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

Elon Musk Briefs Universe Today & Media ahead of Revolutionary Falcon 9 Blastoff

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
See live SpaceX webcast link below[/caption]

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – A new space era potentially dawns today, Nov. 25, with the planned maiden launch of the next generation SpaceX Falcon 9 commercial rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL, that could completely revolutionize how we access the high frontier and “rock the space industry to its core” by cutting cost and production times – if all goes well.

Just a day before liftoff, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk personally briefed reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL, nearby the firms Cape Canaveral launch facility about today’s (Nov. 25) upcoming maiden launch of the companies upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, saying it was “very important” for the future.

“This launch is very important to the future of SpaceX. This is our toughest mission yet!” said Musk to a small group of reporters, including the author, gathered for Sunday’s exclusive pre-launch briefing.

“Whether or not this launch is successful, I’m confident we will certainly make it on some subsequent launch,” said Musk at the Cocoa Beach meeting with the media.

The Falcon 9 liftoff from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL is scheduled for 5:37pm EST and will be webcast live by SpaceX for viewing at; www.spacex.com/webcast

Today’s (Nov. 25) inaugural blastoff of the privately developed Falcon 9 rocket with the commercial SES-8 HDTV and telecommunications satellite is especially noteworthy because it also features SpaceX’s first ever launch of any satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

From the start, SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 rocket from a clean sheet aimed at radically reducing production and manufacturing costs and assembly times and thereby offer significantly lower launch price, says Musk.

“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,” Musk stated.

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 set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SES-8 also represents SpaceX’s first launch of a Falcon 9 carrying a commercial satellite to space from the Florida Space Coast.

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

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.

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: Urijan Poerink
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: Urijan Poerink

The SES-8 spacecrft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp and will be lofted to a 295 x 80,000 km geosynchronous transfer orbit inclined 20.75 degrees.

SpaceX has signed nearly 50 commercial and government launch contracts and thus already sports a very crowded launch manifest ahead of today’s Falcon 9 launch.

All five launches of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station were either test launches or flights to the International Space Station, under contract to NASA.

The five Falcon 9 launches to date from the Florida Space Coast also featured the original, less powerful and shorter version of the booster and has a 100% success rate.

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.

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

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.

The payload fairing for SES-8 is 17 feet in diameter.

The Falcon 9/SES-8 launch window extends for 66 minutes until 6:43 p.m. EST.
Weather outlook is 80% favorable at this time.

SpaceX is planning a live webcast of the launch with commentary from SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

The broadcast will begin at approximately 5:00 p.m. EDT and include detailed discussions about the Falcon 9 rocket, launch and flight sequences as well as about the SES-8 satellite.

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

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

Nov 22-25: “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

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

SpaceX Signs Pact To Start Rocket Testing At NASA Stennis

SpaceX — the maker and operator of the Dragon spacecraft that runs periodic cargo flights to the International Space Station — has signed a contract to research, develop and test Raptor methane rocket engines at the NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi.

The California-based company plans to use the E-2 test stand at Stennis, which is able to support both vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests. (Here are some more technical details from NASA on its capabilities.)

“We have been talking with SpaceX for many years about working at Stennis Space Center, and I am pleased to officially welcome them to our Mississippi family. I hope this is just the beginning of their endeavors in our state,” stated U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) in response to the news. A press release from his office said the presence of the private space company would boost jobs in the region.

The E-2 test stand at NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. The stand is used for vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests, among other things. Credit: NASA
The E-2 test stand at NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. The stand is used for vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests, among other things. Credit: NASA

There’s little information on SpaceX’s website about what the Raptor engine is or specific development plans, but Space News reports that it would be used for deep-space missions. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has mentioned the engine previously when talking about Mars missions, according to multiple media reports.

“We are looking to test the whole engine at Stennis, but the first phase starts with the components,” SpaceX spokesperson Emily Shanklin said in the Space News report. “The E-2 stand at Stennis is big enough for components, but we would need a bigger stand for the whole Raptor.”

The two sides are reportedly hashing out a Space Act agreement to establish user fees and other parameters. Once that’s finished, the testing will begin, perhaps as early as next year. SpaceX currently does most of its rocket testing in Texas.

Other parties in the agreement — which was signed by Governor Phil Bryant — include the Mississippi Development Authority, the Harbor Commission and Hancock County Port.

Yes, Elon Musk Really Does Say All This, Um … Awesome Stuff

One of the ‘hot’ memes these days are collections of sayings by various groups or persons, classified under the “S*** [insert name] Says” genre of videos, articles and websites. A new site making the rounds among the space community is “S*** Elon Says” which includes an assemblage of over 40 actual quotes from SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk. Besides listing some of the most awesome, peculiar and downright futuristic quotes from Musk, this site is also one of the most thoroughly researched in this type of meme, as each quote links to transcripts of press conferences, news shows and conference panels where Musk actually said these things.

Enjoy a little Friday diversion to read some of the um, awesome stuff Elon says.

Hat tip: Ryan Kobrick

SpaceX Grasshopper Performs Divert Maneuver

SpaceX proved yesterday that their Grasshopper prototype Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle can do more than just go straight up and down. The goal of the test, said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Twitter was, “hard lateral deviation, stabilize & hover, rapid descent back to pad.”

On August 13th, the Grasshopper did just that, completing a divert test, flying to a 250-meter altitude with a 100-meter lateral maneuver before returning to the center of the pad. SpaceX said the test demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.

While most rockets are designed to burn up in the atmosphere during reentry, SpaceX is looking to make their next generation of Falcon 9 rocket be able to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing.

This isn’t easy. The 10-story Grasshopper provides a challenge in controlling the structure. The Falcon 9 with a Dragon spacecraft is 48.1 meters (157 feet) tall, which equates to about 14 stories high. SpaceX said diverts like this are an important part of the trajectory in order to land the rocket precisely back at the launch site after reentering from space at hypersonic velocity.

Also on Twitter this morning, NASA’s Jon Cowert (who is now working with the Commercial Crew program) provided a look back at NASA’s foray into VTVL vehicles with the Delta Clipper Experimental vehicle,(DC-X). The video below is from July 7, 1995, and the Delta Clipper was billed as the world’s first fully reusable rocket vehicle. This eighth test flight proved that the vehicle could turn over into a re-entry profile and re-orient itself for landing. This flight took place at the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.

But after some problems (fires and the spacecraft actually fell over when a landing strut didn’t extend) NASA decided to try and focus on the X-33 VentureStar, which would land like an airplane…. and that didn’t work out very well either.

But that’s another story.

What Is Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, And Why Is It Important?

This week, SpaceX founder and billionaire Elon Musk (who also founded electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors) released his vision for a futuristic transportation system. Called hyperloop, it’s supposed to be better than flying supersonic over short distances. To give you a quick overview, we’ve summarized a portion of his paper below.

What is a hyperloop? In Musk’s words, a hyperloop is a system to “build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment.” Cars would basically be propelled in this tube. One example could be a huge sort of pneumatic tube where high-speed fans would compress and push the air — although the friction implications make Musk skeptical that it would work. Another option is having a vacuum in the tube and using electromagnetic suspension instead. Musk acknowledges it is hard to maintain a vacuum (one small leak in hundreds of miles of tubing, and the system shuts down), but there are pumping solutions to overcome this. He favors the second solution.

What is the motivation? Musk is seeking an alternative to flying or driving that would be “actually better than flying or driving.” He expressed disappointment that a proposed high-speed rail project in California is actually one of the slowest and most expensive of its type in the world, and speculated that there must be a better way.

What is the biggest technical challenge? Overcoming something called the Kantrowitz limit. Musk describes this as the “top speed law for a given tube to pod area ratio”. More simply, if you have a vehicle moving into an air-filled tube, there needs to be a minimum distance between the walls of the vehicle and the walls of the tube. Otherwise, Musk writes, “the capsule will behave like a syringe and eventually be forced to push the entire column of air in the system. Not good.”

Artist concept of a futuristic 'flying wing' airplane. Credit: DLR
In Musk’s view, his hyperloop system would be better than futuristic (perhaps supersonic) aircraft over short distances. Artist concept of one potential airplane future design incorporating a ‘flying wing’. Credit: DLR

How will Musk overcome that challenge? The principal ways of getting around it is to move slowly or quickly. A hyperfast speed would be a “dodgy prospect”, Musk writes, so his solution is to put an electric compressor fan on the capsule nose that would move high-pressure air from the front to the back of the vehicle. As a bonus, this would reduce friction. Yes, there are batteries available that would have enough power to keep the fan running for the journey’s length, he says.

How is hyperloop powered? Solar panels would be placed on top of the tube, providing enough juice to keep the vehicles moving, according to Musk’s calculations.

What about earthquakes? Musk acknowledges that a long-range system is susceptible to earthquakes. “By building a system on pylons, where the tube is not rigidly fixed at any point, you can dramatically mitigate earthquake risk and avoid the need for expansion joints,” he writes.

Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield
One of Elon Musk’s greatest achievements is overseeing the build of a spacecraft, called Dragon, which now makes periodic runs to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield

Where would hyperloop be used? In a description of the system, Musk says the hyperloop would be best served in “high-traffic city pairs that are less than about 1,500 km or 900 miles apart.” Anything more distant, and supersonic travel would be the best solution. (Short distance supersonic travel isn’t efficient because the plane would spend most of its time ascending and descending.)

Is it cost-effective? Musk estimates the tube would be “several billion dollars”, which he describes as low compared to the “tens of billion [sic] proposed for the track of the California rail project.” The individual capsules would be several hundred million dollars. Moreover, building a tube instead of a railway offers advantages, Musk says: it can be built on pylons (meaning you don’t need to buy the land), it’s less noisy, and there’s no need for fencing.

I want more information. Musk wrote a technical proposal that spans several dozens of pages, which you can check out here. He calls his system an open-source one and seems to be open to ideas to improve it.

Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments. Does this look feasible? Is there anything that could be added to make it a better system?

Hangout with Elon Musk

SpaceX’s Elon Musk with the Falcon rocket. Credit: SpaceX

You can now tell everyone that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is a close personal friend and that you are going to hang out with him on Friday. A Google+ Hangout, that is. Musk and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will be part of a G+ Hangout, and will answer questions submitted by viewers. They will also discuss the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s first contracted cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station. The Hangout will take place on Friday, October 5, 2012 from 17:00-17:30 UTC (1-1:30 p.m. EDT). SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon cargo spacecraft are scheduled to lift off at 00:35 UTC on Monday, October 8 (8:35 p.m. EDT, Sunday, Oct. 7) from at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Bolden and Musk will talk about the flight, which will be the first of 12 contracted for NASA by SpaceX to resupply the space station. Followers on Twitter may ask a question in advance of or during the event using the hashtag #askNASA. On NASA Facebook and Google+, a comment thread will open for questions on the morning of the event. To join the hangout, visit the NASA’s Google+ page.