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SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon Make It To Orbit 200

jnaujok writes "This morning the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon capsule lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 10:43 Eastern time, after an earlier launch had been scrubbed because of a bad telemetry feed. A little over 9 minutes later, the Dragon capsule separated from the second stage into its intended orbit. Part of the COTS (Commercial access To Space) program, this is the first test of the Dragon capsule by SpaceX to prove it can be used to ferry supplies to the ISS. The Dragon capsule will make two or three orbits before returning to Earth about four hours after launch."
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SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon Make It To Orbit

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  • This is pretty big. (Score:5, Informative)

    by eobanb ( 823187 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @12:48PM (#34488568) Homepage
    This is pretty amazing, although as I write this it remains to be seen if the capsule re-enters correctly. If so, SpaceX will probably combine its next two missions into one. The first upcoming mission is to perform an ISS flyby, followed by a docking. If all goes well with today's mission (and I expect it will!) then the mission in spring 2011 will be an unmanned resupply mission to the ISS. It's worth noting, though, that the Falcon 9 / Dragon platform is probably not going to be the one taking us to the moon or elsewhere outside of Earth orbit; it was designed to be cheap and fast to develop, which is exactly why SpaceX was able to fly this mission whilst Orion got cancelled. It would take some really heavy modification to even do a lunar flyby. For now, though, it seems like exactly what we need. If these flights prove to be reliable and inexpensive, then the supply and personnel lines to the ISS are secured, and it'll probably pave the way for Bigelow's space station to launch in a couple years.
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @12:49PM (#34488584) Homepage

    COTS is cheap (or commercial) off the shelf, not as the summary has it cheap access to space, which would be CATS.

    Huge congrats to SpaceX on their achievements in both, though.

  • CNN has video up (Score:4, Informative)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @12:49PM (#34488588) Journal

    The official SpaceX video (which includes things like a view from the rocket itself) hasn't been released yet, but CNN has posted NASA's video here: []

    Ongoing updates will be posted to SpaceX's twitter account []. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth a few times and then land off the California coast about three hours after the launch [], and SpaceX has announced that they're doing a press conference an hour or two after the landing.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @12:55PM (#34488696)

    Generally you're right, COTS is Commercial Off The Shelf, but in this case it is referring to the NASA program - "Commercial Orbital Transportation Services".

  • Re:Cost per pound (Score:5, Informative)

    by peacefinder ( 469349 ) <> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @12:55PM (#34488704) Journal

    Pricing []

    SpaceX offers open and fixed pricing that is the same for all customers, including a best price guarantee. Modest discounts are available for contractually committed, multi-launch purchases. A half bay flight of Falcon 9 is available to accommodate customers with payloads in between Falcon 1 and 9.
    Mission Type Price*
    LEO (s/c80% capacity to the customer orbit) $56M
    GTO (s/c3,000 kg)** $49.9M
    GTO (s/c up to 4,680 kg) $56M

    *Standard Launch Services Pricing through 12/31/10.

    Standard prices assumes standard services (see User Guide) and payment in full within the noted calendar period.

    Payments made over time subject to LIBOR +2.5% financing rate. Contact SpaceX for standard payment plan.

    Standard price includes a SpaceX-developed and produced payload adapter and tension-band separation system. Other systems can be accommodated or provided — contact SpaceX for more information.

    Reflight insurance offered at 8.0% of Standard Launch Services Price.

    **SpaceX reserves the right to seek a non-interference co-passenger

    Rebates to Standard Launch Services Pricing are considered on a case-by case basis to address (i) inaugural launches, (ii) short turn around opportunities and (iii) multiple launch service procurements.

    Launch Site: Cape Canaveral AFS Kwajalein

    Mass to Low Earth Orbit (LEO): 10,450 kg (23,050 lb) 8,560 kg (18,870 lb)
    Inclination: 28.5 degree 90 degree (polar orbit)

    Mass to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO): 4,540 kg (10,000 lb) 4,680 kg (10,320 lb)
    Inclination: 28.5 degree 9.1 degree

    For further information, contact us at

  • Piggyback Payload (Score:5, Informative)

    by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @01:37PM (#34489384) Homepage Journal
    Hmmm, here's an interesting little bit of info. Apparently the NRO bolted a few cubesats to the side of this rocket as well. They deployed successfully according to Spaceflightnow's [] live blog update. I can't find much information on the little guys (and probably won't since they are NRO) but wikipedia [] confirms that there was a secondary payload on this test. Apparently some government offices already feel that the Falcon 9 is worthy enough to carry their goods.

    Also, pretty pictures of the launch. []
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @01:42PM (#34489472) Journal

    In case it's helpful, the other day I came across a really cool infographic [] which shows the relative sizes and capabilities of the SpaceX Dragon, the Soyuz-launched Progress, China's Shenzhou, Orbital's upcoming Cygnus, Europe's ATV, and the in-progress Orion capsule.

    Each Dragon capsule can deliver more payload to the ISS than Progress, but not as much as the ATV. Unlike the other two disposable craft, however, Dragon is designed to reenter the atmosphere, which will make it the only way to get significant amounts of equipment/material/samples back from the ISS after the Shuttle's last flight.

  • by akgunkel ( 567825 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @02:02PM (#34489840) Homepage Journal

    Remember a little thing called the Challenger Disaster?

    From: []

    "Thiokol engineers argued that if the O-rings were colder than 53 F (12 C), they did not have enough data to determine whether the joint would seal properly. This was an important consideration, since the SRB O-rings had been designated as a "Criticality 1" component—meaning that there was no backup if both the primary and secondary O-rings failed, and their failure would destroy the Orbiter and its crew."

  • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @02:09PM (#34489936) Homepage Journal
    Great idea! Let's kill off funding to the only United States organization doing research outside [] of low earth orbit! [] It's not like they've ever done, [] or are currently doing, [] anything [] interesting [] or useful! []

    Damn, stupid AC's.
  • by slew ( 2918 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @03:09PM (#34490932)

    Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (the airforce base just north of Cocoa Beach on the east coast of florida on a strip of land which is ultimatly called Cape Canaveral).

    Kennedy Space Center (the nasa facility just to the north west of Cape Canaveral Air force station on nearby Merritt Island).

    Here's a helpful map from the wikipedia... []

    As you can see, Launch Complex 39 (located about 1/2 way between the two) and is technically part of the Kennedy Space Center.

    The common confusion is that in 1963, Congress, in their infinite wisdom, renamed Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy. However, as it turned out, they didn't have the full authority to do that. Apparently the Cape's official name on international maps was under the juristiction of some international maritime treaty (UN, IHO?), so it could only be named Cape Kennedy on US-specific maps. Of course most of the US govt went along including the US Board on Geographic names (which means it got into some US official maps), but eventually everyone conceded and changed the name back in 1973 due to local pressure (there's actually a town called Cape Canaveral on the southern part of Cape Canaveral) and to avoid general confusion.

    If you think naming of a place is just a silly argument, tell that to the people who live in New Amsterdam (aka New York), or are visiting Danali national park and looking at the "big-one" Mt Denali (or Mt McKinley to Ohio-ans), or maybe google Sea of Japan naming dispute to witness a naming dispute of international consequences...

    When you see all those reporters at a morning launch, they often get a closer view and may actually be on the cape, rather than on KSC, so that may only add to the confusion.

  • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @03:11PM (#34490990) Homepage Journal
    If you're excited about competition in the commercial space industry, here are some other companies you might want to Google in your spare time:

    Bigelow Aerospace
    Orbital Sciences Corporation
    Armadillo Aerospace
    Masten Aerospace
    Blue Origin
    Interorbital Systems

    Ah hell, like usual, Wikipedia can do a better job than I can []. In short, now is a very exciting time to be in the space industry. =)
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @03:13PM (#34491028) Journal

    It's not just about velocity. You also have to be able to carry enough supplies to keep the crew alive. Also - and this is the kicker - you need to have big enough heat shields to come back down. See, lunar missions do not carry enough fuel to settle into an Earth orbit before re-entry. It's basically a nice three day drop from the moon into the Pacific. You need a massive heat shield to do that. Dragon doesn't have one massive enough.

    Actually, the Dragon's heat shield is pretty massively over-engineered, to the extent that it can survive reentry from both lunar and Martian return velocities: []

    The Dragon's heat shield will also be put to the test during re-entry. The capsule's blunt end is coated with phenolic impregnated carbon ablator, a resistant insulator used by NASA's Stardust mission that returned comet samples to Earth.

    The ablator, called PICA-X for short, was tested inside an arc jet laboratory at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.

    "It's actually the most powerful stuff known to man. Dragon is capable of re-entering from a lunar velocity, or even a Mars velocity with the heat shield that it has," Musk said.

  • Re:Fucking sweet! (Score:5, Informative)

    by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @03:24PM (#34491208) Homepage

    The smoke is primarily from the SRBs. The shuttle main engines, fueled by hydrogen and oxygen don't make smoke, they make water vapor, which is invisible unless it condenses. The SRBs are ammonium perchlorate, aluminum, and iron oxide fueled. The combustion products include aluminum oxide, iron oxide, aluminum chloride, aluminum nitride, water vapor, and nitrogen gas. The first four of those are solid up temperatures to well above the boiling point of water, so they condense out as soon as they get out of the motor. The output of a solid rocket motor is like a very hot sandblasting. Even at ranges where the temperatures are survivable, the aluminum oxide blast would rip your flesh off very quickly. Which make it a pain when you need to design something that needs to survive behind the ignition of a third stage PAM at close range.

    The Falcon 9 uses what is essentially expensive kerosene (RP-1) and oxygen, so it will make some smoke due to incomplete combustion. Significantly more than a pure hydrogen-oxygen rocket will make.

  • Dragon has landed! (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @03:34PM (#34491372) Journal

    Update: The Dragon has successfully made a soft landing in the Pacific! This makes it the first-ever commercial spacecraft to return from orbit, and the first American capsule splash-down since 1975. A recovery vessel has already arrived at the capsule and is currently attaching floatation devices to it. NASA and SpaceX are doing a press conference as early as 3:30pm EST, which will presumably be broadcast both on NASA TV and SpaceX's website.

    SpaceX has also released a video [] pointing out a window of the Dragon capsule while in orbit. They apparently also have video of the descent and presumably more video from inside the capsule which will soon be available.

    For more updates: [] []

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