Hailed as a both a great day for commercial spaceflight as well as for NASA, SpaceX made history on Wednesday with a 100% successful test flight of its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. “This is a new way of doing business,” said Alan Lindenmoyer manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, “and I would say today this is an indication that this public/private partnership is working and has proven to be successful. Thanks to SpaceX for the early Christmas present – this is a great way to start the holidays.”
At the press conference following the flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at first appeared to be speechless: “Really, this has been better than I expected,” he said. “It all went right. I am sort of in semi shock—I wish I could be more articulate in moments like this, bit it’s hard to be articulate with a blown mind!”
But Musk soon found his words – and lots of them (with many great quotes, so keep reading…)
Lindenmoyer said SpaceX’s accomplishments are quite an achievement, since over the last 20 years, for new launch vehicles only about 50% of them are success are successful on their first or second flights, and only 1 out of 3 new vehicles have two successful flights in a row, which SpaceX has achieved.
Musk said the success really shouldn’t be a surprise since the Dragon spacecraft has so many redundancies: 18 thruster engines instead of 9, 3 parachutes when they really could land with one, extra thermal protection, and a very advanced heat shield. But in the end, SpaceX didn’t need to use any of the backup systems.
Preliminary data said the Dragon reentered the atmosphere spot on at a 12% angle of attack, with 2% dispersion. “This is a testament to the incredible work of the people at SpaceX,” he said. “Everyone did their jobs so well.”
Musk also emphasize that his company couldn’t have gotten to where they are without NASA, in not only monetary support ($278 million for the COTS program), but in leading the way in spaceflight.
“The core concepts of Falcon 9 and Dragon were demonstrated decades ago by NASA, and its an old saying, but we are only here because we stand on the shoulders of giants. So thank you,” he said.
Musk noted a few key things about the flight: The restart of Falcon 9’s second stage went perfectly; the second stage as restarted after the release of Dragon, and rose to an altitude of more than 11,000 km (6,800 miles), Musk said. Secondary satellite payloads of nanosatellites were released during the flight. And, Musk added, that altitude was with the trimmed, repaired nozzle. Reaching an altitude that high was not part of SpaceX’s primary objectives, but nice to have, Musk said.
Dragon went to an altitude of 300 km.
Musk also stressed that the difference between this Dragon capsule and one that could carry people isn’t that different.
“People sometimes think the different between cargo and crew required enormous amount of magical pixie dust,” he said “This is not the case. If there would have been people sitting in Dragon today, they would have had a nice ride, feeling about 4-5 G’s, which is about what an amusement park ride is like,” with an 8 meter per second descent speed which is quite comfortable from a landing perspective.
The only differences, Musk said, would be the addition of a launch escape system. And, he revealed, what SpaceX really hopes to do with future spacecraft is not a splashdown in the ocean but a propulsive landing on the ground.
“The architecture you saw today was similar to what was employed in Apollo era, but we are aiming for propulsive landing with gear, kind of like the Eagle landing on the moon, and being able to take off again” he said. “Full reusability of Dragon and Falcon 9 is important as well, and something we want to figure out over time.”
Musk also said this mission didn’t have many significant differences in one that would send the Dragon the ISS. “In our discussions with NASA they said if this flight went well they would strongly consider letting us go to the space station on next mission,” he said. “I hope that is what NASA will allow us to do, we need to still examine the data from this mission first, but I’m highly optimistic. There are additional elements to be added to Dragon such as solar panels and redundancy on flight computers and electronics, but feel highly confident we could make it to the ISS on our next flight by middle of next year.”
Today’s flight tested the fundamentals of a heat shield and precision landing. Musk said the performance of heat shield was spectacular, and projected that is could not only handle Earth reentry, but also lunar and Mars reentry.
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell noted some other technical details, of how Dragon was able to maintain attitude and thermal control, as well as maintain communications with ground stations and TEDRIS satellites, which requires specific directional pointing.
The entire launch and two orbit flight took 3 hours 19 min 52 seconds, and initial data said they landed within 10 km of their target, and a communiqué from the Air force said Dragon came within 800 meters.
Asked about the flame flare that came about 2 seconds after launch, Musk said the first look by engineers said it was a check valve on the second stage umbilical that came off and caught fire as the spacecraft engines passed by — not an explosion but a just little fire.
Musk said the point in the flight where he felt the most jubilation and great relief was when the parachutes deployed. “Drogue and main chute deploy were riskiest parts, so when that happened, it was done deal. Just mind-blowingly awesome.”
Asked if the success today would silence any of SpaceX’s critics, Musk said, “I think if there really are people who are going still find a way to cast aversions on what we’ve done today, I pity them. It just wouldn’t make any sense.”
He said politicians who initially wanted to cut commercial crew funds from NASA’s budget soon learned that such a move would not decrease but increase the deficit and also meant increased time with no American access to space. “I think some politicians were initially mislead, but then they realized the value of commercial crew, which is why it the cuts didn’t make it into the final report.”
Asked about the differences in Dragon and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, Musk said that Space X would probably be the most rapid path to an American crew transport system. “If we would have had people on this flight we would have taken them to orbit and returned them safely,” he said. “Going to a crew system is just adding some additional safety systems for highly off nominal activities. Even for cargo missions we will be carrying plants and animals so I think we are in a very strong position to be one of the winners of the commercial crew contract.”
Musk added that competition is good, however, and NASA shouldn’t be too dependent on one company,” so hopefully there will be two or maybe three commercial crew providers and hopefully we are one of them.”
Musk agreed with Lindenmoyer on how this appears to vindicate the public/private model of space flight and shows that the commercial model works just as well in space flight as in air flight, or other arenas.
“The air mail program was a huge boost when the Post Office went commercial,” he said “and that resulted in explosion of innovation and improvement in technology. It really was the dawn of aviation in American where it went from joy rides that rich people could do, to today where aviation is accessible to almost everyone. I think historically COTS program will be seen in that light.”
On board Dragon was a few small satellites, and look for Musk to reveal tomorrow the nature of a humorous item that was on board. “I’m not going to reveal it today, as I don’t want some of the editors to use it in the first headlines,” he said. “It is kind of funny and if you like Monty Python you’ll like this one.”
Spam in a can?
Universe Today extends their congratulations to SpaceX. The future appears to be now.
SpaceX will delay the launch attempt of the Falcon 9 rocket until at least Thursday, Dec. 9. At a press conference today, company president Gwynne Shotwell said a final review of closeout photos this morning found some indications of a potential issue on a second stage nozzle. Reports from journalist Robert Pearlman on Twitter said the Falcon 9 had been lowered from the vertical launch position. And Shotwell said if they have to replace the nozzle, the launch would be no earlier than Friday, Dec. 10.
“During an inspection of final closeout photos they determined there were some indications in a weld joint that they wanted to take some additional steps to look at,” said Shotwell, “and they brought the vehicle down to horizontal. I believe it is back up to vertical now.” When asked for details, Shotwell said “porosity and potential cracking in a weld joint.”
There were some weather concerns for the early to mid part of this week, but the weather improves later in the week, so perhaps the delay was going to happen anyway.
This is the first demonstration launch for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, with a functional Dragon capsule.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said he thinks they have a 70% chance of successful first flight of the Falcon 9/Dragon capsule.
Shotwell agreed, saying history predicts SpaceX will likely have a substantial issue to deal with in this test flight.
“Given we got Falcon 9 to orbit on our first test flight, I’d say 70% for this flight, too,” she said.
At the press conference, NASA’s Phil McAlister, from the Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation, provided some insight into NASA’s thinking on if there were to be substantial problems with any of the COTS test flights. “We expect anomalies and the purpose of a test flight is to find the problems,” he said. “We won’t know until the end of the program if we’ve been completely successful, but to date this has been remarkably successful. Even if we have a bad day on this flight, for example, we expect to move forward. It is not a condition that every test flights be successful. We are committed to learn from each flight. But we would certainly like to have a a successful flight. So far we are on very good track and we will learn a lot from this test flight and move forward regardless of the outcome.”
The key milestones for this flight are a successful launch, separation of the Dragon vehicle from the rocket and successful reentry of Dragon.
No matter the outcome of this flight, SpaceX plans on having next Dragon flight ready by late spring/early summer 2011.
For the future, McAlister also said that he believe competition is very important, and that NASA would like to have at least 2 cargo service companies. “We would like to have routine, cost effective cargo services to LEO by 2020.”
Shotwell said it would be at least two and a half to three years after the cargo program is initiated is the first chance for astronauts to be ferried on board the Dragon capsule.
A static test firing of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was cut short as computer systems shut down the first-stage engines before the test was complete. The firing was only going to last two seconds, but the engines ran for 1.1 sec due to high engine chamber pressure, according to SpaceX. Space News reported that engineers are analyzing the data and that a second attempt is likely to occur tomorrow, Dec. 4. This abort occurred just four days before SpaceX is schedule to conduct the maiden launch of its Dragon space capsule on board the medium-class Falcon 9.
This video is from SpaceX’s webcast of the firing and unfortunately is a bit jumpy.
The first-stage firing was part of a dress rehearsal conducted in preparation for the planned Dec. 7 launch, the first of three increasingly complicated flight demonstrations of Falcon 9 and Dragon under the company’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA.
In a press release from SpaceX from Dec. 2, the company said the rehearsal would “exercise the countdown processes and end after the engines fire at full power for two seconds, with only the hold-down system restraining the rocket from flight.”
After the test, SpaceX said they would conduct a thorough review of all data as engineers make final preparations for the upcoming launch.
The rockets uses kerosene and liquid oxygen, and the nine Merlin engines generate one million pounds of thrust in vacuum.
The $278 million COTS agreement has SpaceX developing and demonstrating hardware capable of ferrying cargo to and from the International Space Station.
We’ll post more information about the abort as it becomes available.
Home made rockets launched from home made submarines next to dragon wings floating in the ocean on your SpacePod for August 24th, 2010
Before we begin I just wanted to give a shout out to our new viewers on both Space.com and Universe Today. Hopefully you like what you’ll see and you’ll stick around for a while, check out some of our other videos and join us for our live weekly show all about space. For today though, lets start over the Pacific Ocean where SpaceX tested the Dragon’s parachute deployment system on August 12th, 2010. Continue reading “Dragon Drop Tests and Heat1X-Tycho Brahe Set to Launch – SpacePod 2010.08.24”
SpaceX founder, CEO and CTO Elon Musk sat down with the Spacevidcast team for about 20 minutes to talk about space and SpaceX. This is the 10 minute SpacePod edition which has a little under 1/2 the interview available. We chat about the Falcon X, the future of space and why he built SpaceX.
Universe Today photographer Alan Walters was on hand for Friday’s spectacular and picture-perfect launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Enjoy a gallery of images, including this great shot of a Prandtl–Glauert singularity, or shock cone that formed around the rocket, which sometimes occurs when a sudden drop in air pressure occurs when rockets or aircraft are traveling at transonic speeds.
“This has really been a fantastic day,” said an exuberant Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, speaking with reporters after the flight. “It’s been one of the best days of my life. It’s certainly been one of the greatest days for the people of SpaceX.”
It was history in the making that could have a huge bearing on the future of US spaceflight. The commercial space company SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket on Friday, with what seemed to be a picture-perfect lift-off and flight. The Falcon 9 rocket performed magnificently (at least from initial reports), hitting all the flight parameters precisely on time. The SpaceX team overcame delays for telemetry problems, a boat that unknowingly sailed into the restricted zone of the launch range, and one last-second launch abort on an earlier try. The team then successfully recycled the engines and sent the rocket off on a beautiful launch. Video from the rocket in flight was streamed online, showing the stage separation and engine cutoff, with a view of Earth in the background.
UPDATE: Spaceflightnow.com reports that SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage and dummy Dragon capsule achieved a nearly perfect orbit during today’s dramatic blastoff, hitting a bullseye of the orbital target. The apogee, or high point, was about 1 percent higher than planned and the perigee, or low point, was 0.2 percent off the target.
The Falcon 9 blasted off at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The nine Merlin engines, fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene rocket fuel, provided a million pounds of thrust, sending the rocket to orbit in just over 9 minutes.
SpaceX was shooting for the Falcon 9 to reach a circular orbit 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, high and an inclination of 34.5 degrees.
On the video, it is evident the rocket experienced a slight roll, which was not expected.
Having a rocket succeed on its maiden voyage is quite unusual (it took the Atlas rocket 13 tries for success), so the SpaceX team has to be extremely pleased with not only the rocket’s performance, but the team’s ability to overcome problems and press on with a successful launch.
180-foot (55 meter)-high Falcon 9 carried a mock-up of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. With this success, the next flight may be a flight to the International Space Station to practice docking techniques — it won’t actually dock, but practice approach. If that goes well, the next flight might actually dock and bring supplies to the ISS.
SpaceX just released the official word on what happened with Tuesday’s 3.5 second test-fire of the Falcon 9 rocket. The test aborted immediately after it started, and a a spin start system failure forced the early shutdown. The Falcon 9 sits on Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and from the Kennedy Space Center press site, (about 4 miles away) a muffled bang was heard at the time of ignition, 1:41 pm EST. “Today SpaceX performed our first Static Fire for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle,” said Emily Shankin from SpaceX in a press release. “We counted down to an T-2 seconds and aborted on Spin Start. Given that this was our first abort event on this pad, we decided to scrub for the day to get a good look at the rocket before trying again. Everything looks great at first glance.”
An online webcam on Spaceflightnow.com showed a brief flash and a small cloud of smoke, and then nothing. Other observers at the site said it appeared as if flight computers detected a problem and automatically shut down the engines before the test was completed. The test-firing is considered a major objective towards the first launch of the Falcon 9, now tentatively scheduled for March 22, but SpaceX officials say launch is more likely to occur in April.
Here’s the rest of SpaceX’s press release:
We completed pad preps on time and with good execution. The integrated countdown with the range included holdfire checks, S- band telemetry, C-band, and FTS simulated checks. We completed helium, liquid oxygen (LOX), and fuel loads to within tenths of a percent of T-zero conditions. Tanks pressed nominally and we passed all Terminal count, flight software, and ground software abort checks right down to T-2 seconds. We encountered a problem with the spin start system and aborted nominally.
As part of the abort, we close the pre-valves to isolate the engines from the propellant tank and purge the residual propellants. The brief flames seen on the video are burn off of LOX and kerosene on the pad. The engines did not ignite and there was no engine fire.
We detanked and safed the vehicle and launch pad. Preliminary review shows all other systems required to reach full ignition were within specification. All other pad systems worked nominally. Inspections will be complete tonight. Tomorrow will consist of data review and procedure updates. Commodities will be replenished tomorrow including TEA TEB load, LOX and helium deliveries.
We’ll look to do the next static fire attempt in three or four days.
The Falcon 9 rocket measures 47 meters long (154 feet) and 4 meters (12 feet) wide, and for the upcoming test launch the payload will be a dummy of the company’s Dragon capsule being developed to carry equipment to the International Space Station for NASA.
The nine Merlin 1C engines will produce about 825,000 pounds of total thrust, about four times the power of a 747 jumbo jet at full throttle. The engines consume about 3,200 pounds of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants per second, according to SpaceX.
Is the future here? Over the weekend, SpaceX rolled their Falcon 9 launch vehicle out to the launchpad at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral. If all systems check out, SpaceX looks to do an engine test sometime this week, which should provide some dramatic rumbling and shaking here in Florida. The rocket measures 47 meters long (154 feet) and 4 meters (12 feet) wide, and for the upcoming test launch (date currently not set), the payload will be a dummy of the company’s Dragon capsule being developed to carry equipment to the International Space Station for NASA.
The word around Cape Canaveral is that the range has been reserved for March 8, but SpaceX won’t provide any specific potential launch dates; instead giving a range of sometime between March and May. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said the Range date is “just a placeholder for the earliest possible countdown attempt.” In an article in Spaceflightnow.com, Musk said the launch likely won’t occur until April at the earliest.
SpaceX said that Falcon 9 is now undergoing a checkout of the critical flight connections including fuel, liquid oxygen, and gas pressure systems. Once all system interfaces are verified, the launch team will execute a full tanking test of both first and second stages (wet dress) followed by a brief ~3.5 static fire of the first stage. “SpaceX has not set specific dates for wet dress or static fire as schedule will be driven by the satisfactory completion of all test objectives and a thorough review of the data,” the company said in a press release.