Tag Archives: SpaceX

SpaceX has gotten its first contract, with Intelsat, for its not-yet-built Falcon Heavy rocket.

The competition heats up: SpaceX has gotten its first contract, with Intelsat, for its not-yet-built Falcon Heavy rocket.

The Falcon Heavy when completed will be the most powerful rocket since the Saturn 5. If SpaceX can get it funded through commercial contracts, it will end forever the need for government subsidies in the aerospace industry. Government as a customer will still exist, of course, but it will no longer be in charge.

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The Stratolaunch system has entered system design review.

The competition heats up: The privately-built Stratolaunch system has entered system design review.

The key quote from this article is this:

Scaled Composites, which is building the aircraft, has purchased two ex-United Boeing 747-400s, and is in the process of dismantling them. Stratolaunch will use the engines, hydraulics system and several other major components to build its own aircraft. The remaining fuselage and wing shells will be scrapped. SpaceX is building the rocket, which will launch approximately 13,000lb into orbit. “This is really going after the Delta II market,” says Steve Cook, Dynetics chief technologist. The group eventually hopes to qualify the system for human spaceflight and begin launched manned spacecraft. [emphasis mine]

Stratolaunch is not being built for NASA. It is aimed at the commercial market instead, with the intention of providing a cheaper alternative for getting large payloads into orbit.

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Dragon has been approved to approach within one mile of ISS tonight in its first rendezvous test.

Dragon has been approved to approach within 1.5 miles of ISS tonight in its first rendezvous test. More information here.

If this goes well tonight, Dragon will next attempt to approach the station close enough for its robot arm to grab it.

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A rocket launch pushes Congress towards free enterprise

Several key elected officials who have generally been hostile to commercial space have commented positively to the successful launch of the Dragon capsule last night.

First, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) released this short statement:
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One step closer to a robust competitive space industry

Not surprisingly, last night’s successful launch of Falcon 9 has produced a large number of news articles. Rather than list them all, go to spacetoday.net for the links.

However, I think Clark Lindsey, in describing Elon Musk’s reaction to the successful launch, captured the most important aspect of last night’s success:
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Falcon 9 has cleared the tower

Falcon 9 has cleared the tower and is “looking good.”

First stage has completed its job and has been released. The second stage is firing as planned.

Dragon has separated from the second stage and is now in orbit. Now comes the real test of this mission: Can Dragon maneuver and rendezvous with ISS?

The best moment for the entire launch sequence was when Dragon’s solar arrays deployed. The camera link was still working, so that everyone could see it. When the arrays locked open, there was a gigantic roar from the crowd of people watching at SpaceX’s mission control. Dragon was in orbit and operational!

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The countdown has begun

Tonight’s Falcon 9 launch: The countdown has begun, and the weather conditions have improved.

SpaceX will begin its own webcast at 3 am (Eastern), which is midnight here in Arizona.

An aside: The ashes of actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the 1960s television show Star Trek, will be among 308 other cremated remains launched into space by Falcon 9 tonight. As one commenter for the above article noted quite appropriately,

You haven’t really covered any of the important questions here.

i.e. Are there enough dilithium crystals in the engine room to get Scotty up there? And are they using photon torpedoes to blast him out into space? And when they launch, will someone say, “Take her out, Mr. Sulu. Warp factor one.”?

Godspeed, Scotty old bean.

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SpaceX has reported that they have found the cause of the Falcon 9 launch abort this morning.

In an email update, SpaceX reports that they have found the cause of the Falcon 9 launch abort this morning.

During rigorous inspections of the engine, SpaceX engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the Merlin engine. We are now in the process of replacing the failed valve. Those repairs should be complete tonight. We will continue to review data on Sunday. If things look good, we will be ready to attempt to launch on Tuesday, May 22nd at 3:44 AM Eastern.

If this is true, than this entire exercise is an unqualified success and illustrates a certain robustness to SpaceX’s engineering on Falcon 9. Their control computer during the launch process spotted the problem before it caused a complete loss of the vehicle and payload. They can now locate the problem, fix it, and proceed with launch.

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SpaceX’s static fire test of the Falcon 9 still set for 3 pm today.

SpaceX’s static fire test of the Falcon 9 still set for 3 pm today.

I will be discussing this story and the mining of asteroids on The Space Show today, even as this static fire occurs. Don’t forget to tune in.

Update: the static firing appears to have been a success, after an initial abort.

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SpaceX has delayed the launch of its Dragon test mission to ISS, with the launch now scheduled sometime between May 3 and May 7.

SpaceX has delayed the launch of its Dragon test mission to ISS, with the launch now scheduled sometime between May 3 and May 7.

“After reviewing our recent progress, it was clear that we needed more time to finish hardware-in-the-loop testing and properly review and follow up on all data,” SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Brost Grantham wrote in an email. “While it is still possible that we could launch on May 3rd, it would be wise to add a few more days of margin in case things take longer than expected. As a result, our launch is likely to be pushed back by one week, pending coordination with NASA.”

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Coming and going

There are really only two important stories today concerning space exploration. The story that is getting the most coverage is the big news that the space shuttle Discovery is making its last flight, flying over Washington, DC, as it is delivered to the Smithsonian for permanent display.

Of these stories, only Irene Klotz of Discovery News seems to really get it. This is not an event to celebrate or get excited about. It is the end of an American achievement, brought to a close probably three to five years prematurely so that the United States now cannot even send its own astronauts to its own space station.

The other news, actually far more important, has gotten far less coverage, and includes three different stories all really about the same thing.
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ISS’s robot arm has now been moved into position in preparation for the Dragon berthing flight, scheduled for April 30.

ISS’s robot arm has now been moved into position in preparation for the Dragon berthing flight, scheduled for April 30.

The article also gives a nice outline of the entire Falcon 9/Dragon test flight.

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SpaceX is planning its own spaceport about three miles north of Mexico at the southern tip of Texas.

SpaceX is planning its own spaceport about three miles north of Mexico at the southern tip of Texas.

SpaceX had been looking at sites at various potential sites, including ones in Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Company officials have said they plan to operate out of Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base as well. A third, commercial launch site frees them from range restrictions that exist at the other two locations.

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The actual cost to launch

In writing this short post on the efforts of Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences to launch rockets for the small satellite market, Clark Lindsey made this comment:

It costs around $50 million to launch a Orbital Sciences Minotaur 4, which can put 1,730 kg into LEO while the Lockheed’s Athena 2 will cost around $65 million to put 1,712 kg into LEO. SpaceX currently posts charges $54M – $59.5M for launching to LEO 10,450 kg (equatorial) and 8,560 kg (polar). If SpaceX is able to sustain these prices in routine operation, it will obviously result in some disturbance to the launch industry.

Let’s deconstruct these numbers again, this time listing them by the cost per kilogram:
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Stupidity on display

In hearings Wednesday, several members of Congress suggested that NASA force the new competing commercial space companies to combine their efforts in order to save money.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during a March 21 hearing on the agency’s 2013 budget the same question he asked of the White House’s chief science adviser last month: would NASA’s partnership with commercial companies to develop astronaut transports be cheaper if the companies competing for NASA funds combined their efforts into a single “all for one and one for all” project?

Similarly, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) made the same stupid argument in her continuing effort to keep the funding of the Space Launch System, the rocket-formerly-called-Constellation, as high as possible, at the cost of cutting everything else in NASA if necessary.

If you needed any evidence that members of Congress are ignorant idiots, you only need read the comments of these elected officials at these hearings to get your proof. Wolf or Hutchison as well as several others from both parties very clearly haven’t the slightest idea what these various space companies are building. Nor do they have the faintest notion of the difficulties entailed in building these manned space vessels.
» Read more

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Aviation Week looks at the launch challenges facing SpaceX over the next two years.

Aviation Week looks at the launch challenges facing SpaceX over the next two years.

Though it is very clear SpaceX has a tough schedule of launches coming up, with much of the future of American aerospace riding on their success, this article is strangely hostile to the company. There is no doubt the company has fallen behind schedule, but the list of customers who have been willing to commit to the company is quite impressive, especially considering that SpaceX literally didn’t exist six years ago.

I’ll make several predictions:

  • SpaceX will experience further launch delays.
  • SpaceX will even have one launch failure in the next two years.
  • SpaceX will nonetheless succeed, because its successes will far exceed the failures, and they are clearly offering a better product for less money.
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