SpaceX Welcomes New Policy on Launch Vehicle Certification

Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX PR — Hawthorne, CA – Today the U.S. Air Force issued a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the NRO and NASA that serves as a joint agreement on the process they will use to allow new companies to compete to provide launch services. The MOU will be followed by detailed guidance for prospective new entrants.

“SpaceX welcomes the opportunity to compete for Air Force launches. We are reviewing the MOU, and we expect to have a far better sense of our task after the detailed requirements are released in the coming weeks,” said Adam Harris, SpaceX Vice President of Government Affairs.

The U.S. Air Force is the largest launch customer in the world, but is currently served by a monopoly provider whose prices have consistently risen. Equitable criteria for new entrants, coupled with meaningful opportunities for competition, would save the American taxpayer billions.

“Fair and open competition for commercial launch providers is an essential element of protecting taxpayer dollars,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO. “Our American-made Falcon vehicles can deliver assured, responsive access to space that will meet warfighter needs while reducing costs for our military customers.”

Video: SpaceX’s Reusable Launch System

An animation of a launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with Dragon showing powered vertical return of both stages and the Dragon. Credit: SpaceX

During an appearance at the National Press Club today, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that reusing the Falcon 9 rocket could lead to a 100-fold decrease in launch costs.  The Falcon 9 costs $50 million to build, but the fuel is only $200,000 per flight. So, the more times SpaceX reuses the same rocket, the lower the per flight cost becomes.

SpaceX is working on a prototype for reusable stages, which it wants to test at its facility in McGregor, Texas. The development is expected to take 3 years.

Code Name: DragonRider

DragonRider.

It sound like somebody in Avatar, doesn’t it? Or the code name of the evil plot hatched by the most nefarious James Bond villain yet?

No, it’s just the project name for SpaceX’s effort to launch commercial crews to the International Space Station. DragonRider was one of the nuggets that Abhishek Tripathi revealed during a talk at the SETI Institute in Mountain View on Wednesday night. The SpaceX engineer gave an overview of his company’s work and some insights on what it is like to work there.

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SpaceX Talk Set for Wednesday in Mountain View


Please join us for the ninth SETI  Institute Evening Distinguished Speaker Talk Wednesday night at 7.00 pm at the SETI Institute Headquarters at 189 Bernardo Ave, Mountain View.

This is a public lecture and will be suitable for audiences of all ages and  backgrounds.

Title: “SpaceX and the Dragon Spacecraft”
Speaker: Abhishek Tripathi (Space Exploration Technologies – SpaceX)
When:  Wednesday, 7:00pm, September 21, 2011
Where: SETI Institute Headquarters, Ground Floor, 189 Bernardo Ave., Mountain View

Abstract: With the retirement of the Space Shuttle this past summer the United States entered a new era, one in  which U.S. astronauts will be flying only aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle in order to access Low Earth Orbit and the International Space  Station. California headquartered Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has developed and twice launched a brand new launch vehicle (Falcon9), as well as launched and recovered a space capsule designed for humans (Dragon). SpaceX will soon begin delivering cargo, and ultimately plans on launching crew, to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. And all that is just the beginning of what SpaceX has in mind to revolutionize human access into space.

Falcon 9 Experienced Engine Anomaly During Last Flight

SpaceX officials have admitted that an engine anomaly occurred on its most recent Falcon 9 launch:

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Corp. acknowledged that its Falcon 9 rocket experienced an engine anomaly during its December launch of the company’s reusable Dragon space capsule.

“I’d call it an oxidizer-rich shutdown,” former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox, SpaceX’s vice president of astronaut safety and mission assurance, told Space News in a Sept. 9 interview. “So because of that, when you get that mixture change happening, the temperatures can go up higher than you want inside the gas generator.”

Bowersox added that “those temperatures could have damaged the turbines in the turbopump.” That presents an obstacle for SpaceX, which eventually intends to reuse the nine Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9.

It does not, however, present an obstacle for cargo delivery missions to the international space station, SpaceX said.

An oxygen-rich shutdown is “not a catastrophic event for the Merlin engine,” Bowersox said. “We’ve been through this on the test stand and we know what it looks like for our engines, so we know that this was not a risk to the mission.”

Read the full story.

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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Signs of Expansion Amid Mass Layoffs

Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center

Space layoffs are accelerating this month in the wake of the final space shuttle flight. Meanwhile, commercial space companies are expanding in Florida, California and Texas as they ramp up programs designed to carry American astronauts into space.

First, the bad news:

  • Approximately 1,000 space shuttle workers will lose their jobs this month, including 515 at United Space Alliance’s Houston operations and 285 additional USA workers in Huntsville, Houston and Huntington Beach, Calif.
  • Boeing and Lockheed Martin are also planning layoffs
  • ATK laid off approximately 100 employees in Utah as a result of the space shuttle’s demise.

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A Non-Toxic Fuel From the Mojave Desert


Late next year, a cargo freighter will deliver a potentially revolutionary new propulsion system to the International Space Station.

Franklin Chang-Diaz’s VASIMR engine? No, that test is still a couple of years off.

The propulsion system is called NOFBX. It’s a green fuel system developed by a little-known Mojave-based R&D company called Firestar Technologies. And it could well be one of those “game changing” technologies that NASA officials believe will make space travel a lot more affordable.

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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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Live Webcasts as SpaceX’s Musk, Shotwell Speak at AIAA Conference

SpacX Founder Elon Musk

Today SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and President Gwynne Shotwell are speaking at the AIAA propulsion conference.

At 4:00 PM EDT/1:00 PM PDT, Elon Musk will discuss “Getting to Mars”

At 5:00 PM EDT/2:00 PM PDT Gwynne Shotwell will participate in the Commercial Space Panel

Both should be webcast live at: http://www.livestream.com/aiaa

If you miss them live, AIAA says videos may be available for a limited time in the on-demand section at Livestream, then later at www.aiaa.org and/or the AIAA YouTube channel www.youtube.com/wwwAIAAorg.