Tag Archives: SpaceX

New dates, March 20 and May 15 respectively, have been set for the ISS launches of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and the next manned Soyuz capsule.

New dates, March 20 and May 15 respectively, have been set for the ISS launches of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and the next manned Soyuz capsule.

The launch date for Dragon, however, is far more tentative.

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Some details on the cause of the Dragon/Falcon 9 launch delay

Bill Harward has some details on the cause of the Dragon/Falcon 9 launch delay.

Essentially, nothing seems critical. They found a few minor issues that they felt needed more testing, and are simply making sure these issues are resolved before launch. All in all I find this report very encouraging. Stay tuned.

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SpaceX outlines its new design goals for Falcon 9

What competition brings: SpaceX outlines its new design goals for Falcon 9 and its Merlin rocket engine.

[U]pcoming upgrades to the engine (Merlin 1D) will provide a vast improvement in performance, reliability and manufacturability – all of which could provide a timely boost to aiding the potential for success for the fully reusable Falcon 9.

Increased reliability: Simplified design by eliminating components and sub-assemblies. Increased fatigue life. Increased chamber and nozzle thermal margins,” noted SpaceX in listing the improvements in work.

Improved Performance: Thrust increased from 95,000 lbf (sea level) to 140,000 lbf (sea level). Added throttle capability for range from 70-100 percent. Currently, it is necessary to shut off two engines during ascent. The Merlin 1D will make it possible to throttle all engines. Structure was removed from the engine to make it lighter.

Improved Manufacturability: Simplified design to use lower cost manufacturing techniques. Reduced touch labor and parts count. Increased in-house production at SpaceX.

That’s just the engine. Most of the article however talks about the company’s effort to make as much of Falcon 9 reusable as possible. Hat tip to Clark Lindsey.

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Space exploration and the unexpected consequences of government decisions

On Thursday, December 15, 2011, NASA management announced what seemed at first glance to be a very boring managerial decision. Future contracts with any aerospace company to launch astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) will follow the same contractual arrangements used by NASA and SpaceX and Orbital Sciences for supplying cargo to the space station.

As boring that sounds, this is probably the most important decision NASA managers have made since the 1960s. Not only will this contractual approach lower the cost and accelerate the speed of developing a new generation of manned spaceships, it will transfer control of space exploration from NASA — an overweight and bloated government agency — to the free and competitive open market.

To me, however, the decision illustrates a number of unexpected consequences, none of which have been noted by anyone in the discussions that followed NASA’s announcement back in mid-December.
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Rutan, Allen, Musk, Griffin team up to develop an air-launch rocket system to fire hardware and humans into orbit.

Superstars of space: Rutan, Allen, Musk, and Griffin have teamed up to develop an air-launch rocket system to fire hardware and humans into orbit.

Their concept calls for Rutan, a noted aircraft designer, to create a carrier jet with a 385-foot wingspan and six engines to ferry a liquid-fueled, 120-foot-long rocket built by SpaceX and outfitted with five main engines to altitude where the winged booster will be released for launch into orbit.

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NASA has announced a February 7 launch date for SpaceX’s next test flight of Falcon 9 and Dragon

NASA has announced a February 7 launch date for SpaceX’s next test flight of Falcon 9 and Dragon to ISS.

They also have approved allowing Dragon to do a test berth with ISS on this flight, assuming the first test approach goes well.

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The case against SpaceX

The case against SpaceX. From one of the company’s biggest supporters.

Trent Waddington raises many good points, all of which must be considered to have a clear, educated sense of where the future stands for American manned spaceflight. Two quotes:

The goal of SpaceX is human spaceflight, and the greatest repository of knowledge about human spaceflight is NASA. As such, it would appear obvious that getting NASA to help you to fly humans safely is a good idea. The way to do that is with Space Act Agreements. This is what SpaceX did under the COTS program, and later under the CCDev program.. and they got paid for the privilege. As a result, the Dragon spacecraft will soon be fully qualified as safe for human habitation on orbit as it will be berthed to the ISS and have astronauts inside it.

The problem is that NASA is a precocious customer. They know what they want, they think they know even better than you do how to make it, and they feel no guilt about changing their mind halfway through the project. As such, Space Act Agreements just totally grind NASA’s gears. They don’t have enough control. [emphasis in original]

NASA money is like heroin.. once they start taking it, most people find it very hard to stop. There’s a dependence that has grown between NASA and SpaceX, and although it is obviously a love-hate relationship, it’s going to be very hard for SpaceX to let go.. but, inevitably, they must. The current needs of NASA are very different to the long term goals of SpaceX.

And this:

Fundamentally, SpaceX has a shoddy business case which is best described as a house of cards.. that they’re still trying to play poker with.. and there’s dogs at the table, and they’re smoking cigars! Yeah, metaphor.

Read the whole thing. It’s quite good.

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Doubts on Display from Congress during hearing on Private Space

Several Congressmen expressed doubts about and resistance to the new private space manned effort by companies like SpaceX during hearings today in the House.

Let’s be honest: it’s all about pork and only pork. Unfortunately, the new companies don’t deliver the same kind of pork to the right congressional districts, even if they might deliver a real product faster and for less money. To quote the article:

Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., rallied to the industry’s defense, citing a “hostility” to the private space industry. “Much to my dismay, I see some of the worst elements of decision making,” he said. “I see an anti-commercial-space attitude that could have very negative consequences.” Rohrabacher (who represents a district near SpaceX’s headquarters) seemed to chide Hall and Johnson, the two Texans who chair the panel, for parochial views. “Focusing on one’s own district and directing federal funds seems to be having a major impact on this decision,” he said.

As we anticipated yesterday, there were other regional pleas connected to the word of choice heard in the halls of Congress: jobs. Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Mich., for instance, asked how the space contract could be used to create jobs in his district of metropolitan Detroit. The witnesses made the most diplomatic kowtows they could. “I’ve been pushing SpaceX to use more automotive suppliers,” Musk responded. Other space industry execs went on to claim Michigan subcontractors, to praise the auto industry, and to speak of spin-offs from space science programs.

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Elon Musk and the forgotten word

Elon Musk at National Press Club

When Elon Musk gave his speech at the National Press Club on September 29, he was asked one question to which he really did not know the answer. He faked it, but his response illustrated how completely forgotten is one fundamental fact about American society — even though this fact is the very reason the United States became the world’s most wealthy and powerful nation less than two centuries after its founding.

To explain this fundamental fact I think I need to take a step back and talk about the ongoing war taking place right now over how the United States should get its astronauts into space. On one side we have NASA and Congress, who want NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket to carry its Orion capsule beyond Earth orbit. On the other side we have a host of independent new space companies, all vying for the chance to launch humans and cargo into space for fun and profit.

Which is right? What system should the United State choose?
» Read more

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GAO and SpaceX blast military’s plans to spend $15 billion for all its launches through 2018 in one purchase

GAO and SpaceX blast the military’s plans to spend $15 billion for all its launches through 2018, in one bulk purchase.

The reason given by the military for buying all these launches up front is to save money. In reality, it is to favor the companies they want to do business with, rather than open up the business to as many competitors as possible.

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If all goes well, 2012 will be a busy year at ISS for both Dragon and Cygnus

If all goes well, 2012 will be a busy year at ISS for both Dragon and Cygnus.

The article outlines the preliminary cargo schedule for both ferries next year, assuming their initial test flights succeed (a big assumption).

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A new Arianespace rocket

A new Arianespace rocket starts its journey to French Guiana.

This first launch, the Vega qualification flight, is planned for January 2012 and will pave the way for five missions that aim to demonstrate the system’s flexibility. . . . Vega is compatible with payload masses ranging from 300 kg to 2500 kg, depending on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers. The benchmark is for 1500 kg into a 700 km-altitude polar orbit.

This rocket is comparable to SpaceX’s now discontinued Falcon 1, though it can put more payload into orbit.

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Reality always wins

Elon Musk’s talk yesterday at the National Press Club revealed several interesting things, about SpaceX’s rocket effort, about the state of the American commercial space industry, and about Elon Musk himself.

First, the company’s rocket design effort. Musk centered his talk on SpaceX’s new effort to make its Falcon 9 rocket completely reusable. Though he produced little specific details, and the moderator at the event asked no questions about it, it seems the engineering centers around these three concepts:
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SpaceX suspends production of its Falcon 1 rocket

SpaceX suspends production of its Falcon 1 rocket.

As much as I am a fan of Elon Musk and SpaceX, and though I realize that they have been focusing on getting Falcon 9 and Dragon off the ground — the payoff there is greater and a failure of Falcon 1 during this time could be very politically painful — this action contradicts SpaceX’s years of claims that they had a slew of signed contracts to launch Falcon 1.

I will be attending Elon Musk’s luncheon speech today at the National Press Club, and hope to ask him about this and other things.

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Soyuz crew returns safely to Earth, despite radio problems

One of the two three-man crews on ISS have returned safely to Earth, despite an unexpected communciations blackout during their descent.

In related news, the Russians have slightly delayed the launch dates for the next manned flights to ISS, which also means that the next test flight of Falcon 9/Dragon will have to be delayed until 2012. Moreover, the Russians are once again balking at allowing Dragon to dock with ISS on this first flight.

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SpaceX Acknowledges Falcon 9 Engine Anomaly

This is not good if true: SpaceX has admitted that in its December 2010 test flight of Falcon 9 there was a problem with its first stage.

During the August meeting, held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, SpaceX told to the two advisory bodies that there had been an engine anomaly during the most recent Falcon 9 launch, according Charles Daniel, a shuttle and space station safety expert at Herndon, Va.-based Valador Inc., and a member of the ISS Advisory Committee. “There was no explanation or root cause analysis or corrective action for this particular anomaly,” Daniel said Sept. 9 during the public meeting. “This is a relatively troublesome statement not to recognize that a premature engine shutdown was a significant event.”

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If ISS becomes unmanned, the first test of Dragon will also be delayed

More possible consequences if ISS becomes unmanned: the first test of Dragon will be delayed.

An unmanned ISS will also delay the first launch in February of Orbital Sciences Cyngus cargo vehicle, as this vehicle is like Dragon in that it requires astronauts on board ISS to control the robot arm that grabs and berths the spacecraft.

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The state of the new commercial manned space efforts

Chris Bergin at NASAspaceflight.com today wrote a report on the four companies NASA is subsidizing to build manned capsules. The status of each company tells us something of whether they can eventually provide the United States with a replacement for the shuttle, and do it soon. Let’s take a look at each.
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