Infographic: Dragon, Reusable Rockets And Other 2014 SpaceX Milestones

SpaceX has a big year ahead of it. The company not only plans to launch more Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station, but it will also work on developing a human-rated version that could one day do the same for astronauts. Meanwhile, it has a unique idea to land a rocket stage on an ocean platform.

While the Hawthorne, Calif.-based firm has drawn criticism for the slower-than-advertised launch pace, its 2014 achievements drew the attention of a Redditor that made an impressive infographic celebrating what SpaceX accomplished.

“So, this effectively took up $24 and 7 hours of my life (Had to buy Imgur Pro to host the large file + I’m slow at Photoshop & Illustrator), but hey, I don’t care,” EchoLogic wrote on Reddit last week. “I thought I’d make an infographic summarizing SpaceX’s 2014. Nothing new for those who are deep in the loop, but sometimes some perspective helps!”

The full infographic (which you can see here) commemorates the Dragon launches to the space station, the commercial services resupply contract SpaceX has with NASA, and developments on commercial crew and the Falcon 9-R. Enjoy!

SpaceX Rocket Prototype Explodes In Texas; ‘Rockets Are Tricky’, Musk Says

No injuries are reported after a SpaceX rocket prototype detonated in Texas today (Aug. 22) after an anomaly was found in the rocket, the company said in a statement.

The  Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) — a successor to the Grasshopper vertical take-off and landing rocket — was completing the latest in a series of ambitious tests that previously saw the prototype successfully testing new steerable fins.

“Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test,” SpaceX said in a statement (which you can read in full below the jump.) “As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.”


The company said it would provide more updates as it found information. SpaceX founder Elon Musk issued a brief statement of his own on Twitter:

Screenshot of a June 2014 F9R test flight.
Screenshot of a June 2014 F9R test flight.

Below is SpaceX’s statement:

Earlier today, in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX conducted a test flight of a three-engine version of the F9R test vehicle (successor to Grasshopper.) During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission.

Throughout the test and subsequent flight termination, the vehicle remained in the designated flight area. There were no injuries or near injuries. An FAA representative was present at all times.

With research and development projects, detecting vehicle anomalies during the testing is the purpose of the program. Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.

SpaceX will provide another update when the flight data has been fully analyzed.

Here are some recent Universe Today stories on the rocket:

SpaceX’s Next-Generation Reusable Rocket Roars In Tie-Down Test

As SpaceX pursues its quest of rocket reusability, it recently subjected the first stage of its next generation Falcon 9 rocket (called the Falcon 9-reusable or F9R) to a tie-down test ahead of some more heavy-duty work in the coming months and years. Early indications are that the test was a success, the firm said.

Details of the rocket are still scance on the SpaceX’s website, but the California-based company said that the rocket would generate about a million pounds of thrust at sea level, and 1.5 million pounds in space. It’s also a sort of follow-on from the leaping reusable Grasshopper rocket that retired last year.

Rockets are usually the “throwaway” items in a flight, but SpaceX is betting that by creating a reusable one that it will save on launch costs in the long run. (The rocket has been tested before, such as this long-duration one last June.)

“F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like,” SpaceX stated in the YouTube video description.

SpaceX’s next launch to the space station was supposed to be in March, but it was scrubbed due to a radar outage that is affecting several launches. You can read more about the Falcon 9 rocket’s development (including the addition of landing legs) in this recent Universe Today article by Ken Kremer.

Incredible Vertical-Landing Grasshopper Rocket Has Retired

Did you take a moment to look at that August video of the Grasshopper rocket deliberately going sideways and then appearing to hover for a bit before returning to Earth? For more video fodder, there’s also this high-flying test the rocket took in October.

We hope you enjoyed these views, because Grasshopper is being retired. SpaceX now wants to focus its energy and resources on to the larger Falcon 9-R first stage, which should see its first test flight in New Mexico this December.

It sounds like SpaceX would have loved to go further, in a sense. “In some ways we’ve kind of failed on the Grasshopper program because we haven’t pushed it to its limit,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in New Mexico last week, as reported in the NewSpace Journal. “We haven’t broken it.”

Grasshopper took eight test flights during its flight history, which spanned about a year between September 2012 and October 2013. It was intended to test Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing technology (VTVL). The strange appearance of a rocket leaving Earth and gently, deliberately touching back down again turned heads — even in the general public.

We have coverage — and videos! — of most of its past test flights here (the dates below are flight dates, not publication dates)

Most rockets are single-use only and are discarded either in orbit or (better yet, for space debris concerns) are put in a path to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX, however, wants its next-generation Falcon 9 rocket to have a reusable first stage to cut down on launch costs. (Grasshopper was about 10 storeys high, while the Falcon 9 will be about 14 storeys tall when carrying a Dragon spacecraft on board.)

The Falcon 9-R during a 10-second test in June 2013. Credit: Elon Musk on Twitter
The Falcon 9-R during a 10-second test in June 2013. Credit: Elon Musk on Twitter

As for the Falcon 9 series, a rocket flight in September delivered its payload (which included the Canadian Cassiope satellite) to space successfully, but faced some technical problems with the upper stage — and the first stage, as the rocket was supposed to be slowed down for splashdown.

As Space News reported, two burns were planned. The first worked, but the second burn took place while the rocket was spinning, which affected the flow of fuel. A picture shown by SpaceX demonstrated the rocket was intact three meters above the ocean, although it did not survive after it hit.

“Between the flights we’ve been doing with Grasshopper and this demonstration that we brought that stage back, we’re really close to full and rapid reuse of stages,” Shotwell said in the report.

New SpaceX Rocket Booster Completes ‘Full Mission Duration’ Firing Test

A new booster forming the heart of a next-generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket underwent a three-minute test this week ahead of another of its type launching the Canadian Cassiope satellite this fall.

“Just completed full mission duration firing of next gen Falcon 9 booster,” wrote CEO Elon Musk on Twitter on Monday. “V[ery] proud of the boost stage team for overcoming many tough issues.”

SpaceX declined to elaborate on what the issues were in a statement to Space News, saying that the testing program is preliminary. (The company rarely comments on what goes on during tests.)

The firm has been steadily ramping up testing experience on the booster, as well as the Merlin-1D engine that powers it. In early June, it ran a brief 10-second test, then increased that to a 112-second test a week later. Check out the foom factor from that test below.

We’re still waiting for SpaceX to post pictures or video from the latest full mission test, but we’ll put them up if they become available.

SpaceX uses the same engines in the Grasshopper, a 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle.

One of Grasshopper’s goals is to help SpaceX figure out how to bring a rocket back to Earth, ready to lift off again. A single Merlin 1D engine is enough to power Grasshopper. The new Falcon 9-R (R means “reusable”) requires nine.

Falcon 9-R is slated to loft Cassiope, a Canadian satellite that will observe space weather, in September.

SpaceX Fires Up Falcon 9-R in a Long Duration Test

Last week, SpaceX fired up a new version of the Falcon 9 for a short 10-second test fire. Now, they’ve completed a long-duration fire, lasting 112 seconds. The test was of the first stage of the F9-R, an advanced prototype for the world’s first reusable rocket. The test took place at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX noted that unlike airplanes, a rocket’s thrust increases with altitude, and the F9-R generates just over a million pounds of thrust at sea level (“enough to lift skyscraper,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter) but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space.

The rocket engines used on the test is the same as what’s used on the Grasshopper, which is the 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle that SpaceX has designed to test the technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact. While the Grasshopper uses just one Merlin 1D engine, the Falcon 9-R uses nine.

SpaceX hasn’t posted any details about the 9-R on their website, but they have said the Merlin 1-D’s 150:1 thrust-to-weight ratio would be the highest ever achieved for a rocket engine.

SpaceX Tests Falcon 9-R Advanced Reusable Prototype Rocket

Over the past weekend, SpaceX fired up a new version of the Falcon 9, known as the Falcon 9-R, with “R” being for “reusable.” It was the first-ever firing their new advanced prototype rocket. SpaceX told Universe Today the hold-down firing occurred on Saturday, and it lasted for approximately 10 seconds. Elon Musk had tweeted the image above earlier this week, but the company doesn’t normally discuss testing or results, so have not said much about it.

But SpaceX’s communications director Christina Ra did tell us that the Merlin 1D engines used on the test is the same as what’s used on Grasshopper, which is the 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle that SpaceX has designed to test the technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact.

While the Grasshopper uses just one Merlin 1D engine, the Falcon 9-R uses nine, which Musk said via Twitter provides over 1 million pounds of thrust, “enough to lift skyscraper.”

While most rockets are designed to burn up in the atmosphere during reentry, SpaceX’s is hoping their new rocket can return to the launch pad for a vertical landing.

At the end of April Musk had shared another image of first test of the Falcon 9-R ignition system.

Word on the street is that the next test will be a full 3-minute test firing.

Here’s the Grasshopper test flight in April: