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Space Science

Falcon 9 Is Now Fully Integrated At Cape Canaveral 82

Posted by timothy
from the neither-cape-ann-nor-cape-cod dept.
RobGoldsmith writes "SpaceX's Falcon 9 is now fully integrated: an update from Elon Musk states 'Falcon 9 is now fully integrated at the Cape! Today we mated the 5.2 m payload fairing to the Falcon 9 first stage. This was the final step in the integration process — one day ahead of schedule.' New images are now available showing the first fully integrated Falcon 9 Rocket. Once the launch mount and erector are complete, SpaceX will transfer Falcon 9 on to the erector and raise it to vertical early in 2009."
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Falcon 9 Is Now Fully Integrated At Cape Canaveral

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  • by cmowire (254489) on Friday January 02, 2009 @01:22AM (#26297361) Homepage

    Will Elon Musk, second in reality distortion only to Steve Jobs, be able to convince the new president and congress to cancel Ares I / Orion in favor of Falcon 9 / Dragon, even though it's pretty much guaranteed to wipe out a network of pork barrel projects that ensured NASA's funding built up since the sixties? If so, will we be four launches deep into the campaign with nothing to show for the Falcon 9 / Dragon effort in 2015? If not, will Elon & co shrug and sell endless DragonLab missions to the open market, thus actually delivering on the promise that the Space Shuttle was built with (cheap cost/lb to orbit so that anybody can just buy some lab time instead of needing to buy off politicians and political appointees)?

    Things might actually get interesting.

    Or maybe that volcano in Yellowstone will blow up tomorrow and we'll never find out.

    Either way, SpaceX engineers are so studly that they don't need to get erect before they can mount and *cough* integrate!

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday January 02, 2009 @01:31AM (#26297383) Homepage Journal
    I think there is an opportunity for a small aerospace firm (Scaled?) to build a capsule similar to Gemini, or a small Apollo. Maybe you could sell single use capsules for a million bucks a go, ready to integrate with a Falcon 9.

    I also think it should be possible to build an ultra light capsule to fly on a Falcon 1. The mass budget is about 500kg which should be enough in this day and age.
  • by Aglassis (10161) on Friday January 02, 2009 @01:41AM (#26297409)

    If the Ares I design is to be replaced, it would be by the Delta IV Heavy, not the Falcon 9 Heavy. The Delta IV Heavy is already flying, its payload fairing size is an almost perfect fit for the Orion spacecraft, and it uses the RS-68s that are planned to be used on the Ares V. NASA would also be extremely skeptical of the Falcon 9 Heavy because it would be using a total of 27 Merlin engines in its first stage! The failures of the N1 rocket (with 30 engines) would make any high engine rocket a tough sell. The Falcon 9 may work, but I'd be very surprised if the Falcon 9 Heavy is ever built. Man-rating a rocket like that would be well-nigh impossible.

  • by cmowire (254489) on Friday January 02, 2009 @01:51AM (#26297453) Homepage

    Please read my comment again.

    I said Ares I / Orion replaced by the Falcon 9 / Dragon. Not the Falcon 9 Heavy being used to lift the Ares I.

    And actually, it's not even necessary to launch the Ares I design on the Delta IV Heavy, just an Atlas V [selenianboondocks.com], according to some.

    I suspect there's a longer-term plan to swap out the 9 Merlins on the bottom of the Falcon 9 with two bigger rockets. Except that nobody inside of SpaceX is going to breathe a word about it until the right time.

  • by cmowire (254489) on Friday January 02, 2009 @01:54AM (#26297473) Homepage

    Um, SpaceX is also working on their own capsule, called the Dragon, to be launched atop the Falcon 9.

  • by mrcaseyj (902945) on Friday January 02, 2009 @02:03AM (#26297515)

    It seems like I heard Musk say a couple months ago that they're thinking they might launch Falcon 9 this summer. I think maybe this whole thing about integrating it by the end of the year and putting vertical on the launch pad are all about meeting certain milestones to get money from their NASA contract. I think they've got to take it down and finish getting everything ready before they launch. They may be waiting on NASA to get a payload together. Notice that the web site gives no suggestion about a launch date. The "launch manifest" has an asterisk that gives the strange definition of "target date" as "Target dates are for vehicle arrival at launch site".

  • Interesting Question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Friday January 02, 2009 @02:10AM (#26297549) Homepage Journal

    Here's a question for those of you who know more about the details of space engineering than I: One of the changes made to the STS during the early days of flight was that the main tank was left unpainted. This gave the Shuttle launch stack its trademark rust-orange color. By making this simple change, NASA realized they could shave off hundreds of tons of launch weight, thereby increasing available payload. (Not that the shuttle ever used it, but that's another issue.)

    Yet I can't help but notice the shine of a fresh coat of pain on the Falcon rocket. They even went through the trouble of stenciling "SpaceX" in large letters along the length of the craft. Is there any particular engineering reason why rockets are still covered in paint, or is this entirely an aesthetics issue?

  • by strack (1051390) on Friday January 02, 2009 @02:19AM (#26297581)
    yes, the falcon 9 heavy *does* use 27 engines in total. thats the freaking point. if a any one of the few engines on a delta IV fails, the rocket is a goner. if a engine, or even a few, fail on the falcon 9, it can still complete its mission, the other engines just have to burn a bit longer. its engine redundancy, in the fine tradition of rockets like the saturn 5, which had no failures, despite a engine failure mid-flight on apollo 13.
  • by khallow (566160) on Friday January 02, 2009 @04:23AM (#26297995)

    Jon Goff is a great rocketry blogger. He pushes the orbital propellant depot hard and this is why. Once you have it going, it boosts the capabilities of your launch infrastructure considerably. Since you no longer have to launch fuel with lunar missions, you can fit a lot more vehicle on smaller rockets. The Ariane 5 is another rocket that can carry an unfueled Orion or propellant. Another important aspect is that this approach is highly scalable. You can use the same tricks to fuel other big missions, manned or not. It's a shame that NASA has done almost nothing with this concept.

    I suspect there's a longer-term plan to swap out the 9 Merlins on the bottom of the Falcon 9 with two bigger rockets. Except that nobody inside of SpaceX is going to breathe a word about it until the right time.

    It would be a natural continuation in the sequence of engine designs they've done. My take is that they're focusing on launching falcon 9 right now. They need that to go well. But there's no reason they couldn't have bigger engines on the drawing board.

  • Re:Not Reusable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dj245 (732906) on Friday January 02, 2009 @04:40AM (#26298047) Homepage
    What continues to amaze me about the SpaceX folk is not really the technology and engineering anymore, although that is impressive. What is great about their organization is the project management. They continually deliver on their claims on time (or ahead of schedule) and mostly stick to the budget. They are making steady steps toward being a massive player like Lockheed. Very few companies run this smoothly.
  • Actually (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Friday January 02, 2009 @09:28AM (#26299457) Journal
    I am more interested in seeing if they recover this rocket. IIRC, they have not been able to recover the falcon I's. I am surprised that they do not choose to launch several more 1's and get the recovery correct. But have to make the 2010 deadline.

    On a side note, I do wish that he would pull in a partner or two and get the escape tower built. It would be nice to see human rated by the time the shuttle is over.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Friday January 02, 2009 @09:52AM (#26299665) Journal
    American Airlines used to fully paint their birds. Back in the oil crisis of late 70's, crandell asked employees how to save money. My dad was one of the pilots who suggested losing most of the the paint and doing much smaller amounts of it. They figured that added something like 1-2% to the bottom line.

    Spacex will likely drop the paint job down the road unless it is found that it helps against the salt in the air as well as in the ocean upon landing.
  • by goodmanj (234846) on Friday January 02, 2009 @12:22PM (#26301255)

    Also even if a engine itself fails, you have to remember that the failure is not necessarily a clean shutdown, but likely a large explosion, taking out adjacent engines.

    Falcon 9's design includes armored enclosures for the engines, to keep them from taking out their neighbors if they blow up.

    I agree that 27 is a whole lot of engines, but if you're going to cite the N1, you'd better also mention Soyuz, which has 32ish engines firing at launch, depending on how you count, and is one of the most reliable man-rated vehicles out there.

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Friday January 02, 2009 @04:44PM (#26304703)

    Like I said, "depending on how you count": counting engines on shared-turbopump engines like Soyuz is a little tricky.

    Still, any way you count, Soyuz has a ridiculously large number of "parts with fire in them that could explode", which is the key parameter here, and it seems to do just fine.

    In fact, since Falcon 9 heavy can lose one or more turbopumps and keep going, a failure mode that would doom a Soyuz, you could claim that Falcon might be *more* reliable.

    Yes, it's ridiculous to compare the reliability of vehicles which haven't even been built yet with historical hardware, but that's my whole point here. When it comes to launch failure, the devil's in the details, and IMO the reliability of Falcon 9 heavy will depend a lot more on getting the details right than on how many engines it has.

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