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Space Science

SpaceX Conducts Full Thrust Firing of Falcon 9 79

Posted by Soulskill
from the ahead-of-schedule dept.
Toren Altair sends us this excerpt: "Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) conducted the first nine engine firing of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle at its Texas Test Facility outside McGregor on July 31st. A second firing on August 1st completed a major NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) milestone almost two months early. At full power, the nine engines consumed 3,200 lbs of fuel and liquid oxygen per second, and generated almost 850,000 pounds of force — four times the maximum thrust of a 747 aircraft. This marks the first firing of a Falcon 9 first stage with its full complement of nine Merlin 1C engines. Once a near term Merlin 1C fuel pump upgrade is complete, the sea level thrust will increase to 950,000 lbf, making Falcon 9 the most powerful single core vehicle in the United States. The Falcon 9 will launch SpaceX's spaceship Dragon with up to 7 humans from 2009 on." We discussed SpaceX when it won the NASA competition to provide low cost commercial transport to the ISS, and also when it launched an earlier design. Basic specs for Falcon 9 are available, as well as a more technical paper (PDF).
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SpaceX Conducts Full Thrust Firing of Falcon 9

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  • From TFS:

    The Falcon 9 will launch SpaceX's spaceship Dragon with up to 7 humans from 2009 on.

    I bet it won't.

    Launching human beings into orbit is hard to do. For a start you need to demonstrate that your launch vehicle is reliable enough to be considered man rated. Then you need to develop your lander and validate that.

    They may get there eventually but I doubt they can do it in one year.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      Ya.. that's just a straight up lie. If a Falcon 9 launches in 2009 at all, it will be carrying nothing but ballast or, at the best, some commercial payload.

    • by AJWM (19027)

      Note that they said "up to" seven humans. An unmanned launch of Dragon in 2009 would qualify.

      Oh, and you can develop/qualify your lander at the same time you qualify your launcher; they don't have to be done serially.

      • Note that they said "up to" seven humans. An unmanned launch of Dragon in 2009 would qualify.

        They should have said "up to 7000 humans". Sounds better that way.

        Oh, and you can develop/qualify your lander at the same time you qualify your launcher; they don't have to be done serially.

        True, but they do need a reliable launcher to test the lander and they don't have one of those yet.

        • by AJWM (19027) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @03:06AM (#24445621) Homepage

          Well no, because seven really is the upper limit. They just don't specify the lower limit.

          And you don't need to use the operational launcher to test the lander, you can use something else. It's not like the Apollo program used a Saturn V (or even Saturn IB) to develop the Apollo capsule. For some of the drop tests they didn't use a rocket at all.

    • by fsh (751959) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @02:52AM (#24445543)
      By far the hardest part about launching humans into orbit is building a rocket capable of getting them up there. All the stuff necessary to sustain life adds a lot of weight, but it's no more (or less) difficult to engineer than any other satellite launched into orbit. Look at the Apollo lunar lander. That thing had panels you could *punch* through. The astronauts during testing were told that the flimsiness of the lander wouldn't be a problem in space when they were weightless....

      In any case, thorough testing of the launch vehicle is absolutely necessary if for no other reason than to know the weight limit for the manned payload. But the design of the launch vehicle is robust (it can withstand various failures without scrubbing). Also, they'll be using these same engines (the Merlin 1C) in smaller launch vehicles, so they'll have plenty of reliability information.

      To top it off, they're running a couple months early. As far as I see, they shouldn't have too many difficulties for a 2009 launch. *

      * - God willing and the creek don't rise. **
      ** - Er, that is, God willing and the funding don't dry up.

      -fsh PS - Although I don't have personal experience in the aerospace industry, I'm doing research at an observatory right now. Not that that means anything, I just like telling people that I'm working at an observatory right now!

      • Look at the Apollo lunar lander. That thing had panels you could *punch* through. The astronauts during testing were told that the flimsiness of the lander wouldn't be a problem in space when they were weightless....

        Yeah but NASA are fantastic engineers. Their interface design and validation are orders of magnitude ahead of anybody else.

        Consider the first shuttle flight. The most complex and unlikely machine (pretty much) ever built. And it worked first time. They were hot at the time, coming off the experience of Apollo.

        I just don't think NASA is a good example of what can be done by anybody other than NASA.

        • by fsh (751959) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @03:57AM (#24445801)

          Yeah but NASA are fantastic engineers. Their interface design and validation are orders of magnitude ahead of anybody else.

          NASA didn't design the LEM, Northrop Grumman did. Spacecraft are designed by aerospace companies (like Northrop-Grumman, Boeing, Rockwell, and now SpaceX), and then NASA picks the design they like best. The best engineers are typically at the private companies because the pay is better than at government run NASA.

          Consider the first shuttle flight. [...] And it worked first time. They were hot at the time, coming off the experience of Apollo.

          Well, the first space shuttle, the Enterprise, never went to space. It's easy to have a successful first flight when you have the resources to build a full size scale model to 'test' with. And they weren't coming hot off Apollo; the space shuttle was about a decade later.

          The most complex and unlikely machine (pretty much) ever built.

          They made it needlessly complex. This is why they have had, and continue to have, so many problems. The designers promised several launches each month and a payload cost in $50-$100 per pound range.

          The scientific community at the time said much the same things about the shuttle design that they currently say about the ISS; that it's too much money for too little return. Some even go so far as to suggest these overly-complex plans, pushed on the unsupportive science community are essentially aerospace company welfare.

          • by KGIII (973947)

            I have to be honest here and I think it is my age that makes me get this frustrated. I want to have the chance to fly, as a civilian, into space.

            We all know how problematic it would be but I'm sure we all have our fantasies about how we could accomplish it but I really want to fly into outer space just to have sex there. The idea of weightless sex has made me curious for years.

            I freely admit that would be my primary personal goal in space.

            With my luck we'll get there just after the period where I'm no longe

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by lxs (131946)

            And they weren't coming hot off Apollo; the space shuttle was about a decade later.

            Actually they were coming hot off the Apollo. Nixon gave the go-ahead for the shuttle project while still being in office. It's just that by the time the first shuttle was finally launched into space, after many setbacks and delays partly due to the needless complexity (mandated by the military who wanted greater glide capability), Apollo started to become a distant memory.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by FlatEric521 (1164027)

            Consider the first shuttle flight. [...] And it worked first time. They were hot at the time, coming off the experience of Apollo.

            Well, the first space shuttle, the Enterprise, never went to space. It's easy to have a successful first flight when you have the resources to build a full size scale model to 'test' with. And they weren't coming hot off Apollo; the space shuttle was about a decade later.

            No, those were just drop tests to see how the shuttle glided. The shuttle is notable in NASA history for bei

    • <humor>I guess it might be easier to get in to space on one of the Russian He3 mining ships to the moon.</humor>
  • Now wouldn't they feel dumb if someone invents an earth to space teleporter next year? jk we totally won't have teleporters for hundreds of years if they work on star trek technology
    • Re:hehehe (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jd (1658) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday August 02, 2008 @03:16AM (#24445675) Homepage Journal
      Teleporters are crude. Since matter is just energy with an information matrix overlaid in which the physical location is part of that information, altering the matrix should alter the position of the matter without the need for a teleport system with its inherent problems of information bandwidth and Heisenberg uncertainty. Of course, that's not going to happen next year (or even another hundred years). Direct manipulation of the information that binds energy to form matter is unlikely to be possible for another 500 - 1000 years. Add another 50 - 60 before it becomes possible to use that ability to transport macroscale objects, such as people, safely and reliably.
      • The good news is that even more trivial matrix alterations should let us flip matter into antimatter, or just rotate it directly into energy. Godhood ensues.
  • I've been there. =) (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Forrest Kyle (955623) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @03:01AM (#24445583) Homepage
    I go to Baylor University, which is close to the SpaceX test site. A bunch of engineering students (myself included) got to take a tour of the facility. We rode this rickety little elevator to the top of of the test stand. The test stand is a gigantic concrete superstructure that is like 300 ft high or so. I had to pee really bad. Luckily there was a port-a-potty at the bottom.

    It was really exciting to see real rocket work going on in person. The "mission control" room was such a nerd fantasy. There was a big swath of giant flat screen monitors, each glowing with thin, phosphorescent lines of data. The glut of wires, tubes, ratings, warning signs, and big pieces of scary looking equipment made it a fantastic afternoon overall.

    I wish Elon Musk all the luck in the world, and I hope someday I can afford to drive around in a Tesla Motors car.

    Oh, and the test site is located at an old weapons test site. There are all these weird looking bunkers peppering the surrounding countryside. It felt like a scene from a Marvel comic or something. Unfortunately nothing went wrong and I failed to develop super powers due to radiation exposure.

    I fully realize this comment contributed almost nothing to the discussion of the article, except to brag that I've been there and to share my excitement over all the loud, large, and complicated stuff they have.
    • Oh, and the test site is located at an old weapons test site. There are all these weird looking bunkers peppering the surrounding countryside. It felt like a scene from a Marvel comic or something. Unfortunately nothing went wrong and I failed to develop super powers due to radiation exposure.

      Brings to mind the novel Rocketship Galileo [wikipedia.org] by Robert Heinlein. Maybe Elon is actually going to the moon to battle Nazis.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jd (1658)
      Nothing wrong with bragging, and Slashdot is known to cause superpower-generating mutations, which is why CowboyNeil does so well in the polls all the time.
    • by KGIII (973947)

      I'll admit it... This is a hearty and VERY jealous, "Fuck you." ;)

      Green with envy is not applicable. Maybe neon green.

      • by Nyeerrmm (940927)
        Its not as bad as me... I called my roommate for next semester up last night to see about moving arrangements, and he was out there to watch the test, with my old roommate who works out there... and I was in Virginia.
    • by Jonathan_S (25407)

      Oh, and the test site is located at an old weapons test site. There are all these weird looking bunkers peppering the surrounding countryside.

      I'm pretty sure that it is actually the site of a (long demolished) WW-II era munitions plant, and the "weird looking bunkers" were for the storage of the completed bombs while they await transport. So an old weapons factory rather than an old weapons test site.

  • Quote: "Much like a commercial airliner, our multi-engine design has the potential to provide significantly higher reliability than single engine competitors."

    WHAT "single engine competitors"?? No U.S. to-orbit vehicle of which I am aware has EVER been "single-engine"!

    Kind of like saying, "Our plane flies better than any other wingless vehicle!"
    • Various commercial rockets have been proposed to operate as SSTO with a single aerospike engine. A few got off the drawing board and into testing, but they have all now been quietly forgotten.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        There was a problem or two with the aerospike... I have information that some problems have been solved.

        One problem the aerospike has suffered from has been common to all single-stage-to-orbit engines: a nozzle of one shape may give optimum thrust at rest, at sea-level pressure, but be relatively inefficient at high velocity in the upper atmosphere. Optimize for one situation and you lose efficiency at the other. I know of an innovation or two that just might help the aerospike overcome this limitation,
        • a nozzle of one shape may give optimum thrust at rest, at sea-level pressure, but be relatively inefficient at high velocity in the upper atmosphere.

          Perhaps they should ask Scaled Composites to help them with the first 15km of the launch. And yeah I know they would need something beefier than WhiteKnightTwo.

        • This is actually the problem that aerospikes were intended to solve. A containing nozzle works well at one altitude and pathetically at most others. At any one pressure level, an aerospike performs more poorly than a conventional nozzle, but on average over all operating pressures, the efficiency is much better for a half contained nozzle. This was supposedly the advantage that would allow it to be used for SSTO.
          • but the solution is incomplete. There are (non-obvious) physical limitations on aerospikes that limit their effectiveness in this regard. Still, all is not necessarily lost... as I mentioned, there may be ways around these limitations. I realize that this might sound like just so much hot air, bit in fact it would be unwise for me to say more at this time.
    • by RoboRay (735839)

      Apollo's LM ascent stage? :p

    • Re:Duh (Score:4, Funny)

      by jd (1658) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday August 02, 2008 @03:29AM (#24445711) Homepage Journal
      Well, there WAS one single-engined [gresham.ac.uk] competitor, but alas it was in the UK, not the US.
    • Quote: "Much like a commercial airliner, our multi-engine design has the potential to provide significantly higher reliability than single engine competitors."

      WHAT "single engine competitors"?? No U.S. to-orbit vehicle of which I am aware has EVER been "single-engine"!

      How about space ship two, if you only count the first 50km of the launch?

    • Re:Duh (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anpheus (908711) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @04:11AM (#24445865)

      They're talking about single point of failure. The space shuttle, for example, has a single point of failure: if either of the two engines fails, the whole thing fails. The result is that the overall reliability is the square of the reliability of the two engines. 99% reliable becomes 98.1% reliable. If it were the other way around, it would be the square root: 99.99% means it fails one in every thousand launches, as opposed to one in every fifty.

      So what he's saying is, they can afford to have engines become nonfunctional (obviously not explosively so.) So even if each engine is only 80% reliable, if it only takes four to get to orbit, they can use nine, and get 99.9% reliability. If each engine is 99% reliable, you're talking way better than six sigma.

      • by ClayJar (126217)

        So what he's saying is, they can afford to have engines become nonfunctional (obviously not explosively so.)

        Actually, from what I read, the Merlin 1C engines are protected with respect to the catastrophic disassembly of one of their fellows. I'm not sure how big a boom the Kevlar shielding can take in terms of preventing a multi-boom situation, but it's there to stop debris from a failed engine from turning into a chain-reaction failure.

      • fact is that they might be able to succeed with one engine failure, or even one failure and one partial failure. But there is no way in hell it would ever make it to orbit with only 4 of nine engines functional using today's technology. Nobody in their right mind would design something so inefficiently.

        So until our technology gets much better, we will still have to accept some risk. I daresay that the actual reliability is well below 99.9%. But one can hope that it is at least in the high 90s.
        • by Anpheus (908711)

          So you put 16 engines on it and you can accept three failures and two partial failures, or whatever. The point still stands even if you choose to create strawmen with the numbers I gave. So you add an extra tenth rocket and you can succeed with two failures. Or an eleventh and you can succeed with two failures and two partials, or whatever.

          The whole point is that they don't have a single point of failure that wrecks the whole thing.

  • The Falcon 1 failure. Not that other programs haven't had failures... but keep it in mind.
    • hehehe (Score:3, Insightful)

      by WindBourne (631190)
      I get a kick out of this. Looking at your postings and several other newbies in here, it is obvious that you folks are working in the space industry. More importantly, you are working within the NASA system on Ares. SpaceX had a spectacular failure on the first go. But top ppl at both NASA and DOD said that the 2'nd launch had minor issues, that were easily correctable. Yes, I think that we all remember that falcon I failed. OTH, do you think that they will continue to have failures? And once falcon I works
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ScottKin (34718)

        Absolutely!

        Don't forget the number of launch failures that happened at Cape Canaveral / Cape Kennedy. Some of the more spectacular ones happened when the Gemini missions were going, and they had some fairly spectacular aborts / KATOs with the early Saturn I test launches, along with some equally spectacular engine failures for both the F1 and J1 engines, along with the early tests of the STS Engines - the bells were apparently not as robust as planned, and the engine bells went into a harmonic coupling that

      • ... I am a software engineer, and I do not work for NASA or any government agency. But I do have, well... other interests, too. :o)

        I am not trying to slam SpaceX. On the contrary. More power to them, and to anyone who thinks they can make this whole thing work better than it does. May they have the courage to try and keep trying.

        But let's not forget the failures, lest they be repeated. For many Americans, Challenger still burns. And NASA may never have fully recovered.
  • Those guys are getting busy. There's this and a Falcon 1 launch any day now. I'm all giddy with excitement.

  • This is awesome news. But why did I sign up for the newletter if they always release their stuff to spaceref or spacedaily first? Just saying...
    • This is awesome news. But why did I sign up for the newletter if they always release their stuff to spaceref or spacedaily first? Just saying...

      They have a mailing list? Haven't they heard of RSS?

  • ...making Falcon 9 the most powerful single core vehicle in the United States.

    Even Apple is using dual-cores now.

  • This is great news for the SpaceX team. But there is nothing "commercial" about the NASA COTS Program. The only difference between COTS and every other NASA program is that NASA is contracting for a service rather than the hardware itself.

    This is a step in the right direction, but this vehicle isn't satisfying any "commercial" requirement.

    • by dino2gnt (1072530)
      I'm sure people made the same comments when ESA first tested the Ariane series of rockets. As it turns out, they do quite a bit of commercial activity, launching many non-government satellites for corporate parties. An ESA Ariane-5 put DirecTV's SpaceWay-F2 into orbit. I beg your pardon, but who are you to say that the Falcon rockets won't or can't become the next commodity commercial launch system?
      • by ThreeE (786934)

        You have misunderstood me. I agree with you completely. I have no doubt that a successful Falcon family will be a great commercial vehicle.

        My issue is with NASA. Calling it "commercial" is just the latest way to keep the Agency in the way of real progress (= sustainable) in spaceflight.

  • Although there is murmuring it will have another test launch today.

    I think the idea of them launching a 7 man capsule in 2009 is, to be honest, fantasy. So far they've shown an unrealistic view of their own capabilities even in the face of repeated failure. I wish them luck, but I am keeping my skeptical hat on until at the very least the third falcon 1 pulls off a successful flight.

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