Detailed update on Falcon Heavy static fire test set for later today

Link here. The article has a lot of good information not only about the test but about the launchpad and how it will be used in the future.

One take-away that I came off with however came from the picture of the Falcon Heavy on the launchpad. It made me realize how far apart the two side stages sit from the core stages, as the rocket is now reconfigured. My impression of most strap-ons today is that they are placed very close to the core, and they generally have aerodynamic cones that slope away from the core, so that the air is directed away from the space between the stages. Falcon Heavy however has all that space, and the side strap-ons have rounded cones.

I wonder if this is one of the rocket’s most worrisome unknowns, as it travels through Max Q, the period shortly after launch when the stresses created from its speed and the atmosphere are the highest. As designed, a lot of atmosphere will travel between the stages. While this isn’t entirely unique (the shuttle had a somewhat comparable gaps between its various parts), I do wonder.

Falcon Heavy static fire test scrubbed for today

Capitalism in space: SpaceX decided to scrub its Falcon Heavy static fire test today soon after they had loaded propellants into the rocket during countdown.

No details, but it appears to me that they are taking this test very seriously, and approaching each step with care. This was the first time they had loaded the entire Falcon Heavy, and I am not surprised they saw an issue that made them hesitate about continuing.

Falcon Heavy prepped for static fire test

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has raised its first Falcon Heavy rocket onto the launchpad in preparation for the static fire test required before the rocket can do its first launch.

SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy rocket has been raised vertical at pad 39A for the second time in advance of a planned hold-down test-firing of its main engines tomorrow during a window that extends from 1-7 pm EST (1800-0000 GMT). Kennedy Space Center employees were told to expect an estimated 15-second firing.

Falcon Heavy on the launchpad

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has finally rolled the first Falcon Heavy rocket out to its launchpad in preparation for at least one static fire engine test prior to is first launch.

SpaceX engineers are expected to conduct a fit check and complete other tests at pad 39A this week, followed by a hold-down firing of all 27 first stage engines some time after New Year’s Day. The company has not set a target date for the Falcon Heavy’s first liftoff, but officials say the launch is targeted in January, some time after the hold-down hotfire test.

Should it launch successfully, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world.

Update: They have now lowered the Falcon Heavy to a horizontal position. I suspect that the raising and lowering were both part of the fit check tests, and that they will soon raise the rocket up again.

Musk releases pictures of assembled Falcon Heavy in hanger

Falcon Heavy in hanger

Capitalism in space: Elon Musk today tweeted several pictures of the Falcon Heavy rocket, assembled in its hanger at Cape Canaveral and awaiting roll out for its first static fire tests on the launchpad.

As I will have nothing to do with Twitter, I must thank reader Michael Phillips for emailing me the photos. The one of the right I think shows the most detail. Note that the two side stages are previously flown Falcon 9 first stages. Only the central core has not flown before. According to previous reports, it required significant redesign to work in this configuration.

There is as yet no word on exactly when the roll out and launchpad static fire tests will take place, but all indications suggest it will be very soon. Whether the launch itself will follow several weeks later, as the link above says and has been stated many times by SpaceX, is more questionable. Remember, they have never fired all 27 engines of the threefold first stage at the same time. I am expecting that they will need time to review the data from that static fire test. I would be very surprised if their analysis and any changes it calls for will be doable in only a few weeks.

Tesla aimed for Mars will be the payload on first Falcon Heavy launch

Capitalism in space: Elon Musk announced today that the first test launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket next month will carry a Tesla car which will be aimed for a solar orbit about the same distance from the Sun as Mars.

Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.

Musk definitely knows how to generate publicity, even as he lowers expectations for the launch. Richard Branson could learn something from him.

SpaceX aims for December 29 launch of Falcon Heavy

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has set a date for the first Falcon Heavy launch as no earlier than December 29.

They hope to be able to do a number of dress rehearsal countdowns prior to actual launch, which is what makes this schedule somewhat tentative.

While SpaceX has ample experience lighting all nine engines of the Falcon 9 simultaneously, with every Falcon 9 going through a full duration hot fire at McGregor followed by a static fire on the launch pad before all nine engines are lit a third time for launch, no company in the U.S. rocket industry has experience lighting 27 engines at the same time.

While each of the three Falcon Heavy debut cores – two flight-proven cores for the side-mounted boosters (boosters B1023 and B1025) and a new core for the central core (booster B1033) – have undergone hot fire testing at McGregor, they were all fired separately because the Texas test site is not built to accommodate three cores at the same time.

This means SpaceX will not gain a full understanding of how all 27 engines light until the more-crucial-than-usual static fire at LC-39A at Kennedy.

SpaceX to resume launches at second launchpad in December

Capitalism in space: SpaceX plans to resume launches in December at its second Kennedy launchpad that was damaged in the September 2016 explosion.

This means that after the mid-November launch of Northrop Grumman’s Zuma payload, they will begin the reconfiguration of that launchpad for Falcon Heavy. Initially the company had said it would take two months to complete that work, which would push the first Falcon Heavy launch into 2018. More recently they say they can get the work done in six weeks. Either way, this suggests that the first attempt to launch Falcon Heavy around the first of the year.

Posted on the road from Tucson to the Grand Canyon. This weekend I am running a new cave survey project there, and we are hiking down this afternoon, with the plan to hike out on Monday.]

Mysterious SpaceX launch scheduled for November 10

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has a launch scheduled for November 10 in which nothing is known about its payload.

The mystery payload is intriguing, but the article revealed something more significant: This launch, set for November 10, will take place on launchpad 39-A, which means that the first Falcon Heavy launch cannot occur until January 10, at the earliest. According to SpaceX, they will need sixty days to reconfigure that launchpad to the Falcon Heavy after they switch launches back to launchpad 40. That reconfiguration thus cannot begin until after the November 10 launch.

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 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

1 2 3 4