SpaceX: Giant Leaps, Deep Troughs But No Plateaus

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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SpaceX to Fly Orbcomm, not SES, on First Test of Upgraded Booster

falcon9_debris
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will loft 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites into orbit instead of a SES spacecraft in a December launch that will be the rocket’s first flight since a catastrophic failure in June destroyed a Dragon cargo ship bound for the International Space Station. The launch will be the first test of upgrades to the Falcon 9 that will allow the rocket to lift heavier payloads.

In a statement, SpaceX said that unlike the geosynchronous SES 9 communication satellites, the OG2 spacecraft do not require a relight of the Falcon 9’s second stage following orbital insertion. Changing the order of the launches will allow SpaceX to test the second stage after the OG2 satellites have been deployed.

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Falcon 9 Launch Failure Scrambles Schedule

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the failure of the Falcon 9 on Sunday, SpaceX’s only launch vehicle will be grounded for an unknown number of months while engineers identify the cause of the crash and make necessary changes to ensure that failure won’t happen again.

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Falcon 9 Launch Delayed Again

Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

UPDATE: ORBCOMM issued the following statement indicating that more testing was needed on one of the six satellites:

All six satellites have completed additional testing and are functioning as expected. In an effort to be as cautious as possible, it was decided to perform further analysis to verify that the issue observed on one satellite during final integration has been fully addressed. The additional time to complete this analysis required us to postpone the OG2 Mission 1 Launch. We are working with SpaceX to identify the next available launch opportunity, and we will update the schedule shortly.

ORBCOMM will have to wait a little longer to get their second-generation OG2 communications satellites into orbit. SpaceX has delayed a Falcon 9 launch scheduled for Sunday that would have carried six of the spacecraft.

No reason has been given, but the rocket has been plagued by helium leaks. The Patrick Air Force Base home page lists the next launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as “TBD.”

ORBCOMM originally booked flights aboard SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 1e rocket, with the goal of beginning launches in 2010. However, SpaceX decided not to pursue development of the Falcon 1e, forcing a shift to the Falcon 9.

In October 2012, a prototype OG2 satellite was stranded in the wrong orbit when the Falcon 9 launch vehicle suffered a failure of one of its nine engines. The spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere four days after launch.

This mission has been delayed multiple times. According to Spaceflightnow.com’s launch schedule page, the flight has been “delayed from September, November, April 30, May 10, May 27, June 11 and June 12.”

Next Falcon 9 Launch Slips into June

OG2 satellite (Credit: SNC)
OG2 satellite (Credit: SNC)

OBCOMM says that the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch with six advanced OG2 satellites has now slipped to June 11, with a June 12 backup date.

“We will be sending the satellite launch teams from both ORBCOMM and Sierra Nevada Corporation to the Cape the first week of June for fairing encapsulation followed by a static fire test to be conducted two to three days prior to launch,” OBCOMM said in an update posted on its website on Monday.

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SNC Completes ORBCOMM Generation 2 Satellites

OG2 satellite (Credit: SNC)
OG2 satellite (Credit: SNC)

SPARKS, Nev., April 30, 2014 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announces the successful completion of the ORBCOMM Generation 2 (OG2) Pre-Ship Review and shipment of six satellites from the company’s Space Systems’ location in Louisville, Colorado. SNC is the prime contractor for this upgraded communication constellation leading all development and integration efforts for the ORBCOMM Mission 1 launch in May.

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SpaceX Explains ORBCOMM Satellite Loss

SpaceX has issued a statement providing more details on how its Falcon 9 rocket stranded an ORBCOMM satellite in the wrong orbit:

As a result of shutting down one of its nine engines early shortly after the launch, the Falcon 9 rocket used slightly more fuel and oxygen to reach the target orbit for Dragon. For the protection of the space station mission, NASA had required that a restart of the upper stage only occur if there was a very high probability (over 99%) of fully completing the second burn. While there was sufficient fuel on board to do so, the liquid oxygen on board was only enough to achieve a roughly 95% likelihood of completing the second burn, so Falcon 9 did not attempt a restart. Although the secondary payload, the Orbcomm satellite, was still deployed to orbit by Falcon 9, it was done so at the lower altitude used by Dragon in order to optimize the safety of the space station mission.

SpaceX and NASA are working closely together to review all flight data so that we can understand what happened with the engine, and we will apply those lessons to future flights. We have achieved our goal of repeatedly getting into orbit by creating a careful, methodical and pragmatic approach to the design, testing and launch of our space vehicles. We will approach our analysis in the same manner, with a careful examination of what went wrong and how to best address it.  Additional information will be provided as it is available.

The ORBCOMM satellite re-entered the atmosphere on Wednesday. The company is filing an insurance claim to cover the loss.

Stranded ORBCOMM Satellite Re-enters Atmosphere

Fort Lee, NJ, October 11, 2012 (ORBCOMM PR) – ORBCOMM Inc., a global satellite data communications company focused on two-way Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications, today announced that the single prototype of its second generation of satellites (OG2), launched as a secondary mission payload on the Cargo Re-Supply Services (CRS-1) mission of October 7, 2012, verified various functionality checkouts prior to its deorbit.

The OG2 prototype was deployed into a lower orbit as the result of a pre-imposed safety check required by NASA. The safety check was designed to protect the International Space Station and its crew. Had ORBCOMM been the primary payload on this mission, as planned for the upcoming launches, we believe the OG2 prototype would have reached the desired orbit.
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