Tag Archives: Falcon 9

SpaceX commercial launch for Argentina postponed because of COVID-19

Because of travel restrictions imposed by the worldwide panic over the COVID-19 virus, Argentina’s space agency has postponed the planned March 30, 2020 launch by SpaceX of an Earth observation radar satellite.

“This decision (to postpone the launch) has been made considering the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and that could affect the availability of own resources and foreign third-party resources, necessary not only for a safe insertion into orbit, but also for further operation of the satellite,” CONAE said in a statement.

CONAE said the decision to postpone the launch, which was made in consultation with SpaceX, is the “best decision in these moments of uncertainty … that the whole world suffers because of COVID-19.”

Argentina has halted all flights to and from the United States, impacting the ability of Argentine personnel needed to support the planned launch to travel to the Florida spaceport.

The more I research the Wuhan flu, the more I am convinced that the world’s governments have gone crazy. More on this later today.

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Dragon parachute test aborted

Because of the failure of the equipment unrelated to the parachutes, the helicopter pilot for a drop test of SpaceX’s crew Dragon parachutes on March 24, 2020 was forced to release the dummy capsule early, causing its loss.

“During a planned parachute drop test today, the test article suspended underneath the helicopter became unstable,” SpaceX said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “Out of an abundance of caution and to keep the helicopter crew safe, the pilot pulled the emergency release,” the statement added. “As the helicopter was not yet at target conditions, the test article was not armed, and as such, the parachute system did not initiate the parachute deployment sequence. While the test article was lost, this was not a failure of the parachute system, and most importantly, no one was injured. NASA and SpaceX are working together to determine the testing plan going forward in advance of Crew Dragon’s second demonstration mission.”

This issue, combined with the loss of a Falcon 9 first stage (on its fifth flight) during re-entry, because one engine failed to function properly, is making some news sources suggest that NASA will delay the planned May launch of Dragon’s first manned mission to ISS.

If NASA demands a delay of that May manned mission because of these two issues, it will demonstrate how truly insane our society has become. While the issue prevented the drop test, it involved the equipment that suspended the dummy capsule below the helicopter, not the parachute system. Furthermore, this test was one of the very last tests of the parachute system, following a test campaign during the past few months that has worked repeatedly on numerous tests.

As for the first stage loss, do I have to repeat again that it occurred on the stage’s fifth reuse, and after it had successfully launched its payload into orbit? SpaceX will be using a new first stage for the manned mission, and they have experienced no failures on a new first stage like this for literally years.

In a sane society, NASA would look at the overall context, and put aside these issues as irrelevant to their launch schedule. They, and SpaceX, will want to figure out what happened, but they should insist on proceeding on schedule for the May launch.

We are no longer sane however. I will not be surprised if they announce a further launch delay.

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SpaceX recovers both fairing halves from Starlink launch

Capitalism in space: The two reused fairing halves that SpaceX used in yesterday’s Falcon 9 Starlink launch were both successfully recovered.

Starlink V1 L5 is now the second time ever that SpaceX – or anyone, for that matter – has successfully reused an orbital-class launch vehicle payload fairing, while the mission also marked the first time that SpaceX managed to recover a reused Falcon fairing. The burn from booster issues certainly isn’t fully salved, as twin fairing catchers Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief both missed their fairing catch attempts, but both twice-flown fairing halves were still successfully scooped out of the Atlantic Ocean before they were torn apart.

The first reused fairing however was not recovered, making this recovery the first of used fairings. The company now has the ability to study them in order to better design future reusable fairings.

The article provides a lot of information about the difficulties of catching the fairings before they hit the water. It also notes that the reused fairings have all been fished out of the ocean, suggesting that in the end catching them in the ship’s nets will be unnecessary.

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NASA confirms May target date for first manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: In announcing today it is beginning media accreditation for SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the agency confirmed earlier reports from SpaceX that they are now aiming for a mid-to-late May launch.

Much can change before then. COVID-19 could get worse, shutting down all launches. The engine failure on yesterday’s successful Falcon 9 launch could require delays.

However, right now, things look good for May, which will be the first time since 2011 that Americans will launch from American soil on an American-built rocket, an almost ten year gap that has been downright disgraceful. Thank you Congress and presidents Bush and Obama! It was how you planned it, and is also another reason we got Trump.

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SpaceX launches another sixty Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another sixty Starlink satellites into orbit, using a reused first stage for the fifth time, the first time they have done this. They also for the first time reused the fairing, for the second time. All told, the cost for this launch was reduced by approximately 70% by these reuses.

However, during launch one 1st stage Merlin engine shut down prematurely, the first time since 2012. You can see the consequence of this during the re-entry burn. After the burn, the rocket seems far more unstable then normal. Soon after the video cut out, and they must have missed the drone ship upon landing, making it a failure. They intend to do a full investigation before their next launch.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

5 China
5 SpaceX
3 Russia
2 Arianespace (Europe)

The U.S. now leads China 8 to 5 in the national rankings.

One additional detail: At the beginning of their live stream, they touted Starship/Super Heavy, and put out a call for engineers to apply to work for SpaceX.

The launch is embedded below the fold.
» Read more

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Falcon 9 aborts automatically at T minus 0

A SpaceX launch attempt today to put sixty more Starlink satellites into orbit aborted at T minus Zero when the rocket’s computer software shut things down just after the engines began firing.

I have embedded the video below the fold. According to the broadcast, they had “a condition regarding engine power,” suggesting that one or more of the Merlin engines did not power up as expected and the computers reacted to shut the launch down because of this.

Not surprisingly, they have not yet announced a new launch date.
» Read more

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Manned Dragon mission targeted for May

Capitalism in space: According to one SpaceX official, they are now aiming for a May target date for their first manned Dragon mission to ISS, even as they will maintain a launch pace of one to two launches per month.

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell [said] that she expects at least one to two launches per month in the near future, whether they be for customers or for SpaceX’s own internet-satellite constellation, Starlink. “And we are looking at a May timeframe to launch crew for the first time,” Shotwell continued. That launch, called Demo-2, will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.

At that pace SpaceX will complete between 12 to 24 launches for the year. They had predicted they would complete 21, so this is in line with that prediction.

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SpaceX successfully launches cargo Dragon to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched a cargo Dragon freighter to ISS.

This is the third flight for this Dragon capsule. It was also the last flight of the company’s first generation Dragon capsules. The company also successfully landed the first stage, which was on its second flight. This was the fiftieth time they have successfully done this. I have embedded the launch video below the fold.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

4 China
4 SpaceX
2 Arianespace (Europe)
2 Russia

The U.S. now leads China 7 to 4 in the national rankings.
» Read more

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Axiom and SpaceX sign deal for flying commercial tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Axiom, the commercial company that already has an agreement with NASA to build its own commercial modules for ISS, has signed an agreement with SpaceX to use its crew Dragon capsule to ferry one professional and three tourists to ISS, as soon as the second half of 2021.

The private crew members will spend at least eight days on the orbiting research platform, allowing them to enjoy “microgravity and views of Earth that can only be fully appreciated in the large, venerable station,” Axiom said in a statement.

Axiom said Thursday it has signed a contract with SpaceX to transport a commander “professionally trained” by Axiom and three private astronauts to the space station on a Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission could take off as soon as the second half of 2021, Axiom said.

This is SpaceX’s second commercial customer for its Dragon capsule. Two weeks ago it signed a deal with Space Adventures to fly four tourists on a crew Dragon for up to five days.

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SpaceX proposing big launch rate increase in Florida

Capitalism in space: According to documents filed with the FCC, SpaceX is planning a big increase in the number of launches from its two launchpads in Florida in the next few years.

SpaceX projects performing 38 launches from Florida in 2020, 30 from SLC-40 and eight from LC-39A. By 2023, the company projects as many as 70 launches, 50 from SLC-40 and 20 from LC-39A, an annual rate that holds steady through 2025. The vast majority would be Falcon 9 launches, although it expects as many as 10 Falcon Heavy launches a year, all from LC-39A.

These numbers include both Dragon cargo and crew launches, Starlink satellite launches, and a variety of other commercial customers, including launches into polar orbits, something that in the past was reserved for Vandenberg on the west coast, not Florida. The launch estimates are also likely high, as they come from an environmental assessment. SpaceX probably wants to get clearance for this many launches, just in case things go far better than expected. They will likely do less, though I would not be surprised if the numbers are still record-setting.

In addition, the documents outline SpaceX’s plans to build a mobile launch tower to accommodate national security payloads that must be installed on their rocket vertically. Falcon Heavy could provide this service, but right now its payloads get installed horizontally.

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NASA leaning towards long-duration flight for 1st Dragon mission

Capitalism in space: According to one former astronaut as well as a review of photos of the training being given to the astronauts who will fly on SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight, this Space News article thinks that NASA will make that first flight a long-duration mission.

This Dragon demo mission is officially still planned as a short mission, no more than two weeks. To extend it requires additional training, which the photos appear to show, and would thus delay its launch by as yet an unspecified time period.

The article also cites a third reason NASA is now favoring the long-duration option: The issues with Boeing’s manned Starliner capsule:

Another factor in any decision to extend Demo-2 is the status of the other commercial crew vehicle, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. That vehicle flew an uncrewed test flight in December, but software problems during the flight, including one which shortened the mission and prevented a docking with the ISS, have raised questions about whether a second uncrewed test flight will be needed. An investigation into those problems is expected by the end of this month.

Even if NASA decides a second uncrewed test flight of Starliner is not needed, a review of all of the spacecraft’s one million lines of code, and other reviews, is likely to delay a crewed test flight of the spacecraft. NASA and Boeing had previously agreed to make that test flight a long-duration mission, with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson performing space station training in addition to that for the Starliner itself.

The delay in Boeing’s long duration mission leaves a gap in the schedule for maintaining crews on ISS. Flying Dragon long-duration would help solve that.

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SpaceX signs deal to fly four tourists on Dragon

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has signed a deal with the space tourism company Space Adventures to fly four tourists on a single crew Dragon flight.

The private spaceflight company founded by billionaire Elon Musk has signed an agreement with the U.S. space tourism company Space Adventures to launch up to four passengers on an orbital trip aboard a Crew Dragon space capsule. The mission would last up to five days and could launch as early as late 2021, Space Adventures representatives told Space.com.

The trip will not go to ISS, but remain free-flying in orbit.

Essentially, Space Adventures, which flew all its previous space tourists on Russian Soyuz capsules and has two more such flights scheduled in 2021 to ISS, is now adding the American company SpaceX to its staple. This gives them two places they can buy flights, which gives them some bargaining room to get prices down.

This is exactly what I hoped would happen if NASA stopped building spacecraft and instead bought its rides from privately built and owned capsules. Owned by SpaceX and built for profit, crew Dragon is not limited to only serving NASA’s needs. They can sell it to others to make more money. Here they are doing so.

I also would not be surprised if SpaceX reuses the Dragon capsules used on NASA flights for these tourist flights. NASA doesn’t want reused capsules, yet, so SpaceX will be accumulating once-used capsules capable of flying again. I bet they will use them here.

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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites; 1st stage landing fails

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this morning successfully launched sixty more Starlink satellites, raising the number in the constellation to 300.

However, though the launch was successful, the first stage, on its fourth flight, failed to land successfully on the drone ship in the Atlantic. Watching the live stream, it appeared from a whiff of smoke on the edge of the screen that the booster missed the target by only a short distance. This is the first time this has happened since 2015 2018 (correction from reader).

That this first stage landing failure is the news story illustrates how far they have come..

The standings in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
3 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab
1 Russia
1 Japan
1 ULA
1 Northrop Grumman

In the national rankings the U.S. now leads China 6 to 3.

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Dragon capsule for first manned mission shipped to Florida

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday shipped to Florida the Dragon capsule it will use for its first manned mission, now set for sometime between April and June.

No official word yet on any specific launch date, though there are reports that they are targeting May 7.

In that same story at the second link a NASA official admitted that one of the big issues is filling out the paperwork.

“Even though it sounds mundane, there is a load of paper that has to be verified, and signed off, and checked to make sure we’ve got everything closed out,” [said chief of human spaceflight Doug Loverro.] “It is probably one of the longest things in the tent to go ahead and do. It’s underappreciated but critically important. You’ve got to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do along the way.”

Properly documenting what you are doing is always essential, but if you over do it you raise costs unnecessarily while simultaneously delaying things. And isn’t it interesting that both of these issues — budget overruns and scheduling delays — have been systemic on all of NASA’s projects for decades?

Furthermore, while good documentation can help prevent problems and help you figure out what went wrong, when things go wrong, doing more of it will not further reduce problems or failures. If anything, too much paperwork will likely increase mistakes by focusing workers on the wrong things. This seems to be one of NASA’s problems in recent years.

Regardless, it does look like that first privately built launch will happen in mere months. The one decision remaining that could legitimately delay it would be if NASA decides to make it a longer mission, requiring more training for its astronauts.

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SpaceX wins another NASA launch contract

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday awarded SpaceX the launch contract, estimated to cost about $80 million, to launch its Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) climate mission.

That cost number seems high for a SpaceX launch, especially because, according to this Space News article, the launch will be using a reused first stage. For such launches SpaceX has generally been charging less than its standard $67 million, usually about $50 million. The press release says the contract covers both the launch and “other mission related services” but I cannot see how those additional services could raise the price almost 40%.

Unless someone at NASA is willing to prove me wrong, I suspect this is merely the case of our vaunted federal government overpaying for a service, simply because it isn’t their money and they are willing to spend extra for no reason other than it makes their job easier. Or possibly they are now playing favorites, and throwing extra money SpaceX’s way to help the company in its other endeavors, a method of funding that is really inappropriate.

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SpaceX launches another 60 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites, bringing the size of the constellation to 240 satellites.

They also successfully recovered the first stage, which was making its third flight. They also caught one of the two fairing halves in the ship net, recovering the second half out of the ocean.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
2 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)

The launch replay is embedded below the fold.
» Read more

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SpaceX wins first new launch contract in 2020

Capitalism in space:The Egyptian communcications satellite company Nilsat this week announced that it has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its next satellite.

This was SpaceX’s first contract award in 2020.

The article goes into great detail about SpaceX’s present launch manifest, which according to the company has contracts for future launches equaling $12 billion.

Based on public info, SpaceX has roughly 55 customer launches on its manifest. The company also intends to launch as many as 24 dedicated Starlink missions this year and will need at least another 40-50 on top of that to complete the first phase of the broadband internet satellite constellation (~4400 spacecraft). Meanwhile, SpaceX has won at least nine separate launch contracts – two Falcon Heavy missions and seven Falcon 9s – in the last 18 months, but has launched 22 customer payloads in the same period.

In fewer words, SpaceX is effectively launching its existing commercial missions much faster than it’s receiving new contracts. In 2019, for example, the company launched only 11 commercial missions – 13 total including two internal 60-satellite Starlink launches. SpaceX launched 21 times in 2018, a record the company initially hoped to equal or even beat last year, but – for the first time ever – the launch company was consistently ready before its customers were.

It appears SpaceX intends to pick up any slack in launch contracts with Starlink satellite launches, which once in orbit are another major income source for the company.

Overall, it seems to me that SpaceX is quite awash with capital, which reinforces their decision to not take government money to develop Starship. Using their own capital they are free to build as they see fit, with no one from the government who knows less than they do looking over their shoulder and kibitzing.

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Launch abort data suggests Dragon performed “flawlessly”

A preliminary review of the data gathered during SpaceX’s launch abort test on January 19, 2020 suggests the system performed “flawlessly”.

The Crew Dragon began its launch escape maneuver at 10:31:25 a.m. EST (1531:25 GMT) — initiated by a low setting of an on-board acceleration trigger — when the Falcon 9 was traveling at a velocity around 1,200 mph (536 meters per second), according to SpaceX.

Eight SuperDraco thrusters immediately pressurized and ignited as the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage engines were commanded to shut down as part of the abort sequence. The escape engines on the Crew Dragon produced nearly 130,000 pounds of thrust at full power. The SuperDracos performed flawlessly, SpaceX said, accelerating the capsule away from the top of the Falcon 9 at a peak acceleration of 3.3Gs. The SuperDracos accelerated the spacecraft from about 1,200 mph up to more than 1,500 mph (about 675 meters per second) in approximately seven seconds, according to SpaceX.

At this point it appears the only reason the first manned launch might be delayed a bit is if NASA decides to turn it into a long duration mission, requiring new training for the crew.

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The long term ramifications of SpaceX’s crew Dragon on the future of the human race

Crew Dragon's parachutes deployed
Crew Dragon soon after its parachutes had deployed
during the launch abort test.

The successful unmanned launch abort test by SpaceX of its crew Dragon capsule today means that the first manned flight of American astronauts on an American rocket in an American spacecraft from American soil in almost a decade will happen in the very near future. According to Elon Musk during the press conference following the test, that manned mission should occur sometime in the second quarter of 2020.

The ramifications of this manned mission however far exceed its success in returning Americans to space on our own spacecraft. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine touched upon this larger context with his own remarks during the press conference:

We are doing this differently. NASA is going to be customer, one of many customers. I want SpaceX to have lots of customers.

Bridenstine is underlining the real significance of the entire commercial program at NASA. Unlike every previous manned space project at the space agency, NASA is not doing the building. Instead, as Bridenstine notes (and I recommended in my 2017 policy paper Capitalism in Space), it is merely a customer, buying a product built entirely by a private company. And while NASA is involving itself very closely with that construction, it is doing so only as a customer, making sure it is satisfied with the product before putting its own astronauts on it.

NASA also does not own this product. As Bridenstine also notes (and I also recommended in Capitalism in Space), SpaceX owns the product, and once operational will be free to sell seats on crew Dragon to private citizens or other nations.

This different approach also means that NASA is not dependent on one product. From the beginning its commercial crew program has insisted on having at least two companies building capsules — Dragon by SpaceX and Starliner by Boeing — so that if there is a launch failure with one, the second will provide the agency with redundancy.

Bridenstine was very clear about these points. He wants multiple manned spacecraft built by competing American capsules, both to provide the government with redundancy but also to drive innovation and lower costs.

SpaceX of course is the quintessential example of how to lower costs.
» Read more

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NASA: first manned Dragon flight could occur in March 2020

A NASA official today finally admitted that, assuming the launch abort test tomorrow goes well, that first manned Dragon flight to ISS could occur as early as March 2020.

Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s commercial crew program, told reporters Friday that the Crew Dragon capsule slated to carry Hurley and Behnken into orbit on the so-called “Demo-2” mission could be ready for for flight within a couple of months. “The vehicle will be all ready at the end of February,” Lueders said. “We’re kind of shooting for early March, right now, from a planning perspective. That would be the earliest.”

For years NASA has been reluctant to allow SpaceX to fly at the pace it wishes. Instead, NASA has consistently called for delays and further testing, almost ad infinitum. This admission by Lueders is the first by anyone at NASA that this launch can occur quickly, should tomorrow’s test flight succeed.

There are of course other considerations, such as scheduling the mission at ISS. Regardless, if tomorrow’s flight is a success there will be no justification for any long delays before the manned mission. It will be time to light that candle!

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SpaceX crew Dragon launch abort test delayed another week

NASA and SpaceX have delayed the launch abort test flight of the company’s crew Dragon capsule one week, to January 18, in order to allow “additional time for spacecraft processing.”

SpaceX has made it clear for the past month that their hardware is ready to go and that they could have launched by the end of December. That makes me suspect that the processing delay relates to NASA’s bureaucracy and paperwork requirements.

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Tonight’s SpaceX launch

Capitalism in space: Tonight SpaceX is hoping to launch another 60 Starlink smallsats as part of its planned huge constellation aimed at providing internet access worldwide.

The launch is scheduled for 9:19 pm Eastern, with a 20 minute launch window. I have embedded the live stream below the fold if you wish to watch, beginning fifteen minutes before launch. Or you can go to SpaceX’s own website instead.

The launch has some significance. First, with this launch SpaceX will leap-frog a number of other satellite companies attempting to accomplish the same thing. Though it only began pursuing this project about two years ago, with this launch SpaceX will have the largest satellite constellation of any company in orbit.

Second, the first stage will be flying for the fourth time, a record, and all flown since September 2018, a mere sixteen months. That’s once every four months, a pace that far exceeds anything the space shuttle ever accomplished. Moreover, SpaceX intends to land it and reuse it again. The launch savings from this reuse guarantees that they will be able to undercut those other satellite companies when they begin offering services on the Starlink constellation. [Note: My readers corrected me: SpaceX has already launched a first stage four times.]

The company will also make another attempt to recover one fairing half.

UPDATE: The launch appears successful, including a successful landing of the first stage.

SpaceX right now is the leader in the 2020 launch race, as they are the only one to have completed a launch in 2020.
» Read more

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SpaceX successfully launches commercial satellite

Capitalism in space: Using a first stage for the third time, SpaceX today successfully launched a commercial communications satellite while recovering that first stage.

Fun fact: This first stage recovery today was the 47th time that SpaceX has successfully completed a vertical landing.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

30 China
20 Russia
13 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. in the national rankings 30 to 26.

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Dragon launch abort test set for January 4

NASA announced on December 6 that the launch abort test of SpaceX’s crew Dragon capsule will occur no earlier than January 4.

SpaceX and NASA originally hoped to launch the test flight, called an In-Flight Abort Test, sometime this month, but an exact launch date was never released. In a statement Friday, NASA officials said the mission will now lift off no earlier than Jan. 4 from Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, pending launch range approval from the U.S. Air Force.

The new launch target will push the SpaceX flight beyond the year-end holidays, as well as a planned Boeing launch of its first uncrewed Starliner astronaut taxi for NASA, which is slated to launch Dec. 20.

The article does not explain why a December test was not possible. The second paragraph of the quote above however might give a hint, in that a December launch might have interfered with those Christmas/New Year holidays, and both the agency and the company might have decided it was better for all to wait an extra week or so.

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SpaceX successfully launches cargo Dragon to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today has successfully launched a reused cargo Dragon to ISS.

This is the third flight of this Dragon capsule. They also successfully landed the first stage on their drone ship.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

27 China
18 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China leads the U.S. in the national rankings 27 to 24.

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SpaceX to test upper stage endurance as part of Dragon launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX plans to perform a six hour orbital coast test of its Falcon 9 upper stage following the release of the Dragon cargo capsule tomorrow (scrubbed today due to high winds).

This is why the first stage will land on a drone ship rather than at Kennedy.

According to SpaceX the test is at the request of “other customers”, unnamed. The article adds this speculation:

Jensen says that the coast test will be performed for unspecified “other” customers, presumably referring to the US Air Force (USAF) and other commercial customers interested in direct-to-geostationary (GEO) launch services. Direct GEO launches require rocket upper stages to perform extremely long coasts in orbit, all while fighting the hostile vacuum environment’s temperature swings and radiation belts and attempting to prevent cryogenic propellant from boiling off or freezing solid. In simple terms, it’s incredibly difficult to build a reliable, high-performance upper stage capable of remaining fully functional after 6-12+ hours in orbit.

Although SpaceX said that the test was for “other” customers, that may well have been a cryptic way to avoid indicating that one such customer might be NASA itself. NASA is in the midst of a political battle for the Europa Clipper spacecraft’s launch contract, which is currently legally obligated to launch on NASA’s SLS rocket. Said rocket will likely cost on the order of >$2 billion per launch, meaning that simply using Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy could save no less than ~$1.5 billion. Incredibly, that means that simply using a commercial launch vehicle could save NASA enough money to fund an entire Curiosity-sized Mars rover or even a majority of the cost of building a dedicated Europa lander. Such a launch would demand every ounce of Falcon Heavy’s performance, including a very long orbital coast.

These speculations could all be true. SpaceX might merely be doing what it always does, testing new engineering upgrades during operational missions. It will then be able to sell its rocket’s enhanced capability to all these customers.

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SpaceX ‘s decision to slash prices/provide reliable launch schedule upends smallsat industry

Capitalism in space: Apparently SpaceX’s decision in August to further slash its launch prices for smallsats while also establishing a regular launch schedule is causing major shifts in that industry.

From the first link::

The revamped smallsat rideshare program, the company announced late Aug. 28, will provide launch opportunities at least once per month starting in March 2020, at a cost of $1 million for a 200-kilogram smallsat.

From the second link:

With the new SpaceX price list, the cost of reaching low Earth orbit falls so dramatically “you should select the cheapest launcher even if it does not go exactly where you need it and then use propulsion to go where you need to be,” Henri said. “From a total system cost standpoint, that will make the most sense.”

This situation is comparable to the shifts that occurred in the ship business when its technology changed from sails to engines. Sailing ships generally did not sail on a schedule. Instead, they sat at port until they filled their cargo holds, then waited for favorable weather before sailing. Customers could only wait.

Once ships were powered this all changed. Ship companies established firm schedules so customers knew exactly when their cargo would ship. This also led to a reduction in the price of shipping.

SpaceX’s ability to reuse its first stage often and quickly is now allowing them to treat the Falcon 9 rocket more like a powered ship rather than a sailing ship. Rather than only launching when they’ve filled their cargo capacity, they can afford to launch on a regular and reliable schedule, allowing customers to jump on board at their own convenience.

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SpaceX completes Crew Dragon static fire tests

SpaceX yesterday successfully completed a static fire engine test of its Crew Dragon capsule, demonstrating that it has fixed the issues that caused the April 20th explosion during an earlier test that destroyed a capsule.

Wednesday’s test occurred just 207 days after the April anomaly, a quick turnaround time given the complexity of the systems at hand. The incident earlier this year occurred just milliseconds before the engines were to have ignited, and was eventually traced to valves leaking propellant into high-pressure helium lines.

SpaceX made numerous changes to Crew Dragon as a result of the anomaly, including the replacement of the valves with burst-discs. The company has also been performing several smaller-scale tests of the redesigned system at their test facility in McGregor, Texas. Last month, SpaceX Tweeted a video of one such test.

Wednesday’s test was the first full-scale firing of all eight of Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco’s at once since the April incident.

This success clears the way for the launch abort test using this same capsule, now tentatively scheduled for mid-December.

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SpaceX successfully launches 60 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched 60 more satellites in its Starlink internet satellites, while also reusing for the first time a Falcon first stage for a fourth time, reusing a fairing for the first time. The first stage successfully completed a barge landing. No word on whether they were able to recover the fairings.

I have embedded the replay of the live stream below the fold. They now have proved the capability of recovering and reusing 70% of their rocket.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

22 China
17 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. now leads China 23 to 22 in the national rankings.
» Read more

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