SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Sues Government to Break US Air Force’s National Security Launch Monopoly

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announces lawsuit protesting Air Force launch contracts while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on April 25, 2014
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Elon Musk, CEO and founder of the upstart commercial launch venture SpaceX, announced at a press conference today, Friday, April 25, that SpaceX is filing suit against the Federal Government to protest and break the US Air Force’s awarding of lucrative launch contracts for high priority national security satellites to a sole rocket provider – United Launch Alliance (ULA) – on a non competitive basis.

The gloves are officially off in the intensely mounting duel over multibillion dollar Air Force military launch contracts between SpaceX and ULA.

“The official protest document will be available Monday, April 28th at www.freedomtolaunch.com and will be filed with the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.,” said SpaceX in an official statement.

Musk said the Air Force launch contract with ULA amounted to a continuing monopoly, was unfair by blocking SpaceX from competing for launches of surveillance satellites and would cost taxpayers billions of extra dollars in coming years.

“What we feel is that this is not right – that the national security launches should be put up for competition and they should not be awarded on a sole source, uncompeted basis,” said Musk at the briefing called on short notice and held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

SpaceX is suing the Air Force for the right to compete for US national security satellites launches using Falcon 9 rockets such as this one which successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is suing the Air Force for the right to compete for US national security satellites launches using Falcon 9 rockets such as this one which successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The latest Air Force launch contract dated to December 2013 guarantees the “block buy” purchase of 36 rocket cores from ULA for national security launches for the DOD, NRO and other government agencies, at a significantly reduced cost compared to earlier contracts.

A further 14 cores were to be awarded on a competitive basis, including bids from SpaceX and others who seek to gain Air Force certification. Several of those launch awards have now been deferred indefinitely.

ULA is a joint venture between aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, formed in 2006, that has launched over 80 satellites to orbit and beyond including many NASA science and mission probes like Orion EFT-1, Curiosity, MAVEN, TDRS and more.

It manufactures the Delta IV and Atlas V unmanned, expendable rocket families that are currently the only boosters certified to launch the high value military payloads at issue in the lawsuit announced on Friday by Musk.

The newest versions of the Delta and Atlas rockets – known as EELV’s (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles) have had nearly flawless records of success since being introduced some dozen years ago by the companies individually, before the ULA merger.

Atlas V rocket and Super Secret NROL-67 intelligence gathering payload following rollout to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on March 24, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Atlas V rocket and Super Secret NROL-67 intelligence gathering payload following rollout to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on March 24, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Musk wants his company’s newer and he says much cheaper Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets to be certified by the Air Force and included in the competition for launch contracts.

To date the Falcon 9 has launched only 9 times. Only four of those were in the new and more powerful configuration needed by the Air Force.

Musk is not asking that the launches be awarded outright to SpaceX. But he does want the Air Force contract cancelled and re-competed.

“We’re just protesting and saying that the launches should be competed,” Musk said.

“If we compete and lose that’s fine. But why were they not even competed? That just doesn’t make sense.”

“So far we are most of the way through the certification process. And so far there have been zero changes to the rocket. Mostly it’s just been a paperwork exercise.”

“Since this is a large multiyear contract, why not wait a few months for the certification process to complete. And then do the competition. That seems very reasonable to me.”

Musk said it costs four times more to launch ULA’s Delta or Atlas rocket vs. a SpaceX Falcon rocket.

“The ULA rockets are basically four times more expensive than ours. So this contract is costing US taxpayers billions of dollars for no reason.”

“Each launch by ULA costs American taxpayers roughly $400 million per launch. They are insanely expensive. I don’t know why they are so expensive.”

The Falcon 9 lists for about $60 Million per launch, but rises to about $100 million after the certification costs are included, Musk explained.

“So yes the certification does make our Falcon 9 rocket more expensive. But not 400% more expensive.”

“Our rockets are 21st century design,” said Musk to obtain the most efficiency. He said ULA’s designs date back to the 90s and earlier with heritage hardware.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date the Falcon 9 has already been used three times under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to launch the private SpaceX Dragon resupply vessel to the International Space Station (ISS) – most recently a week ago during the April 18 blastoff of the SpaceX CRS-3 mission from Cape Canaveral.

It is also being used to launch highly expensive communications satellites like SES-8 and Thaicom-6 for private companies to geostationary orbits.

“It just seems odd that if our vehicle is good enough for NASA and supporting a $100 billion space station, and it’s good enough for launching NASA science satellites, for launching complex commercial geostationary satellites, then there’s no reasonable basis for it not being capable of launching something quite simple like a GPS satellite,” said Musk.

“Our only option is to file a protest.”

Furthermore as I wrote here in a prior article, US National Security launches are now potentially at risk due to the ongoing crisis between Russian, Ukraine and Crimea because the RD-180 first stage engines powering the Atlas V are designed and manufactured in Russia by NPO Energomash, majority owned by the Russian Federation.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announces lawsuit protesting Air Force launch contracts while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on April 25, 2014.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announces lawsuit protesting Air Force launch contracts while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on April 25, 2014

“The head of the Russian space sector, Dmitry Rogozin, was sanctioned by the White House in March 2014 in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” says SpaceX.

The RD-180 engine supply could be cut off in a worst case scenario if economic sanctions against Russia are increased by the Western allies.

ULA has a two year contingency supply of the RD-180’s and blueprints to begin production, if needed.

However in the event of a cutoff, it would take at least three to five years to start and certify RD-180 engine production somewhere in the US, a ULA spokesperson told me recently at Cape Canaveral.

This possibly leaves a 1 to 3 year gap with no Atlas V 1st stage engine supply.

The Delta IV rockets and engines by contrast are manufactured in the US.

“In light of international events, this seems like the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” said Musk.

“Yet, this is what the Air Force’s arrangement with ULA does, despite the fact that there are domestic alternatives available that do not rely on components from countries that pose a national security risk.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Commercial Dragon Resupply Ship Thunders to Space Bound for ISS and Easter Sunday Berthing – Photo Gallery

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply ship launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
See expanding launch gallery below[/caption]

A mighty SpaceX rocket carrying the firms commercial Dragon resupply ship loaded with nearly 2.5 tons of NASA science instruments and critical supplies thundered to space this afternoon on a two day journey bound for the International Space Station.

The Dragon vessel launched atop the 20 story tall, upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida precisely on time at 3:25 p.m. EDT (1925 GMT), Friday, April 18.

“I want to congratulate SpaceX. Everyone did a great job” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, at a post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center press site.

“The SpaceX team went the extra mile to get everything ready for an on time launch.”

The spectacular blastoff went off without a hitch despite a poor weather prognosis in the morning that brightened considerably in the final hours leading up to the afternnon liftoff.

“Everything went well with the ascent,” said SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Muck at the briefing.

“I’m pretty excited. We did a good gob for our NASA customer and that’s very important,” Musk added.

The on time blastoff sets the stage for an Easter Sunday, April 20, rendezvous and berthing of the Dragon resupply spacecraft at the massive orbiting outpost packed with a striking variety of science experiments and needed supplies for the six person crew.

Station crew members Rick Mastracchio and Steven Swanson will grapple the Dragon cargo freighter with the 57 foot long Canadarm2 on Easter Sunday at about 7:14 a.m. if all goes well and then berth it at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

The SpaceX-3 mission marks the company’s third resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

There are over 150 science experiments loaded aboard the Dragon capsule for research to be conducted by the crews of ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.

“SpaceX is delivering important research experiments and cargo to the space station,” said Gerstenmaier.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tree line on April 18, 2014 on science mission bound for the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida   Credit:  Nicole Solomon
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tree line on April 18, 2014 on science mission bound for the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Nicole Solomon

“The diversity and number of new experiments is phenomenal. The investigations aboard Dragon will help us improve our understanding of how humans adapt to living in space for long periods of time and help us develop technologies that will enable deep space exploration.”

This unmanned SpaceX mission dubbed CRS-3 mission will deliver some 5000 pounds of science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition imaging camera suite, an optical communications experiment (OPALS) and essential gear, the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX had completed two operational cargo resupply missions and a test flight. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013 atop the initial version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

The next launch of Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus commercial rocket to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, was tentatively slated for May 6. But the target date will now slip to into mid-June since it can’t arrive until the Dragon departs.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:  Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014. Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Both the Dragon and Antares dock at the same port on the Harmony module at the end of the station.

This extra powerful new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff on April 18, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff on April 18, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Credit: Julian Leek
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:  John Studwell
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, April 18, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, April 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:   NASA TV
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

SpaceX Leases Historic Launch Complex 39A from NASA for new Era of Commercial Space Launches

The keys to NASA’s historic launch Pad 39A that propelled humanity’s first man to walk on the Moon – Neil Armstrong – during the history making flight of Apollo 11, have been handed over to new owners, namely the private aerospace firm SpaceX for a new purpose – serving as a commercial launch facility.

NASA and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., have just signed an agreement giving SpaceX rights to occupy and operate seaside Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

SpaceX was founded by billionaire, entrepreneur and space visionary Elon Musk.

SpaceX aims to give the now dormant pad a new lease on life in the emerging New Space era by revitalizing it as a commercial launch site for the company’s mammoth new Falcon Heavy rocket, currently under development, as well as for manned launches of the firm’s human rated Dragon spacecraft atop the Falcon 9 according to Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.

“We’ll make great use of this pad, I promise,” Shotwell told reporters at a briefing at the pad.

The liquid fueled Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world according to SpaceX, generating generating nearly four million pounds of liftoff thrust from 27 engines and thus significantly exceeding the power of the Delta IV Heavy manufactured by competitor United Launch Alliance.

Shotwell said renovations to pad 39A would start later this year. The maiden SpaceX launch from the complex is expected next year.

“We will launch the Falcon Heavy from here from this pad early next year,” Shotwell stated.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, left, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana announce that NASA just signed a lease agreement with SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., for use and operation of Launch Complex 39A. Credit: Nicole Solomon
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, left, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana announce that NASA just signed a lease agreement with SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., for use and operation of Launch Complex 39A. Credit: Nicole Solomon

The SpaceX Dragon is one of three commercial crew vehicles being developed under a public-private partnership with NASA to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and restore America’s human spaceflight capability lost since the shuttle’s retirement.

The Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser are also vying for the next round of private ‘space taxi’ funding from NASA.

Pad 39A has been inactive and mothballed since the last shuttle mission, STS-135, thundered to space in July 2011.

Not a single rocket has rolled up the ramp at KSC in nearly 3 years.

NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The new lease agreement was signed by NASA and SpaceX officials and announced onsite at Pad 39 at the briefing.

“Today this historic site from which numerous Apollo and space shuttle missions began and from which I first flew and left the planet on STS-61C on Columbia, is beginning a new mission as a commercial launch site,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“While SpaceX will use pad 39A at Kennedy, about a mile away on pad 39B, we’re preparing for our deep space missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars. The parallel pads at Kennedy perfectly exemplify NASA’s parallel path for human spaceflight exploration — U.S. commercial companies providing access to low-Earth orbit and NASA deep space exploration missions at the same time.”

Under terms of the new agreement with NASA, the lease with SpaceX spans 20 years.

“It’s exciting that this storied NASA launch pad is opening a new chapter for space exploration and the commercial aerospace industry,” said Bolden.

SpaceX will also maintain and operate Pad 39A at its own expense, with no US federal funding from NASA.

Pad 39A will be SpaceX’s third launch site. The company also launches its Falcon 9 rockets from nearby Pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and a west coast pad on Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Launch Pad 39A has lain dormant save dismantling since the final shuttle launch on the STS-135 mission in July 2011.  Not a single rocket has rolled up this ramp in nearly 3 years. SpaceX has now leased Pad 39A from NASA and American rockets will thunder aloft again with Falcon rocket boosters starting in 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch Pad 39A has lain dormant save dismantling since the final shuttle launch on the STS-135 mission in July 2011. Not a single rocket has rolled up this ramp at the Kennedy Space Center in nearly 3 years. SpaceX has now leased Pad 39A from NASA and American rockets will thunder aloft again with Falcon rocket boosters starting in 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The next Falcon 9 liftoff with an unmanned Dragon cargo freighter is currently slated from Friday, April 18 following Monday’s scrub.

NASA determined that the agency no longer has a use for pad 39A since the end of the shuttle era and has been looking for a new tenant to take over responsibility and pay for maintenance of the launch complex. The agency awarded the lease to SpaceX in December 2013.

Instead, NASA decided to completely upgrade, renovate and modernize Pad 39As twin, namely Launch Pad 39B, and invested in converting it into a 21st Century launch complex.

NASA will use Pad 39B to launch the state of the art Orion crew vehicle atop the new Space Launch System (SLS) booster for voyages beyond Earth and taking humans back to the vicinity of the Moon and further out on deep space missions to Asteroids, Mars and beyond.

The first unmanned SLS test flight from Pad 39B is slated for late 2017.

Pad 39A was an active NASA launch pad for nearly 35 years starting back near the dawn of the Space Age in the 1960s.

Apollo 4, the first flight of a Saturn V launch vehicle, rises from Launch Pad 39A. Credit: NASA
Apollo 4, the first flight of a Saturn V launch vehicle, rises from Launch Pad 39A. Credit: NASA

Apollo 4 was the first NASA booster to blast off from Pad 39A on Nov. 9, 1967 during the historic inaugural test flight of the Saturn V moon rocket that eventually served to dispatch all six US manned lunar landing missions.

The closing NASA use of Pad 39A took place on July 8, 2011 with the launch of STS-135 and orbiter Atlantis on the final flight of the space shuttle era.

The four person STS-135 crew delivered the last US pressurized module to the massive low-Earth orbiting ISS.

No Americans have launched to space from American soil since STS-135.

Launch Complex 39 was originally constructed to launch the Apollo moon landing missions atop NASA’s Saturn V booster in the 1960s and 1970s. Both pads were later modified to support the Space Shuttle program whose first launch took place in 1981 from pad 39A.

“Kennedy Space Center is excited to welcome SpaceX to our growing list of partners,” Center Director Bob Cabana said. “As we continue to reconfigure and repurpose these tremendous facilities, it is gratifying to see our plan for a multi-user spaceport shared by government and commercial partners coming to fruition.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, celebrates lease agreement for use and operation of NASA’s KSC Launch Complex 39A in Florida. Credit: Nicole Solomon
Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, celebrates lease agreement for use and operation of NASA’s KSC Launch Complex 39A in Florida. Credit: Nicole Solomon

SpaceX Unveils Gorgeous Rocket Legs for Space Station Launch on March 16

SpaceX is nearly ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll with their first rocket sporting landing legs and slated to blast off this coming weekend carrying a commercial Dragon cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

Check out the Falcon 9 rockets gorgeous legs unveiled today by SpaceX in an eye popping new photo featured above.

The newly released image shows the private Falcon 9 positioned horizontally inside the Cape Canaveral processing hanger and looking up directly from the bottom of her legs and nine powerful first stage engines.

Following a brief static hotfire test this past weekend of all nine upgraded Merlin 1D engines powering the first stage of SpaceX’s next generation Falcon 9 rocket, the path is clear for Sunday’s (March 16) night time lift off at 4:41 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

This week, engineers working inside the hanger are loading the Dragon vessel with the final cargo items bound for the station that are time sensitive.

Engineers pack Dragon with cargo, including support for more than 150 science investigations on the ISS. Credit: SpaceX
Engineers pack Dragon with cargo, including support for more than 150 science investigations on the ISS. Credit: SpaceX

Altogether, this unmanned SpaceX CRS-3 mission will deliver over 5000 pounds of science experiments and essential gear, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

An upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS is slated to launch on March 16, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL.   File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
An upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS is slated to launch on March 16, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Dragon is carrying research cargo and equipment for over 150 science investigations, including 100 protein crystal experiments that will allow scientists to observe the growth of crystals in zero-G.

Conducted in the absence of gravity, these space experiments will help Earth bound researchers to potentially learn how to grow crystals of much larger sizes compared to here on Earth and afford scientists new insights into designing and developing new drugs and pesticides.

A batch of new student science experiments are also packed aboard and others will be returned at the end of the mission.

The attachment of landing legs to the first stage of SpaceX’s next-generation Falcon 9 rocket counts as a major first step towards the firm’s future goal of building a fully reusable rocket.

For this Falcon 9 flight, the rocket will sprout legs for a controlled soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean guided by SpaceX engineers.

“F9 will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes,” says SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk.

It will be left to a future mission to accomplish a successful first stage touchdown by the landing legs on solid ground back at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Much development works remains before a land landing will be attempted.

The Falcon will roll out from the hanger to Launch Pad 40 on Saturday, March 15.

Falcon 9 and Dragon static fire test on March 8, 2014. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 and Dragon static fire test on March 8, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights over the next few years at a cost of about $1.6 Billion.

To date SpaceX has completed two operational cargo resupply missions and a test flight to the station. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013 atop the initial version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for Mar 16 launch.  Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for Mar 16 launch. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

Following the scheduled March 16 launch and a series of orbit raising and course corrections over the next two days, Dragon will rendezvous and dock at the Earth facing port on the station’s Harmony module on March 18.

The Harmony port was recently vacated by the Orbital Sciences built Cygnus cargo spacecraft to make way for Dragon.

This extra powerful new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit.

Therefore the upgraded Falcon 9 can boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS, low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit and beyond.

Indeed Dragon is loaded with about double the cargo weight carried previously.

The Merlin 1D engines are arrayed in an octaweb layout for improved efficiency.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news. Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention on April 12/13.

And watch for Ken’s upcoming SpaceX launch coverage at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

Next SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Gets Landing Legs for March Blastoff to Space Station – Says Elon Musk

1st stage of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket newly equipped with landing legs and now scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on March 16, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
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The next commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that’s set to launch in March carrying an unmanned Dragon cargo vessel will also be equipped with a quartet of landing legs in a key test that will one day lead to cheaper, reusable boosters, announced Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO.

The attachment of landing legs to the first stage of SpaceX’s new and more powerful, next-generation Falcon 9 rocket counts as a major step towards the firm’s eventual goal of building a fully reusable rocket.

Before attempting the use of landing legs “SpaceX needed to gain more confidence” in the new Falcon 9 rocket, Musk told me in an earlier interview.

Blastoff of the upgraded Falcon 9 on the Dragon CRS-3 flight is currently slated for March 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on a resupply mission to bring vital supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit for NASA.

“Mounting landing legs (~60 ft span) to Falcon 9 for next month’s Space Station servicing flight,” Musk tweeted, along with the up close photos above and below.

All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for Mar 16 launch.  Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for March 16 launch. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

“SpaceX believes a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access,” according to the firm’s website.

SpaceX hopes to vastly reduce their already low $54 million launch cost when a reusable version of the Falcon 9 becomes feasible.

Although this Falcon 9 will be sprouting legs, a controlled soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean guided by SpaceX engineers is still planned for this trip.

“However, F9 will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes,” Musk quickly added in a follow-up twitter message.

In a prior interview, I asked Elon Musk when a Falcon 9 flyback would be attempted?

“It will be on one of the upcoming missions to follow [the SES-8 launch],” Musk told me.

“What we need to do is gain more confidence on the three sigma dispersion of the mission performance of the rocket related to parameters such as thrust, specific impulse, steering loss and a whole bunch of other parameters that can impact the mission.”

“If all of those parameters combine in a negative way then you can fall short of the mission performance,” Musk explained to Universe Today.

When the upgraded Falcon 9 performed flawlessly for the SES-8 satellite launch on Dec 3, 2013 and the Thaicom-6 launch on Jan. 6, 2014, the path became clear to attempt the use of landing legs on this upcoming CRS-3 launch this March.

Atmospheric reentry engineering data was gathered during those last two Falcon 9 launches to feed into SpaceX’s future launch planning, Musk said.

That new data collected on the booster stage has now enabled the approval for landing leg utilization in this March 16 flight.

SpaceX engineers will continue to develop and refine the technology needed to accomplish a successful touchdown by the landing legs on solid ground back at the Cape in Florida.

Extensive work and testing remains before a land landing will be attempted by the company.

Ocean recovery teams will retrieve the 1st stage and haul it back to port much like the Space Shuttle’s pair of Solid Rocket Boosters.

This will be the second attempt at a water soft landing with the upgraded Falcon 9 booster.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to December 2013 SpaceX upgraded Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two stage Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo carrier are currently in the final stages of processing by SpaceX technicians for the planned March 16 night time liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at 4:41 a.m. that will turn night into day along the Florida Space Coast.

“All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9,” Musk tweeted today, Feb. 25.

SpaceX has carried out extensive landing leg and free flight tests of ever increasing complexity and duration with the Grasshopper reusable pathfinding prototype.

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000) pounds of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights over the next few years at a cost of about $1.6 Billion.

SpaceX Falcon 9 landing leg. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 landing leg. Credit: SpaceX

To date SpaceX has completed two cargo resupply missions. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013.

The Falcon 9 and Dragon were privately developed by SpaceX with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership.

The goal was to restore the cargo up mass capability the US completely lost following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in 2011.

SpaceX along with Orbital Sciences Corp are both partnered with NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program.

Orbital Sciences developed the competing Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

This extra powerful new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit.

The Merlin 1 D engines are arrayed in an octaweb layout for improved efficiency.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Therefore the upgraded Falcon 9 can boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS, low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit and beyond.

The next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It measures 224 feet tall and is 12 feet in diameter. That compares to a 130 foot tall rocket for the original Falcon 9.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news – and upcoming launch coverage at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch nearby SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Mars Space Colony Rockets Could Be Ready In 10 Years: SpaceX CEO

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is a huge fan of Mars exploration and Mars colonies, and in a new interview he says a launch system to send people to the Red Planet could be available in 10 to 12 years. Requirements: it has to be big, and it has to be launched frequently to send millions of people and tons of cargo spaceward.

“We need to develop a much larger vehicle, which would be a sort of Mars colonial transport system, and this would be, we’re talking about rockets on a bigger scale than has ever been done before. It will make the Apollo moon rocket look small,” said Musk in a recent CBS interview, referring to the 363-foot (110-meter) behemoth that was the Saturn V.

In the short term, Musk said he is focused on making a crew transportation system that will reduce NASA’s reliance on Soyuz vehicles to bring astronauts into space (a situation that arose in 2011 after the agency retired the shuttle.) SpaceX is one of three companies funded by NASA to develop a spacecraft able to launch people (with the other two being Boeing and Sierra Nevada.)

Musk said SpaceX’s Dragon should be ready to do that in a couple of years. Meanwhile, there are abort tests to perform and other steps this year to get the spacecraft ready for that milestone.

Check out the entire Musk interview on the CBS website. Naturally, he doesn’t have the only vision for human Mars exploration out there, as private ventures Mars One and Inspiration Mars demonstrate.

Artist's concept of a habitat for a Mars colony. Credit: NASA
Artist’s concept of a habitat for a Mars colony. Credit: NASA

What’s Ahead for Human Rated SpaceX Dragon in 2014 – Musk tells Universe Today

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch of Dragon spacecraft on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. During 2014, SpaceX plans two flight tests simulating human crewed Dragon emergency abort scenarios launching from right here at pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
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CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A trio of American companies – SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada – are working diligently to restore America’s capability to launch humans into low Earth orbit from US soil, aided by seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public-private partnership.

We’ve been following the solid progress made by all three companies. Here we’ll focus on two crucial test flights planned by SpaceX in 2014 to human rate and launch the crewed version of their entry into the commercial crew ‘space taxi’ sweepstakes, namely the Dragon spacecraft.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak about the upcoming test flights with the head of SpaceX, Elon Musk.

So I asked Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, about “what’s ahead in 2014”; specifically related to a pair of critical “abort tests” that he hopes to conduct with the human rated “version of our Dragon spacecraft.”

“Assuming all goes well, we expect to conduct [up to] two Dragon abort tests next year in 2014,” Musk told me.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite  from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two abort flight tests in 2014 involve demonstrating the ability of the Dragon spacecraft abort system to lift an uncrewed spacecraft clear of a simulated launch emergency.

The crewed Dragon – also known as DragonRider – will be capable of lofting up to seven astronauts to the ISS and remaining docked for at least 180 days.

First a brief overview of the goals of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. It was started in the wake of the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program which flew its final human crews to the International Space Station (ISS) in mid-2011.

“NASA has tasked SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada to develop spacecraft capable of safely transporting humans to the space station, returning that capability to the United States where it belongs,’ says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Since 2011, US astronauts have been 100% dependent on the Russians and their Soyuz capsules to hitch a ride to low Earth orbit and the ISS.

The abort tests are essential for demonstrating that the Dragon vehicle will activate thrusters and separate in a split second from a potentially deadly exploding rocket fireball to save astronauts lives in the event of a real life emergency – either directly on the launch pad or in flight.

“We are aiming to do at least the pad abort test next year [in 2014] with version 2 of our Dragon spacecraft that would carry astronauts,” Musk told me.

This is the Dragon mock-up that will be used for an upcoming pad abort test on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40.  Credit: SpaceX
This is the Dragon mock-up that will be used for an upcoming pad abort test on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX plans to launch the crewed Dragon atop the human rated version of their own developed Falcon 9 next generation rocket, which is also being simultaneously developed to achieve all of NASA’s human rating requirements.

The initial pad abort test will test the ability of the full-size Dragon to safely push away and escape in case of a failure of its Falcon 9 booster rocket in the moments around launch, right at the launch pad.

“The purpose of the pad abort test is to demonstrate Dragon has enough total impulse (thrust) to safely abort,” SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin informed me.

For that test, Dragon will use its pusher escape abort thrusters to lift the Dragon safely away from the failing rocket. The vehicle will be positioned on a structural facsimile of the Dragon trunk in which the actual Falcon 9/Dragon interfaces will be represented by mockups.

This test will be conducted on SpaceX’s launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will not include an actual Falcon 9 booster.

The second Dragon flight test involves simulating an in flight emergency abort scenario during ascent at high altitude at maximum aerodynamic pressure at about T plus 1 minute, to save astronauts lives. The pusher abort thrusters would propel the capsule and crew safely away from a failing Falcon 9 booster for a parachute assisted landing into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Assuming all goes well we expect to launch the high altitude abort test towards the end of next year,” Musk explained.

The second test will use the upgraded next generation version of the Falcon 9 that was successfully launched just weeks ago on its maiden mission from Cape Canaveral on Dec. 3. Read my earlier reports – starting here.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. The upgraded Falcon 9 will be used to launch the human rated SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date, SpaceX has already successfully launched the original cargo version of the Dragon a total of three times. And each one docked as planned at the ISS.

The last cargo Dragon blasted off on March 1, 2013. Read my prior articles starting – here.

The next cargo Dragon bound for the ISS is due to lift off on Feb. 22, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL.

SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA

Orbital Sciences – the commercial ISS cargo competitor to SpaceX – plans to launch its Cygnus cargo vehicle on the Orb-1 mission bound for the ISS on Jan. 7 atop the firms Antares rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Watch for my on site reports from NASA Wallops.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program’s goal is launching American astronauts from U.S. soil within the next four years – by 2017 to the ISS.

The 2017 launch date is dependent on funding from the US federal government that will enable each of the firms to accomplish a specified series of milestones. NASA payments are only made after each companies milestones are successfully achieved.

SpaceX was awarded $440 million in the third round of funding in the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCAP) initiative which runs through the third quarter of 2014. As of November 2013, NASA said SpaceX had accomplished 9 of 15 milestones and was on track to complete all on time.

Musk hopes to launch an initial Dragon orbital test flight with a human crew of SpaceX test pilots perhaps as early as sometime in 2015 – if funding and all else goes well.

Either a US commercial ‘space taxi’ or the Orion exploration capsule could have blasted off with American astronauts much sooner – if not for the continuing year-by-year slashes to NASA’s overall budget forced by the so called ‘political leaders’ of all parties in Washington, DC.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss SpaceX upcoming flight plans by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 7 launch, Curiosity, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 6-8: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 7”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX SES-8 Flawlessly Beautiful Dec. 3 Launch – Photo and Video Gallery

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – The flawless blastoff of SpaceX’s next generation Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday Dec. 3 put on a spectacular sky show along the Florida Space Coast that was both beautiful and unforgettable – besides being truly historic as the firms first ever delivery of a commercial space satellite to the lucrative market of geostationary orbit.

For your enjoyment here’s a collection of photos and videos from fellow space photojournalists of the 5:41 p.m. EST sunset launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

Following a pair of launch scrubs last week on Nov. 25 and Thanksgiving Day Nov. 28 caused by issues with the powerful new Merlin 1-D first stage engines, the third time was fat last the charm as the Falcon 9 blasted precisely at the opening of the 86 minute launch window.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 V1.1 rocket vents oxygen following Thursday evenings first launch attempt from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The first attempt was halted after computers showed that the engines had a slower than expected thrust rate upon startup. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II images
A SpaceX Falcon 9 V1.1 rocket vents oxygen following Thursday evenings first launch attempt from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The first attempt was halted after computers showed that the engines had a slower than expected thrust rate upon startup. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II images
As the Falcon 9 begins to 'thread the needle' of the lightning wires, a shower of ice and flames and steam scatters, cascades and billows. Credit: nasatech.net
As the Falcon 9 begins to ‘thread the needle’ of the lightning wires, a shower of ice and flames and steam scatters, cascades and billows. Credit: nasatech.net
Clear of the catenary lightning wires, the Falcon 9/SES-8 mission streaks to orbit. Credit: nasatech.net
Clear of the catenary lightning wires, the Falcon 9/SES-8 mission streaks to orbit. Credit: nasatech.net
Beautiful streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch with SES-8 satellite on Dec. 3, 2013. Credit: John Studwell
Beautiful streak shot of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch with SES-8 satellite on Dec. 3, 2013. Credit: John Studwell
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite soars to orbit.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite soars to orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Falcon 9/SES-8 streak to orbit on Dec. 3, 2013.  Credit: Jeff Seibert
Falcon 9/SES-8 streak to orbit on Dec. 3, 2013. Credit: Jeff Seibert
Falcon 9/SES-8 streak to orbit on Dec. 3, 2013.  Credit: Jeff Seibert
Falcon 9/SES-8 streak to orbit on Dec. 3, 2013. Credit: Jeff Seibert
Wispy exhaust plume from SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch with SES-8 satellite on Dec. 3, 2013. Credit: John Studwell
Wispy exhaust plume from SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch with SES-8 satellite on Dec. 3, 2013. Credit: John Studwell
Blastoff of Falcon 9/SES-8 satellite on Dec. 3, 2013.  Credit: Julian Leek
Blastoff of Falcon 9/SES-8 satellite on Dec. 3, 2013. Credit: Julian Leek

Launch Video

Stay tuned here for continuing SpaceX & MAVEN news and Ken’s SpaceX and MAVEN launch reports from on site at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

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SpaceX Scores Spectacular Success Scorching Florida Sky with Next Gen Rocket

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – SpaceX scored a spectacular launch success this evening (Dec. 3 ) when the maiden flight of their upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Florida scorched the sky of the Florida Space Coast and successfully delivered a commercial space satellite to geostationary orbit for the first time ever – thereby revolutionizing the commercial space industry from this day forward.

The third time was finally the charm as the Falcon 9 blasted off precisely on time at 5:41 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral following a pair of launch scrubs last week on Nov. 25 and Thanksgiving Day Nov. 28 caused by technical problems with the first stage engine.

The booster thundered off the pad and pierced the completely cloud free evening sky soon after sunset as the blistering roar rumbled deafeningly all across the space coast viewing area.

The rocket exhaust plume was easily visible for several minutes after liftoff of the historic mission.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 3,138 kg (6,918 lbs) SES-8 satellite was built by Orbital Sciences for SES and is a hybrid Ku- and Ka-band spacecraft that will provide TV and communications coverage for the South Asia and Asia Pacific regions.

This new version of the Falcon 9 rocket has nearly 50% more thrust compared to the original Falcon 9.

The stakes could not have been higher for the future of SpaceX.

The firms future launch manifest of more than 50 flights for NASA and a variety of commercial entities worth billions of dollars were riding on the success of tonight’s liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

With 54 satellites in orbit SES is one of the largest commercial telecommunications satellite operators in the world.

The next generation Falcon 9 rocket injected the SES-8 telecommunications to its targeted geostationary transfer orbit flying 295 x 80,000 km above Earth.

A restart of the second stage engine was absolutely essential to the success of the mission since a failure to ignite would have doomed the SES-8 satellite from reaching is desired orbit since it’s a requirement for all geostationary transfer missions.

The picture-perfect flight met 100% of the mission objectives, SpaceX said in a post-launch statement.

“The successful insertion of the SES-8 satellite confirms the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle delivers to the industry’s highest performance standards,” said Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX.

“As always, SpaceX remains committed to delivering the safest, most reliable launch vehicles on the market today. We appreciate SES’s early confidence in SpaceX and look forward to launching additional SES satellites in the years to come.”

Today’s launch marked SpaceX’s first commercial launch from Florida as well as the first commercial flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in over five years.

Satellite operators have booked their commercial launches with other rocket companies overseas due to the high cost of other American expendable rockets.

SpaceX’s entire corporate aim has been to significantly cut the high cost of access to space.

“This is really rocking the industry. Everybody has to look out,” said Martin Halliwell, SES chief technical officer, at the prelaunch meeting with reporters including Universe Today.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (right) and Martin Halliwell (left), SES chief technical officer briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (right) and Martin Halliwell (left), SES chief technical officer briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

With today’s SpaceX is sure to sign even more contracts bringing additional commercial telecommunications satellite space launches back to American soil.

Approximately 185 seconds into flight, the Falcon 9’s second stage equipped with a single Merlin 1-D engine ignited.

It burned for five minutes and 20 seconds to inject SES-8 satellite into its initial parking orbit.

Eighteen minutes later the second stage engine relit for a second time and fired for just over one minute to deliver SES-8 satellite to its final geostationary transfer orbit.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite soars to orbit.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite soars to orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This extra powerful new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit.

The Merlin 1 D engines are arrayed in an octaweb layout for improved efficiency.

Therefore the upgraded Falcon 9 can boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS, low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit and beyond.

The next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It measures 224 feet tall and is 12 feet in diameter. That compares to a 130 foot tall rocket for the original Falcon 9.

Stay tuned here for continuing SpaceX & MAVEN news and Ken’s SpaceX launch reports from on site at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

SES- 8 Falcon 9

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Learn more about SpaceX, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Dec 3/4: “SpaceX launch, MAVEN Mars Launch and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Upper Stage Engine Restart Essential to High Stakes SpaceX Mission Success for Dec. 3 Launch Attempt

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Today (Dec. 3) marks the 3rd attempt by SpaceX to launch the maiden flight of their significantly upgraded Falcon 9 rocket with the SES-8 telecommunications satellite – following the Nov. 28 ‘Thanksgiving = Spacegiving Day’ scrub due to an aborted 1st stage engine firing in progress.

And the stakes could not be higher for the future of SpaceX – with the firms future launch manifest worth billions of dollars riding on the success of today’s liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

In an unprecedented launch event for SpaceX, the upper stage engine on the next generation Falcon 9 booster absolutely must restart in flight for a second time in order for the commercial SES-8 payload to be delivered to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Blastoff from Cape Canaveral’s seaside Space Launch Complex 40 is set for 5:41 p.m. EST (2241 GMT).

The Thanksgiving Day launch was aborted by the computers when the Marlin engines thrust failed to build up as fast as planned.

The weather forecast currently shows a 90% chance of favorable conditions at liftoff time according to Air Force meteorologists. The only concern is for winds.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite awaits launch from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite awaits launch from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The launch of SES-8 is a milestone marking the first ever attempt by SpaceX to place a satellite into the geostationary orbit replete with numerous high value commercial satellites. This is the doorway to the future profitability of SpaceX.

“I don’t want to tempt fate, but I think it’s going to have a pretty significant impact on the world launch market and on the launch industry because our prices are the most competitive of any in the world,” said SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk at a prelaunch briefing for media including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL.

For the mission to be declared a success, the upper stage engine must reignite precisely as planned about 27 minutes after liftoff and burn for approximately 1 minute to successfully propel SES-8 into the propel orbit about 33 minutes after launch.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Whether or not this launch is successful, I’m confident we will certainly make it on some subsequent launch,” said Musk.

“This is really rocking the industry. Everybody has to look out,” said Martin Halliwell, SES chief technical officer, who joined Musk at the prelaunch meeting.

The upgraded Falcon 9 will also be the launcher utilized for the manned SpaceX Dragon capsules launching to the ISS sometime later this decade!

And the very next satellite set for launch by SpaceX later in December – Thaicom 6- is essentially already waiting at the door to the onramp to space.

SpaceX plans a live broadcast of the Falcon 9 liftoff from pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL beginning at 5 p.m. EST.

It can be viewed here: www.spacex.com/webcast

The show will feature commentary about the Falcon 9 rocket and launch sequences and the SES-8 commercial satellite from SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

The Falcon 9/SES-8 launch window extends for 86 minutes until 7:07 p.m. EST.

The 3,138 kg (6,918 lbs) SES-8 satellite is a hybrid Ku- and Ka-band spacecraft that will provide TV and communications coverage for the South Asia and Asia Pacific regions.

This mighty new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level that rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit

The Merlin 1-D engines are arrayed in an octaweb layout for improved efficiency.

Therefore the upgraded Falcon 9 can boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS, low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit and beyond.

The next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It measures 224 feet tall and is 12 feet in diameter. That compares to 13 stories for the original Falcon 9.

Stay tuned here for continuing SpaceX & MAVEN news and Ken’s SpaceX launch reports from on site at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer