SpaceX Looking in Multiple States for Third Launch Site

Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log talked to Elon Musk about SpaceX’s search for a third U.S. launch site:

“We have our main launch facility, which is Cape Canaveral in Florida. Then we are in the process of developing our second launch facility, which is Vandenberg in California. And we do intend to develop a third launch facility. Texas is one of the possible states. But we’re also looking at a number of other locations: Puerto Rico, potentially another location in Florida, potentially Hawaii. And there are a few other locations that could work. So we’re trying to make the right decision for the long term.

“The third launch site would open early, in perhaps three or four years. So we want to make sure we make the right decision. But we do think we need three launch sites in order to handle all of the launch demand that we have been able to get. …

“It would be a purely commercial launch site, whereas Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg are actually Air Force bases — in the case of Cape Canaveral, it’s sort of a joint NASA-Air Force activity. So it makes sense to have NASA and Defense Department launches occur from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg, but then probably shift most of our commercial launches to a purely commercial launch site that’s really aimed at being the best customer for a commercial launch provider. Just as there are Air Force bases and commercial airports … there’s some logic to separation.”

Read the full interview.

Cool Pics: SpaceX’s Dragon in Prep for First ISS Flight

Some cool images courtesy of SpaceX. Above, technicians prepare the Dragon spacecraft for thermal vacuum chamber testing in a SpaceX clean room shown above in Hawthorne (Los Angeles) California. The open bays will hold the parachutes. NASA has given SpaceX a launch date of Nov 30, 2011 for Falcon 9 Flight 3, which will send a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

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SpaceX, OSC on Track for COTS Flights By End of Year

Illustration of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft arriving at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
December is going to be a busy month for NASA’s COTS program.  If all goes well, a SpaceX Dragon will be berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 9.  Also in December, Orbital Sciences Corporation’s new Taurus II rocket will soar into space from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia.

If the flights are successful, they will pave the way for commercial cargo delivery delivery to ISS during the first quarter of next year by Dragon and OSC’s Cygnus freighter.

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NASA’s CCDev Program: Where Things Stand

Boeing's proposed commercial capsule.
Artist's conception of Boeing's commercial crew module. (Credit: Boeing)

With Boeing’s selection of Atlas V to launch its CST-100 commercial crew vehicle, the picture relating to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program has become a bit clearer. Without any delay, let’s dive into it.

A Big Win for Big Rocket

For an “OldSpace” rocket company under threat from new competition, United Launch Alliance (ULA) is doing pretty well here. Companies building three of the four human spacecraft that NASA is funding under CCDev 2 have selected the Atlas V as their launch vehicle. These vehicles include Boeing’s CST-100, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, and Blue Origin’s orbital vehicle. The other company, SpaceX, has its own Falcon 9 rocket for the spacecraft it is building.

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Awesome Video: Falcon 9 Engine Firing

Video Caption: A 60-second long test firing of the Falcon 9 Flight 3 second stage, conducted at the SpaceX Test Facility in McGregor. Texas. The Merlin Vacuum second stage engine generates 92,500 lb of force in vacuum, and operates with a vacuum specific impulse of 342 seconds — the highest efficiency ever for an American hydrocarbon rocket engine. In flight the engine ignites about 3 minutes after launch, delivering the Dragon spacecraft to orbit about 6 minutes later.

Astrobotic Signs Contract for Falcon 9 Launch to Moon

ASTROBOTIC PRESS RELEASE

Astrobotic Technology Inc. today announced it has signed a contract with SpaceX to launch Astrobotic’s robotic payload to the Moon on a Falcon 9.   The expedition will search for water and deliver payloads, with the robot narrating its adventure while sending 3D video.  The mission could launch as soon as December 2013.

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SpaceX Plans to Put Humans into Space on 19th Falcon 9 Flight

SpaceX's Falcon 9 on the pad at Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX)
SpaceX's Falcon 9 on the pad at Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX)

SpaceX Plans 17 More Flights Before Launching Humans
Aviation Week

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) says it will launch its Falcon 9 rocket at least 17 more times before it is ready to fly humans, with nine of those flights carrying the Dragon capsule it is developing for cargo missions to the International Space Station.
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SpaceX Outlines CCDev Proposal

SpaceX has released a new video touting its bid to launch NASA astronauts into orbit using its Falcon 9/Dragon system. The clip above is an excerpt; view the full video here.)  In a blog post, the company also provided some additional details on the proposal it submitted for funding under NASA’s CCDev program.

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ULA to Reduce Staff, Costs; Musk Wants to Launch Air Force Payloads

ULA's Atlas V

ULA Says Workforce Reductions Will Help Cut Costs
Space News

United Launch Alliance (ULA) will reduce its work force by 19 percent over the next few years as it weeds out unneeded overlaps in Atlas and Delta rockets and finds other efficiencies, ULA Chief Operating Officer Dan Collins said.

The head-count reduction, which follows a 16 percent staff cut over the past four years, should enable Denver-based ULA to reduce operating costs and offer reduced launch-service prices to its U.S. government customer, he said.

Collins said ULA, established in December 2006, has already surpassed its goal of cutting launch costs by 25 percent over the previous generation of rockets, and that more cost reductions are on the way….

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Congressional Praise for SpaceX’s Successful Dragon Flight

Florida Senator Bill Nelson

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL

The leading congressional authority on the U.S. space program said Wednesday that America is on track to remain a global leader in space, science and technology, after a privately owned rocket carrying a capsule powered off a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and into outer space before returning safely to Earth.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made his comments today following the successful launch into low-earth orbit and return to Earth of the 157-foot tall Falcon 9 rocket and the Apollo-like unmanned Dragon capsule built by Space X. With the splash down of its capsule in the Pacific, Space X became the first private company to successfully recover a spacecraft sent into outer space.

“We’ve arrived at the dawn of new era of U.S. space exploration that should ensure America remains a leader in space exploration,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was a crew member aboard a 1986 space shuttle mission, and now heads a Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA.

In September, Congress approved a Nelson-engineered NASA budget blueprint that would help boost the commercial rocket industry – such as the development of the Falcon 9 – and have NASA become the chief player for building a new deep-space rocket and carry out missions to Mars.

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Forward into the Slipstream…

Dragon floats down under three parachutes after its maiden flight to space. (Credit: SpaceX)

The three overused cliches in technology circles are: “paradigm shift,” “game changer,”  and “moving the needle.” The first is vague, meaningless and pretentious with a capital “TIOUS.” These latter two are often used by executives to rally their troops on behalf of one company saving initiative or another. More often than not, they are half right: the needle (market share, profits) moves, but in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, the game remains the same — and they are losing it. Badly.

That being said, it’s not hard to apply these phrases to what SpaceX accomplished on Wednesday. Elon Musk’s start-up rocket company nailed all three objectives.

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