SpaceX nails the GTO Landing

SpaceX successfully launched the JCSAT 14 satellite this week for SKY Perfect JSAT, and once again landed the Falcon 9 first stage on the ASDS “Of Course I Still Love You”.

Unlike the landing during the CRS-8 mission this was more complicated due to the speed of the first stage booster at separation. According to a SpaceX spokesperson during the live broadcast the stage was travelling twice as fast. This required that three of the engines be used for the landing burn instead of the one previously.

During the broadcast it almost looked like the first stage had crashed into OCISLY but once the smoke cleared and the lights on the drone ship came on it was clear that the stage was sitting almost in the center of the landing zone. This is the third landing of the Falcon 9 first stage and as Elon Musk tweeted they are going to need to find more space if they keep this going.

Video of the Launch and Landing can be found here

SpaceX CRS-8 launches successfully – First Stage Lands

crs8patchTen months after the failed CRS-7 launch SpaceX resumed their servicing missions to the International Space Station today with the successful launch of their Dragon spacecraft.

Following a smooth countdown the Falcon 9 lifted off at 4:43 pm EDT to begin a 10 minute climb to orbit.

As with previous launches SpaceX also attempted to land the first stage on the Drone Ship after it had completed it’s job getting the 2nd stage and Dragon on their way.  Unlike previous attempts to land on the Drone Ship this time they were successful.

Dragon is now in orbit and making it’s way towards a capture on Sunday.

Launch Video

Landing Video

SpaceX launches SES-9

SpaceX_SES-9SpaceX continued it’s 2016 launch campaign today with the successful delivery of the SES-9 satellite to orbit.  This was the third successful launch since the June 2015 failure and the second launch of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust version of the rocket.

SpaceX attempted the launch several times but had to scrub due to several reasons including LOX cooling/loading issues, wayward boats and severe wind sheer.

The vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 18:35 EST today following a smooth countdown.  Once in orbit the second stage re-started to allow the payload to be delivered to the desired orbit.

To allow SES to make the SES-9 satellite operational as quickly as possible SpaceX forgo the chance to return the first stage to the Cape and instead elected to attempt another landing at sea on there Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Of Course I still Love You”.

Below are screen grabs of the launch

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SpaceX achieve another important milestone

While driving to work this morning I heard how SpaceX suffered another setback yesterday due to the destruction of the first stage after it landed.

It seems to me that people are focusing on the wrong thing here, yes the end result of the EXPERIMENTAL LANDING was a failure because they were not able to recover the first stage.

First Stage approaching Drone Ship
First Stage approaching Drone Ship

However SpaceX did achieve an important milestone yesterday, they were able to land the first stage on the Drone Ship which was floating in the pacific ocean, this in itself is an amazing achievement and further proves that they are moving in the right direction.

The reason the first stage was lost was due to the failure of one of the landing legs to log into place correct, as explained by Elon Musk himself.

I have no doubt that SpaceX will determine what changes are needed to the landing leg system to ensure that that the failure can’t happen again.

So in summary yes another destroyed first stage but also further progress in recovering them.

SpaceX returns to flight and sticks the landing

SpaceX returned to flight operations yesterday after an almost six month break following the June CRS-7 accident.  During that time SpaceX took the opportunity to upgrade the rocket the changes which included denser liquid oxygen, longer second stage allowed them to provide more thrust (approx 30%) while also keep enough fuel to attempt a landing back at Cape Canaveral.

The upgraded rocket known as the Falcon 9 Full Trust performed flawlessly delivering the 11 ORBCOMM satellites to there designated orbits as well as landing the first stage, something that they had attempted at sea several times but never actually achieved with the flight F9.

We haven’t heard if the second stage re-light test was successful or not, this wasn’t needed for this flight but will be important for the SES launch coming up soon.

An exciting new era is space launch has opened up with this landing and despite the war of words between Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (whose Blue Origin recently landed there own first stage) and SpaceX’s Elon Musk on which achievement was more technically challenging we are going to see changes in the industry because of it.

SpaceX moves a step closer to Return To Flight

SpaceX has completed the first static fire test of their enhanced Falcon 9 rocket as they move closer to return to flight.  The upgraded rocket (name not yet known) uses Full Thrust Merlin 1D engines, previous flights the engines had only been run at 85% thrust.

This upgrade which was already in the works before the June accident that has grounded the Falcon 9 will allow larger payloads to be launched and still allow the company to attempt to land the first stage.

See video below of the test at SpaceX’s Mcgregor, Texas test site.

When will Falcon 9 Return to Flight

It has been 9 weeks since the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch failure, and with the exception of one update from Elon Musk on 20th July we have not heard anything further on the return to flight of the Falcon 9.

The initial investigation found that a strut in the second stage oxygen tank failed at 1/5 the load it was designed to withstand resulting in the helium bottle used to pressurize the tank dislodging and catastrophically damaging the tank, this lead to the explosion and failure of the mission.  During the announcement into the failure it became clear that this part had not been tested internally by SpaceX before the accident, subsequent tests showed that other samples of the strut also failed below their designed limits.

It became clear very quickly after the accident that Dragon had survived the initial explosion and was seen flying away from the exploding rocket.  This was confirmed by Elon and they continued to receive telemetry from Dragon until if dropped beyond the horizon.  Unfortunately the vehicle was lost when it crashed into the ocean.

During the initial report Elon announced several changes that would be coming for future flights which are expected to resume in September.

  1. SpaceX will no longer use these particular structs within the vehicle – It is our understanding that this part is useful throughout the vehicle so this change itself will be quite significant, as they already have cores built we also don’t know how much work it will be to modify those.
  2. SpaceX will implement additional hardware quality audits throughout the vehicle – This will add additional time to the build process and therefore additional cost, some of which may be passed on to customers, although Elon indicated that may not be the case.
  3. SpaceX will update the Dragon software to allow deployment on chutes in case of future failures – Elon indicated that this this was just a software change, if so that would be a relatively easy change as deployment is already build in for return.

So the question now is when will the flights resume and what will be the first payload to be flown?

Update: We have seen several comments that indicate that RTF could be November or even end of year.  With no news from SpaceX it is hard to dispute or verify these statements.  For now we are sticking with a September RTF pending further official information from SpaceX.

Update 8/31: It would appear from comments by SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell that RTF is still a couple of months away (see tweets below)

Shotwell also announced that RTF will also be the first flight of the more powerful Merlin engines

Update 9/1: Further news today regarding SpaceX missions later this year, the CRS-8 mission to ISS is now scheduled to fly 9/15 according to the post below. The mission will still carry the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module in the trunk.

SpaceX releases preliminary data on 6/28 Falcon 9 failure

More than three weeks ago during the launch of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station the Falcon 9 second stage suffered an anomaly that resulted in the lost of the spacecraft and its payloads.

Today Elon Musk announced that the preliminary investigation into the accident indicates that a strut inside the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) tank on the 2nd stage failed causing the liquid helium bottle to dislodge and hit the top of the LOX tank causing the explosion.  Elon stressed multiple times during the call that this is a preliminary result so far.

 

SpaceX have tested 1000s of the struts since the accident and have found a number of failures below rated value, including one that failed below 2,000 lbs.

During the call Elon admitted that SpaceX did not perform Quality Control on the strut that failed and instead relied in the part meeting the specification as provided by the supplier.  They will be revising their processes to ensure all parts of the rocket are fully QCed for future flights.  While this will increase SpaceX costs during construction of the rocket they didn’t expect it to have much if any of an impact on the cost of the rocket.

Elon also announced that Dragon V1 didn’t have the ability to deploy the chutes in case of an emergency during ascent, the next flight will have the ability should it be needed which would have most likely have resulted in pressurized cargo being saved. They expect to delay flights until September but at present don’t know who will be the first flight manifest will most likely change.  Again because this is preliminary so may change should another cause become obvious.

Elon also announced that due to the investigation the flight of Falcon Heavy will most likely be delayed until April 2016.  

Elon also admitted that most of the people who now work for SpaceX have never seen a failure due to all the successful launches in the last seven years.  This had caused most of them to become complacent about the difficulty of launching rockets.  They have now learned the hard way just what is involved. 

Is No News Good News for the #SpaceX accident

On the 5th July Elon Tweeted the following

However it is now 11 days later and we still haven’t heard any news on what caused the 28th June explosion that doomed the CRS-7 mission to the International Space Station.

Does the lack of news mean that they found something that they cannot explain or worse still found something that involved another party and need to handle the issue careful?

At this time it is difficult to say what is happening, all we know or certain is that NASA and the FAA are closely monitoring the investigation and I am sure we will hear eventually what they found and what needs to be done to address it.

In the meantime we will continue to speculate on what it could have been as is human nature and then see how close or far from the truth we were.

Was the SpaceX accident due to Sabotage?

As we continue to wait for information from SpaceX on the cause of the Jun 28th accident that resulted in the loss of the CRS-7 mission a number of people have asked this question.

Today we want to look at this scenario and see just how unlikely it is.

It is no secret that SpaceX have made waves in the space launch industry with there pricing and until this flight the success of the Falcon 9 rocket. To start our investigation we start with SpaceX themselves.

SpaceX
If someone internally was able to sabotage the vehicle this would present some major issues for SpaceX including.

1) During the US Air Force certification Security would have been discussed due to the nature of some of the payloads. If SpaceX were not able to stop an employee from sabotaging the rocket that would impact any chances of getting USAF launches in the future.

2) Security is also important to Commercial customers as they don’t want anyone just walking into the assembly building and being able to mess with their payload.

3) If SpaceX’s processes are so lack that someone was left alone long enough with the rocket to be able to sabotage it they again would have some difficult questions to answer from customers.

Boeing
The next suspect that has been mentioned several times is Boeing, while they are competitors both in space launch with United Launch Alliance and Commercial Crew there is no real benefits to Boeing in destroying SpaceX at this point.

1) Boeing need the International Docking Adapter that was destroyed in the accident in order to dock their CST-100 spacecraft to the station. At present Dragon is the only vehicle capable of transporting it.

2) If sabotage was proven against Boeing it would severely damage their reputation within the market place both with NASA and Commercially and while they have a proven success record they would be remember more for this than the successes.

Other Commercial Cargo/Crew competitors
There is no doubt that this accident came at a very inconvenient time for SpaceX with the award of the CRS-2 contracts coming in September. And this could benefit some of the other players however just as with Boeing any provable sabotage would have a negative impact on their chances.

Russia
Russia have had their own launch issues recently with the Proton launch issues, the Progress failure earlier this year. If they were not having all of these reliability issues they would certainly benefit from SpaceX failing or becoming more expensive as a result of the accident. However it seems very unlikely that Russia would waste the resources needed to convince someone at SpaceX to sabotage the rocket or be able to sneak someone into place to be able to do so.

Arianespace/European Space Agency
It is no secret that some European leaders do not like SpaceX due to the disruption they have caused. However as with the other competitors it is very unlikely that they would bother waste resources to sabotage SpaceX, again any provable sabotage would damage there reputation.

China
We can’t dismiss China at this point, they have shown they are capable of achieving manned spaceflight joining only a small group of nations. And while they would probably not care what others think if provable sabotage was proven it would still cause political issues longer term and there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to China.

Summary
So in summary the chances of sabotage are very small as no-one really would benefit from it and it would force SpaceX to face some serious questions about their processes/security.