SpaceX

The new BFR: How SpaceX’s giant rocket-spaceship combo for Mars has changed

SpaceX’s Mars-colonizing Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) spaceflight system just went through a growth spurt. The reusable rocket-spaceship duo will stand 387 feet (118 meters) tall at launch, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said Monday (Sept. 17) during a webcast event at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. That’s 11 percent taller than the previous design iteration, which the billionaire entrepreneur laid out in September 2017. Most of that increase comes courtesy of the BFR spaceship, whose length jumped from 157.5 feet to 180 feet (48 to 55 m). And the spaceship has changed in other important ways as well. For example, the 2017 iteration featured six Raptor engines, four of which were big-nozzled vacuum versions optimized for in-space use. But now, SpaceX envisions placing seven Raptors on the ship, all of which will be the same “sea-level” engines that power the huge BFR rocket. In addition, the 100-passenger BFR ship will now feature two movable fins near its nose and two larger ones near its tail — changes thath will help the vehicle maneuver its way to safe landings on worlds with atmospheres, such as Earth and Mars. (The ship will fall like a skydiver rather than fly like an airplane during its landings, however. It will touch down vertically after slowing its descent via engine firings, as the first stages of SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets do now. Such propulsion-based systems are needed for spacecraft to land on airless bodies like the moon, Musk stressed.) Those two rear “actuated” fins will also serve as landing pads, as will a leg back there that’s styled to look like a fin for symmetry and aesthetic purposes, Musk said. The 2017 version of the BFR spaceship didn’t have any front fins, and it sported just two rear “delta wings,” which weren’t part of the landing-leg system. “I think this design is probably on par with the other one,” Musk said during Monday night’s event. “It might be better. It’s slightly riskier technically, because of coupling legs and sort of the actuating wing-fin flaps . But I think it’s the right decision overall. I think it looks beautiful.” He also cited the new design’s resemblance to the rocket used by the comic-book character Tintin in the 1954 adventure “Explorers on the Moon.” “I love the Tintin rocket design, so I kind of wanted to bias it towards that,” Musk said. “If in doubt, go with Tintin.” Despite its recent growth, the BFR is still smaller than it was at birth, when it was known as the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). Musk unveiled the ITS architecture at a conference in Mexico in September 2016, announcing that the vehicle would stand 400 feet tall (122 m) and be 40 feet (12 m) wide. That girth was scaled down to 30 feet (9 m) in the 2017 update and remains the same today. Indeed, there shouldn’t be many big changes to the booster or spaceship going forward, Musk said Monday night. “I feel like this is the final iteration in terms of broad architectural decisions for BFR, BFS [Big Falcon Spaceship],” he said (though he did later add that the next version of the spaceship will probably also feature some vacuum Raptors). The architecture update was a bit of a sidelight Monday night. The main point of the event was to introduce Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the person who bought a round-the-moon flight aboard the BFR that could launch as soon as 2023, if development and testing of the vehicle go smoothly. Maezawa said he plans to take six to eight artists with him on the mission, which he is calling #dearMoon. He expects the works they create after returning to Earth to be transformative. “These masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us,” Maezawa said. Musk praised Maezawa’s bravery and said his purchase (the cost of which was not disclosed) will help the development of the BFR significantly. SpaceX envisions the BFR eventually ferrying people to the moon, Mars and other worlds on a regular basis, helping humanity extend its footprint into the solar system. “The BFR is really intended as an interplanetary transport system that’s capable of getting from Earth to anywhere in the solar system, as you establish propellant depots along the way,” Musk said.

Very cool!!   Go SpaceX!   🙂

US Air Force picks SpaceX for 2020 satellite launch

Back in 2014, SpaceX decided to sue the US government after the military gave United Launch Alliance (ULA) a sweetheart deal for sending government payloads into space. The reason was simple: a complete lack of competition for 36 launches. The end result was a settlement and SpaceX receiving certification for launches. As CNN reports, SpaceX’s lawsuit was worth the effort as the US Air Force just opted to award SpaceX a contract for the launch of a military satellite in 2020. The only other bidder, ULA, was unsuccessful and isn’t commenting. This counts as SpaceX’s second military contract, but the first that will use a Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket. The Air Force refers to it as an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) launch service contract. SpaceX has been awarded a “$130 million firm-fixed price contract for launch services to deliver Air Force Space Command (AFSPC)-52 satellite to the intended orbit.” It sees the company provide a total launch solution with the launch happening at some point in 2020 from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The AFSPC-52 is part of a classified mission, so we have no idea what systems it will be carrying into orbit. However, it will be operated by the Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center, which specializes in, “Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.”

French: Falcon Heavy Is Making America Great Again

Not long ago I, toured the National Air and Space Museum’s immense Steven F. Udvar Center, located near Dulles airport. It’s an amazing complex, but about halfway through I found myself getting strangely depressed. Most museums are fascinating not just because of the historical information they convey, but because they plainly demonstrate how far we humans have come. Imagine, for example, a museum of the telephone where the exhibits progress slowly from the crudest possible voice-communication devices to smartphones that provide us with instant access to much of humanity’s accumulated knowledge. That’s how most museums work, but the Udvar Center in some ways does the opposite: It seems designed to argue that there was a time when we dreamed bigger and flew higher, faster, and farther. A time when Americans lifted their eyes to the heavens, said, “We must go there,” and unleashed an enormous amount of raw human energy to get it done, no matter that it had never even been dreamt of before. It’s all there, right in front of you: A Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (first flight, 1964), the Concorde (first flight, 1969), the Space Shuttle Discovery (first flight, 1981). There was a time when American pilots flew higher and faster than any men before. There was a time when travelers careened across the Atlantic at supersonic speed. There was a time when America operated actual spaceships. And that time has passed. Of course, our technology has progressed. If we chose to, we could do more. Our computing power is extraordinary. Our technical knowledge is unparalleled. An F-22 is a breathtaking aircraft. A Boeing Dreamliner is a technological marvel — but it still sends you across the Atlantic in the same coach seat at roughly the same speed as passengers of past generations. And space travel? We delegate our manned launches to the Russians, now. At a time when we could have done more, in many ways we chose to do less. When we could have expanded our reach, we chose to shrink it. Our eyes weren’t cast up to the heavens but down to our phones. And, quite frankly, we lost something in that moment. It would be too much to call it a shared purpose, because national purpose is too complex to be boiled down to a space program. It’s more accurate to say that when we lost that shared purpose — and part of our patriotic pride — the manned space program became all the more difficult to sustain. What is the thing that we’re proud of today? It should probably be American technology, which is more powerful and influential than it’s ever been. But Google, Facebook, and Twitter don’t exactly inspire patriotic thoughts. They’re more likely to incite partisan rage. So I am happy to report that something surprising happened earlier this week, something to be proud of: With an inimitable mix of new-school technology and old-school spunk, we launched the world’s most powerful rocket, and Americans cheered — by the tens of millions. Elon Musks’s Falcon Heavy had a moment. And it was a crazy, classic, modern American moment. Musk launched the world’s most powerful rocket, he put a car in it with a fake astronaut behind the wheel just because he could, and then beamed pictures live back from space. Just one of the Falcon Heavy launch videos has 15 million views on YouTube. Multiple news channels recorded millions of additional views. Some space enthusiasts were moved to tears. Even days after the launch, at any given moment thousands of Americans are tuning into the live “Starman” YouTube feed to watch Musk’s car fly toward an asteroid belt. I knew the launch was happening, tuned in to watch, and found myself thrilled in a way that I didn’t expect. Minutes later, old friends were sending messages with clips and memes from the launch. Why? Part of it is simple: Big rockets are really cool, and it had been a while since we’d launched one of that size and power from American soil. But there was something else to it, too, I think. Falcon Heavy, the private (subsidized) product of a man the Washington Post called a “puckish and eccentric billionaire,” sent a powerful message to the rest of the world: We’re back. We can still look up to the heavens. We can still fly farther, higher, and faster. We’re not all the way back, of course. Our grandfathers and fathers still put us to shame. But there’s hope. More rockets are in the works, including NASA’s Space Launch System, a rocket that could double Falcon Heavy’s thrust and payload. Perhaps we’re learning our lesson: Great nations need great accomplishments. It’s not enough to spend our resources making our lives easier and more convenient. We can still explore. The pioneer spirit still exists, and even if we won’t ever sit atop a rocket of that size and power, we can cheer those who do. So thanks, Falcon Heavy. In a moment that combined power, grace, and a dash of fun, you helped to make America great again.

Yeah!!  That inspiring piece was written by attorney, and Army Reserve officer (Major), David French.  David was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.  Go SpaceX!!    🙂

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launches successfully

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launched successfully on Tuesday, making history as the world’s most powerful rocket and putting a provierbial feather in Elon Musk’s cap. Containing 27 engines, the rocket has a thrust able to generate more than 5 million pounds, akin to the equivalent of 18 Boeing 747 aircraft. It will be able to lift a payload of more than 64 tons (141,000 pounds) into orbit, twice as much as the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost, according to SpaceX. The payload the Falcon Heavy is carrying is a Tesla Roadster and a dummy pilot, codenamed Starman, playing the David Bowie song of the same name. The flight was originally scheduled for 1:30 pm EST, but was pushed back to 3:45 pm EST due to wind shear. It fired from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX said that when the rocket achieves lift off, “it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two.” The company added that “Falcon Heavy’s side cores are flight-proven—both previously supported independent Falcon 9 missions in 2016.” The second stage of Heavy fired three times and put it on an elliptical orbit around the Sun that extends out as far as Mars. There is an “extremely tiny” chance it could crash into the Red Planet, Musk said in comments obtained by The New York Times, but that is unlikely to happen. “The test launch of the Falcon Heavy is a spectacular demonstration of the comeback of Florida’s Space Coast and of the U.S. commercial launch sector, which is succeeding in a big way.,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the Senate floor, discussing the launch. “That’s good news for the civil space program. It’s good news for national security. It’s good news for employment in the U.S. and it’s great news for jobs and the economy.” Nelson is the top Democrat of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the nation’s space program. The successful launch marks the beginning of a very busy schedule for the space vehicle. Later this year, it is scheduled to launch a communications satellite for a Saudi Arabian satellite operator, Arabsat. It is also scheduled to launch a test payload for the U.S. Air Force as soon as June, allowing the branch of the U.S. military to determine whether the Falcon Heavy is capable of launching national security payloads. The launch spacecraft’s two side boosters successfully landed at Cape Canaveral. However, the central core did not stick the landing on a floating drone ship 300 miles off the Florida coast. Musk said late Tuesday the booster hit the water at 300 miles per hour because it could relight only one of the three engines needed to land. Shortly after launch Elon Musk tweeted remarkable video footage of the Tesla Roadster and Starman in space. “View from SpaceX Launch Control. Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth,” he wrote. “This achievement, along with @NASA’s commercial and international partners, continues to show American ingenuity at its best!” President Trump tweeted Thursday night.

Go SpaceX!!  To see some videos, click on the text above.    🙂

Musk’s SpaceX Joins the Military

Not long ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk cracked what he once labeled a monopoly for Defense Department space launches, successfully breaking into a business that was dominated by United Launch Alliance LLC. The DOD’s appetite for space access is voracious, given the myriad reconnaissance, defense, and communications roles there, coupled with a future where conflicts are almost certain to involve space assets. Musk’s 2014 lawsuit against the government was settled out of court, and the Pentagon certified SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., as a suitable supplier of military space launches. SpaceX’s first gig for the military was in May when it launched a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. But in a quite public sense, Musk and the government this summer will test the theory that cheaper space launches are suitable for sensitive military missions. In August, SpaceX will carry one of the Pentagon’s premiere yet highly classified platforms into orbit. The X-37B spy craft, an unmanned miniature version of the Space Shuttle, logs missions that are well over a year in length. The most recent X-37B sojourn ended in May after more than 700 days circling the Earth. Boeing has built two of the craft, with the first launched in 2010. The August blastoff will be the program’s fifth flight. One major reason for SpaceX’s appeal to Pentagon brass: sticker price. With its launches starting around $61 million, Musk’s company has been able to undercut its more established rival. United Launch Alliance, a Centennial, Colo.-based joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., boasts an unblemished record of more than 100 launches, but it’s still working to bring its cost below $100 million. It plans to do so by 2019.

SpaceX launches 1st recycled supply ship

SpaceX launched its first recycled cargo ship to the International Space Station on Saturday, yet another milestone in its bid to drive down flight costs. After a two-day delay caused by thunderstorms, the unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off carrying a Dragon capsule that made a station delivery nearly three years ago. When this refurbished Dragon reaches the orbiting lab on Monday, it will be the first returning craft since NASA’s now-retired shuttles. The first-stage booster flown Saturday afternoon was brand new, and as is now the custom, returned to Cape Canaveral following liftoff for a successful vertical touchdown. “The Falcon has landed,” SpaceX Mission Control declared from company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and a cheer went up. The plan is to launch the booster again, instead of junking it in the ocean as so many other rocket makers do. Just two months ago, SpaceX launched its first recycled booster on a satellite mission. Another flight featuring a reused booster is coming up later this month. This Dragon capsule, meanwhile, came back for take two following a few modifications and much testing. Shortly before liftoff, a SpaceX vice president, Hans Koenigsmann, called the Dragon reflight “a pretty big deal.” It’s all part of the company’s quest, he said, to lower the cost of access to space through reusability. “Overall a great day,” Koenigsmann later told reporters. “Another wonderful launch,” added NASA’s Ven Feng, a station manager. SpaceX chief Elon Musk tweeted early Sunday morning: “It’s starting to feel kinda normal to reuse rockets. Good. That’s how it is for cars & airplanes and how it should be for rockets.” The Dragon soaring Saturday has the same hull and most of the same parts from its 2014 flight. SpaceX installed a new heat shield and parachutes, among a few other things, for the trip back to Earth at flight’s end. The Dragon is the only supply ship capable of surviving re-entry; all the others burn up in the atmosphere. NASA’s other supplier, Orbital ATK, will see its cargo carrier depart the 250-mile-high complex on Sunday, six weeks after arriving. Besides the usual supplies, SpaceX’s latest 6,000-pound shipment includes mice and flies for research, a new kind of roll-up solar panel and a neutron star detector. For now, SpaceX said savings are minimal because of all the inspections and tests performed on the already flown parts. NASA’s space station program manager, Kirk Shireman, told reporters earlier in the week that SpaceX did a thorough job recertifying the Dragon and that the risk is not substantially more than if this were a capsule straight off the factory floor. He said the entire industry is interested in “this whole notion of reuse,” first realized with the space shuttles. It was the 100th launch from NASA’s hallowed Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, the departure point for the Apollo moon shots as well as dozens of shuttle missions, including the last one in 2011. SpaceX now leases the pad from NASA; the company’s first launch from there was in February. SpaceX has been hauling station supplies for NASA for five years, both up and down. This is the company’s 11th mission under a NASA contract. The company’s next step is to deliver astronauts using modified Dragons. That could occur as early as next year. Until SpaceX and Boeing start transporting crews, astronauts will continue to ride Russian rockets. On Friday, a Russian and Frenchman returned from the space station in their Soyuz capsule, leaving two Americans and a Russian behind. The station was zooming over Oman in the Persian Gulf when the Falcon took flight.

Congrats SpaceX!!     🙂

SpaceX postpones classified US military launch

SpaceX on Sunday postponed for 24 hours the launch of a secretive US government payload, known only as NROL-76, due to a “sensor issue” with the rocket, a spokesman said. “Out of an abundance of caution we have decided to scrub today’s launch,” a SpaceX spokesman said, describing the issue as relating to the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. Another opportunity for launch opens Monday at 7:00 am (1100 GMT). The payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which makes and operates spy satellites for the United States, will be the first military launch for the California-based aerospace company headed by billionaire tycoon Elon Musk. “As a matter of policy and because of classification, NRO does not provide information about our contracts,” a spokeswoman told AFP. Until now, the US military has spent billions per year exclusively with United Launch Alliance, a joint operation of aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to launch government satellites. SpaceX in 2014 protested the US Air Force’s practice of using only ULA, saying it unfairly awarded billions of dollars to a single company for national security launches. SpaceX was selected to launch NROL-76 “after a competition,” said the NRO spokeswoman. She said she did not know when the contract was awarded. It was first announced last year. SpaceX regularly launches unmanned cargo ships to the International Space Station, and is working on a crew capsule that could carry humans into orbit as early as next year.