Details of Falcon-9 Booster Landing Attempt at Cape Canaveral Sunday Night

Illustration of a SpaceX Falcon-9 booster with its landing legs and hypersonic grid fins deployed for a landing attempt. The company will attempt this feat at Cape Canaveral, for the first time, with launch of the Orbcomm OG-2 mission Sunday evening. Image Credit: SpaceX

Illustration of a SpaceX Falcon-9 booster with its landing legs and hypersonic grid fins deployed for a landing attempt. The company will attempt this feat at Cape Canaveral, for the first time, with launch of the Orbcomm OG-2 mission Sunday evening. Image Credit: SpaceX

Six months after its 19th mission ended in pieces falling from the sky, SpaceX’s new and improved Falcon-9 booster is set for a long-awaited Return to Flight (RTF), no sooner than Sunday night, Dec. 20, carrying with it 11 Orbcomm Generation-2 (OG-2) communications satellites for delivery into low-Earth orbit. While the launch itself is the mission, delivering their customer’s payload, the flight also gives SpaceX another opportunity for a secondary objective: to land their rocket’s first stage booster, something the company has been working toward in an effort to provide a rapidly reusable and cheaper launch system.

Sunday’s RTF will mark the first time a rocket landing has ever been attempted at the nation’s historic Cape Canaveral launch site, and liftoff is currently scheduled for a 60-second window at 8:29 p.m. EST.

Experimental landing legs on the SpaceX Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Experimental landing legs on the SpaceX Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

SpaceX has attempted to land a first stage Falcon-9 on the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) offshore twice previously. Each time SpaceX hit the mark, but both times the booster tipped over. An attempt to land during the CRS-5 launch in January achieved partial success, reaching the deck, but impacted hard at a 45-degree angle and exploded, primarily due to a premature exhaustion of hydraulic fluid in its hypersonic grid fins. A second attempt was planned for the DSCOVR launch in February, but was called off due to rough sea conditions, and the most recent attempt during April’s CRS-6 launch reached the deck, but touched down with excessive lateral velocity and toppled over upon impact.

Comments from NASA and the Air Force earlier this month confirmed that SpaceX was pressing ahead with plans to land the Falcon-9 RTF Orbcomm first-stage booster on solid ground, rather than aboard the deck of the ASDS in the Atlantic Ocean. Media visiting SpaceX pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 1 were greeted by NASA Commercial Crew Program representatives, who hinted to the possibility in the first place.

The 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, responsible for all launches from Florida’s “Space Coast,” offered more clarification shortly after, noting that “SpaceX is waiting on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for both return to flight and doing a land landing vs. drone ship” in response to media inquiry.

Earlier this year, the 45th Space Wing signed a five-year lease with SpaceX to create a “Landing Pad” at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s historic Launch Complex-13. Utilized for Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) tests and operational Atlas launches from August 1958 through April 1978, LC-13 was deactivated in 1980. More than three decades passed before SpaceX leased it last February, and efforts to construct five landing pads for its returning Falcon-9 first-stage hardware soon got underway.

The site is now designated “Landing Zone-1.”

This morning, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to confirm the company is still targeting a Sunday night launch attempt, as well as a landing attempt of their booster on Cape Canaveral, rather than on their ASDS barge, which set sail from Jacksonville earlier this week.

“Currently looking good for a Sunday night (~8pm local) attempted orbital launch and rocket landing at Cape Canaveral,” said Musk.

The company released additional details later in the day, advising communities on Florida’s Space Coast of the possibility of a sonic boom occurring as the booster plummets back to Earth. The last time sonic booms cracked across the Cape’s landscape for a returning vehicle from space was the Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011.

“Residents of the communities of Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Courtenay, Merritt Island, Mims, Port Canaveral, Port St. John, Rockledge, Scottsmoor, Sharpes, and Titusville in Brevard County, Fla. are most likely to hear a sonic boom, although what residents experience will depend on weather conditions and other factors,” said the press release.

Workers at neighboring Kennedy Space Center also received a security notice Friday advising them of road closures. The advisory also stated, “should there be an anomaly, personnel are to shelter in place and avoid being next to glass windows and doors. Should a shelter in place event occur employees and guests on KSC will be informed by the Paging Area Warning System (PAWS) when to shelter in place and when it is safe to leave. Parking on the shoulder of any road to view launch or landing is unauthorized.”

SpaceX has confirmed that, although the ASDS was offshore this week, it will NOT serve as an alternative landing pad. SpaceX is committed to LZ-1; the booster either falls in the ocean or lands at LZ-1.

Throughout the year SpaceX has been quietly busy at LZ-1, repurposing the former launch complex to successfully support construction of a vertical-landing facility suitable for returning Falcon-9 and Falcon Heavy boosters. A primary concrete landing pad has been developed, surrounded by four smaller contingency landing pads for use in case a descending rocket is not quite on the bull’s-eye.

LZ-1 site plans. Credit: SpaceX

LZ-1 site plans. Credit: SpaceX

The FAA concluded an environmental review earlier this month for SpaceX to start landing boosters at LZ-1, known as the “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI), which notes that there would be no major environmental issues related to the company’s plans. Various environmental factors were considered, with the FAA determining all systems GO for SpaceX pending additional FAA approvals needed before an LZ-1 landing attempt was cleared (such as air space during a Christmas holiday week).

The Falcon’s first stage will touch down at LZ-1 approximately 10 minutes after lift-off, and preliminary trajectory analysis from the “Environmental Assessment for SpaceX Vertical Landing of Falcon-9 and Construction at Launch Complex 13” indicates that a point directly beneath the vehicle at stage separation falls approximately 16 nautical miles from the launch site.

Stabilizing the 150-foot-tall rocket stage in flight—traveling at a velocity of 2,900 mph at separation—has been likened to someone balancing a rubber broomstick on their hand in the middle of a fierce wind storm. After first stage engine cutoff, exoatmospheric cold gas thrusters are triggered to flip the first stage into position for retrograde burn. Three of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines are then restarted to conduct the retrograde burn in order to reduce the velocity of the booster and to place it in the correct angle to land. Once the first stage is in position and approaching its landing target, two of the three engines will be shut down to end the boost-back burn.

The Falcon-9 CRS-6 first stage booster just before touching down on the company's offshore "Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship". According to SpaceX leader Elon Musk, the rocket came down with excess lateral velocity, causing it to tip over post landing. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The Falcon-9 CRS-6 first stage booster just before touching down on the company’s offshore “Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship.” According to SpaceX leader Elon Musk, the rocket came down with excess lateral velocity, causing it to tip over post landing. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Utilizing compressed helium to deploy its four extendable landing legs, the booster and a quartet of lattice-like hypersonic grid fins, configured in an “X-wing” layout, will then be unfurled to control the rocket’s lift vector, and a final single engine burn will slow the stage to a velocity of zero for a stable landing at LZ-1.

An approximately 200 foot by 200 foot concrete landing pad was designed to support the weight and thrust energy of the booster landing, and it is surrounded by an approximately 750 foot diameter of compressed soil and gravel. Four additional, 150 foot diameter concrete “contingency” pads serve as backups, and will only be utilized in order to enable the safe landing of a single vehicle should last-second navigation and landing diversion be required.

The draft also notes, “There are no plans to utilize the contingency pads in order to enable landing multiple stages at LC-13 during a single landing event.” However, a SpaceX video animation showing a trio of Falcon Heavy boosters landing at the same time on LZ-1 indicates otherwise, so who knows what the future holds at this time.

Two access roads have been constructed to those contingency pads for use of a retrieval crane following landings, and at the location of the former blockhouse a steel and concrete “stand” had to be built to secure the Falcon stage during post-landing operations. The stand consists of four individual pedestal structures bolted to a concrete base. Each of the four pedestals weighs approximately 15,000 pounds and is 107 inches tall and 96.25 inches wide. A mobile crane will be used to lift the stage from the landing pad, transport it, and place it on the stand. Activities such as allowing the landing legs to be removed or folded back to the stage (flight position) prior to placing the stage in a horizontal position would occur there.

Although propellants are burned to depletion during flight, there is a potential for some LOX and RP-1 to remain in the Falcon first stage upon landing, as well as a small amount of ordnance, such as small explosive bolts and on-board batteries. It is very possible that the booster won’t land perfectly, as it is still a developing vehicle and these landing attempts are tests, so to be safe SpaceX will have an established emergency response team standing by to contain any unexpected spills (if, for example, the booster tips over upon landing and cracks open, as previous boosters toppled over on the ASDS).

Safing activities will begin upon completion of all landing activities and engine shutdown. The LOX oxidizer system will be purged, and any excess fuel will be drained into a suitable truck-mounted container or tanker. Any remaining pressurants (i.e., helium or nitrogen) will be vented, and any FTS explosives will also be rendered “inert” prior to declaring the vehicle safe. The vehicle will then be lifted and placed on to the stand, followed by the landing legs being removed or folded back into place. Falcon-9 will then be lowered into a horizontal position, placed on a transport vehicle, and taken to a SpaceX facility.

Assuming the booster lands in one piece, it is expected that SpaceX will use it as a test article to practice and prepare KSC’s historic Launch Complex 39A for upcoming operational missions with the Falcon-9, Falcon Heavy, and crewed flights to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX signed a 20-year lease for the former Apollo and space shuttle launch site in spring 2014.

“The first stage, if they successfully get it back, will then be the test article here (39A), and it will go into the hangar where they (SpaceX) will do a little refurbishment, and they will actually put it on the transporter erector and roll it out to the pad to do fluid checks, electrical checks and propellant loading with that test article,” said NASA.

The OG-2 stack, atop the Upgraded Falcon 9, is pictured at Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40, ahead of Friday's Static Test Fire. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The OG-2 stack, atop the Upgraded Falcon 9, is pictured at Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40, ahead of Friday’s Static Test Fire. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The current launch weather forecast continues to predict partly cloudy conditions, with a 20-percent probability of rain. However, it has been noted by the 45th Weather Squadron that a 90-percent probability of acceptable conditions is expected for a launch attempt Sunday night.

The rocket stage falling back to Earth, firing its engines in stages to slow its descent, was clearly visible as it aimed for an attempted landing on the ASDS after launching the CRS-4 Dragon mission to resupply the ISS for NASA on Sept. 21, 2014, and that was over 200 miles from the launch site, so a nighttime booster landing attempt at LC-1 will be clearly visible to those watching around Cape Canaveral.

Jetty Park, Port Canaveral Cape Canaveral, and the 528 Beachline Causeway south of Cape Canaveral AFS are the best locations from which the public can watch, as all will provide clear views of launch and landing. Beaches running south from the Cape will also serve as good viewing locations.

Follow our Falcon-9 RTF / OG-2 Mission Tracker for regular updates on mission progress and LIVE COVERAGE on launch day!

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36 comments to Details of SpaceX Falcon-9 Landing Attempt at Cape Canaveral Sunday Night

  • Arth

    Good luck to SpaceX. A successful landing would be an awesome way to end the year.

    • James

      Yep! I agree!

      We are going to be sending lots of folks to the Moon, Mars, Ceres, and other large spheres in the Solar System.

      Learning how to do difficult but needed, efficient, and risk minimized vertical rocket landings is worth practicing a lot and Earth’s “‘Landing Pad’ at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s historic Launch Complex-13” is a pretty good place to do some of that practicing.

      We have had some initial practice with piloting LMs and landing astronauts on the Moon and the recent landing of Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle in West Texas.

      However, we face nasty odds in getting folks and supplies to LEO.

      Sending folks and critical supplies to the Moon and Mars will be even far more risky and that means we should get as much practice as is feasible with essential risk reducing skills here on Earth.

      Reusable rocket engines are another essential requirement for future beyond LEO missions and tearing apart, redesigning, and rebuilding used in space rocket engines here on Earth helps to build our data base and improve those rocket engines.

      Get lots of essential experience with landings by practicing now what we will be doing frequently on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and moons.

      Eventually, we’ll have enormous Orion nuclear pulse spaceships or something even better.

      But those super large spaceships will not be designed to land on large spheres. Shuttle or Lander spacecraft will do those landings.

      Inspecting and repairing reusable rocket engines of various types and repeatedly doing risk minimized vertical landings on the Moon, Mars, and Ceres will be essential do or die skills for a long time into the future.

      Practicing vertical rocket landings now is the smart thing to do.

      Our hopes and dreams ride with each rocket’s vertical landing.

      Godspeed and a super gentle landing to SpaceX’s Falcon 9!

  • john hare

    My head says that SpaceX people have worked out answers to dozens of question I wouldn’t even know to ask. My gut wonders if there are too many new things being tried at once. Return to flight, colder LOX, and boost back to land are all new on this flight. There will be some nerves on this launch/landing team tonight.

    If it turns out that landing on land is easy, as well as reflying the stage, then we can look for the eventual economical use of the Falcon9H expending only the core stage. A payload hit for reuse on the 9H would be a payload boost on the basic 9. 30-40 tons reliably delivered to LEO for somewhat more than the cost of the expended single core would be significant.

    It would be nice this time if people would wait to see what happens in the flight and in the aftermath to make definitive statements of fact. Fans and detractors using terms such as “game over” before full information just muddy the waters for those of us interested in solid information.

    • Tracy the Troll

      John,
      This actually further illustrates that the CRS-7 was NOT caused by SpaceX failure, hence the heavy load of attempted modifications to operations…Otherwise no one would pay to fly cargo or crew by such an incompenant group of baffoons.

      • john hare

        Tracy,
        I don’t know of anyone else that buys into the failure being sabotage or actual military shoot down. IMO, IF the failure was the strut by an outside supplier, then they were bitten by a supplier QC issue.

        In building construction, a safety factor of 4 was considered normal by the engineers teaching locally a few decades back. At some point, you either have to trust your suppliers or do the job yourself. Depending on details of the testing process, it could easily be more expensive to test all incoming components than to make them yourself under good QC conditions. My construction company does many jobs in house rather than sub out primarily because of QC issues.

        A component failing at 20% of design is unheard of short of massive problems detectable by minimal inspection. A 2″x4″ with a knot all the way through it or rebar with a visible cut from a previous operation or concrete with no cement and so on. IMO, the struts tested that also failed at 20% were probably visibly damaged. At the end of the day, SpaceX is responsible for their own products whether the work is done in house or by an outside supplier.

        There have been many failures of structures in many industries from sidewalks to supersonic vehicles and most of them can be traced to some human error. This does not always mean that the builder was incompetent. It means that perfection is an illusion of a limited mind. Most people in positions of responsibility are aware that there will be problems. Reaching for conspiracies and hostile action should only be done when there is good evidence of such taking place.

      • Tim Andrews

        “hence the heavy load of attempted modifications to operations…”

        There are a lot of new features on this version of the Falcon 9, and while their appearance on a return to flight launch may look like they have to do with the failure of CRS-7, they don’t. CRS-7 was the second to last Falcon 9 v1.1 launch. The remaining Falcon 9 v 1.1 was dedicated to NASA’s JASON-3 launch (presently planned for January 2016).

        Their return to flight is with a Falcon 9 Full Thrust because that’s what they were going to be flying next anyway, before the loss of CRS-7.

  • Arth

    Has anyone heard if NASA will be filming the stage return for further study towards an eventual Mars lander.

    • Tim Andrews

      I haven’t heard that about this launch, but they have previously, specifically because of the retropropulsive re-entry’s applicability to a Mars mission.

      This footage is from CRS-4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riU3DZmU-jE

      • NASA TV always covers CRS launches because they are the customer. I know from personal experience, however, that NASA TV can shoot other launches, but that is usually at the request of the launch provider and for their own internal purposes. I’ve seen them shoot GPS launches with their TV cameras but you won’t find those videos publicly available. For example, I worked with the USAF for the GPS 2F-11 launch, and asked NASA TV to shoot it with the VAB cameras because USAF Pave Hawks were going to photobomb the launch so we could produce new photos never seen before. So they filmed it but that’s not available for public UNLESS the USAF releases it, which they will do on request only.

        Mars has nothing to do with it

        • Tim Andrews

          “Mars has nothing to do with it”

          You might want to let NASA in on that. According to them, WB-57 and P-3 loaded with infra-red cameras used to capture the footage in that link were done so they could learn more about retropropulsion re-entry that would be applicable on Mars.

          https://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/october/new-commercial-rocket-descent-data-may-help-nasa-with-future-mars-landings/#.VngY8pMrIo8

          • My comment “Mars has nothing to do with it” had nothing to do with NASA interest in VTVL, it was more regarding NASA TV specifically being asked to shoot something. NASA TV doesn’t go out and say “hey, lets shoot this just in case NASA wants to use this for research”. Seems we have a misunderstanding, I’m talking NASA TV crews.

            Regarding you above response to John & Tracy stating changes to Falcon-9, we’ve detailed all of the upgrades numerous times in recent week across several reports.

            • Tim Andrews

              Thanks for the reply Mike,

              I think there was a missed connection in the middle of this conversation. We were discussing NASA filming re-entry for research related to Martian atmosphere entry, not NASA TV launch coverage. Mars really does have to do with it.

              “we’ve detailed all of the upgrades numerous times in recent week across several reports.” Yes, and it’s been excellent and informative. Thank you for the great work.

      • Arth

        Thanks for the reply Tim & Mike.

  • Derek

    Arth – You can count on one thing, plenty of expensive cameras watching every millisecond of the first stage return.

    GOOD LUCK SPACEX!

  • Joe

    The launch has been delayed, apparently (according to Musk) to await better weather for the landing.

    http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/12/spacex-delays-historic-launch-for-better-weatherto-land/

    That brings up another interesting question. Since the landing would have taken place very shortly after launch, that implies that the landing requires stricter conditions than the launch. How would that affect the very high launch rates Musk claims as the goal for the reusable Falcon 9?

    • Tracy the Troll

      Joe,
      Wouldn’t this be considered testing?…Which suppose brings up why fly at night? I would think daylight to see landing varibles?

      • Joe

        Tracy,

        (1) Wouldn’t this be considered testing?
        (2) Which suppose brings up why fly at night? I would think daylight to see landing varibles?
        (3) I would think daylight to see landing varibles?

        All good questions.

        Most test flights do not have paying customers.

        You would have to ask SpaceX.

    • Tim Andrews

      Joe,
      “apparently (according to Musk) to await better weather for the landing.”

      What he actually said was “Monte Carlo runs show tmrw night has a 10% higher chance of a good landing. Punting 24 hrs.” May well be true, even if it’s not the actual reason for the delay, but an easy spin for him to put on it.

      According to Orbcomm (the customer for this launch), “Upon further review of the static fire data, SpaceX has determined that an additional day prior to launch will allow for more analysis and time to further chill the liquid oxygen in preparation for launch.”

      Re: the “deep-cryo”
      The LOX temp is at -340F, and the kerosene at 20 F. They did loading and full duration burn on this core in Texas, but I’m not at all surprised that they’ve run into issues loading here, being the first time to run the updated GSE in this environment (McGreggor has dry desert air, and we’ve had 90% or higher humidity this week).

      Tracy,
      Sure it’s testing, but they’re faced with a financial choice. Spend their own money to launch a rocket that does nothing but test, or test on a booster that has already been paid for after it does its paying job (launch the customer’s payload). If they’re testing on “scrap” boosters, they’ve go to test on the customer’s orbital requirements, and those dictate the launch schedule.

      • Joe

        “What he actually said was “Monte Carlo runs show tmrw night has a 10% higher chance of a good landing. Punting 24 hrs.” May well be true, even if it’s not the actual reason for the delay, but an easy spin for him to put on it.”

        I am shocked by your lack of faith in Musk’s veracity. 🙂

        There very well be other problems with the launch, but Musk chose to emphasize conditions for landing; so it is still a fair question (even though only one among many).

        • Tim Andrews

          I don’t think you’ll ever catch me saying he doesn’t choose what to emphasize better impression for him or his company.

          I may be a fan of what SpaceX is trying to do (and ULA, Boeing and Lockheed Marin too, for that matter) but I don’t think I’ve lost complete sense of reality in the Musk perception sphere. 🙂

    • “that implies that the landing requires stricter conditions than the launch…”

      It implies nothing of the sort. It’s flight testing, you expand the envelope as testing progress.

      But that’s not why I replied.

      We were arguing a while back about hovering / “tricking” the engines into doing something they aren’t designed to do / it’s not a rocket powered helicopter – and so on.

      Well. While looking at a Japanese upper stage engine schematic the other day, it dawned on me how to make the Merlin engine throttle WAY down without a complete redesign of the engine. You could add an alternate flow path for the propellants that bypasses the turbo-pumps and essentially turns the engine into a pressure fed engine.

      In practice, this would add many hundreds of pounds of extra plumbing, valves, controllers, sensors and so forth, (not to mention the software) and really complicate the decent and landing. Since engine performance would fall off a cliff, I’m guessing you’d have to burn several (or all) the engines for terminal decent.

      Odds are, this would never be considered for F9 as I expect the current “drop like a rock then screech to a halt” method to work just fine. But, for the larger & more expensive BFR stages this may be worth consideration.

      • Joe

        “Well. While looking at a Japanese upper stage engine schematic the other day, it dawned on me how to make the Merlin engine throttle WAY down without a complete redesign of the engine. You could add an alternate flow path for the propellants that bypasses the turbo-pumps and essentially turns the engine into a pressure fed engine.”

        Good for you. I would suggest you send your idea on to SpaceX, perhaps they will use it.

        “…I expect the current “drop like a rock then screech to a halt” method to work just fine…”

        Perhaps it will, perhaps it will not. The real questions will be whether or not it can be made to work reliably and whether or not the stage will still be viable after dropping like a rock then screeching to a halt.

      • John hare

        Are you talking about adding a lost work cycle to the pumps
        on one engine? Should be a few hundred pounds and no performance penalty except for the extreme over expansion at low throttle and altitude. May cause random separation with possible control and structural problems

        • Joe

          Who could have guessed it could be so simple?

          Wonder why Musk did not think of it?

          You guys need to get legal rights to this, then sell it to SpaceX.

          • John hare

            It’s in the literature. Not my idea.

          • Ivan

            Conway,

            just admit it. Your way is THE only way that things should be done. You are GOD when it comes to rockets and everything space related. Look your self in mirror and just read what you post. I dont give a shit about Musk, he could be asshole for all I know, but results speaks! And he (and his team) did what other said it was IMPOSSIBLE and WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY, over and over again. But the damn thing is standing on that landing pad and showing how wrong they all been.

          • Joe

            Conway and Ivan,

            SpaceX pulled off the landing and it was quite a technical accomplishment.

            As I said above “Perhaps it will, perhaps it will not. The real questions will be whether or not it can be made to work reliably and whether or not the stage will still be viable after dropping like a rock then screeching to a halt.”

            The Space Shuttle recovered and reused the SRB’s and the Orbiter (including the SSME’s) with about 98.5% efficiency, but it did not increase launch rates or reduce launch costs because the cost of refurbishing the hardware was approximately equivalent to the cost of building new hardware.

            I am not trying to take anything away from SpaceX this evening, they managed a landing and they ought to get a celebration.

            But this is only the beginning of a long process.

            (1) Can they make the stage recovery reliable?
            (2) If the answer to (1) is eventually yes, can they (unlike the Shuttle) make reuse of the recovered hardware economically desirable?

            The answers to those questions will take quite a while to answer.

            I know knocking the Shuttle is standard fare for the New Space community, but a lot of good engineers worked very hard on it and they had their spectacular successes as well.

            It would be best to wait before passing final judgments on tonight’s events one way or the other.

            • Ivan

              Joe,

              agreed! It’s very much possible that first stage (this one) would not even be able to fly again or would cost more (for whatever reason) to get it up to “working level” then making a new one.

              This are all things to consider, so emotion aside, economy must work for this to be called real success.

              • Matt McClanahan

                Re-flying this particular stage was certainly never realistic. It’s the first of its kind, and each individual engine is an opportunity to conduct a different set of tests. Eight engines that can be stripped down to their bolts for inspection, or static fired to test stresses, or packed into a new test vehicle along the lines of the shelved F9R-Dev2 and flown at higher altitudes than earlier tests. And a ninth engine that experienced the same stresses, but was re-fired multiple times in the process. Perhaps it turns out that the center engine can’t (economically) handle re-flight, but the other eight can. There are lots of exciting questions to be answered now that nobody in this business has ever had the evidence to answer before.

                • Joe

                  “Perhaps it turns out that the center engine can’t (economically) handle re-flight, but the other eight can.”

                  (a) Or perhaps all nine cannot be reused.
                  (b) Or perhaps all nine can be reused economically.
                  (c) Or perhaps all nine can be reused, but the refurbishment is more expensive than building a new set of engines.
                  (d) Etc.

                  That is the point, right now we do not know and will not know for some time.

                  “There are lots of exciting questions to be answered now that nobody in this business has ever had the evidence to answer before.”

                  Actually both the SRB’s and SSME’s from the NSTS were recovered, studied and reused. So such questions have been answered before.

                  Those answers did not lead to dramatic improvement in space launch economics.

                  Perhaps these will, perhaps they will not.

                  • Matt McClanahan

                    “Actually both the SRB’s and SSME’s from the NSTS were recovered, studied and reused. So such questions have been answered before.”

                    I would argue that neither the SRBs nor the SSMEs were similar enough to the Merlin 1D for their study and reuse to render the study and potential reuse of the Merlin 1D unoriginal.

                    The SRBs, being solid propellant boosters, were obviously a completely different fruit. They were intentionally dropped in the ocean on each flight, which necessitated a thorough deconstruction and desalinization. And of course they couldn’t be “refueled”, they had to be taken apart to have new solid propellant packs installed.

                    The SSMEs were not part of a first stage booster that returned to the ground shortly after max-Q, they had to go into orbit, remain there for days to weeks, and survive re-entry from LEO. The Merlin 1D does not have these requirements, and as such its economic viability is dependent on a significantly different set of variables.

                  • Joe

                    Matt,

                    Your statement implied that no engines had ever been studied/reused before, if you now want to narrow that to the Merlin 1D’s have not been studied and possibly reused before that’s OK as that narrowing is certainly true.

                    This is getting perilously close to a “he who posts last wins” endless back and forth, so I will make one last comment and then the floor is yours.

                    (1) SpaceX pulled off an impressive accomplishment last night and deserve accolades for it.
                    (2) They will now have to show they can do it reliably.
                    (3) They will also have to show that – if they can do it reliably – it is economical to reuse the hardware.

                    You say: “The Merlin 1D does not have these requirements, and as such its economic viability is dependent on a significantly different set of variables.”

                    True, but those variables do not necessarily support the economic viability of Merlin 1D reuse. Only actual work will show whether or not that is true.

                    When the Shuttle was at an even more advanced stage of development many very talented people thought it would significantly reduce launch cost and experience proved them wrong. They were not ignorant or evil just wrong.

                    The same may (or may not) prove true with SpaceX and Blue Origin.

                    Now as I said, the floor is yours.

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  • […] The two-stage Falcon 9 v1.1, which stands 224 feet (68.5 meters) tall and is equipped with uprated Merlin 1D engines, was billed as delivering a 56-percent thrust uplift at sea-level over the Merlin 1Cs aboard its Falcon 9 v1.0 predecessor. The latter supported five successful missions from June 2010 until its final flight in March 2013, which delivered SpaceX’s second Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The Merlin 1D powerplant—which underwent full-flight-duration test-firings at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, in summer 2012—was capable of 1.3 million pounds (590,000 kg) of thrust from its nine first-stage engines at liftoff, representing a 200,000-pound (90,000 kg) increase over the capabilities of the Falcon 9 v1.0. Equipped with four deployable landing legs, the first stage was also intended to eventually alight on an oceanic Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) or at specialized landing pads, close to its launch site. […]

  • […] Details of SpaceX Falcon-9 Landing Attempt at Cape Canaveral Sunday Night […]

  • […] Details of SpaceX Falcon-9 Landing Attempt at Cape Canaveral Sunday Night […]