T-Minus 10 for Space X

Posted by Sam Churchill on

It’s T minus ten for SpaceX which is scheduled to launch their Falcon 1 rocket with a test payload from the Air Force Academy‚Äôs satellite program (FalconSat-2) in 10 minutes, 1pm Pacific Standard time, (webcast).

UPDATE: The rocket had a successful liftoff and made it well clear of the launch pad, but unfortunately the vehicle was lost later in the first stage burn. SpaceFlightNow and other Aerospace news sites have more.

Designed from the ground up by SpaceX, and funded by PayPal Billionaire Elon Musk, Falcon 1 is a two stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and purified, rocket grade kerosene.

The maiden flight will take place from the Kwajalein Atoll (Live Blog), in the Marshall Islands. SpaceX says their Falcon 1 rocket includes lots of firsts:

  • It will be the first privately developed, liquid fueled rocket to reach orbit and the world’s first all new orbital rocket in over a decade.
  • The main engine of Falcon 1 (Merlin) will be the first all new American hydrocarbon engine for an orbital booster to be flown in forty years and only the second new American booster engine of any kind in twenty-five years.
  • The Falcon 1 is the only rocket flying 21st century avionics, which require a small fraction of the power and mass of other systems.
  • It will be the world’s only semi-reusable orbital rocket apart from the Shuttle.
  • Priced at $6.7 million a pop, it will provide the lowest cost per flight to orbit of any launch vehicle in the world, despite receiving a design reliability rating equivalent to that of the best launch vehicles currently flying in the United States.

SpaceX is the only US heavy lift provider with an equatorial launch location. Boeing’s SeaLaunch is an international consortium as is Lockheed’s International Launch Services at Cape Canaveral and Baikonur. Sea Launch uses a Russian-made rocket on a modified ocean drilling platform, but does not have the capacity of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), the heavy lifters from Boeing and Lockheed.SpaceX challenged the legality of the launch services monopoly by Boeing and Lockheed. They plan to compete for heavy lift government launch contracts with the yet-to-be-built Falcon 5 rocket.

Taxpayer contributions to the EELV program shot to $17 billion in the $34 billion program. Taxpayers are subsidizing duplicative efforts because both companies guessed there would be a commercial market for giant satellites, lowering unit cost for the military.

There wasn’t.

The United Launch Alliance will merge the EELV programs (see DW: EELV Rocket Program Merges).

The customer for the first SpaceX mission is DARPA and the Air Force with FalconSat-2. The target orbit is 400 km X 500 km (just above the International Space Station) at an inclination of 39 degrees.

TacSat-1 & TacSat-2 are scheduled to go aloft. TacSat 4 will feature a standardized satellite platform that the Air Force will be able to buy in bulk and adapt to a variety of future missions. Meanwhile, the Air Force has been developing space-based weapons such as the XSS-11, launched a year ago, which is developing the ability to disrupt or destroy other satellites.

The Space Test Program, managed by the Space & Missile Center, Detachment 12, at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, has launched over 400 space technology experiments in the past 40 years.

In other space news, a Pegasus rocket from Orbital Sciences successfully launched the three microsatellites that comprise NASA’s Space Technology 5 (ST5) mission Wednesday morning.

The Pegasus XL was dropped from its L-1011 aircraft and ignited its engine at 9:04 am, off the coast from central California. The three ST5 spacecraft were successfully placed into an elliptical orbit ranging in altitude between 300 and 4,500 kilometers about 20 minutes later.

Seattle-based KCTS produced the odoriferous Kenneth Tomlinson era tale, Exploring Space: The Quest for Life. The $900,000 PBS show, funded by “the estate of Boeing engineer Sperry Goodman”, explains how greenhouse gases could teraform Mars. It smelled like an unsophisticated infomercial by Boeing, laundered through a non-profit front.

Compare and contrast with Paula Apsel’s, The Great Robot Race. Why should we believe what NASA says?

Anyone who watches movies (or reads history), knows that “scientific research” satellites are sometimes used as “fronts” for military missions.

What if there were two NASAs.

What if the warm and fuzzy NASA that everyone knows and loves, the one that advances human knowledge for all mankind, was a sham?

What if there were a “black” NASA. One developing nuclear powerpacks and other technology for the military. A “black NASA” might be run by retired generals and aerospace execs pushing the “Men on Mars” or “far side of the Moon” programs (and we’re not picking on The Aerospace Corporation). The black NASA would channel money from DARPA and other sources to develop “dual use” programs.

What if the the “black NASA” were a rogue agency. What if its main purpose was to make a buck?

Just wondering.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, March 24th, 2006 at 5:49 am .