Tag Archives: SpaceX

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.


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.


Lockheed Martin unveils concepts for Mars ship and lander

The boondoggle lobbying continues! Lockheed Martin today unveiled its concepts for a Mars interplanetary ship, built around its Orion capsule, as well as a fully reusable Mars lander.

The timing of this announcement fits perfectly with last week’s NASA announcement of its concepts for building a lunar space station, along with this week’s announcement to study doing it with the Russians. It also times perfectly with the announcement that the first public meeting of the National Space Council will take place on October 5. And tonight Elon Musk will give an update on his own proposals for getting to Mars.

All these public relations announcements suggest to me that the Trump administration is getting close to unveiling its own future space policy, and they all suggest that this policy will be to build a space station around the Moon. My guess is that Lockheed Martin and SpaceX are vying for a piece of that pie in their announcements today.

Let me also note that Lockheed Martin’s concept above illustrates nicely what a lie Orion is and has always been. They have been touting it for years as the vehicle that will get Americans to Mars, but now admit that it can only really be a small part of a much larger interplanetary ship, and will be there mostly to be the descent capsule when astronauts want to come home. They also admit in the video at the first link that their proposal for getting to Mars is only a concept. To build it would require many billions of dollars. I wonder will it cost as much as Orion and SLS ($43 billion plus) and take as long (18 years plus) to build? If so, it is a bad purchase. We can do this faster, and for less.


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 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.


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 postpones Mars Dragon missions

Based on statements from one NASA official, it appears that SpaceX has put its plans to fly a Dragon capsule to Mars on “the back burner.”

Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division, told Spaceflight Now in an interview that SpaceX has told the agency that it has “put Red Dragon back on the back burner.”

“We’re available to talk to Elon when he’s ready to talk to us … and we’re not pushing him in any way,” Green said. “It’s really up to him. Through the Space Act Agreement, we’d agreed to navigate to Mars, get him to the top of the atmosphere, and then it was up to him to land. That’s a pretty good deal, I think.”

It is my impression that, because NASA has forced SpaceX to give up on propulsive landing of its Dragon manned capsules, the company cannot afford to invest the time and money on it themselves, and thus do not have a method yet for landing a Dragon on Mars. Thus, they must postpone this program.


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.


Schedule for commercial manned flights solidifies

Capitlism in space: It appears that the schedule for the first unmanned and manned test flights of the commercial capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing is getting more certain.

The latest SpaceX schedule calls for an uncrewed test flight in February 2018, followed by a crewed test flight in June 2018. Boeing’s schedule anticipates an uncrewed test flight in June 2018 and a crewed test flight in August 2018.

While this sounds encouraging, the story contradicts a Boeing report last week that suggested their first manned flight would be delayed into the fourth quarter of 2018. Both stories however pin the first unmanned demo flight for June 2018, which now seems to be a firm date.


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.


SpaceX competitors team up to try to block its satellite constellation

SpaceX’s main competitors in creating a satellite broadband industry have all filed objections with the FCC to the company’s planned 4,425 satellite constellation that is aimed at providing worldwide internet access.

SpaceX’s plan to provide global broadband internet access using thousands of satellites in low-earth orbit has come under fire from competitors, including Boeing and OneWeb, according to Space Intel Report. The argument is playing out in a series of filings with the Federal Communications Commission, focusing on SpaceX’s request for a temporary waiver from the FCC’s time limits for putting the satellite system into full operation.

The FCC would typically require the system to provide full coverage of U.S. territory within six years of a license being issued, but SpaceX says that’s not enough time to deploy the full 4,425-satellite constellation. Instead, the company proposes launching the first 1,600 satellites in six years, which would leave the northernmost part of Alaska without coverage when the deadline hits. Full U.S. coverage would be provided after the six-year deadline, SpaceX says.

In their own filings, competitors including OneWeb, SES/O3b and Intelsat are urging the FCC not to waive the six-year requirement, Space Intel Report said.

This is garbage, and demonstrates again why it is dangerous to give government too much power. Rather than compete by launching their own satellite constellations first, these companies want the FCC to put its finger on the scale to favor them and stop SpaceX. And I bet the decision will be made based not on what is right but on who gave the most campaign contributions to the right political party.


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.

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