On Dec. 21, six months after its 19th mission exploded offshore of Cape Canaveral, Fla., SpaceX’s new and improved “Full Thrust” Falcon-9 booster successfully launched 11 Orbcomm Generation-2 (OG-2) communications satellites into low-Earth orbit. The company made their “Return to Flight” triumphantly, not only because they pulled off the primary objective flawlessly, delivering Orbcomm’s satellites, but because they also landed the rocket’s first stage booster back at Cape Canaveral 10 minutes later. To add icing on the cake, not only did the booster hit its mark inside Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1), it did so almost dead center where X marked the bulls-eye on a roughly 200 foot by 200 foot concrete landing pad.
Activities commenced immediately upon landing so workers could safely access their historic vehicle. The LOX oxidizer system was purged, and any excess fuel was drained. Any remaining pressurants (i.e., helium or nitrogen) were vented, and any Flight Termination System (FTS) explosives had to be rendered “inert” prior to declaring the vehicle safe. Falcon-9 was then lifted and placed on to a stand, followed by the landing legs being removed before workers lowered the booster into a horizontal position, placed it on a transport vehicle, and took it to nearby Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center over this past weekend.
At a press event at 39A on Dec. 1, a NASA spokesperson from the agency’s Commercial Crew Program noted SpaceX plans to test the landed Falcon booster at 39A in preparation for upcoming launches from there with other Falcon-9’s and the company’s highly anticipated Falcon Heavy (which is expected to make its inaugural launch in 2016).
“The returned first stage will be the test article here (39A), and it will go into the hangar where they (SpaceX) will do a little refurbishment,” said NASA. “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.”
At a press conference call shortly after the successful landing, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shed more light on upcoming plans for the booster.
“The plan is to do a static fire on the launch pad there to confirm that all systems are good and that we’re able to do a full-thrust hold-down firing of the rocket,” said Musk. “And then I think we’ll probably keep this one on the ground because it’s quite unique, it’s the first one we brought back. So I think we’ll probably keep this one on the ground and just confirm through tests that it could fly again and then put it somewhere to display, because it’s quite unique.”
Other history-making SpaceX vehicles, such as their first Dragon cargo ship to successfully launch into orbit and return back to Earth, have been kept for public display at SpaceX, so it is safe to assume they will do the same with the Orbcomm OG-2 booster now sitting in the hangar at 39A, rather than donating it to a museum.
“I think we’ll end up re-flying one of the subsequent boosters,” added Musk. “We have quite a big flight manifest and should be doing well over a dozen flights next year. I think sometime next year we would aim to refly one the rocket boosters.”
That flight manifest is expected to kick off first with launch of the Jason-3 satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), Calif., for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, and France as soon as Jan. 17, 2016. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the Falcon-9 for Jason-3 is not the new upgraded “Full Thrust” version, as the Jason-3 booster has been ready for quite some time and was delayed this summer for an investigation into the loss of SpaceX’s CRS-7 mission for NASA.
Liftoff of Jason-3 from Space Launch Complex 4 East on Jan. 17 is targeted for 10:42 a.m. PST (1:42 p.m. EST), at the opening of a 30-second launch window. If needed, a backup launch opportunity is available at 10:41 a.m. PST (1:31 p.m. EST) on Jan. 18.
SpaceX currently holds a manifest backlog of some 50 missions, with an estimated value (according to SpaceX) of roughly $7 billion.
Following Jason-3, SpaceX is expected to shift focus back to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for launch of two missions: delivering the SES-9 communications satellite to space and launching their Dragon cargo ship on the CRS-8 mission to resupply the ISS for NASA.
The latter two flights do not yet have confirmed launch dates, but SpaceX is aiming to fly both SES-9 and CRS-8 by the end of February.
AmericaSpace Video: Falcon-9 OG-2 Launch and Landing
Landing plans for those three missions will not be announced until much closer to the launch dates. However, upgrades to the Falcon-9 now provide the capability to land future first-stage boosters for nearly every mission moving forward, and so it is expected that the first stage boosters will attempt a landing now for nearly every mission, with the specific flight profile of the launch determining whether or not the booster lands on land or on the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS).
SpaceX has two ASDS platforms: one at Cape Canaveral and one at VAFB. The same is true for landing sites.
I am wondering if each set of landing legs are for a single use? They did look kind of toasted..
As Chris mentioned, the legs have an ablative coating on them, so the pictures & video don’t necessarily reflect any meaningful damage. Structurally, they’re almost certainly fine. The same legs (just the legs, not the pistons) were exposed to far longer duration burns on the four F9R Dev1 tests without incident, despite commenters routinely freaking out about how “the legs are burning!”. But from what few remarks Musk has made regarding the pistons, it doesn’t sound like they were designed to be retracted. Since keeping their weight to a minimum was a high priority, it’s likely that once they’re deployed, they mechanically lock into place without having an easy mechanism to release them and reload them with helium. So it may end up that the legs are reusable, but the pistons are cheaper to discard than disassemble and reuse.
I can’t wait for the Falcon Heavy launch in 2016. Imagine TWO boosters landing in quick succession followed some minutes later by the core stage.. THAT will be impressive!
I’d wager a small sum that the center core will not RTLS.
I’d go further and wager a small sum that only the center core is recovered down range on drone ship. They would need to quickly build another site on land to symmetrically land two side boosters as the current RTLS pad is only rated for a single core per Musk’s comments.
Well, there’s nearly a dozen more disused launch pads north & south of LZ-1, so maybe an LZ-2 will be rolled out later on.
As for the center core, yeah, it’s highly unlikely that it’ll ever RTLS. As Musk mentioned in the past, it’s “hauling ass” at stage separation, which can be far downrange of when the two side cores separate.
Agreed. Hopefully they find the gold plated shovel sooner rather than later. Just don’t see it before demo flight 1 at the moment.
When/where did Musk say they were limited to a single core at LZ-1?
Right now it has a single pad, but during construction the forest was cleared for three of the pad locations described in the site’s environmental assessment.
Ah yes, I guess you may be right if the real-estate exists under the existing lease and permitted by the environmental survey. I was working off the following statement @ around 20:30 in post-landing teleconference. So whether “another landing spot” is LZ-2 or another pad poured at LZ-1 more concrete needs to be poured plus the FAA approval for double core return to land.
“and permitted by the environmental survey”
The environmental assessment for the construction at LC-13 is often cited by commenters online as a reason only one landing can be attempted at that location – but it doesn’t permit or exclude any activity.
It was a study and taken into consideration in the process of leasing the site. The report states that the scope of the study is a single core landing. That’s not a restriction on how the site can be used, but rather a delineation of what was studied.
“So whether “another landing spot” is LZ-2 or another pad poured at LZ-1 more concrete needs to be poured plus the FAA approval for double core return to land.”
Yes, for sure.
Right but stands to reason someone looks at the report and makes a decision accordingly; like maybe the Eastern range safety leadership. They may demand a new multiple core landing impact study if the existing study doesn’t cover analysis for that case. Or maybe they won’t… But good to know that it isn’t set in stone.
Should not be single use. Legs are coated in ablative which may be what you are seeing. Although, since this is the first set to come back intact proof is in the pudding.
I am very interested in the total results of the investigation of this core. Will cores be economically reusable with a reasonable expectation of reliability? How much performance is lost in actual service with core RTLS, as opposed to PR and our speculations? Is there a development path to a true gas-n-go booster here?
And many other questions that fall somewhere between extremes of fan and detractors.
Anybody have any idea what appears to be a large crack in the stage structure in the area of the landing strut is?
That should be easily fixed with super glue…But what is your assessment of this accomplishment?..Do you have an idea what the mass to orbit loss is by bringing the booster back to the pad?
Nice try, fake Gary.
He may think his opinion is the only right one in the world, but random ad hominem attacks aren’t his style.
It’s a wire running on the exterior of the tank. Not a crack. All 4 exposed leg areas have them.
That was discussed in detail yesterday.
See posts directly below.
Thanks for sharing though.
“That should be easily fixed with super glue”?
If it is as appears, there might be a little more to it than that.
“Do you have an idea what the mass to orbit loss is by bringing the booster back to the pad?”
No. There have been to many different descriptions of the changes made to the Falcon 9 to allow any useful assessment of the vehicles actual capability.
“If it is as appears, there might be a little more to it than that.”
Tony and the boys will get on that with some Bondo and it will look like new in the morning!
Seriously though, in the very few first frames of the video, it’s sharper before the camera moves. It looks like a cable that’s laid against the surface, with a wide flat connector at the bottom. Whatever it is, it looks like there’s a matching one in the same position lined up with the other leg as well.
You are seeing something there I am not.
But assume you are correct:
(1) What are those cables for?
(2) How did they get there?
Here’s a still frame from the start of the video where it’s sharper. There it looks, at least to me, more like a cable than a crack.
If it is a cable:
1) A shot in the dark guess would be for the purpose of carrying data.
2) Just by process of elimination based on who has access to the booster – most likely SpaceX employees.
If it is a cable, my additional question would be – why isn’t it in a nice tidy cable run, rather than a meandering path?
In other applications one uses a fixed length cable to ensure consistent latency (could explain extra cable and meandering path). Looks like electrical/optical cable inside the landing leg well to me.
Whatever it is, it does appear to run from about the top to the bottom of the “landing leg well”.
If it is a cable:
(1) Was it there during flight (meaning it was exposed to the external environment after landing leg deployment)?
(2) Was it installed after landing?
I know no one probably has an answer to these questions, just speculating.
If it is a cable placed there temporarily as part of the safing procedures, that would certainly explain the path not being straight and tidy.
Here’s a shot Jeff Seibert took the next morning from the other side. The feature looks like it’s following the same path of bends between the bottom and the leg strut attachment point, but is absent from the attachment point up.
Interesting (confusing actually).
If it is a cable (whether flight or GSE) there would have to be a disconnect at the upper leg strut attachment point. Then part (but not all) of the “cable” was (for some reason) removed.
Yep. That, or it could be two cables, one from the top to the strut attachment point, and one from the attachment point down to the bottom.
Legs were removed for the trip up to 39A. It would be helpful to see the leg deinstall procedure i suppose.
Have you heard any rumbelings from the people at LM to get the X-33 out of storage and make that a production product to compete with the F9…That was after all..the first public private partnership with a $1B Nasa contribution
No, I have not heard any such “rumblings”.
The X-33 was just a technology demonstrator, it was never meant to be operational in any sense.
X-33 was a little like the X-15 was to the Space Shuttle.
X-33 would have only reached about 1/2 the speed needed to go into orbit. The full sized version called “Venture Star” would have been an orbital version with a useful payload.
It’s the “would have been” part that’s the catch. “Would have been” had the US government poured in billions and billions of dollars over a very long period of time.
Many engineers would say “would have been… had a miracle happened”.
It IS really, really, really hard to make a hypersonic (lifting) single stage to orbit vehicle, one little miss-calculation and the vehicle weight spirals out of bounds and you wind up with no payload. At all.
I’m not quite so skeptical myself, I like hypersonics and I figure that someday passengers & operators will expect more than a few passengers in a can on top of a missile.
That someday will be quite a long time my friend, sorry no rumblings from this side of the pond.
Two of the three breakthrough technologies were completed…NASA was obligated for $1B of development costs Lockheed was required to put up $500M..The agreement called for L to keep all tech. I believe it was criminal fraud..It has been ready to fly since 2005…
L got funding for a future generation spacecraft at taxpayer expense…but then shelved the Tech until they are forced to use it by competion…thus using much more expensive expendables that have much higher profit margins.
Maybe the Venture Star reusable spacecraft could eventually have been built if someone had figured out a way to attach two SRBs from the Space Shuttle to it. After all, the SRBs were also reusable.
Could advanced and lighter carbon fiber based casings for the reusable SRBs eventually be air recovered thus avoid salty bath landings in the ocean?
Note “A 2.4-meter-diameter propellant tank made of composite materials arrived on Nov. 20, 2012 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where engineers are preparing it for testing. Composite tanks have the potential to significantly reduce the cost and weight for heavy-lift launch vehicles and for other future in-space missions.” and “In the coming months, the tank will undergo a series of hydrogen pressure tests in Marshall’s test facility where engineers will measure its ability to contain liquid hydrogen at extremely cold, or cryogenic, temperatures.” from ‘Game-Changing Propellant Tank’ November 2012 at http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/cryotank.html
The Venture Star, like many other space concepts, isn’t completely erased from the universe. Brains, persistence, and sweat will eventually achieve the technological basis for building something like it.
Something you rarely hear is that the X-33 was in the middle of a complete top-to-bottom redesign when the program was cancelled. There were many more problems than just the composite Hydrogen tank. Nearly every major component was overweight, the center of gravity was much too far aft, and so on.
Technically, yes, the X-33 demonstration vehicle that was 95% completed could have flown, but ultimately it would have had little in common with the redesigned vehicle and it would have been unable to fly to the altitude or speeds desired in the original specifications for the flight test profiles.
One of the reasons that this isn’t common knowledge is that the failure of the program was so bad that it was a severe embarrassment to upper management at LM, NASA, and also to the people in congress (and the white house) who supported it. The program had gone so badly wrong that it was basically swept under the rug. When technicians eventually sorted out the joints in the carbon fiber hydrogen tanks, there was some call to revive the X-33 program, but this idea was killed very quickly by the high-level administrators who had previously been made to look bad.
This article also says that the X-33 test article was disassembled, so there is no vehicle to “take out of storage” and try to fly.
Reading the attached article was the most disturbing experience yet completely illustrates my key point….The X-33 was built by the best minds we had at the time in the Space industry and was NOT allowed to succeed because it would have turned into leap in space vehicle technology…At a far cheaper cost….None of the technology was allowed to be demonstrated in a vehicle on a component system basis, perfected and then put into a final test vehicle..Clearly this is corruption at the highest levels of government….Whose only objective is to create the most complicated, expensive systems possible thus limiting access off this planet which by now we should all realize has become a prison…
“None of the technology was allowed to be demonstrated in a vehicle on a component system basis, perfected and then put into a final test vehicle..Clearly this is corruption at the highest levels of government….Whose only objective is to create the most complicated, expensive systems possible thus limiting access off this planet which by now we should all realize has become a prison…”
Nothing that intentionally nefarious. I did not work on the Venture Star’s McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Division (MDSSD) competitor, but I did know some of the people that did. It was the offshoot of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) Program.
The driving force behind the whole SDIO SSTO program was the late (great) Max Hunter, a legendary rocket designer and project head dating back to the post World War II period. The whole working theory of the program, under SDIO, was “build a little, test a little”; that is exactly the demonstrating of the required technology “in a vehicle on a component system basis, perfected and then put into a final test vehicle” that you suggest.
When control of the SSTO Program was shifted to NASA (the Marshall Space Flight Center – MSFC, actually), Hunter told the MDSSD team that the game was over. His reasons:
(1) The Venture Star required more advanced technology than the MDSSD design and MSFC was more interested in technology development than in flying.
(2) The “build a little, test a little” approach (which Hunter had talked SDIO into) would be abandoned because it was accepted practice to “save money” by using computer analysis to skip many testing steps and go directly to a more “advanced” test vehicle.
As mentioned before, bad intentions are not required when honest (though bad) mistakes are made.
“build a little, test a little”
Interesting information. It seems like the approach that SpaceX has been using, too.
Actually SpaceX approach seems to have been to develop an expendable multi-stage booster then try to make its reusable: First by recovery of the first stage with a parachute assisted down range water landing, then (when that did not work out) with the current approach. Maybe they will make it work, maybe not; but it is the exact opposite of “build a little, test a little”.
I know a lot of SpaceX fans do not wan to near this, but the best current example of “build a little, test a little” is Blue Origin. They even have a number of the original McDonnell Douglas team working for them.
Did you read the article?
“Faced with a project failure, Lockheed Martin and X-33 NASA managers gave the green light to proceed with the fabrication of the new tank. Ironically this new tank weighed in less than the composite tank – disproving one of the reasons for going with a composite tank in the first place.
While the aluminium LH2 tank was much heavier than the composite tank in the skins, the joints were much lighter, which was where all the weight in the composite tank was, due to the multi-lobed shape of the tank requiring a large amount of surrounding structure, such as the joints. Ironically, the original design of the X-33 on the drawing board had the tanks made out of aluminium for this reason – but the cost played a factor for the potential customer base.”
But at NASA and Lockheed Martin the engineers were thinking “test a little – fly a little” as you suggest. However the decision maker was not an engineer but….the much-respected former NASA director Ivan Bekey who said…
” The principal purpose of the X-33 program is to fly all the new technologies that interact with each other together on one vehicle, so that they can be fully tested in an interactive flight environment,” said Bekey during his testimony. “If that is not done, the principal reason for the flight program disappears.
“Even though the thermal protection system and the engine would be tested, the structure and its interaction with the tanks and support for the thermal protection system would not be tested. Since the biggest set of unknowns in this vehicle configuration have to do with the structure-tankage-aeroshell-TPS-airflow interactions, it is my belief that to fly the vehicle with an aluminium tank makes little sense from a technical point of view.”
This is impossible to do at the budgets proposed …This is criminal!
Yes, I read the article.
The part about the more achievable tank being lighter in total, is exactly the kind of thing Hunter tried to tell them. That is precisely the reason he said “(1) The Venture Star required more advanced technology than the MDSSD design and MSFC was more interested in technology development than in flying.”
Bekey’s statement: ” The principal purpose of the X-33 program is to fly all the new technologies that interact with each other together on one vehicle…” is an example of the other Hunter staement “(2) The “build a little, test a little” approach (which Hunter had talked SDIO into) would be abandoned because it was accepted practice to “save money” by using computer analysis to skip many testing steps and go directly to a more “advanced” test vehicle.”
“This is impossible to do at the budgets proposed …This is criminal!”
That is the point. No it is not criminal. It may be bad judgment (I think it is), but it is not evilly intended; and it is certainly not criminal.
“Actually SpaceX approach seems to have been to develop an expendable multi-stage booster then try to make its reusable: First by recovery of the first stage with a parachute assisted down range water landing, then (when that did not work out) with the current approach. Maybe they will make it work, maybe not; but it is the exact opposite of “build a little, test a little”.
I know a lot of SpaceX fans do not wan to near this, but the best current example of “build a little, test a little” is Blue Origin. They even have a number of the original McDonnell Douglas team working for them.”
So you don’t think design adjustments to current market conditions is an acceptable during the design production path to Rocket/Spaceship design? Has SpaceX accomplished anything in your opinion with the return of the booster to the launch pad for further reuse? Is there a difference between the design development accomplishments between SpaceX and Blue Orgin? Which is superior?
“So you don’t think design adjustments to current market conditions is an acceptable during the design production path to Rocket/Spaceship design?”
Congratulations. That sounds like a sentence produced by a Random Buzz Phrase Generator.
“Has SpaceX accomplished anything in your opinion with the return of the booster to the launch pad for further reuse? Is there a difference between the design development accomplishments between SpaceX and Blue Orgin? Which is superior?”
As I have said repeatedly in these forums, the landing of the Falcon 9 first stage is an accomplishment for which the Launch/Landing Team deserves credit. Whether or not it will prove practically useful will depend on:
(1) If they can perform the task repeatedly and reliably.
(2) What the turnaround/refurbishment costs will be.
In any case it is not “build a little, test a little”; in fact quite the opposite.
Appears to me to be following the “build a little, test a little” approach. This has its initial drawbacks (SpaceX can claim to have actually put payloads into orbit and as of now Blue Origin cannot). In the long run it can have its advantages as it may lead to superior designs.
Will either or both succeed or fail? I do not know.
For those who assert they are committed to “commercial” space, at least Blue Origin is doing its work on private money, while SpaceX is drawing heavily on the public treasury.
“So you don’t think design adjustments to current market conditions is an acceptable during the design production path to Rocket/Spaceship design?”
“Congratulations. That sounds like a sentence produced by a Random Buzz Phrase Generator.”
Can you answer the question? Or …Was the Shuttle a successful program? Or Apollo?
“Can you answer the question?”
Since the question makes no sense in the context of a discussion of whether or not SpaceX is using the “build a little test a little” approach, No I can not answer it.
“Was the Shuttle a successful program? Or Apollo?”
Jester gives a good answer to the Shuttle question below. What your feelings about whether or not Apollo (or Shuttle for that matter) were successful has to do with SpaceX approach to trying to develop a reusable first stage, I have no idea.
Design adjustments often happen during development. However, in the case of the X-33, “adjustment” is the wrong word. The design was being completely overhauled, and the X-33 that was mostly completed would not have been a good test article for validating the new design. Considering the X-33 had already cost $1.5 billion at that point and they would basically have to start over from scratch, the project was cancelled.
Whether or not you consider the Shuttle a success depends very much on your success criteria. There are good arguments that it was a successful spacecraft, it did everything it was designed to do, it was reliable overall, it performed very well at constructing the ISS, it recovered and upgraded the Hubble five times, etc., however, there are a number of attendant negatives, it was also a very expensive spacecraft, required a small army to maintain it, the SRBs cost about as much to refurbish as to build new, overall it did not reduce the cost of going to orbit, poor management and operations practices caused two Shuttles to be destroyed with loss of crew, and so on.
I’m not sure what you were reading, but you came to about the opposite conclusion I have. The X-33 program failed miserably in developing the technologies that were integral to its design.
Personally, I think the X-33 program should either have been a technology development program from the start, or rather than being cancelled outright, should have been split up into technology development programs. It’s not that they were “not allowed” to develop the technologies, but the program “failed badly” in developing them. Failed so badly that the vehicle would never have been able to fly as was intended, and was being completely redesigned.
As for cost, the X-33 program cost over $1.5 billion, not exactly cheap.
Wow.. this has become a rather long winded conversation? Concerning the ‘Venture Star’: I recall that the main financial expenditure had to do with the development of lightweight cryogenic fuel tanks. The test articles were made with early generation composite compounds which proved unable to withstand the temperature changes associated with cryogenic fuels cycling.
Meanwhile.. there have been some rather major breakthroughs in this regard, so it makes sense to revisit Lockheed’s design for further testing? http://www.compositesworld.com/news/nasa-tests-composite-cryogenic-fuel-tank
Oh yeah… What ever happened to the Aerospike engine? Oh yeah.. Firefly Space Systems might have something to say about that?
I know this site presents quality based content and other information, is there any other
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