SpaceX: Down Not Out

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Guido: Could you choose one single thing, and be faithful to it? Could you make it the one thing that gives your life meaning… just because you believe in it? Could you do that?”
Claudia: I don’t know… could you?”
Guido: No, the character I’m thinking of couldn’t. He wants to possess and devour everything. He can’t pass anything up. He’s afraid he’ll miss something. He’s drained.
Claudia: That’s how the film ends?
Guido: No, that’s how it begins.
Fellini’s 8.5

SpaceX’s Falcon 1 launch (live webcast) from the Marshall Islands is scheduled to launch today. The Falcon 1 rocket measures 90 feet, weighs roughly 103,000 pounds and uses a two stage, liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene vehicle to blast off. SpaceFlightNow has live launch coverage.

UPDATE: A little more than two minutes after launch, the two-stage Falcon 1 rocket appeared to be oscillating before the live signal from an on-board video camera went dead. The rocket stages failed to separate about two minutes and 20 seconds into launch. Here’s a message from Elon Musk.

SpaceX, started up by Elon Musk of PayPal fame, is one of several new commercial companies trying to commercialize space travel, wrestling the mostly government-funded industry into the privatized world. The last time SpaceX tried this on March 24th, 2006, the the vehicle was lost later in the first stage burn.

The Falcon 1 rocket is using SpaceDev’s spacecraft bus to carry:

  • The 184-pound Jumpstart satellite, a multi-pronged effort by the DoD to test Operationally Responsive Space.
  • PRESat, a 10-pound satellite developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center, will be released about 14 minutes after liftoff. The spacecraft’s two-month mission will monitor the growth of microorganisms housed inside a miniature life sciences laboratory.
  • NanoSail-D will be the first satellite to fully deploy a solar sail, which uses light pressure from the sun to change the velocity of objects traveling in space.
  • Also onboard are the cremated remains of more than 200 people, including astronaut Gordon Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan. The ashes are carried in a capsule provided by Space Services Inc.

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.

SpaceX’s backlog includes demonstration flights for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services. The COTS program selected SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to develop new spacecraft to deliver cargo to the international space station after the space shuttle’s retirement in 2010.

The ill-fated flight, the company’s third, took 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 U.S. heavy lift provider with an equatorial launch location. Boeing’s SeaLaunch (on the equator) 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.

The EELV rockets from United Launch Alliance are stuck on the Cape and Vandenburg, less ideal for geosynchronous orbit.

SeaLaunch is an international consortium as is Lockheed’s International Launch Services at Cape Canaveral and Baikonur. 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.

The Government Accountability Office recently concluded that the EELV program racked up cost overruns of $13.2 billion, 70 percent above the approved budget of $18.8 billion. Taxpayers began subsidizing duplicative efforts because both companies guessed there would be a commercial market for giant satellites, lowering unit cost for the military.

They guessed wrong.

The United Launch Alliance is merging the two EELV programs (see DW: EELV Rocket Program Merges). Congressional leaders are asking how the government’s contribution to the EELV rocket project grew $14.44 billion over budget and counting, from $17 billion total to almost $32 billion in a few years. Taxpayers subsidized two of America’s biggest aerospace companies to keep them in the launch business, reports Florida Today.

About 90 percent of the NRO workforce receive paychecks from private corporations. The generals at Boeing, Lockheed and contractors like SAIC and Booz Allen may have their own war to fight — killing SpaceX competition and maintaining the flow of taxpayer subsidies and stock options to their EELV program and for the NASA Ares Moon rocket. Human-rating the EELVs would be an expensive proposition, so NASA’s military handlers, contractors (and taxpayers) are spending billions more on Ares. The tab for Ares has yet to come in.

The Air Force’s EELV cost overrun of $14B was nearly as much as NASA’s entire annual budget and three times what NASA has overspent so far on the International Space Station, something that drew cries of waste and mismanagement from Congress. For those in doubt, United Space Alliance says it “is committed to sound ethics and to every member of the company maintaining the highest levels of honesty and integrity”.

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

TacSat-1 & TacSat-2 were also 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.

Mitsubishi Electric was the first Japanese company to enter the commercial communications satellite market with the Superbird 7 communication satellite, ordered by Japan’s Space Communications Corporation. It hopes to launch August 13th.

French Guiana, the South American nation near the equator, is home to the ArianeSpace where heavy lifters like Ariane 5 (right), are able to loft the heaviest telecom satellites in production or on the drawing boards.

Arianespace now has 24 shareholders from 10 European countries (including the French space agency CNES with 34%, EADS with 30%, and European companies participating in the production of Ariane launchers. The European Space Agency (ESA), is the European equivalent of NASA.

In 2018, the United States, European countries, Russia, and China plan to send manned lunar exploration missions with the possibility of a base construction on the moon.

George Dyson tells the amazing story of Project Orion (below), a massive, 1957-era nuclear-powered spacecraft that would have taken a crew of 20 to Saturn.

Orion would have worked by dropping thermonuclear bombs out the rear of a vehicle, detonating them 200 feet (60 m) out, and catching the blast with a thick steel or aluminum pusher plate.

Space news resources include; SpaceDaily,, Space News, SpaceFlightNow, SpaceRef, Florida Today, Arizona Public Media, CBS News, Fox News, CNN, Discovery: Mars Lander, MSNBC, Berkeley Space Physics, Johns Hopkins, Ball Aerospace, NASA Sites, NASA Space Data Center, Deep Space Network, The Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander, Nova: MARS Dead or Alive, Nova: Origins, Nova: Lord of the Ants, SpaceRef Extremophiles, Astrobiology Magazine, Committee on Space Research, Outer Space Treaty, Space Studies Board Annual Report 2007, NASA Astrobiology Institute, SETI, Are We Alone?, Alien Infection, Bring Em Back Alive, JPL, Upcoming Planetary Launches and Events, UCS Satellite Database and Florida Today’s Space and Missile Launch Database, Google News, Yahoo Space News, Yahoo Full Coverage and Nasa TV.

Related DailyWireless stories include; Mars Landing Sunday, U.S. Antisatellite Weapon to be Tested, F.I.A. FUBAR, Space Cold War, Chinese Destroy Satellite – Create Space Debris Field, Space Radar Launch, Satellite Jam, Lockheed CEO: Space is Broken, NRO Rides Again, T-Minus 10 for Space X, Routers in Space, Canaveral Double Header for DOD, Space Capsule, Small Satellite Conference, SkyNet Satellite Hacked?, Russian Satellite Zapped?, Satellites from Subs, Advanced EHF – Wait for It, EELV Rocket Program Merges, Space Mist, Tracking the NRO, and Rocket Welfare.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Saturday, August 2nd, 2008 at 4:30 pm .

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