Means and the Muscle: Where Does Falcon Heavy Stand Alongside the Heavylifters?

Last week’s launch of the maiden Falcon Heavy has opened a niche in the market for super-heavylift launch vehicles. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

“If you can hear me over the cheering,” intoned SpaceX’s John Insprucker in the seconds after 3:45 p.m. EST Tuesday, 6 February, “Falcon Heavy, heading to space on her test-flight. Building on the history of Saturn V-Apollo, returning Pad 39A to interplanetary missions.” He was right. Last week’s spectacular maiden voyage of the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) behemoth was properly trumpeted as the world’s newest holder of the title for most powerful operational launch vehicle in the world, as SpaceX opened a niche in the market for super-heavylift launch vehicles, capable of lofting in excess of 110,000 pounds (50,000 kg).

Yet a single test-flight does not definitively prove a system, of course, and potential clients, including the Department of Defense and other U.S. Government entities, will demand a string of successful missions before they commit their multi-billion-dollar national assets to the Falcon Heavy.

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Record-Breaking Images from New Horizons are Farthest Ever Taken From Earth

False-color image of KBO 2012 HE85, taken by New Horizons on Dec. 5, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is way, way past Pluto now and still nearly a year away from its next encounter with an object in the Kuiper Belt, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been busy. In fact, the probe just broke the record for the farthest images from Earth ever taken by a spacecraft, with new images of a field of stars and two other Kuiper Belt objects. The new images break the record formerly held by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990.

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SpaceX Hired Company to Destroy Floating GovSat Booster, Not USAF

The flight-proven first stage which launched GovSat-1, floating in the ocean after conducting a very high retrothrust landing in water. SpaceX hoped to tow it back to shore, but claims the booster fell apart before they could carry out an unplanned recovery. Multiple trusted anonymous sources claimed it was taken out by the U.S. Air Force, however further investigation has found that instead, a commercial demolition company was used instead too sink the Falcon 9. Credit: Elon Musk via Twitter

As we reported yesterday, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket first stage used to deliver the SES-16/GovSat-1 communications satellite to orbit on Jan 31 did not make it back to Port Canaveral, and was intentionally destroyed after remaining surprisingly in tact upon splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

“This rocket was meant to test very high retrothrust landing in water so it didn’t hurt the droneship, but amazingly it has survived,” said Elon Musk on Twitter shortly after the rocket splashed down in the Atlantic. “We will try to tow it back to shore.”

Continue reading SpaceX Hired Company to Destroy Floating GovSat Booster, Not USAF

Air Force Didn't Take Out SpaceX's GovSat Booster, Private Company Did (UPDATED WITH CORRECTION)

The flight-proven first stage which launched GovSat-1, floating in the ocean after conducting a very high retrothrust landing in water. SpaceX hoped to tow it back to shore, but called in the Air Force to blow it up instead. Credit: Elon Musk via Twitter

UPDATE 2/9/2018:

SpaceX issued a statement denying any USAF involvement, instead stating their rocket “broke apart”. Several trusted anonymous sources have since clarified that, while the USAF was considered for destroying the stage, SpaceX actually ended up hiring a private company to take care of it instead.

Read our update HERE.

Continue reading Air Force Didn’t Take Out SpaceX’s GovSat Booster, Private Company Did (UPDATED WITH CORRECTION)

Long-Awaited Maiden Voyage of Falcon Heavy Brings Deep-Space Exploration Closer

Pounding the ground with 5.4 million pounds (2.4 million kg) of thrust, the Falcon Heavy begins its maiden voyage of exploration. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

Riding the plumes of its 27 engines, and carrying the hopes and dreams of a generation, the most powerful rocket in the world took flight earlier today (Tuesday, 6 February), as SpaceX’s mammoth Falcon Heavy conducted its long-awaited maiden test-flight. The “triple niner”—which boasts three Upgraded Falcon 9 booster cores, each equipped with nine Merlin 1D+ engines—lifted off from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 3:45 p.m. EST, just 45 minutes before the closure of Tuesday’s three-hour “window”. Efforts to get the Heavy airborne earlier in the window had been frustrated by concerns over upper-level wind shear. Eight minutes after launch, the Heavy’s two side-mounted boosters smoothly alighted on separate pads at Landing Zones (LZ) 1 and 2 at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but it can be confirmed that the center core stage did not succeed in touching down on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), nicknamed “Of Course I Still Love You”, in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Astronomers Discover Distant Exoplanets in a 'Galaxy Far, Far Away'

Image of the gravitational lens galaxy RXJ 1131-1231, with the lens galaxy at the center and four smaller lensed background quasars. Image Credit: University of Oklahoma

Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered so far, of many different types, but they all share one thing in common: they have all been found in our own galaxy. This is not surprising however, since of course they would be easier to detect than ones even farther away. But now, astronomers have reported the discovery of the first possible exoplanets in another galaxy, an incredible accomplishment, especially considering that the galaxy is 3.8 billion light-years away!

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These Are The Best Places to Watch Falcon Heavy's Debut Next Week

Waterfowl around launch complex 39A take flight as the world’s most powerful (soon) operational rocket, the Falcon Heavy, came to life for a test fire on Jan 24, 2018. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Thousands of space enthusiasts and spectators, as well as around 400 credentialed journalists from around the globe, are flocking to Florida’s “Space Coast” this weekend to witness what will become the world’s most powerful operational rocket, the Falcon Heavy, launch on its maiden voyage no-earlier-than (NET) next week. Counting down to a liftoff attempt on Tuesday, February 6, SpaceX’s new heavy-lift launcher will conduct a flight test to prove it works as intended, before beginning operational missions for paying customers soon after.

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A U.S.-Made Moon: 60 Years Since Explorer 1, Dawn of America's Space Program

William Pickering, James Van Allen and Wernher Von Braun hold a model of Explorer 1 aloft in triumph after the successful launch of a U.S. satellite into orbit on 31 January 1958. Photo Credit: NASA

On Wednesday evening, 31 January, a full 60 years passed since a Juno I booster roared into the night from Launch Complex (LC)-26A at Cape Canaveral to deliver America’s first successful artificial satellite into orbit. Today, many features of this historic location—including the blockhouse, control consoles and a great deal of legacy equipment—remain in place and the site is now the home of the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. Yet what happened here, six decades ago, would begin the first of a long-standing series of U.S. records in space. Explorer 1, which went on the discover the Earth-girdling Van Allen radiation belts, was the first mission to enter Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and although it remained operational for just 16 weeks, the satellite itself would endure for a dozen years, finally burning up in the atmosphere in March 1970.

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On 60th Anniversary of Explorer 1, SpaceX Successfully Launches SES-16/GovSat-1 Payload to Orbit

Rising against the clear blue Florida sky, the Upgraded Falcon 9 delivers SES-16/GovSat-1 to orbit. In the foreground is the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

Six hours shy of six full decades since the launch of America’s first man-made “moon”, a U.S.-built rocket has smoothly delivered SES-16/GovSat-1, one of the world’s largest and most powerful communications satellites into geostationary orbit, some 22,300 miles (35,900 km) above the Home Planet. SpaceX’s Upgraded Falcon 9 roared aloft at 4:25 p.m. EST Wednesday, 31 January, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. And as the flare of its nine Merlin 1D+ engines shook the ground, watchers at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum—formerly Launch Complex (LC)-26A—looked upward in wonder.

Situated 8.2 miles (13.1 km) south of SLC-40, theirs was the exact birthplace of America’s journey to the stars. For on 31 January 1958, LC-26A saw a Juno I booster thunder into the night and deliver Explorer 1 into Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) on a voyage of scientific discovery, political and technological triumph…and great relief for the American people.

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Missed Warnings: The Fatal Flaws Which Doomed Challenger 32 Years Ago (Part 2)

This photograph of the space shuttle Challenger accident Jan. 28, 1986 was taken by a 70mm tracking camera at UCS 15 south of Pad 39B, at 11:39:19.261 EST. Photo credit: NASA

At 11:39 a.m. EST on 28 January 1986, the unthinkable happened, when shuttle Challenger was lost, a mere 73 seconds after liftoff. All seven astronauts of Mission 51L, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed in the tragedy.

Yet, as outlined in yesterday’s “PART 1” commemorative AmericaSpace feature, the human tragedy was accompanied by another: for it was equally tragic that the catalog of calamities which befell the shuttle program in its early years and eventually brought down Challenger could have been avoided. Warning signs had been thrown up repeatedly by previous missions, but were either dismissed or not treated with timely seriousness. In this second article, AmericaSpace looks back at the fateful decisions made on the eve of Challenger’s final flight and the incessant schedule pressures and “Go-fever” which eventually destroyed a flawed belief in the shuttle’s invincibility.

Continue reading Missed Warnings: The Fatal Flaws Which Doomed Challenger 32 Years Ago (Part 2)