they are now confident that the delays for the first Falcon Heavy launch are mostly over, and that it will happen in the fall as presently planned. With this rocket they will have the launch capability to do a test flight to Mars.

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SpaceX estimates 30% price cut from reusable 1st stage

The competition heats up: At a satellite conference on Wednesday SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell estimated that they will be able to cut the price of launch to about $40 million, a 30% cut from their already low prices, once they can reliably begin reusing the first stages of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Given that SpaceX has no intention, for now, of recovering the second stage, she said a launch with a previously used first stage could be priced 30 percent less than the current Falcon 9 rockets.

SES of Luxembourg, SpaceX’s biggest backer among the large commercial satellite fleet operators, has said it wants to be the first customer to fly with a reused stage. But SES Chief Executive Karim Michel Sabbagh said here March 8 that SES wanted a 50 percent price cut, to around $30 million, in return for pioneering the reusable version.

Shotwell said it was too early to set precise prices for a reused Falcon 9, but that if the fuel on the first stage costs $1 million or less, and a reused first stage could be prepared for reflight for $3 million or so, a price reduction of 30 percent – to around $40 million – should be possible.

Shotwell also said they hope to launch 18 times this year, with the first Falcon Heavy launch now set for November. This is another two month delay from their previous announcement, which had said they were hoping to launch in September.

With only two launches so far this year, I must say I am skeptical they can achieve 16 more launches in the year’s remaining 9 months, a rate of about one almost every two weeks. They have never come close to this schedule, and though I believe they can eventually do so, I don’t think they can do it so quickly.

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SpaceX loses a launch payload

In the heat of competition: Because of delays, a satellite company has shifted its launch vehicle from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5

The company, ViaSat, still has a contract with SpaceX to use Falcon Heavy to launch later satellites, but they decided they could no longer wait and needed to get the satellite in orbit by 2017, something that SpaceX could no longer guarantee. They had to pay more to fly on Ariane 5, but it appears they were able to negotiate a price break with Arianespace to close the deal.

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Experts: NASA’s SLS Mars proposals bunk

The death of SLS begins: At House hearings this week, congressmen listened to several space experts who lambasted NASA’s asteroid and Mars mission proposals.

Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute and an expert on lunar science, was especially harsh.

“America’s civil space program is in disarray, with many aspirations and hopes but few concrete, realizable plans for future missions or strategic direction,” he said, adding that NASA lacks what it needs to pull off the mission (and throwing some shade at the agency’s strong Twitter game). “We pretend that we are on a ‘#JourneytoMars’ but in fact, possess neither the technology nor the economic resources necessary to undertake a human Mars mission now or within the foreseeable future. What is needed is a logically arranged set of short-term, realizable space goals–a series of objectives and destinations that are not only interesting in and of themselves, but whose attainment build space faring capability in the long term.”

The testimony claimed that it could cost anywhere from $500 billion to $1 trillion for NASA to get humans to Mars, numbers that are reasonable based on using NASA’s very costly and overpriced SLS/Orion rocket and capsule. The congressmen were of course interested in this, not because they want to get to Mars, but because they see gobs of pork for their districts in these numbers.

However, I expect that when SpaceX begins successfully launching its Falcon Heavy rocket in the next two years while simultaneously putting humans in space with its Dragon capsule, and does both for a tenth the cost of SLS/Orion, those same congressmen will dump SLS/Orion very quickly. Though they want the pork, they also know they don’t have $500 billion to $1 trillion to spend on space. The private sector gives them an option that is both affordable and of strong self-interest. The more realistically priced and designed hardware of private companies will give them a more credible opportunity to fund pork in their districts.

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New launch contracts for SpaceX and ILS

The competition heats up: Launch competitors SpaceX and ILS announced new contracts today for launching commercial satellites into orbit.

SpaceX announced two new contracts, one from the Spanish communications company Hispasat, who signed them up to use a Falcon 9, and a second from the Saudia Arabian communications company Arabsat for a Falcon Heavy launch.

ILS meanwhile got its own contract from Hispasat to use a Proton to put another Hispasat communcations satellite into orbit.

The two Hispasat contracts show the advantages of competition for satellite makers. They now have more than one company to choose from, and are spreading their business around to give them options while encouraging these companies to compete against each other by lowering prices.

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Engineers propose using SpaceX rocket and capsule to bring samples back from Mars

Engineering by powerpoint! Several NASA engineers have proposed using SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and an upgrade of its Dragon capsule to bring samples back from Mars.

The researchers have drawn up a plan that uses a modified version of SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon cargo capsule, which has already flown six resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA. The Red Dragon variant would include a robotic arm, extra fuel tanks and a central tube that houses a rocket-powered Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV).

Red Dragon would launch toward Mars atop SpaceX’s huge Falcon Heavy rocket, which is scheduled to fly for the first time next year. After a long deep-space journey, the capsule would touch down near the 2020 Mars rover (whose landing site has not yet been chosen). “Red Dragon can go anywhere the rover can go, as far as landing elevation and terrain,” Gonzales said. “We’re confident we could land in front of the rover and have it drive to us.”

Red Dragon’s robotic arm would then grab a sample from the rover’s onboard cache (assuming the 2020 rover does indeed carry its samples, rather than stash them someplace) and transfer it to a secure containment vessel aboard the ERV, which sits atop the MAV. If something goes wrong during this exchange, Red Dragon can simply scoop up some material from the ground using its arm. The MAV would then blast off from the center of the capsule, like a missile from a silo, sending the ERV on its way back to Earth. The ERV would settle into orbit around our planet; its sample capsule would then be transferred to, and brought down to Earth by, a separate spacecraft — perhaps another Dragon capsule.

I like this concept because it uses available or soon-to-be available resources that are also relatively cheap to adapt for the mission. I also warn everyone that this is, as I note above, engineering by powerpoint. It is a concept, hardly a real proposal. The track record of seeing these kinds of proposals by NASA actually happen is quite poor.

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First Falcon Heavy launch now scheduled for April/May 2016

The competition heats up: SpaceX is now aiming for a spring launch of the first Falcon Heavy.

That first launch will be a demonstration mission without a paying customer. That launch will be followed in September by the Space Test Program 2 mission for the Air Force, carrying 37 satellites. Rosen said the company was also planning Falcon Heavy launches of satellites for Inmarsat and ViaSat before the end of 2016, but did not give estimated dates for those missions.

Though no one should bet a lot of money on this launch schedule, if they get even half this accomplished they will be doing quite well. This, combined with the possibility that they will safely land the first stage of the Falcon 9 by then as well, will put SpaceX in an undeniably dominate position in the launch market.

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Falcon Heavy first test flight delayed again

In the heat of competition: The first test flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has been pushed back from the end of this year until April 2016.

This isn’t surprising after the June 28 launch failure. They have to get the Falcon 9 up and running before they can consider launching the first Falcon Heavy.

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Work accelerates towards the first test flight of Falcon Heavy

The competition heats up: Design and construction of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is picking up in advance of the rocket’s first test flight, now tentatively scheduled sometime this summer.

It will not surprise me if that summer launch does not happen on time. Nonetheless, I expect that before 2015 is over we will see a Falcon Heavy on the launchpad being prepped for launch.

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SpaceX animation of Falcon Heavy launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX has released a short animation showing the launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, with all three of its Falcon 9 first stage boosters returning to the launchpad and landing vertically.

I have posted this animation below the fold. When NASA makes these kinds of animations, which the agency has been doing for more than forty years now, I pay little heed. They don’t signal any achievement, merely the dreams of the engineers there. In the case of SpaceX, however, I pay close attention, because the company’s track record is that they are likely to make this animation quite real in a surprisingly short period of time.

Enjoy!
» Read more

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Falcon Heavy launch still set for 2015

The competition heats up: According to SpaceX officials, the first test flight of their Falcon Heavy rocket is still on schedule to occur sometime in the third quarter of 2015.

We should all take this schedule with a grain of salt. Back in 2013 SpaceX had scheduled the first Falcon Heavy launch for the second half of 2014. Then in April 2014 they said it would occur early in 2015. Now they say the third quarter of 2015. I would not be surprised if there are further delays beyond this.

Nonetheless, I have no doubt that they will launch this rocket. SpaceX has consistently delivered on its promises, which is one reason it has grabbed so much of the launch market in such a short time.

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Falcon Heavy launchpad work begun

The competition heats up: SpaceX has begun the construction work necessary to convert the launchpad it will use at the Kennedy Space Center for its first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket, now scheduled for summer 2015.

Most of the current work appears to be taking place on the perimeter area of the pad, with the construction of a hanger building – known as the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) – that will house the Falcon Heavy rocket and associated hardware and payloads during processing. During rollout, the Falcon Heavy will be transported atop the Transporter Erector (TE), which will ride on rails, up the famous 39A ramp that once saw Space Shuttle and Apollo stacks arrive via the Crawler Transporters.

The July launch date is considered preliminary and a target date only and is of course subject to change.

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The competition in space continues to heat up

Two news stories today indicate that things are going to get increasingly interesting in the exploration of space in the coming years.

First there is this story from Joe Abbott of the Waco Tribune, who routinely reports on SpaceX news because their McGregor test facility is nearby. In it Abbott reports that SpaceX has scheduled its next Dragon supply mission to ISS for no early than September 20.

This news item however is not Abbott’s most interesting news. He also notes several twitter reports coming out a commercial satellite conference in Paris that indicate that SpaceX has closed 9 deals, including several more for its as yet unflown Falcon Heavy.

But even that is not the most interesting news. Abbott also reports that a replacement for the destroyed Falcon 9R test vehicle will be shipped to McGregor for testing in less than two months. Considering how long it takes governments to build and fly test vehicles, getting this replacement in shape for flight mere months after the failure a few weeks ago is quite impressive.

But even that was not Abbott’s most interesting SpaceX news item. » Read more

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Russia to match SpaceX launch prices

The competition heats up: The head of Russia’s United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC), which now controls that country’s entire space industry, said today that they intend to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 much cheaper launch prices.

They intend to do it with both the Proton rocket as well as their new family of Angara rockets. The heavy version of Angara will allow them to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, and in fact might even put more payload into orbit for less.

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