The next big step towards private capacity for human space fight has been taken, and the Crew Dragon module from SpaceX has been delivered to Cape Canaveral for testing.
Plans are to launch the capsule on an un-piloted test later this year in order to assess the performance of key systems and, most importantly, the safety and reliability of the module before human lives are trusted to it. Estimates are that SpaceX should be able to complete the certification process by early 2019, though both they and Boeing are thought to be running behind on their programs. This has the potential for leaving a gap in access to the ISS due to the end of the collaboration with the Russians to use their Soyuz rocket to fly our people.
While this would be an unfortunate eventuality, it is still likely for the best since it will force progress on the NASA side, and should help remove any potential roadblocks that may be inclined to delay the process unduly.
(Image Credit: Miguel Roberts / The Brownsville Herald)
As steady progress is made on the BFR tooling at the Port of LA, parallel work continues at the SpaceX spaceport at Boca Chica, Texas. Leased in 2014 and named as a future site of high activity for their developing efforts and aspirations, activity at the TX site has been somewhat understated since then. However, the impending ramp-up of massive activity which is sure to accompany the roll-out of the Big ‘Falcon’ Rocket has all systems go at the southern site. The arrival of this liquid oxygen (LOX) tank is a sure sign of that.
This massive tank can hold nearly as much as 20 tanker trucks, and “will be used to support propellant-loading operations during launch and vehicle tests” said Sean Pitt of SpaceX. Musk’s ever-optimistic (yet increasingly plausible) timelines target 2019 for the first ‘hopper’ flights of the BFR and he has previously stated that the first humans to depart for another planet may very well leave from the Texas spaceport. Keeping that excitement high as always!
The site is expected to be up and operational by the end of 2018. It already has 600 kilowatts of solar arrays on site, as well as a pair of 86-ton ground station antennas that are currently used to monitor the Dragon resupply missions to the ISS.
SpaceX is once again getting ready to resupply the ISS, as part of their ongoing contract with NASA to provide that vital service. The launch is scheduled for 5:41am Eastern on June 29th, from pad SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral. The hardware for this mission will include both a previously flown Falcon booster as well as a previously flown Dragon capsule.
It’s exciting that the development of the Crew Dragon is moving ahead strongly, and every launch of the existing resupply dragon capsule provides more data and more assurance that the systems are up to the challenge of safely launching and returning astronauts. What a relief it will be soon, to have that capacity within our own control after many years of outsourcing.
As construction of the BFR is underway at the Port of LA, we are all trying to imagine just how Big this Falcon Rocket is really going to be. Well, some enterprising soul put together a captivating video that helps us to comprehend the size, and it must be accurate enough for Musk to re-tweet. So – in case you haven’t seen it, have a look at how big this Falcon Rocket really is!
Well Gazetteers, it’s last minute, but here’s an update that all of us night owls will (probably) get to see the next Falcon 9 launch at 12:45am Eastern, from Cape Canaveral. This mission is to establish the new SES communication satellite in orbit, providing a high level of broadband availability to Asian-Pacific and Middle East regions.
Unfortunately, as reported previously, this is a Block 4 booster, so recovery will not be attempted with this launch. Pretty soon, everything will be Block 5 and we can count on a smooth touchdown on the droneship or mainland pad every time.
Here at the Mars Gazette, we are fans of Lego – as are most sentient beings. It is therefore with great delight that we direct your attention to the Lego Ideas line (sets driven by ideas from the fan community) which is currently voting on a tremendous SpaceX set! It comes not only with a Falcon 9, a Falcon heavy and a Dragon Capsule, but also a Roadster and mini-Starman.
Bop on over to the Lego site and cast your free, no obligation vote of support for this set. If they hit 10,000 then there’s a good chance they will produce it!
While other companies (I can’t even call them competitors) are scrambling to catch up to where SpaceX was in February, the incredible pace of development has not ceased, and all systems are go on the new BFR Mars rocket!
The new Raptor engine, which will be used in a 31-engine configuration to power the BFR, has undergone over 1,200 seconds of static firing tests so far, with the longest one running for 100 seconds. For those readers who want some power numbers, the new engine will produce thrust of 1,700 kilonewtons with a specific impulse of 330 seconds at sea level.
Specific Impulse is a measure of how effectively a rocket uses propellant, ie. the change in momentum delivered per unit of propellant consumed.
The first BFR missions are still on track for 2022, when the cargo train to Mars will start to run. That will allow SpaceX to send supplies in advance of manned missions, and I assure you they are developing robots and non-hostile AI to assist with remote construction duties. It’s clear that exciting news of this new venture will be coming out on a near-daily basis, and we will be here to cover it!
Mark your calendars for the next Falcon 9 launch, currently on the books for May 31st, 2018. The rocket will blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s pad SLC-40 and will be carrying a communications satellite (SES-12) for European telecom giant SES. Current indications are that this will be an older model Block 4 booster which is not planned to be recovered sadly. Pretty soon they will only have Block 5 hardware available and then we will be in the era of major and continuous reuse.
Get ready for the next Falcon 9 launch, Tuesday 5/22/2018 at 12:47pm PDT (3:47pm EDT) from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vanderberg Air Force Base in California. This mission will loft NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, an extension of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment which was retired in 2017. These precision instruments are intended to track the movement of water on Earth, and are also able to monitor the planet’s gravitational fields. This data will be used to track the planet’s distribution of mass, and to refine models of the ocean and climate.
Also launching tomorrow are Iridium Satellites 51-55, which are part of the ongoing construction of the 75 satellite Iridium NEXT worldwide network. This advanced network is intended to provide L-band data speeds of up to 128 kbit/s to mobile devices, along with improved service to marine terminals and high-speed Ka-band service. The Ka-band allows for higher bandwidth communication and is often part of modern satellite communication protocols.
The booster for this mission is a Falcon 9 Block 4, which is not intended to be recovered. Pretty soon all missions will be flown with the highly reusable block 5 rockets, which will ensure a landing show every time.
The deploy of this varied cargo turns out to be a pretty interesting challenge for tomorrow’s launch, as it must happen at two very different spots along the voyage. The NASA GRACE-FO mission needs to be deployed at 300 miles of elevation, which is intended to take place midway through the 2nd stage burn, so it seems. The burn will pause at the 305 mile mark, the NASA payload will be deployed, then burn will recommence and continue to a 500 mile elevation for the Iridium hardware. This all sounds like yet another amazing plan and raises the bar once again for what can be done with commercial (and low cost!) rocketry. Hopefully the cams will be working and we will all get a heck of a show!
Today’s inaugural launch of the new Block 5 model of the Falcon 9 workhorse from SpaceX went off without a hitch, boosting still further the overall confidence in their tight program. What is of greater import, however, is the confidence in the Block 5 booster, which certainly had a strong foundation laid today.
It should be taken as a point of national concern, and may be seen as such over the previous 10 years since the shuttle program was mothballed, that the United States is unable to ourselves launch an astronaut into space, relying instead on leasing space on Russian craft. It must conversely be seen as a point of national pride that SpaceX is poised to return that capability to native soil, and is ready to begin transporting crew, via their Crew Dragon capsule, to a from the International Space Station, requiring only the certification and blessing of NASA to do so. If my figures are correct, this will require 7 successful launches of the new Block 5 model booster, the first of which was handily conducted today.
Let’s keep a careful and excited count of those successful missions, and make sure that NASA is good to their word. SpaceX will have our bravest men and women back on their way to space before you know it!
Media of interest – beautiful shots of the Crew Dragon interior:
And my favorite sizzle reel from March with the big payoff at the end: