There has been quite a heated debate about the whole SpaceX Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle issue recently on twitter and in the press. This article discusses this debate and our views on the situation.
As you may remember SpaceX filed suit last month Elon Musk announced that SpaceX were filing a suit against the US Air Force (USAF) protesting the United Launch Alliance (ULA) block purchase which had been award without any competition.
Since this happened the debate seems to be firmly split into two camps, those who fully support SpaceX’s actions and those who don’t. Having viewed both sides of the debate we can see valid points from both camps.
Should SpaceX have the chance to compete? Yes regardless of whether they have proven to date that they can reliably launch payloads they should have the chance to compete against ULA.
What if they lose anyway? As Elon Musk stated when they filed the suit they just want the chance to compete, if the USAF decide that ULA is still the better option then they would have to accept that and move on. If they were to compete today we believe they would absolutely lose because they just don’t have the track record yet.
What happens if a launch fails? As with any launch provider if they lose a payload due to a launch failure then they would have to investigate to determine what went wrong and then prove that they have addressed the issue before having the chance to launch again. The bigger question is can they survive a launch failure? That is really an unknown at this point, it would really depend on what caused the failure and what would be involved in resolving it.
They don’t have the same launch capacities as ULA so can’t compete? That is correct as of today they can only compete for the smaller payloads, however once the Falcon Heavy rocket is complete and has been flown a few times SpaceX will have the ability to launch larger payloads than any of the ULA rocket combinations currently available.
Why did they sue USAF? To highlight the fact that a large order had been placed without any competition.
What about all the delays? SpaceX are still a young company compared with ULA or any of the other launch providers and therefore have a lot more to lose if something goes wrong as I said before here.
So what is next for SpaceX? This debate is not going to go away anytime soon, personally we believe that SpaceX should just knuckle down and get back on track with the launches they have on the books already. The more flights they complete over the next 18 months and if they can reduce the number of delays we believe they will be in a much better position to compete for the USAF contracts.
Fourth time is a charm for SpaceX as they finally launch six Orbcomm OG2 satellites to orbit. This morning’s launch which was delayed slightly to resolve a ground system issue lifted off at 11:15 am EDT when the nine Merlin 1D engine’s on the first stage roared to life. Ten minutes later the second stage completed it’s planned burn leaving the craft in it’s intended orbit.
SpaceX webcast the launch up to the point where the second stage finished firing, separation of the satellites will occur later once the spacecraft reaches the desired drop off locations.
Update 12:04 pm EDT – Marc Eisenberg CEO of Orbcomm tweeted that all six satellites were successfully deployed.
Update 1:27 pm EDT – Elon Musk tweeted updates on re-entry of first stage
Below are some screen captures of the launch.
As most of us have seen SpaceX have suffered a number of delays recently, one of these was due to a customer concern, another due to a range failure. However the majority have been due to problems internal to SpaceX.
I have seen many posts complaining about these delays and the lack of information from SpaceX. If I am totally honest I have been one of those complaining.
However when I put my business hat on I can understand these delays and this article tries to explain them from an outsiders perspective.
First SpaceX is a private business and while Space Launches are exciting for the fans they are the revenue stream for SpaceX. SpaceX cannot afford to have a launch fail and any indication that something is not right on the vehicle could lead to that failure, therefore it makes sense to me that they would rather delay a little while investigating so they can be confident that the launch will be as successful as possible.
Second SpaceX is looking to expand into the lucrative Government contract business and while they have passed initial Certification requirements for Falcon 9 any failure could impact the changes of being award these regardless of the cost difference.
Third any failure would give fuel to all the detractors of SpaceX, and there are plenty of them still despite how successful SpaceX have been so far.
Fourth SpaceX are currently competing to launch crews on the same Falcon 9 rocket that is used today, any failure could impact the changes on this continuing.
So while it is frustrating for all of us who support SpaceX and the vision Elon Musk has for the future of cargo and manned spaceflight we also have to understand that there is far too much riding on each launch for them to ignore any concerns.
Recently SpaceX said they would not be Live Streaming the launches because they had become routine, however this isn’t the case as these delays have proven.
This afternoon a Soyuz rocket lifted off from Guiana Space Centre carrying four 03b satellites to orbit. These satellites will complement the existing 03b satellites that are already in orbit and provide high speed internet around the world.
The rocket lifted off as expected at 2:55 pm EDT, 2m later the four strap-on boosters completed their job and separated from the main stage which continued upward. 4m into the flight the fairing protecting the satellites was ejected having served it’s purpose. After 5m 15s the third stage took over and continued to power the rocket into space as the second stage fell away below it. 9m 40s into the flight the third stage shutdown leaving the Fregat upper stage and satellites in orbit to begin their journey.
The Fregat stage performed three separate burns to deliver the the first two satellites to their drop off location, once they separated successfully Fregat fired one more time so the other two satellites could separate correctly.
O3b’s Steve Collar confirmed that Ground stations have acquired signals from all four satellites launched today.
It’s going to be a busy few days with three separate launches. Later today at 2:55 PM EDT a Soyuz is scheduled to liftoff from French Guiana carrying four satellites for O3b Networks. Then on Saturday 7/12 at 01:14 PM EDT an Antares is scheduled to liftoff from Wallops Island carrying a Cygnus spacecraft for the International Space Station. And finally on Monday 7/14 at 09:21 AM EDT a Falcon 9 is scheduled to liftoff from Cape Canaveral carrying six OG2 satellites.
Check back here over the next few days for updates to these missions and where possible launch pictures and news.