All posts filed under “Aerospace

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Very cool rocket photos and news from SpaceX

I’ve been following SpaceX for years, since they were building their first hardware and trying to launch it from a small island in the Pacific. I posted this fall when SpaceX became the first privately-funded company to successfully launch a liquid-fueled rocket into space. That was their Falcon 1 launch vehicle, with 1 engine. They’ve had their Falcon 9 vehicle (9 engines) in development for nearly as long, and just before New Years Eve it was fully integrated on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral! SpaceX took four tries to get Falcon 1 into orbit, and I hope that the first Falcon 9 launch works straight off.

The recent HUGE news for SpaceX is that they were awarded a $1.6 billion (yes, with a B) contract to launch 12 rockets and send 20,000kg (~22 tons) of cargo to the International Space Station. NASA may also elect for additional missions for a total of $3.1 billion total value! They will be competing for longer-term contracts with Orbital Sciences. One difference is that SpaceX will be launching Falcon 9 in the next couple of months, where Orbital doesn’t expect to launch their newly designed vehicle until at least 2010, putting SpaceX a year ahead. An interesting paragraph in this Wall Street Journal article regarding the contract says quite a bit:

SpaceX, which easily came out at the top of all the cost, management and technical rankings, is slated to start flights in late 2010, and the contracts stretch for seven more years.

Anyway, I thought people might enjoy photos of what will likely be the future of commercial spaceflight in the US for many years to come. (All taken from SpaceX’s Updates page.)

Beautiful shot of Falcon 9 at the Cape:

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Fully integrated at the Cape:

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Fitting the HUGE fairing to the rest of the rocket:

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Another shot just before the fairing was attached:

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Nine, yes NINE first-stage engines shipping from testing in Texas:

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The second stage engine:

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Privately-launched rockets = cool

In my last post lamenting the state of government activity in the space program, I mentioned SpaceX. Little did I know that shortly after I wrote that post, SpaceX made the first successful launch into orbit by a privately-funded company. WOW!

This is a landmark achievement, and I look forward to seeing more successes from them as they rollout increasingly bigger launch vehicles. (aka, Big-F’in Rockets) If they meet expectations, they will dramatically decrease the cost of launching satellites into space, which is a very good thing. (Dramatically = ~10-25% of current costs!)

Watch history in the making below. (My favorite part is hearing the employees in the background go nuts.)

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China in Space – This is BIG!

I personally don’t believe a recent news story has received nearly enough attention: on Saturday, 27 September 2008 a Chinese astronaut made a successful spacewalk from a Chinese craft.

HOLY ****!

Why do I say this?

In less than two years the Space Shuttles are scheduled to be retired, leaving the United States without the capability to get manned missions into orbit. Meanwhile, we’ll be paying the Russians to get to the International Space Station and the Chinese will be progressing toward their stated goal of putting a Chinese astronaut on the moon.

Here’s a quick reminder: the United States went from the first spacewalk to landing men on the moon in 4 years and 1 month. I don’t think there’s anything standing in China’s way from doing the exact same thing. (Though according to Wikipedia their plans aren’t nearly that ambitious time-wise.)

I bring this up because I’m quite concerned about the United States’ competitive capacity and ability to innovate on the governmental level. While smaller firms have seen good success (Scaled Composites with the X Prize/Virgin Galactic, SpaceX with modern launch vehicles) I feel we’re falling behind on major government-level initiatives. That it’s feasible in five years’ time that the United States has to pay Russia just to get into space while China is landing missions on the moon at will is unacceptable. It’s a competitiveness issue and a national security issue, and it needs to be better understood by Americans.