Tag: Falcon Heavy

The Year Ahead in Space

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Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

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A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

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The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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Trump Adds Commercial Space Advocate to NASA Transition Team

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Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

President elect Donald Trump has named commercial space backer Charles Miller to the NASA landing team amid reports that similar minded advocates will be added to transition group.

Miller is president of NexGen Space LLC, a company that advises clients on commercial, civil and national security space.  He previously served as NASA’s senior advisor for commercial space.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump officials are also working on appointing Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Alan Lindenmoyer, who formerly managed NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program. Both nominations are in the process of being vetted for conflicts of interest.

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Shotwell: Helium Tank “Let Go” in Falcon 9 Firexplanomaly

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Gwynne Shotwell

Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceNews has a story on Gwynne Shotwell, who provided an update on the investigation into the Falcon 9 launch pad failure last month and other developments at the company. Here is a summary:

  • SpaceX believes Falcon 9 failure was caused when a composite over wrapped pressure vessel (COPv or helium bottle) “let go” in the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank;
  • Company is not sure what caused the explosion yet, but they don’t believe it was caused by ground support equipment;
  • Doesn’t believe it is a problem with helium bottle design but “probably is more focused on the operations”;
  • Accident in September was different from the one in June 2015 when a helium bottle broke loose due to strut failure;
  • Neither of the Falcon 9 failures have been associated with changes made to the booster;
  • Believes Falcon 9 can be put back into service this year;
  • Discount on reused Falcon 9 first stages is about 10 percent than the previously advertised 30 percent;
  • SpaceX wants to recover investments put into making Falcon 9 first stages reusable before reducing prices;
  • Company might reduce prices for reused first stages at a later date;
  • Does not think the company is trying to do too much at once, pointing to small percentages of the company working on Mars and the broadband constellation;
  • Top three priorities are getting Falcon 9 flying again, making sure Dragon gets “upgraded” to carry crew, and flying a Falcon Heavy booster that’s four years behind schedule;
  • The timeline for SpaceX’s broadband constellation of 4,000 satellites is still uncertain;
  • Will fly test satellites for the constellation next year;
  • Key issue with broadband constellation is a reliable and affordable ground antennae for users that’s easy to install.

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SpaceX: Giant Leaps, Deep Troughs But No Plateaus

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Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Out of the blue and into the black
They give you this, but you pay for that
And once you’re gone, you can never come back
When you’re out of the blue and into the black.

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
Neil Young

In his book, “Mastery,” George Leonard provides a fascinating explanation of how people master new skills.

The mastery curve (Credit: George Leonard)

The mastery curve (Credit: George Leonard)

“There’s really no way around it. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it,” Leonard writes. “The curve above is not necessarily idealized. In the actual learning experience, progress is less regular; the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have their own dips and rises along the way. But the general progression is almost always the same.”

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Falcon 9 Pad Failure Throws SpaceX Schedule into Doubt

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Falcon 9 explodes on the launch pad. (Credit: USLaunchReport.com)

Falcon 9 explodes on the launch pad. (Credit: USLaunchReport.com)

The loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and its Amos 6 communications satellite payload in a launch pad accident on Friday morning throws the company’s ambitious launch schedule into confusion.

SpaceX has launched eight rockets successfully in 2016. The company had planned 10 more launches by the end of this year.  (See table below; information courtesy of Spaceflightnow.com). That plan was very ambitious, and it is unclear the company would have flown all these missions.

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Links to Parabolic Arc’s Coverage of Small Satellite 2016 Conference

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SkyFire’s new infrared technology will help NASA enhance its knowledge of the lunar surface. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

SkyFire’s new infrared technology will help NASA enhance its knowledge of the lunar surface. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

The Small Satellite 2016 Conference is now over. Below are links to Parabolic Arc’s coverage of the conference and the CubeSat Workshop that preceded it last weekend. There are also links to announcements made during the conference and in recent weeks.

Small Satellite Conference Coverage

Recent Smallsat News & Announcements

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Smallsat 2016: Video of SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell’s Keynote

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SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell spoke at the Small Satellite Conference in Utah on Tuesday.

Smallsat 2016: Shotwell Discusses Launch Plans

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Gwynne Shotwell

Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell spoke at the Small Satellite 2016 Conference in Utah on Tuesday.

Shotwell talked about the importance of fully reusing the Falcon boosters, SpaceX’s Red Dragon mission to Mars, and about how SpaceX could open up Earth orbit and beyond to the smallsat community. She also defended the company’s decision to abandon development of its Falcon 1e small satellite launcher.

Although I wasn’t able to attend this year, I have pulled a summary of her talk off Twitter. Information came from the following Tweeters:

  • C. G. Niederstrasser ‏@RocketScient1st
  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave
  • RITSpaceExploration ‏@RITSPEX

Enjoy!
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SpaceX Eyes Reusing Dragons, Additional Landing Pads

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Cameras on the Canadarm2 show the SpaceX Dragon as it departs the vicinity of the space station just after its release. (Credit: NASA TV)

Cameras on the Canadarm2 show the SpaceX Dragon as it departs the vicinity of the space station just after its release. (Credit: NASA TV)

With SpaceX planning to relaunch a Falcon 9 first stage later this year, the age of reusing rockets is upon us. But, the company isn’t stopping there.

SpaceX is planning to launch a reused Dragon supply ship on a cargo mission next year. Officials discussed the planned flight during a post-launch press conference on Monday morning.

“I think we’re looking at SpaceX-11,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s deputy manager of ISS utilization, referring to the 11th resupply mission the company will fly with Dragon and the Falcon 9. (Monday’s launch kicked off SpaceX-9.)

“I thought it was 11 or 12 — something like that,” replied Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of flight reliability at SpaceX. “So, not too far from now.”

SpaceX-11 is currently scheduled to lift off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in February 2017, and SpaceX-12 is slated to launch two months later, according to Spaceflight Now.

The Orlando Sentinel also reports that SpaceX is requesting permission from the federal government to establish two additional first-stage landing facilities on Cape Canaveral. The pads would be for landing the three Falcon 9 first stages that are used on the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

Historic Pad 39A Being Transformed for Falcon Launches

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Pad 39A (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Pad 39A Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Removing hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel and adding robust, new fixtures, SpaceX is steadily transforming Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for use as a launch pad for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The launchers will lift numerous payloads into orbit, including the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts aboard bound for the International Space Station.

Pad 39A is being modified for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Pad 39A is being modified for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

A horizontal integration facility was built at the base of the pad and rails installed running up the incline to the flame trench. Instead of arriving to the pad on the back of the crawler-transporters, SpaceX rockets will roll on a custom-built transporter-erector that will carry them up the hill and then stand the rocket up for liftoff. The fixed service structure at the pad deck will remain, although more than 500,000 pounds of steel has already been removed from it. SpaceX has already started removing the rotating service structure, which is attached to the fixed structure. Built for the need to load a shuttle’s cargo bay at the pad, it does not serve a purpose for Falcon launchers whose payloads are mounted on the top of the rocket.

Pad 39A  (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Pad 39A (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

SpaceX leased the historic launch pad from NASA in April 2014 and has been steadily remaking it from a space shuttle launch facility into one suited for the needs of the Falcon rockets and their payloads. It is the same launch pad where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off on July 16, 1969, to begin their Apollo 11 flight that would make history as the first to land people on the moon. Almost all signs of Apollo-era hardware were removed from the launch pad when it was rebuilt for the shuttle.

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Commercial Crew Manufacturing Gains Momentum Coast to Coast

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Technicians lower the upper dome of a Boeing Starliner spacecraft onto a work stand inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The upper dome is part of Spacecraft 1, a Starliner that will perform a pad abort flight test as part of the development process of the spacecraft in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.  (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Technicians lower the upper dome of a Boeing Starliner spacecraft onto a work stand inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The upper dome is part of Spacecraft 1, a Starliner that will perform a pad abort flight test as part of the development process of the spacecraft in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Manufacturing facilities are in operation on the east and west coasts to build the next generation of spacecraft to return human launch capability to American soil. Over the past six months, Boeing and SpaceX – the companies partnered with NASA to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station – each have begun producing the first in a series of spacecraft.

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Senate Armed Services Committee Limits ULA Engines

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John McCain

John McCain

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday that limits United Launch Alliance (ULA) to purchasing nine Russian-made RD-180 engines for use in the first stage of the company’s Atlas V booster to launch national security payloads.

The move sets up a showdown with the House Armed Services Committee, which earlier put the number of engines ULA could purchase at 18. ULA and the U.S. Air Force support the higher number, saying the engines are needed to meet military launch needs.

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New Chart Shows Performance Hit Falcon 9 Takes for Reusability

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SpaceX_rocket_pricing_May2016
On Saturday, SpaceX Founder Elon Musk posted a new price chart for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters that show the performance hit that results from making the boosters partially reusable.

The Falcon 9 can lift 8.3 metric tons (18,300 lb) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) in its expendable form. Make the booster reusable with landing legs and fuel in reserve, it can lift up to 5.5 metric tons (12,125 lb) to GTO.

For the Falcon Heavy, the numbers are 22.2 metric tons (48,943 lb) for the expendable version and up to 8 metric tons (17,637 lb) for the reusable variant. The Falcon Heavy has yet to fly and is running nearly four years behind SpaceX’s original schedule. The latest flight date is at the end of this year.

SpaceX is charging $62 million for the Falcon 9 and $90 million for the Falcon Heavy. The company has not yet set prices for a launch with a reused first stage, but officials have estimated prices could be set around $40 million for the Falcon 9.

Musk was asked on Twitter whether the posted performance figures were for the current versions of the boosters or future variants. He elaborated in a series of Tweets:

“Basically current, but higher throttle setting. Good performance of recent launches allows us to reduce 3 sigma reserve margin”

“No physical changes to the engine. This thrust increase is based on delta qual tests. It is just tougher than we thought.”

“F9 thrust at liftoff will be raised to 1.71M lbf later this year. It is capable of 1.9M lbf in flight.”

“Falcon Heavy thrust will be 5.1M lbf at liftoff — twice any rocket currently flying. It’s a beast…”

The table also shows payload capacity for the two rockets for Mars missions. Falcon 9 can send just over 4 metric tons (8,860 lb) to Mars while Falcon Heavy can send 13.6 metric tons (29,980 lb) to the Red Planet.

SpaceX Announces Plans to Send Dragon to Mars

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