…And we’re back

Several WordPress version upgrades later, and we’re finally up to date. Things look a little different, and are likely subject to change, but that’s the beauty of the upgrade – a lot more things become possible.

A Dragon Spreads its Wings

Congratulations to SpaceX on a spectacular launch of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon capsule for the COTS-2/3 cargo delivery demonstration mission. Dragon is safely in orbit, its solar array wings are deployed, and, right this minute there is a Dragon flying around the world, headed toward a rendezvous with the International Space Station.

Of course, now the really hard work begins as SpaceX and NASA put the new spacecraft through its paces. This is a test flight, so there’s no expectation that everything will go perfectly, but fingers crossed that the mission goals are met.

Not This Time

Well, the Falcon 9 countdown went down to zero, the engine ignition sequence started, but was aborted by the computer controlling the launch because of a sensor reading that the chamber pressure on number five engine was abnormally high.

The Falcon launch sequence is designed to hold the rocket on the launch pad with its engines firing until the computer confirms that all engines are operating normally.

Unfortunately, the constraints of a launch to the International Space Station mean that there cannot be another launch attempt today. The next attempt will most likely be made on Tuesday morning at 3:44 am Eastern.

SpaceX and Falcon have had last minute aborts like this before, and it usually comes down to a tolerance setting being too restrictive. Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, mentioned at the pre-launch press conference that they have in fact never had a test engine firing or launch happen on the first attempt. They will need that if they are to launch at the exact moment that puts Dragon on a trajectory for rendezvous with the space station.

Well, this is only the third Falcon launch, so the reality is that it is a test of the rocket as well as of the capsule. SpaceX will do a scrub turn-around and be ready to attempt a launch again on Tuesday. If not for the constraints of launching to ISS, they could probably have another attempt in a couple of hours – they have demonstrated many times now an ability to go from abort to turn-around to launch in that time frame, something that no other rocket can do.

Here’s hoping the Falcon finally soars on its next launch attempt, but I have to say I’ve waited a long time for this, and a little bit longer won’t be the end of the world.

T Minus 10 Minutes to the SpaceX COTS 2/3 Dragon Launch

Rob here – been a loooong time since I have posted at Out of the Cradle – but today I couldn’t stay away.

In the very early days of OotC I live-blogged several of the first launch attempts of Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon One rocket.

SpaceX have come a long way since then. They have:

  1. Developed a new, much bigger rocket, the Falcon 9.
  2. Successfully flown Falcon 9 to orbit.
  3. Won a space act agreement with NASA to develop the Dragon space capsule to deliver cargo to and return cargo from the International Space Station, as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.
  4. Launched Falcon 9 a second time, this time testing the first Dragon capsule on a flight that orbited the Earth twice, and then re-entered the atmosphere to parachute to a landing in the sea off the coast of California, making SpaceX the first non-governmental entity in the world to launch a spacecraft into orbit and then recover it back to Earth.

And they now stand on the verge of launching the third Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the second Dragon capsule which, all going well, will rendezvous with the International Space Station, test its ability to perform ISS proximity operations, and possibly even be captured by the ISS robot arm and berthed to one of the station’s Common Berthing Mechanism ports. Barring problems (and this is a test flight, problems are to be expected, and in fact welcomed – that’s what test flights are for, after all) this little robot capsule could become the first non-governmental flight to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station.

So what is it about this flight that has brought me out of my (rather extended) posting hiatus?

This flight is a big deal. If it succeeds (and there are no guarantees, it’s a test flight after all) the next Dragon flight will be the first operational, commercial cargo run to the space station, and we will have a real NewSpace company making money (hauling the mail, as it were) in space. SpaceX has a 1.6 billion dollar contract with NASA to do exactly that, over the course of the next several years. A NewSpace company is going to be making money supporting a manned spaceflight operation (in the form of the International Space Station) and it’s going to be doing it much cheaper than NASA could alone, and with a great deal more innovation. The Dragon capsule flying to the Station today lacks only seats, a control panel, and a launch escape system needed to carry crew.

Back when I started Out of the Cradle, I tried to express in the ‘about’ section where I thought the future of our journey into space was headed – a long slow climb to space being a profitable industry that brings us benefits down here on Earth (yes, I’m an unrepentant Technological Optimist). Here’s what I said back then:

One day, one of the many entrepreneurial space companies out there is going to climb to the top of the vast pile of failed predecessors, make it to space, and find a way to make money there. It could take a hundred years to happen – or it could be happening right now. When it happens, everything changes.

This SpaceX test flight, whether it succeeds or fails, takes us much further down the road toward that future, and I’m excited by that.

Good luck to SpaceX, and Godspeed – Go Falcon! Go Dragon!


Space Shuttle Launch #NASATweetUps, Past and Present

Space Shuttle Atlantis is poised to launch to the International Space Station, and NASA is hosting a Twitter meet-up, or tweet-up, at the launch.

If you’re one of the 150 lucky invitees attending the shuttle launch as guests of NASA, I can tell you from personal experience that you are in for a huge treat. This is only the second time that NASA has opened the gates of Kennedy Space Center to space tweeps for a shuttle launch. By very good fortune, I was there for the first.

NASA Tweet-Up Sign

The confirmation email arrived while I was at work. I could hardly believe it; in fact I briefly entertained the thought that it was a prank on the part of some of my colleagues. But it was official: I was invited to attend the launch of STS-129. In no time at all I went from “hmmm, it’s a long way to go” (I live in Christchurch, New Zealand) to arranging leave and airline tickets. It was the chance of a lifetime, and as my very understanding partner explained it, “Don’t be an idiot, of course you have to go!”

100 New Friends

On the first day of the Tweet-Up we all met in the parking lot outside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s complex. I spotted the first of the other space tweeps while walking from my rental car to the registration table, and we quickly fell into conversation. One of the neatest things about the whole two day event was that whoever you talked to, you made a friend. The space tweeps were some of the most genuinely friendly people I have had occasion to meet. They came from all walks of life – teachers, IT people, an astrophysicist or two, a film-maker, even a couple of NASA employees. But no matter who you talked to, you had an instant common interest. By the end of the first day, when some 30 or 40 of us descended en masse on an unsuspecting Titusville restaurant, I felt like I had made 100 new friends.

One thing I didn’t do that I later regretted was to make up some contact detail cards to give out to the people I met. I had thought about it, but ran out of time before I traveled. Others had not only thought about it, but done it, and it proved to be a great way to swap contact details. Photographing people’s NASA-issued ID badges (with their permission, of course) was another good way of remembering faces, names and twitter handles.

The Kennedy Space Center Rocket Garden

Once we were registered on that first day, we had about half an hour to kill before the official kickoff at the Kurt H Debus Conference Facility. That was just as well, because the first thing you see as you walk toward the visitor complex is a tantalizing view of the rocket garden. After a quick reconnoiter of Titans and Atlases and a Saturn 1B, I discovered that the conference facility itself hosts the Early Space Exploration exhibit, which is well worth taking some time over. Not only does it have Neil Armstrong’s Apollo space-suit, but Gemini and Mercury capsules, and a lot more, including the original Mercury mission control consoles. Standing next to the space capsules, you really get an appreciation of how small and cramped they are. Frank Borman and Jim Lovell spent two weeks in orbit wedged shoulder to shoulder in a Gemini capsule, to prove that people could survive in space for the length of time it would take to get to the Moon and back. How they did it and stayed sane, I will never know. It’s a cliché to talk about the courage and endurance of astronauts, but it’s become a cliché because it’s the truth. I could have spent a lot longer looking through the exhibits (and did a couple of days later after the tweetup), but it was time for the day’s main event.

Frozen Smoke: Aerogel from the Stardust mission
A piece of ‘frozen smoke’ – Part of the aerogel particle collector from the Stardust mission

We were all ushered into the conference room, which was set up with a number of round tables, so that we all sat in groups, and a small stage at the front for the speakers. Each table had an unusual object on it, some stranger than others, and we were invited to guess what they were. My table’s object was pretty easy – a Space Shuttle thermal protection tile. We all passed it round and felt how light it was. I’m still amazed at the thought that I got to hold a piece of the shuttle in my hand. Another table had one of the hold-down bolts that pins each shuttle solid rocket booster to the pad before lift-off. Probably the coolest one was a piece of aerogel, a small blue-ish cube of quite literally the lightest solid material imaginable. Aerogel is often referred to as ‘frozen smoke’, as it is 99 percent empty space. What made this particular sample so cool is that it was part of the particle collector from the Stardust space mission – it had traveled several million miles away from the Earth, collected samples of interstellar dust, and returned in its unmanned probe, and NASA was letting us hold a piece of it!

The twitterfall
The ‘twitter-fall’ of of real-time tweets from #NASATweetUp

Next up was a series of talks from NASA officials, including astronaut Mike Massimino, and Wayne Hale, a former shuttle flight director, then shuttle program manager, now deputy associate administrator for strategic partnerships. When these guys spoke, everyone listened, and the stories they told were fascinating. Of course, this was a room full of twitter users, so the way everyone listened was heads down, keyboards out, and typing furiously. A twitter-fall of all the tweets in real time was projected onto large screens at the front of the room. Occasionally, the real-time feedback to the speakers was hilarious. “Oh- ok, so I know you’re all listening, even though no-one’s looking at me, because I just saw what I was saying on the wall!” With 100 people tweeting solidly all morning, the #NASATweetUp certainly got noticed in the Twitterverse – at one point we rose to number three on the trending topics.

The lunchtime break was a great time to explore the KSC visitor complex, and many of us tried out the Shuttle Launch Experience ride. Some of us more than once :) And I suspect that the hundred of us put a noticeable blip into the gift shop’s sales figures for that day.

Tour to the Launch Pad

In the afternoon we boarded buses for a tour of the space center. Where I was really hit home for me as the bus turned a corner and the iconic towering bulk of the Vertical Assembly Building came into view in the distance. The bus continued on, and the VAB grew larger – and larger – and larger. That building is huge! I’d seen it so many times in pictures and on NASA TV, and now I was actually there. I could just imagine a giant Saturn V rocket emerging slowly from one of those massively tall hangar doors. Now, it houses the shuttles as they are stacked in preparation for flight.

Nestled at the base of the VAB is the launch control center, containing the firing rooms from which the complex process of launching a shuttle is directed. The bus continued on past that, to the dock where barges bring the big orange External Tanks from their assembly facility in Michoud. From there we went past the crawler park, where the tracked crawler transporters live when they are not taking a shuttle stack out to the launch pad (or in days gone by, a Saturn V moon rocket). Just past the crawlers, we saw several as-yet-unstacked sections of the launch gantry being assesmbled for the new Ares rocket, then we were on a road running parallel to the crawlerway, out toward the launch pads. We were on our way to meet shuttle Atlantis. About half-way to the pad, we passed a gantry-like building on our right, and our tour guide explained that that was the viewing platform from which members of the public were allowed to see the shuttle at the launch pad. But our bus kept on going right past it.

Space Shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad, tucked inside the Rotating Service Structure
Shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad, mostly obscured by the rotating service structure

We got out of our buses, into a roped-off grassy viewing area, just across the road from the space shuttle on its launch pad. I stood and gaped for a while. Even mostly hidden within its rotating service structure, the shuttle stack was a thing of awe. Today it sat silent, waiting, being prepared and checked out for flight. Tomorrow its engines would roar for eight short minutes, and then it would be in space, traveling round the world at eighteen thousand miles per hour.

Launch Day

For launch day, we were all to assemble at KARS park, from which we would be bused to KSC proper and the press site where our tweet-up marquee was. We all thought the traffic would be terrible, and no one wanted to miss the buses. Consequently, we were all there far too early – some of us well over an hour – and a bit of an impromptu tailgate party ensued while we waited. Eventually the buses came, and we were taken to the press area just behind the VAB, with the grassy area in front of the countdown clock that you often see on NASA TV, and a view of the shuttle on the pad in the distance out beyond that.

Twitter Central with the Vertical Assembly Building in the background
Twitter Central with the Vertical Assembly Building in the background

We were once again well catered for, in a marquee with full wireless connectivity and streaming NASA TV on two large flatscreen displays at the front of the room. Outside, we got to mingle with all the press representatives who had come to cover the launch. Once again there were a series of talks, this time from the guys who prepare the shuttle for launch. You could tell these folks loved their jobs (and who wouldn’t). We learned all about the shuttle systems, right down to how the hatch is sealed when closing the astronauts in for the flight.

At the beginning of the day, conditions were looking iffy for launch – there was a layer of cloud, the likes of which had caused launch postponements in the past. We all told each other that it would burn off before the mid-afternoon launch time. We all hoped that we were right. Luckily, we were.

The launch of a space shuttle is a true spectacle. We were as close as you can get to the launch, without being in one of the rescue armored personnel carriers parked a little further up the crawlerway. That’s still four miles from the pad. They keep you that far away for a good reason: the energies released are gargantuan. First there is bright light, and the distant shuttle rises noiselessly and slowly into the air. It picks up speed, trailing a magnesium-bright flare of white-hot rocket exhaust atop a pillar of white smoke. Then the sound finally hits you, a rumbling, crackling roar that seems to intensify as the shuttle climbs higher and arcs over away from you, till it seems that its mighty engines are pointed right at you. Then the sound fades, you can just make out the solid rocket boosters separating, and the rapidly receding shuttle is just a bright point, well on its way to space. Then everyone is quiet, and contemplative, and you take a moment to reflect on the fact that what you just saw was a machine made by people, harnessing tamed energies equivalent to a small nuclear bomb, with courageous astronauts riding inside it, and while you’ve been thinking about that, they are already floating weightless in space. It’s a profound and amazing experience, and there aren’t really words to do it justice.

Unless you’re seriously into cameras, don’t spend the launch hiding behind a viewfinder. Put all your gadgets down at t-10 or so, and just watch, and listen, and drink in the experience. If, as the shuttle arcs skyward, you find yourself swallowing a lump in your throat, or blinking away a tear, don’t worry about it, you’ll be in good company.

Freedom star and the return of the solid rocket boosters

I’m not normally a pessimist, but I’ve followed the Shuttle long enough to know that there is no guarantee of an on-time launch. Because I was coming from so far away, I was determined that I would see the thing launch even if it were delayed, and so I planned my trip to stay in Cocoa for several days after the nominal launch date.
Perhaps because I was so well prepared for delays, it was a flawless countdown and on-time launch. Not only did it give me a chance to visit the Orlando theme parks, but it had one unexpected side benefit: On the Thursday morning after the Monday launch, the booster recovery ships returned to port, towing the two white solid rocket boosters that had lofted Atlantis for the first two minutes of her journey to orbit. To get back to the processing facility, they have to come through the lock at Port Canaveral, which is a perfect time to catch them for a photo:

The Freedom Star and a Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster
The Freedom Star and a Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster

It meant an early start on a cold morning, but sure enough, the booster recovery ship Freedom Star came gliding past, with Atlantis’ right hand solid rocket booster in tow.

[Update 5/15 – Somehow, I managed to get my wires crossed. STS-129 was Atlantis, not Discovery. Corrected]

Tweeting the STS-129 Launch

Hey there folks, Rob the many-Moons-ago OotC founder here. (Sorry, Ken, Lunar Library pun very definitely intended ::vbg::)

I still check in on the place regularly, and I have to say I’ve been really impressed with what Ken’s been doing. Someone at NASA must have been as well: Recently, we got invited to attend the STS-129 Shuttle launch Tweet Up and Blogger meeting. Ken couldn’t make it because of LEAG, so with his permission I took the opportunity to travel over from my home base, New Zealand, and represent OotC at the launch.

Which I have to say is a pretty darn cool thing to get to do!

You can follow our coverage of the launch on Twitter via @RobOotC, and also here at the website. Hopefully you’ll get an interesting perspective from a first-time Shuttle launch watcher, and visitor to KSC.

Tomorrow the hundred NASATweetUp guests will be meeting at Kennedy Space Center for the first day of the tweetup event, and a guided tour of KSC. Then on Monday we get to live-tweet the launch (if that’s the right term) from the KSC press area beside the big countdown clock you often see on NASA TV.

Tune in for more over the next few days!

The Moon gets a visitor

There’s lots of talk at the moment about various different nations sending unmanned spacecraft to the Moon. In the meantime, Japan has gone ahead and done it:

Japan’s Kaguya probe slid into lunar orbit late Wednesday after a circuitous 20-day trek from Earth to begin more than a dozen science investigations designed to gain insights about the moon’s history.

The two-ton spacecraft fired its maneuvering thruster for between 10 and 20 minutes at about 2055 GMT (4:55 p.m. EDT) Wednesday, or in the predawn hours Thursday Japanese time, according to JAXA spokesperson Satoki Kurokawa.

“We have completely done it and found no problem,” Kurokawa said.

Congratulations to the Kaguya team!

Happy anniversary, Sputnik!

50 years ago today, the space age began when the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite. That little silver ball started something quite amazing – literally the beginning of the transformation of humanity into a space-faring society.

But, looking back over the last 50 years, we have to acknowledge that, in the grand scale of things, we have only just begun. Cheap, reliable access to space, and cheap reliable operations in the space environment, remain hard nuts to crack.

The work of decades and probably centuries lies ahead.

Putting the ‘spin’ in spin-offs

I don’t much like the spin-offs argument for why we should have a space program. Here’s a good example of why. It’s a weak justification. If you can damn with a faint praise, the spin-off argument is damning with a weak justification. You don’t justify something like the space program on the basis of its serendipitous spin-offs – they’re just accidental bonuses along the way.

Having said that, the space program spawned at least one pretty big accidental bonus.

Coming up on 50 years

No, Out of the Cradle is not that old. But on October the fourth, the Space Age will be. Thursday this coming week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Sputnik-1, the world’s first artificial satellite. Just a small silver ball with four long antennae and a pair of beeping radio transmitters, it blasted into space from the Kazakh steppes of the Soviet Union aboard an R-7 Semyorka ballistic missile. It could be seen gliding across the night sky from most of the surface of the Earth. Its appearance in the heavens marked one of those time-frozen moments when, while everyone gazed upward and wondered, the world changed.

Sputnik-1 heralded the beginning of a race in space that would culminate, less than twelve years later, with the landing of the first human beings on the Moon. But when it happened, its meaning was more pointed – and fearful. The Soviet Union had demonstrated, in a peaceful but unmistakable way, that it possessed a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to any point on the surface of the Earth. And you had only to look up at night, or tune in a ham radio, to know that it was true. The launch of Sputnik was the cold war’s Pearl Harbor. The Soviet demonstration of capability only became more pointed, four days later, with the successful test of a massively powerful hydrogen bomb.

There’s a new documentary film coming out called Sputnik Mania. It details the shock that began the space age with interviews and footage never seen before. OotC is getting a copy soon, and I’ll post a review.

In the meantime, have a think about where the last fifty years in space have taken us. As for the next fifty, one way or another, I suspect they will look a lot different.

Fatal explosion at Mojave Air and Space Port

Details are sketchy, but it looks like the explosion centered around nitrous oxide storage tanks, leading to two fatalities and four serious injuries. A Scaled Composites truck was sighted near the blast. Scaled, maker of the first private craft to reach space, SpaceShipOne, is based at Mojave, and currently developing a larger spacecraft system for Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company owned by Richard Branson. Nitrous oxide is the liquid component of the rocket propellants used by SpaceShipOne’s hybrid rocket motor.

Two Killed After Nitrous Oxide Tanks Explode At Mojave Airport – News Story – KNBC | Los Angeles

Contact established with Genesis II space module, “doing fine”

More from Bigelow. So far, so good:

Bigelow Aerospace Confirms Space Module has Successfully Expanded and Functioning Well

Las Vegas, NV 06/28/07 – Bigelow Aerospace has established contact with its second pathfinder spacecraft, Genesis II. Launched earlier Thursday from Yasny, Russia, Mission Control in North Las Vegas, Nev., made first contact at 2:20 p.m. PDT.

Initial data suggests sufficient voltage powering up Genesis II’s batteries as well as expected air pressure. While the actual confirmation of solar panel deployment and spacecraft expansion are expected later, the data suggests that deployment and expansion have been successful.

Before contact, successful communication was considered a long shot on Genesis II’s first pass over the ground station in Fairfax, Va. Elevation for the pass was considered low for a successful contact.

“We don’t even talk to Genesis I that low,” Program Manager Eric Haakonstad said.

Continue reading

Second private space station prototype launched into orbit

This just arrived from Bigelow Aerospace. Congratulations, guys!

Genesis II Successfully Launched

Bigelow Aerospace Still Awaits Confirmation of Spacecraft Health and Expansion

Las Vegas, NV 06/28/07 – Genesis II, the second experimental pathfinder spacecraft by Bigelow Aerospace, has been successfully launched and inserted into orbit. The privately-funded space station module was launched atop a Dnepr rocket at 8:02 a.m. PDT from the ISC Kosmotras Yasny Cosmodrome located in the Orenburg region of Russia.

Continue reading

Armadillo Aerospace is finally getting noticed

Apparently by some big players:

Somewhat to his surprise, three major aerospace companies are talking to Armadillo Aerospace about flying sensor systems on Armadillo vehicles, using them as high-altitude platforms, Neil Milburn, program manager for Armadillo Aerospace, said in a June 15 interview: Those flights are expected to begin in 2008. While not identifying the customers, Milburn said one of those companies is not a domestic U.S.company.

“So we have finally crossed over into the realm of providing actual value that people care about,” Carmack added.

For years now, John Carmack and his team have been following the mantra of “build a little, test a little” and it looks like they have learned a lot from it. All this with only relatively modest outlays in terms of money and people’s time, by aerospace standards. Maybe there’s something there that the Big Aerospace crowd could learn from that.

In space, no-one can hear you sing in the shower

…because there isn’t a shower.

“Sweat doesn’t fall of you. The water just accumulates until it gets too big and agitated and falls off like a sphere of water. It then floats around until it hits something. It takes a lot of water to fall off.” Imagine huge water balls of sweat bouncing and crashing around mid-air.

Um, yuk. Especially when you take into account that the station crews have to spend an appreciable portion of each day exercising to keep healthy in zero-g. I’m sure the mechanics of making a shower work in microgravity are tricky (the toilet is bad enough), but this sure sounds like a human factors problem waiting for a solution. I wonder what floating globs of sweat do to station electronics?

Atlantis leaves ISS with a new solar array wing


Good to see that construction on the ISS is continuing, although not without some hiccups. There was a problem with the command and control computers in the Russian segment – all six crashed simultaneously, a failure that must have really gotten the attention of everybody on board, and everybody in mission control. Four days of troubleshooting led to a work-around that has the computers back up and operational, but the work-around leaves me a little uneasy. The exact source of the problem is still under investigation, but the immediate symptom was that the surge protection on the computers’ power supply would trip. The ‘fix’ was to have the ISS crew use jumper cables to bypass the surge protectors.

I’m sure that’s a configuration they wont want to stay in for very long.

In the meantime, the visit by shuttle Atlantis and the installation of the new s3/s4 truss and solar array wing went pretty smoothly. Atlantis had a problem with a thermal protection blanket on one of the orbital maneuvering system pods peeling back, but with a little ingenuity and a medical stapler, spacewalking astronaut Danny Olivas has tacked it back down again. Luckily, the problem was in a place where there is not enough thermal heating on re-entry to place the shuttle in danger.

This photo of the ISS, taken by the departing shuttle, gives a good overview of the changed station layout. It sure looks bigger and better with that new solar array wing on board.

Live blogging at Space Access ’07

I’m a little late to the punch here, but the Space Access ’07 conference is well under way, and it’s worth checking out the sterling job being done by the guys live blogging it:

Here’s the agenda for Saturday:

Saturday March 24th
9 am Bill Boland, Teachers In Space
9:20 Sam Dinkin, SpaceShot
9:40 Masten Space
10:20 break
11 am Ken Davidian, “NASA ESMD’s Approach to NewSpace”
11:40 Jeff Greason, XCOR Aerospace
12:30 break for lunch
2 pm Leik Myrabo, Lightcraft Progress
2:40 Panel, The New Space Investment Climate – Esther Dyson,
Stephen Fleming, Joe Pistritto
3:30 break
4 pm Panel, How Are We Doing? – Jeff Foust, Jon Goff, Rand Simberg,
Henry Vanderbilt
4:45 Rick Tumlinson, Space Frontier Foundation
5 pm Paul Breed, Unreasonable Rocket
5:15 Dave Ketchledge, The Next Shuttle
5:30 Alex Bruccoleri
late – Hospitality closes – see you next time!

SpaceX videos, Elon Musk’s thoughts, on today’s Falcon I Demoflight 2 launch

Elon has posted the following statement to the SpaceX website following today’s launch:

The second test launch of Falcon 1 took place today at 6:10 pm California time. The launch was not perfect, but certainly pretty good. Given that the primary objectives were demonstrating responsive launch and gathering test data in advance of our first operational satellite launch later this year, the outcome was great. Operationally responsive (ie fast) launch has become an increasingly important national security objective, so demonstrating rapid loading of propellants and launch in less than an hour, as well as a rapid recycle following the first engine ignition are major accomplishments.

We retired almost all of the significant development risk items, in particular:

– 1st stage ascent past max dynamic pressure

– avionics operation in vacuum and under radiation

– stage separation

– 2nd stage ignition

– fairing separation

– 2nd stage nozzle/chamber at steady state temp in vacuum

Falcon flew far beyond the “edge” of space, typically thought of as around 60 miles. Our altitude was approximately 200 miles, which is just 50 miles below the International Space Station. The second stage didn’t achieve full orbital velocity, due to a roll excitation late in the burn, but that should be a comparatively easy fix once we examine the flight data. Since it is impossible to ground test the second stage under the same conditions it would see in spaceflight, this anomaly was also something that would have been very hard to determine without a test launch.

All in all, this test has flight proven 95+ percent of the Falcon 1 systems, which bodes really well for our upcoming flights of Falcon 1 and Falcon 9, which uses similar hardware. We do not expect any significant delay in the upcoming flights at this point. The Dept of Defense satellite launch is currently scheduled for late Summer and the Malaysian satellite for the Fall.

I’d like to thank DARPA and the Air Force for buying the two test flights and helping us work through a number of challenges over the past year. I’d also like to express my appreciation for the efforts of the Kwajalein Army Range (Reagan Test Site) and we look forward to many more launches in the future.

Finally, thank you to everyone at SpaceX for working so hard to make this a great test. This is a big leap forward for commercial spaceflight!


Additionally, videos of the launch are now available at the SpaceX website’s video gallery.

Congratulations to the SpaceX crew! I hope that the disappointment that this was not a perfect test launch is tempered by the fact that it was in any case a damn good test launch. They will learn from the roll control issue, and go on to great success in their future flights. It’s not possible to overstate the fact that they’ve built a whole new rocket from the ground up, entirely with private money, and on a budget that wouldn’t buy a paper study elsewhere. In the light of that, their success to date is nothing short of spectacular.

Well done, guys! Can’t wait to see the next one fly. Can’t wait for Falcon 9/Dragon. Keep up the good work!

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