SpaceX Launch Succesful Despite Glitches

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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket still on track to deliver cargo to the Internationa Space Station even after encountering glitches during the launch. The spacecraft successfully sent the Dragon capsule full of science and food supplies to the ISS. This is the first among 12 flights contracted by NASA.

On Sunday, seconds after the launch, one of the nine engines of the SpaceX rocket failed because of pressure loss. The engine did not explode, but it sent the rocket into a lower orbit than expected. Fortunately, the spacecraft’s flight computer calculated a new path to the ISS and the capsule expected to arrive on Wednesday.

“Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do,” the California based SpaceX said. “Like the Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission.”

But the Falcon 9 cannot deliver on its secondary mission. It is supposed to deploy an industrial communications satellite for Orbcomm of Virginia but because of the engine failure it cannot fire its second stage engines needed to deploy the satellite.

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First Private Spacecraft to Launch on April 30

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NASA is on its way to make history once again with the launch of the first-ever private spacecraft on April 30. NASA will oversee the launch of the Dragon cargo vessel, owned and developed by the private company SpaceX.

The spacecraft will dock at the International Space Station and will deliver 1,200 pounds of food and non-critical supplies to the ISS. The mission will last for 21 days and after that the spacecraft will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and plunged down in the Pacific Ocean where it will be recovered and reuse.

With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA is hoping that privately owned spacecraft like the Dragon can be used as a replacement to ferry cargo and later on astronauts to the ISS. Currently, NASA pays Russia Soyus spacecraft to transport astronauts to the ISS and it cause NASA $63 million per astronaut. SpaceX offers to carry astronauts for $20 million per seat. But no plans are set for such mission. SpaceX was awarded a contract with a minimum of 12 flights to the Internationa Space Station, but only the cargo mission has a launch date for now.

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SpaceX Launch’s Plan Slips and Future Plans


For a brief moment in 2011, fledgling rocket maker SpaceX silenced critics with a deal to launch a commercial telecom satellite for one of the largest fleet operators in the world.

Announced in March 2011, the agreement with Luxembourg-based SES to loft the SES-8 satellite to geostationary orbit atop the twice-flown Falcon 9 rocket was widely viewed as a vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, Calif.-based startup, despite its running years late in demonstrating the ability to boost cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) for its primary government backer, NASA.

But during the past two years, as SpaceX secured contracts in major Asian markets, announced plans to introduce a heavy-lift variant of the Falcon and started construction of a new launch pad at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., the company has fallen further behind schedule.

“They’re running up against the reality of rocket engineering—getting these systems to work is hard,” says John Logsdon, a space policy expert and professor emeritus at George Washington University. “This is the teething pain of an emerging firm that doesn’t match the rhetoric, doesn’t match their optimism, but matches the reality of the situation.”

Earlier this year SpaceX pushed its first cargo demonstrator to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to the end of April from February. It also slipped the schedule on a midsummer debut of an upgrade to the Falcon 9 main-stage engine, which SpaceX is obligated to fly before it can loft SES-8 next year.

Now slated to lift off no earlier than October from the new Vandenberg site, the overhaul of Falcon 9’s Merlin 1C engine aims to add enough power to boost payloads to geostationary transfer orbit. In addition to lofting SES-8, the more robust rocket positions SpaceX to deliver on commercial launch agreements with Hong Kong-based AsiaSat and Thaicom of Thailand beginning as early as next year.

“Commercial launches now represent over 60 percent of our upcoming missions,” SpaceX ­founder and CEO Elon Musk said in February after announcing the agreement to launch AsiaSat-6 and AsiaSat-8 atop the Falcon 9 in early 2014.

With plans to debut the new Merlin 1D before year-end, SpaceX has been test-firing the motor “four or five times a week” at the company’s development facility in McGregor, Texas, says SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham. The new Falcon 9 also will feature an extended propellant tank and wider payload fairing.

At Vandenberg, Grantham says SpaceX has completed demolition of the old launch site, including removal of a tower, and recently started construction of a new hangar. The upcoming launch is expected to deliver a small, scientific spacecraft built by MDA Corp. of Canada to a near-polar orbit. Delivery of hardware to the launch site, including the new rocket and satellite, dubbed Cassiope, is expected later this year.

Although SpaceX has secured commercial launch agreements with a handful of satellite operators, including a $500 million contract to loft Iridium’s 72 next-generation satellites to low Earth orbit in 2015-17, SES-8 marks the company’s first commercial mission to geostationary orbit. But with four flights on the SpaceX manifest in 2012 alone—Cassiope, the COTS demo and two commercial resupply services (CRS) missions scheduled under a separate, fixed-price contract with NASA—SES may need to consider other options.

“As an alternative, we always have a backup in place for all SES launches,” says Yves Feltes, a spokesman for SES, which has existing multi-launch agreements with Arianespace and ILS, in addition to a framework understanding with Sea Launch. “The same is true for SES-8.”

SpaceX is also expected to launch at least one mission for Orbcomm Inc. this year. After pulling a prototype of the operator’s second-generation data-relay satellite from the upcoming COTS demo, the two companies rescheduled the mission for mid-2012 as a piggyback on the first CRS mission.

SpaceX says it completed a dress rehearsal of the Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral on March 1 in preparation for the upcoming COTS mission, loading the rocket with fuel and simulating a countdown to T-5 sec. But the company still has a roster of work to complete before the flight, which will be no earlier than April 20.

“It’s easy to expect success along the way,” Logsdon says. “But it’s still up to them to deliver on what they’ve promised.”

Atlantis returns, ending NASA’s 30-year Shuttle Program

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Just before sunrise, space shuttle Atlantis made its final landing in Florida, putting to bed the 30-year U.S. shuttle program and ending NASA’s 135th and final manned shuttle mission to space.

As a little white dot passed over the horizon, the crowd of spectators gathered at Kennedy Space Center to welcome the shuttle home.

Together with its crew members known as the final four : Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Sandra Magnus, and Rex Walheim, Atlantis’ mission was virtually flawless, with the crew delivering five-and-a-half tons of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station.

“You know, the space station’s changed the way we view our world, and it’s changed the way we view our universe.  A lot of emotion today, but one thing’s indisputable: America’s not gonna stop exploring,” Ferguson said, as the shuttle landed.

It was a bittersweet day for shuttle astronauts, crews and technicians. Today, United Space Alliance, one of the space program’s largest employers, will lay off about 2,000 employees.

“For some, Friday is their last day, and they performed flawlessly right up to the end,” Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said. “I have extreme pride in every one of them.”


Source: USA Today, cnet News, The Washington Post

SpaceX Plans Dragon Launch in November


From Oct. 23 to early November, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is retargeting the launch of its next Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry an operational Dragon capsule.

Among three launches planned, the Falcon 9’s flight is the first under SpaceX’s $278 million Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract with NASA. The company also has contracts worth $1.6 billion for 12 cargo delivery runs to the International Space Station.

SpaceX’s Communications Director Kirstin Brost wrote in an e-mail “Our targeted launch date has moved.” She also wrote “We’ve submitted a request for November 8th or 9th and are waiting for the range to complete their standard deconfliction work and provide a formal approval.”

SpaceX conducted a tanking test as part of a countdown rehearsal for the launch of its second Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 last Sept 15. An engine test firing also is expected in the weeks leading up to this event.

Demonstrating Dragon’s orbital maneuvering, communication and re-entry capabilities is the goal of the flight. After several orbits around Earth to verify performance, the capsule is designed to re-enter the atmosphere and splash down off the coast of southern California, where a recovery team will be standing by.

Typically, Dragon will enter the atmosphere at around 7 km. per sec. (15,660 mph.), which will heat its exterior up to 2000C. For shielding, SpaceX is using a material it calls PICA-X – Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator.

“We will gather performance data and retire significant amounts of risk on key spacecraft systems, including [the capsule’s] Draco thrusters, the Dragon communication systems, PICA-X high-performance heat-shield material, and other critical navigation, re-entry, landing and recovery systems,” the company says on its website.

Successful High Altitude Drop Test For SpaceX’s Dragon Spacecraft

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Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX announced yesterday their Dragon spacecraft has successfully completed a high altitude drop test, meeting 100% of test objectives. This is the last in a series of tests to validate parachute deployment systems and recovery operations before the craft’s first launch.

During the August 12th test, an Erikson S-64F Air-Crane helicopter dropped a test article of the Dragon spacecraft from a height of 14,000 feet, roughly nine miles off the coast of Morro Bay, California. In a carefully timed sequence of events, dual redundant drogue parachutes deployed first to stabilize and gently slow the craft before three main parachutes, 116 feet in diameter, further slowed the craft to a picture perfect landing. From there, recovery ships successfully returned the Dragon and parachutes to shore.

While Dragon will initially be used to transport cargo, the spacecraft was designed to transport crew and the parachute system validated during the test is the same system that would be used on a crew-carrying Dragon.

The two drogue parachutes create a more gradual reduction in speed, important for future manned missions, while the three oversized parachutes are important to ensuring a safe and comfortable landing, slowing the spacecraft’s descent to approximately 16-18 feet per second. Under nominal conditions, astronauts would experience no more than roughly 2-3 g’s during this type of decent—less than you’d experience at an amusement park. And with three main parachutes, even if Dragon were to lose one, crew would still land safely.

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft test article in June 2010. Later this year, SpaceX will take the next step in testing, delivering an operational Dragon to low earth orbit atop a Falcon 9. This is the first demonstration flight under its inclusion in NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, established in 2006 to encourage private companies to develop commercial space transport capabilities.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 launch vehicle have been selected by NASA to deliver supplies to and from the International Space Station starting in 2011. The Dragon spacecraft can return as much as 2,500 kilograms (5,510 lbs) of cargo from the space station back to Earth, a service not offered by any other commercial cargo supply system.

Landing of an operational Dragon is a far more precise operation than seen in the drop test. Draco thrusters fired during reentry will ensure Dragon lands less than a mile from the targeted site. The dispersion is due only to wind pushing Dragon’s parachutes—in low winds Dragon’s landing accuracy will be within a few hundred feet. Once the ability to accurately control reentry is proven, SpaceX plans to add deployable landing gear and use thrusters to safely land the Dragon.


SpaceX Falcon 1 RazakSat Perfect Launch


Last September, SpaceX was successful in getting Flight 4 into orbit but this time the space start-up has successfully put a commercial payload into orbit.

SpaceX was a joint development program of the Astronautic Technology (M) Sdn.Bhd. of Malaysia and SaTReCi who co-developed the RazakSat satellite. A little over an hour into the flight of the Falcon 1, it was confirmed that the second stage rocket had been restarted, deploying the satellite into its correct orbit.

This launch comes hot on the toes of space shuttle Endeavour‘s fifth scrubbed launch earlier in the day, but there was very little warning that the Falcon 1 would be taking to the skies from Kwajalein Atoll. SpaceX rarely gives much advanced warning of their launches, and Flight 5 was just as mysterious as the previous flights. But that didn’t take away from the suspense leading up to a flawless blast off (after a short delay due to bad Pacific weather). Later this year is the planned inaugural flight of the larger Falcon 9.

Congratulations SpaceX!

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