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Space Science

SpaceX Delays Falcon 9 Launch 41

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the harder-than-it-looks dept.
stoolpigeon writes to tell us that Elon Musk recently announced a delay to the projected summer launch for SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. "Falcon 9 is the centerpiece of SpaceX's project for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) project. NASA is hoping to be able to draw on new and cheaper commercial rockets to service the International Space Station once the shuttle fleet retires in 2010. If the trial flight of Falcon 9 early next year is a success, payload-carrying COTS missions could follow in quick succession. But the delay is worrying some observers who note that SpaceX's other rocket project, the Falcon 1, has failed during its only two launch attempts. The first Falcon 1 caught fire and crashed, and the second failed to achieve orbit due to problems during stage separation. A third Falcon 1 launch is planned for April."
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SpaceX Delays Falcon 9 Launch

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  • by Paul server guy (1128251) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @02:17AM (#22608388) Homepage
    Two failures and one delay? And one of the failures wasn't that bad? For a brand new company and new rocket tech? Considering how many outright explosions and multiple failures NASA and all others did before they got it right, I'd say they are doing just fine. I bet NASA wishes they had that success rate!
    It's not like Musk has a whole governments space programs budget to throw at it. (Which is pitifully small BTW.) He is being careful with his money. That sounds wise, and certainly not something I'd be worried about.

    Jeesh, It's not like it's Rocket Science to understand it...
    • by Somegeek (624100) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @02:52AM (#22608484)
      And the article mentions that much of the delay is due to a huge increase in paperwork. The have changed their launch site to the Cape instead of the Kwajalein Atoll that they had originally planned to use, and as a consequence are faced with a maze of new documents that the Air Force is requiring that they submit.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sconeu (64226)
        For launches from Canaveral, I believe EWR-127 applies. I don't know if it applies to Kwaj.
        • by bughunter (10093)
          EWR-127 is almost always tailored from program to program, and often from mission to mission. The contracting agency (in this case NASA) negotiates with the range (Kwaj for Falcon 1, Canaveral for Falcon 9) which requirements apply, which are waived, and which can be modified.

          In my experience, Canaveral and Vandenberg are the least forgiving at these negotiations, while more remote ranges (like Kodiak, Kwaj, and PWMR) are more liberal.

    • by JeffreyCornish (668785) <jeffreycornish&gmail,com> on Saturday March 01, 2008 @03:16AM (#22608574)
      You are absolutely right. If you look to much earlier rocketry development programs, ie Dr. Robert Goddard and Dr. Werner Braun (ignoring any politics of either, just the pure research, engineering and development effort) Developing Rockets are Hard. SpaceX lost their first rocket because of a corroded aluminum nut securing a fuel line. I think it is worth pointing out a number of facts with this accident. The Falcon 1 launch vehicle have an in flight rapid disassembly event (explosion for those desiring a non-obfuscated tone). The nut failed, fuel spewed from the line, combusting when it reached into the rocket's plume, this caused a fire in the region of the Falcon 1's fuel pumps, gutting control wiring and other fuel lines. Result-- the engine simply shut down. The rocket fell onto the reef offshore and was destroyed. As a result SpaceX reviewed the engine design and one of the changes was to replace all aluminum nuts with stainless steel. Equivelent mass, not prone to corrosion and cheaper as an additional benefit. The second flight's failure was due to the wrong flight profile being loaded into the first stage's engine's computer(s). As a result the fuel/oxidizer mix fed to the engine wasn't quite optimal, resulting in the first stage engine cutoff (MECO) occured at a lower altitude than intended. At that point in flight the Falcon 1's orientation, with respect to it's trajectory (it's 'angle of attack') was enough that aerodynamic forces from the dynamic pressure (the atmospheric pressure at altitude considering the vehicle's velocity through it) caused the Falcon 1 first stage as it was jettisoned to pitch more than expected. This resulted in the first stage coming into contact with the second stage's engine bell. This resulted in the second stage in being rotated about it's center of mass a bit. The second stage Kestral engine pivoted to correct the second stage's orientation onto the correct vector. This resulted in an increasing oscillation that toward the end of the second stage's burn, as the mass of the vehicle was less and less. This resulted in the remaining fuel in the propellant tanks sloshing away from the fuel tank's sump. The Second stage engine cut off prematurely, below orbital velocity and the vehicle reentered. Lessons and modifications taken from this. Confirm that the proper engine software is loaded onto the vehicle, and the installation of an anti-slosh baffles in the propellant tanks. In this case the vehicle engines or structure did not fail catastrophically. The upcoming flight is takes the lessons learned from all of this, and is a flight test for the new Merlin 1C engine, which will be used on the Falcon 9 when it flies. Spaceflight is hard. SpaceX is standing on the shoulder's of giants, and still there is much to learn, old lessons to apply, and new breakthroughs to be made. But the goal is worthwhile.
      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by Rei (128717)
        Yep. Either the baffles *or* the correct trajectory would have been enough to make the mission a success. Even the payload separated -- just in the wrong trajectory. They got about 2/3 of the delta-V they needed.

        For a practically from-scratch, they've done a heck of a job, and I like their design. And I was very impressed by how rapidly they're able to turn around on launch attempts. Here's to the next Falcon 1 launch! :)
      • I'm worried about SpaceX's failure analysis for the unstable second stage. It doesn't seem to me that the stage separation bump had much of anything to do with it because the second stage recovered and stabilized quickly. While I think slosh may have contributed and slosh baffles MAY solve the problem, I doubt if slosh is the source of the instability. If slosh were the primary problem I would expect the oscillations to get out of control much more quickly. It doesn't take very many shoves on a tub of liqui
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      Two failures and one delay? And one of the failures wasn't that bad? For a brand new company and new rocket tech? Considering how many outright explosions and multiple failures NASA and all others did before they got it right, I'd say they are doing just fine. I bet NASA wishes they had that success rate!

      The most recent launch vehicle developed by NASA the space shuttle, which was successful on its first 24 launches. After the first failure, it succeeded on the next hundred launches before the next failure.

      Before that, the previous vehicle developed by NASA was the Saturn-V, ten launches, no failures.

      Before that, the Saturn 1/1b, nineteen launches, no failures.

      Why in the world would NASA "wish they had a success rate" of 0 successes?

      • by AJWM (19027)
        The Saturn V and Saturn I(b) rockets were designed by a team that had more than twenty years' experience, going back to before the V-1. They blew up more than their share of rockets, not all of them deliberately.

        Indeed, the Saturns were designed by Von Braun's team that in NASA's early days had been working out of the Redstone Arsenal. The rockets that NASA was designing on its own at that time were blowing up with depressing regularity; if Eisenhower had let them, the Von Braun team could have put somet
        • The Saturn V and Saturn I(b) rockets were designed by a team that had more than twenty years' experience, going back to before the V-1.

          Actually, V-1 wasn't a rocket, it was a pulse jet; and it wasn't the Von Braun team; it was their competitors

          ...Indeed, the Saturns were designed by Von Braun's team that in NASA's early days had been working out of the Redstone Arsenal. The rockets that NASA was designing on its own at that time were blowing up with depressing regularity;

          I expect you must be thinking of Project Vanguard. That predates NASA-- it was a NRL (Navy Research Labs) project. if Eisenhower had let them, the Von Braun team could have put something in orbit before the Russians did.

          Shuttle may have made its first few launches successfully, but they blew up their fair share of hardware during testing (the SSMEs in particular were a bitch). They had c

          • by AJWM (19027)
            Actually, V-1 wasn't a rocket, it was a pulse jet;

            You're right, that was a brain spasm. Of course I meant V-2.
      • by Teancum (67324)
        I should point out that there have been some of the design team of the Saturn rockets (both Saturn I and Saturn V) that considered themselves to be "lucky" that they didn't have any failures, rather than 100% success.

        Had the Saturn rockets gone on to fly the equivalent of the number of flights that the Shuttle program has gone through, you would have seen perhaps a similar level of rocketry failure. It may not have been as catastrophic in terms of loss of human life (the Shuttle is particularly awful on th
        • SpaceX has made some mistakes, but they are sitting in a much better position than NASA was in the early 1960's. I'll also have to admit that the reason SpaceX is in the position they are in is due to the knowledge gained by NASA and the U.S. military back in the 1950's and 1960's as well (not to mention other rocket developers), but I wouldn't condemn them for not trying.

          I do want to emphasize that at no point have I condemned Space-X, and most certainly you can't criticize them for not trying. My respect for Space-X goes up a notch every time they follow up a failure with a commitment to learn from their mistakes and keep on working. This is something to be admired, not condemned. They are out there proving that they've got what it takes.

      • Geoffrey Landis commented on my post??

        Cool!

        BTW, Geoff, I'd love having you back at Norwescon one of these years. You were a great Science GoH.

        Of course I was making some generalizations. The paragraph about NASA would have gotten rather unwieldy very shortly.

        SpaceX did not integrate every possibly lesson from every possible launch vehicle program by all of the various groups.

        They did not take into account that hot, humid, salty sea air + aluminum nut with a scratch it its paint = possible failure of said
  • If the schedule for the next Falcon 1 launch is pushed back any further Musk might as well go back to writing software.
  • by debatem1 (1087307) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @03:16AM (#22608572)
    Alright, I just have to rant about this.

    We are eight years into the new millennium. We chose to go to the moon forty-six years ago. I want you to think about that. Not a decade ago. Not even a generation ago. Forty-six years. In some places, two full generations have been born, lived, and passed into history since John F. Kennedy spoke those words to a packed crowd in Houston. And yet here we are, nigh on a half a century of unimaginable innovation later, and we have lost our courage and our way. Not when the stakes were high, not when the risk was great, but now, when bolder men than we have already faced the greatest challenges, we find that we no longer dare to set foot into the void.
    It isn't that we don't have the technology. And certainly no newfound danger has emerged to lend credence to the sophists' snivelling. We have, indisputably, the technology, the capital, and the infrastructure to once again walk among the stars. Butt he truth is that we have shrunk away from it, that our collective cowardice and the braying of the bean-counters has emasculated the quintessentially human pursuit of the unknown in its most compelling form. I hate to see what it has done to our country, to our stature in the world, and to the dreams common to all men whose eyes behold the stars- that space seems no nearer to us today than it did on the eve of Apollo 1. I fear that somewhere above us, in the cramped tube that has become the locus of all our space-bound endeavours, those dreams have gone to die. I can say no more than that it appalls me, and that for all the world our hopes are that much less bright for having abandoned the challenge of our age.

    /rant over
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)
      Rant acknowledged.

      We don't need to go into space, apart from re-living the plots in old Heinlein books. I want to go, you may want to go, but neither of us can afford to go. Some people have paid to go to orbit and in 20 or 30 years it may be possible to pay to go to the moon.

      By the standards of history, that is pretty fast progress. Consider how long it took to colonise America and Australia after it became clear that there was land out there somewhere.

      It will happen. In a hundred years or so I expect some
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by debatem1 (1087307)
        I'm not talking about sending everybody though. I'm talking about taking mankind to the stars again. I'm talking about pushing the boundaries of known space. Is that so crazy? Personally, I that we should be doing everything in our power not just to infuse our flagging economy with R&D dollars and great jobs, not just to bring prestige and interest to the sciences and mathematics, but to prove ourselves as equal to the greatest challenges of our species as our forebears, and to bequeath to future genera
        • The best way to start would be to work for one of the private firms developing launchers and orbital habitats. In the medium term try to establish habitats on near Earth asteroids. I think that is a reasonable goal for our generation.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by imasu (1008081)

      Don't worry, men will once again walk on the moon and beyond. They just probably won't be Americans. We've dropped that ball *big time*.

      Last year's *total* NASA budget was $16.8B. The cost of the Apollo program, adjusted for 2006 dollars, was about $135B ($25B 1969 USD). We're not going to the moon again any time soon, unless there's a drastic change in our spending priorities. Regardless of what any politician tries to sell you.

      • You did notice the announcement on the Chinese lander, yes? It's launch was moved from 2012-2014, to 2009. It should be obvious that their announcements of timeline and capabilities are false. That is going to spark the next space race. The next president will be forced to deal with that. In particular, one of the real issues will be weaponization. China is pushing for us not to weaponize space, while they are developing such systems. In fact, I am guessing that once China puts a lander on the moon, even Ob
        • by imasu (1008081)
          That would constitute a "drastic change in our spending priorities" as I mentioned, yes? :)
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by WindBourne (631190)
            Even if American Gov. does nothing, Americans will be on the moon within a decade. In fact, I believe it will be either 2015 or 2016. Yeah, that is aggressive, but I think that we will be there. Both bigelow and musk want this. Bad. Once we have a base there, rich ppl will want to vacation there. And of course, behind all that will be the DOD. I would be surprised if DOD does not put big money into this starting in 2011 (most likely to fund the spacex BFR).

            Another prediction is that either Carmack (with
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by lennier (44736)
              "Another prediction is that either Carmack (with more funding) or Bezos will join this. They both speak about developing a rocket for use on earth, but their work will be of better use on the moon. In fact, I believe that one of these 2 will hook up with Musk to do the Google prize."

              2008: The Large Hadron Collider is powered up.

              2009: Jeff Bezos, John Carmack, and Richard Branson announce the merging of Armadillo, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic into the 'Union Aerospace Company'.

              2010: The LHC detects the Hi
        • by Teancum (67324)
          While I'm not completely dissing China here, this seems to be rather ambitious for China to make it to the Moon sometime next year... or even by the end of the next decade (2020). Ambitious to the point that if they make it to the Moon, that you might see some "Chinese Astronauts" die as a result of the activities.

          If the Chinese are conducting aggressive LEO operations, this might be quite a bit more believable. Doing docking rendezvous or other orbital actions that would demonstrate equipment capable of
          • China is looking to move up the lander probe schedule to next year, not taikonauts. They initially claimed that the lander would take place in 2012. Now it is 3 years ahead. I believe that is actually meant to test their automated landing on the moon. It is quit likely that this system will be used for the final lunar vehicle. The fact that they have moved it up, means that they are concerned about something else. My guess is that American private is moving very fast by their estimates.

            As to them having
            • by Teancum (67324)
              So wow! China is going to duplicate the Ranger series [wikipedia.org] of spacecraft!

              I am underwhelmed at this huge revelation. Especially for a major national government that prides itself as a superpower which is a peer to Russia and America.

              This is exactly what I thought was more legitimate in terms of something that China might try to pull off. It wouldn't surprise me if John Carmack might team up with Elon Musk and try something like that as a demonstration flight either, and produce something that could stick aroun
              • Yeah, it is actually a nuclear powered rover. The real issue is that they had announced that they would land on 2013. Now, it is moved up to 2009. The craft that is expected to return samples will supposedly go 2017. The Chiange 3 will land, run around and collect samples, and then send it back to earth. They will follow the 3 with a human mission. They timeline calls for man to the moon around 2021. But my guess is that China will send a team by 2014-2015. The real issue is not that they have the tech, b
      • by FleaPlus (6935)
        Last year's *total* NASA budget was $16.8B. The cost of the Apollo program, adjusted for 2006 dollars, was about $135B ($25B 1969 USD).

        Hm... so the Apollo program went from 1961 to 1975, 14 years total. $135B/14 = $9.6 billion/year, which seems to be substantially less than NASA is getting now. Am I missing something in my calculations?
        • by cloricus (691063)
          Yes. This is all extrapolation so kind of pointless anyway... But, your figure easily puts one single program at well over half of NASAs total budget per year for ten+ years. On top of this they have to pay all other expenses and upkeep on a mothballed fleet of other projects that would have to wait the ten years while we reinvent the wheel. Also your average doesn't take into account out bursts in yearly funding requirements - pretty sure the apollo 11 year would have cost a lot more than the apollo 1 y
    • Not so fast. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @06:43AM (#22609106) Journal
      Well, there is no doubt that many presidents since Kennedy/LBJ dropped the ball. I will say that things are not a total waste. While Nixon gave us the shuttle era, and reagan, Bushes, and Clinton gave us the ISS, a number of tech sprang from these. Probably most of all, is spacex and bigelow. The reason is that both of these companies CEOs are driven to go not to LEO, but to the moon and mars. And they want to do it CHEAP. Musk has built a rocket that is suppose to be cheaper than Russias, EU, India, Japan, AND even CHina with their yuan tied to the dollar. What many forget is that as long as he gets the falcon 1 and falcon 9 working, he starts profitable. Why? He has not only COTs, but he has the military, and other systems lining up. While we all know about failures of the 2 launches, what many missed, is that he launched the falcon 1 with less than 25 guys (I think that it was only 12 on-site). The Falcon 9 with a crewed config is still expected to be less than 100. The shuttle take several thousand at launch time. And of course, Musk has another rocket waiting in the wings. It is apparently smaller than Saturn V, but bigger than the next larger one. The idea is that once the launch rate is up, he will introduce it. He is expecting that around 2012-2013. While smaller than the Ares V, it will again be CHEAP, and designed to launch ~100,000KG to LEO, with perhaps 35-45,000 KG to the moon. Realize that even 35000 KG to the moon is more than all of the current rockets take to LEO. All in all, he will make space access cheap enough that businesses and rich folks will go.

      Bigelow is using not just the transhab that sprang from the ISS, but is looking to use NASA's Life Support System. In the end, like spacex, his system costs will be very low. Bigelow first design is to operate in LEO, and will operate a multiple of these. But the design is to be used also for transportation as well as lunar and possibly Martian habitation. He is hoping to use these to carry ppl to the moon/mars , which is why they are so big. And his group is actively working on ideas and designs on mining and farming on the moon.

      Even others are getting in on cheap access. Richard Branson's Virgin Galatic is looking to initially provide low orbital shots into space, followed by HOPEFULLY, even cheaper access to LEO. It is not likely that they will be able to put 100K KG worth of cargo up cheap, but they will hopefully be able to carry up the most difficult load (life) up cheap. I would not be surprised to see Branson decide to purchase a bigelow system to use as a hotel and perhaps a couple of falcon 9's.

      Yes, through my lifetime, only 1 president has had a great vision of space, and that was kennedy (johnson simply followed his policy and all others have either been neutral or have taken us backwards). But Griffin's push on COTs made spaceX profitable. That policy has allowed Musk the chance to be profitable enough with this company that he is relatively risk free to work on bigger plans. Bigelow bought the rights to Transhab, a development from ISS, and he is now pushing to make even LMart do a large number of low-costs rockets.

      Combine the cheap access, habitation with all the groups working on space access, mining, and innovation, and I now have hope that my kids will be able to settle on Mars. THings are looking to be back on track.
      • by Teancum (67324)
        I'm a fairly big fan of SpaceX myself, so I won't rehash most of what you've said here... which is pretty good.

        Bush('43) at least set the vision that Mars should be a long-term goal of NASA, and set in motion a series of actions that IMHO will make this irreversible in terms of future presidents. Nixon first suggested Mars as an eventual goal for manned spaceflight, but then did nothing at all to make it happen. At least Bush has specific programs being worked upon at NASA that are specific for an eventua
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maxume (22995)
      The problem is that we haven't had all that much innovation in the areas of chemistry and anti-gravity. So the whole getting to orbit thing is still really dangerous and expensive. And no one thinks that they have a self contained ecosystem that needs the challenges of a vacuum to improve, so the 'life boat' argument sort of falls flat(because money is better spent on things other than leaving the gravity well we call home).

      Realistically, the challenge of our age is feeding everybody(not so much now as in 2
      • by Teancum (67324)
        Actually, the only problem is that we haven't had too much innovation in terms of discovering new radioscopicly stable isotope of elements that can be extracted in large enough quantities for a fuel source, and simultaneously cheap enough to use as a fuel source as well.

        There are only so many ways to combine basic elements in order to provide a chemical energy source, and the combination of hydrogen+oxygen is a tough reaction to beat in terms of rapid exothermic reactions, or its availability in large quant
        • by maxume (22995)
          If we don't have the political will to deal with hunger, is it reasonable to expect that we have the political will to colonize space?

          My comment about chemistry and anti-gravity was a bit tongue in cheek; neither has advanced, nor are they particularly likely to advance, a great deal from the state of the art in 1960(so, decent fuels and no anti-gravity), so advances in other areas aren't going to have an enormous impact on the basic operational economics of space faring. And other than satellite launches a
          • by Teancum (67324)
            The issues of living somewhere other than on the Earth are, for the most part, also political. I have heard it said that why live on Mars when people haven't figured out how to live on Antarctica. The reason people in large numbers aren't living on Antarctica has to do with politics... particularly environmental politics that is concerned about oil and mining companies heading into that continent and establishing mineral extraction enterprises... and what will be done to keep the damage to the environment
    • by benevixit (754447)
      I disagree that space exploration has nothing to show for the past two generations... in fact, if you look at the track record of unpiloted exploration the progress has been nothing short of remarkable. Despite getting de-funded by an order of magnitude, after accounting for inflation, NASA has revolutionized our understanding of the solar system and the universe through missions like the Voyager probes, the Mars exploration rovers, and the Hubble telescope. Consider everything (that we can now take for gr
    • by AJWM (19027)
      Bravo, sir! Very well said.

      Fortunately there are more than a few of us out there that feel the same, and some are doing something about it. Whether or not that turns out to have been too little and too late, we shall see.

      Sigh. In the late 1980s I had a reasonable expectation of being able to retire on the Moon, but NASA not only screwed their own pooch, they went out and started screwing everyone else's too (see the fate of DC-X for example). L5 merged with the NASA Fan Club, er, National Space Society,

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