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SpaceX Accident Investigation Team Narrows Cause of Falcon 9 Firexplanomaly

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Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Credit: USLaunchReport.com

SpaceX Update
October 28, 4:00 pm EDT

The Accident Investigation Team continues to make progress in examining the anomaly on September 1 that led to the loss of a Falcon 9 and its payload at Launch Complex 40 (LC-40), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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NASA’s Commercial Crew Program By the Numbers

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With the recent news that commercial crew flights to the International Space Station will likely slip to the end of 2018, I thought it would be a good time to review what NASA has spend on the program since it began in 2010. And, since NASA has separated cargo and crew, we will also look at the space agency’s commercial cargo programs.

The table below shows that NASA has given out nearly $8.4 billion in contracts to Commercial Crew Program partners over the past six years. These figures do not include NASA’s overhead.

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Musk Talks About Mars Plans, Upgraded Falcon 9 During Reddit AMA

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Interplanetary Transport System (Credit: SpaceX)

Interplanetary Transport System (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk did an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on Sunday afternoon about his Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) and plans to colonize Mars. Musk also provided an update on upgraded Falcon 9 Block 5 booster which SpaceX expects to launch for the first time next year.

Below are some key excerpts. You can find the full session here.

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NASA Still Working on Releasing Report 16 Months After Falcon 9 Failure

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Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

I checked in again this week with NASA to see how they were coming on releasing the results of an the space agency’s independent investigation into the Falcon 9 in-flight failure in June 2015. I received the following reply:

NASA completed an independent analysis of the SpaceX CRS-7 mishap in support of high-value payload launches planned under the NASA Launch Services II contract. In accordance with the NLS II contract, the NASA Launch Services Program reviewed SpaceX’s readiness to launch the Jason-3 mission and led an independent investigation of the incident as part of the Flight Readiness Review process. The Launch Services Program independent investigation yielded an in-depth understanding of the mishap event; consequently, NASA’s final report on its investigation into the SpaceX CRS-7 mission is still in work. The official report of the independent review team contains information restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations and company-sensitive proprietary information. As a result, NASA will provide a summary of publicly releasable information when the final report is completed.

Musk’s Mars Memes: My Heart Will Go On (Even When Earth is Gone)

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A view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

A hypothetical view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

The first in an occasional series on Elon Musk’s Mars plan.

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Elon Musk’s gigantiastic plan for transporting a million settlers to Mars is based on two basic premises that are alternately hopeful and apocalyptic. One is to have a great adventure while expanding humans out into space. The other is to save humanity from itself.

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Space Florida Seeks Another $5 Million for SpaceX Pad Upgrades

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Pad 39A Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Pad 39A Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Well, this is interesting. Space Florida is seeking $5 million from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to help SpaceX pay for upgrades to Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The move will be discussed during an online-only board meeting next Wednesday.

According to meeting documents, “project match funding” from FDOT would be used for “infrastructure improvements by SpaceX.”

The move would authorize Space Florida to enter into an agreement with billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s space company.

Specifically, the meeting agenda says the $5 million is needed to help fund with Phase 2 of improvements to Pad 39A. It’s not clear exactly what these upgrades entail.

The timing of this move is interesting. It’s being done at a special meeting, which means the matter came up after — or wasn’t ready to be dealt with in time for —  the last board meeting held only three weeks ago on Sept. 28.  Nor does it seem the matter can wait until the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 29.

The apparent urgency of the request might well be related to the destruction of a Falcon 9 on Pad 40 last month. The launch complex was seriously damaged by the fire and explosion. It will be out of commission for an unknown number of months.

SpaceX officials say they could use Pad 39A as early as November to launch Falcon 9 rockets while the other launch complex is being repaired. The launcher’s return to flight depends upon an ongoing investigation into why a Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded while it was being fueled on Sept. 1.

SpaceX’s is leasing Pad 39A from NASA and has renovated to handle Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. The Falcon 9 launches will include Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station.

Musk: SpaceX Has Theory on Falcon 9 Firexplanomaly; Sabotage Unlikely

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Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Remarks attributed to Elon Musk in which he discussed a possible cause of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch pad firexplanomaly leaked out to the public last week after his his presentation before officials at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

“We are close to figuring it out. It might have been formation of solid oxygen in the carbon over-wrap of one of the bottles in the upper stage tanks. If it was liquid it would have been squeezed out but under pressure it could have ignited with the carbon. This is the leading theory right now, but it is subject to confirmation,” Musk is reported to have said.

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Kim Stanley Robinson: Musk’s Mars Scenario “Not Believable”

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The Interplanetary Transport System compared with other boosters. (Credit: SpaceX)

The Interplanetary Transport System compared with other boosters. (Credit: SpaceX)

Science fiction author Stanley Robinson of Mars Trilogy fame says he finds a lot of familiar elements in Elon Musk’s plans for Mars. But not necessarily in a good way. Below are excerpts from a Q&A he did with Bloomberg News.

Q. It’s 2024. Musk figures everything out and gets funding. He builds his rocket, and 100 people take off. Several months later, they land (somehow) and have to get to work remaking a planet.

I have to note, first, that this scenario is not believable, which makes it a hard exercise to think about further. Mars will never be a single-person or single-company effort. It will be multi-national and take lots of money and lots of years.

Musk’s plan is sort of the 1920s science-fiction cliché of the boy who builds a rocket to the moon in his backyard, combined with the Wernher von Braun plan, as described in the Disney TV programs of the 1950s. A fun, new story.

Q. What needs to happen for the Mars colony to live sustainably and give humanity the lifeboat Musk envisions?

It’s important to say that the idea of Mars as a lifeboat is wrong, in both a practical and a moral sense.

There is no Planet B, and it’s very likely that we require the conditions here on earth for our long-term health. When you don’t take these new biological discoveries into your imagined future, you are doing bad science fiction.

Read the full interview.

Video: Experts Discuss Elon Musk’s Mars Plan

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Stanford University Professor (and former NASA Ames Director) Scott Hubbard and Starburst Accelerator Founder Francois Chopard discuss Elon Musk’s transportation architecture for Mars.

Program Updates from ISPCS

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The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

NASA and various commercial companies gave updates on their programs during the International Symposium on Commercial and Personal Spaceflight this week in Las Cruces, NM.

What follows are summaries that include:

  • suborbital programs (Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin)
  • commercial cargo (SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation)
  • commercial crew (NASA, Boeing, ULA).

The summaries are based on Twitter posts from attendees. A big thanks to Thanks to Tanya Harrison (‏@tanyaofmars), Frank Slazer ‏(@FSlazer), Jeff Foust (‏@jeff_foust), Michael Simpson ‏(@SpaceSharer), and Melissa Sampson (‏@DrSampson) for the coverage.

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Boeing Delays First CST-100 Starliner Operational Flight to December 2018

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Starliner structural test article. (Credit: Boeing)

Starliner structural test article. (Credit: Boeing)

Score one for the NASA Inspector General (IG).

On Sept. 1, the space agency watchdog released an audit of the Commercial Crew Program that found it was unlikely either Boeing or SpaceX would begin flying crews to the International Space Station on an operational basis until the end of 2018.

Boeing has become the first company to validate that finding. The company has delayed its first operational flight of its CST-100 Starliner by an additional six months to December 2018, Aviation Week reports.

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Terra Bella and Spaceflight Industries Sign Agreement for Falcon 9 Launch for Small Imaging Satellites

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Falcon 9 launches the Dragon CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

Falcon 9 launches the Dragon CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

SEATTLE, Oct. 11, 2016 (Spaceflight Industries PR)Spaceflight Industries, a next-generation space company enabling access to space and redefining global intelligence, announced today that Terra Bella has signed an agreement with its launch services entity, Spaceflight, for a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of Terra Bella SkySats.

Terra Bella will be the co-lead on Spaceflight’s SSO-A dedicated rideshare mission scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in late 2017.

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Congressional Letter Supports SpaceX Firexplanomaly Investigation

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

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

Twenty-four members of Congress have written a letter to the administrators of NASA and the FAA and the secretary of the U.S. Air Force supporting the SpaceX-led investigation into the loss of one of the company’s Falcon 9 boosters last month.

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Musk Reaches for Mars; NASA Worries About Reaching Space Station

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While Elon Musk was in Mexico last week wowing the world with his plan to send a million people to Mars, NASA officials north of the border in Houston were contemplating a more mundane problem: how to continue sending a handful of American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

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Falcon 9 Investigation Takes Strange Turn

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Credit: Paramount Pictures

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Good news for conspiracy buffs who have been speculating over the past month about what caused a Falcon 9 to catch fire and explode at Cape Canaveral.

The long-running feud between Elon Musk’s space company and its fierce competitor United Launch Alliance took a bizarre twist this month when a SpaceX employee visited its facilities at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and asked for access to the roof of one of ULA’s buildings.

About two weeks earlier, one of SpaceX’s rockets blew up on a launchpad while it was awaiting an engine test. As part of the investigation, SpaceX officials had come across something suspicious they wanted to check out, according to three industry officials with knowledge of the episode. SpaceX had still images from video that appeared to show an odd shadow, then a white spot on the roof of a nearby building belonging to ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

The SpaceX representative explained to the ULA officials on site that it was trying to run down all possible leads in what was a cordial, not accusatory, encounter, according to the industry sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The building, which had been used to refurbish rocket motors known as the SMARF, is just more than a mile away from the launchpad and has a clear line of sight to it. A representative from ULA ultimately denied the SpaceX employee access to the roof and instead called Air Force investigators, who inspected the roof and didn’t find anything connecting it to the rocket explosion, the officials said.

So what would we call this? A firexplotage?

Read the full story.

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