Falcon 9 is going to launch This Friday June 4 2010, who needs NASA (Grin)
Quarter section of the 5.2 m Falcon 9 fairing at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, CA headquarters.
The Falcon 9 tank walls and domes are made from aluminum lithium alloy. SpaceX uses an all friction stir welded tank, the highest strength and most reliable welding technique available. Like Falcon 1, the interstage, which connects the upper and lower stage for Falcon 9, is a carbon fiber aluminum core composite structure. The separation system is a larger version of the pneumatic pushers used on Falcon 1.
Nine SpaceX Merlin engines power the Falcon 9 first stage with 125,000 lbs-f sea level thrust per engine for a total thrust on liftoff of just over 1.1 Million lbs-f. After engine start, Falcon is held down until all vehicle systems are verified to be functioning normally before release for liftoff.
The second stage tank of Falcon 9 is simply a shorter version of the first stage tank and uses most of the same tooling, material and manufacturing techniques. This results in significant cost savings in vehicle production.
A single Merlin engine powers the Falcon 9 upper stage with an expansion ratio of 117:1 and a nominal burn time of 345 seconds. For added reliability of restart, the engine has dual redundant pyrophoric igniters (TEA-TEB).
SpaceX Merlin Engine
The main engine, called Merlin, was developed internally at SpaceX, but draws upon a long heritage of space proven engines. The pintle style injector at the heart of Merlin was first used in the Apollo Moon program for the lunar module landing engine, one of the most critical phases of the mission.
Propellant is fed via a single shaft, dual impeller turbo-pump operating on a gas generator cycle. The turbo-pump also provides the high pressure kerosene for the hydraulic actuators, which then recycles into the low pressure inlet. This eliminates the need for a separate hydraulic power system and means that thrust vector control failure by running out of hydraulic fluid is not possible. A third use of the turbo-pump is to provide roll control by actuating the turbine exhaust nozzle (on the second stage engine).
Combining the above three functions into one device that we know is functioning before the vehicle is allowed to lift off means a significant improvement in system level reliability.
|Sea Level Thrust :||556 kN (125,000 lbf)|
|Vacuum Thrust:||617 kN (138,800 lbf)|
|Sea Level Isp:||275s|
With a vacuum specific impulse of 304s, Merlin is the highest performance gas generator cycle kerosene engine ever built, exceeding the Boeing Delta II main engine, the Lockheed Atlas II main engine and the Saturn V F-1.
Designed for Maximum Reliability
The vast majority of launch vehicle failures in the past two decades can be attributed to three causes: engine, stage separation and, to a much lesser degree, avionics failures. An analysis of launch failure history between 1980 and 1999 by Aerospace Corporation showed that 91% of known failures can be attributed to those subsystems.
Falcon 9 has nine Merlin engines clustered together. This vehicle will be capable of sustaining an engine failure at any point in flight and still successfully completing its mission. This actually results in an even higher level of reliability than a single engine stage. The SpaceX nine engine architecture is an improved version of the architecture employed by the Saturn V and Saturn I rockets of the Apollo Program, which had flawless flight records despite losing engines on a number of missions.
Another notable point is the SpaceX hold-before-release system — a capability required by commercial airplanes, but not implemented on many launch vehicles. After first stage engine start, the Falcon is held down and not released for flight until all propulsion and vehicle systems are confirmed to be operating normally. An automatic safe shut-down and unloading of propellant occurs if any off nominal conditions are detected.
Falcon 9 will have triple redundant flight computers and inertial navigation, with a GPS overlay for additional orbit insertion accuracy. We have gone the extra mile in building a first class avionics system to provide medium and intermediate class satellites with the same avionics quality enjoyed by multi-billion dollar large satellites.
NASA’s Choice to Resupply the Space Station
In December 2008, NASA announced the selection of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon Spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. The $1.6 billion contract represents a minimum of 12 flights, with an option to order additional missions for a cumulative total contract value of up to $3.1 billion.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
SpaceX is now targeting Friday, June 4th for its first test launch attempt of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
The primary schedule driver for the first Falcon 9 test launch has been certification of the flight termination system (FTS). The FTS ensures that Air Force Range safety officials can command the destruction of the vehicle should it stray from its designated flight path.
The successful liftoff of the recent GPS satellite launch last Thursday freed up the necessary range resources to process our final documentation, and we are now looking good for final approval of the FTS by this Friday, June 4th, just in time for our first launch attempt.
Today we completed end to end testing of the Falcon 9 as required by the Air Force Range and everything was nominal. Later this evening, we will finish final system connections for the FTS. Tomorrow we plan to rollout in the morning, and erect the vehicle in the afternoon. On Friday, the targeted schedule is as follows:
Friday 4 June 2010
Launch Window Opens: 11:00 AM Eastern / 8:00 AM Pacific / 1500 UTC
Launch window lasts 4 hours. SpaceX has also reserved a second launch day on Saturday 5 June, with the same hours.
As always, weather will play a significant role in our overall launch schedule. The weather experts at the Cape are giving us a 40% chance of “no go” conditions for both days of our window, citing the potential for cumulus clouds and anvil clouds from thunderstorms.
If the weather cooperates, SpaceX will provide a live webcast of the launch events, presently scheduled to begin 20 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window. Click here to visit our webcast page which will also be accessible from our home page the day of launch.
It’s important to note that since this is a test launch, our primary goal is to collect as much data as possible, with success being measured as a percentage of how many flight milestones we are able to complete in this first attempt. It would be a great day if we reach orbital velocity, but still a good day if the first stage functions correctly, even if the second stage malfunctions. It would be a bad day if something happens on the launch pad itself and we’re not able to gain any flight data.
If we have a bad day, it will be disappointing, but one launch does not make or break SpaceX as a company, nor commercial spaceflight as an industry. The Atlas rocket only succeeded on its 13th flight, and today it is the most reliable vehicle in the American fleet, with a record better than Shuttle.
Regardless of the outcome, this first launch attempt represents a key milestone for both SpaceX and the commercial spaceflight industry. Keep in mind the launch dates and times are still subject to change, so please check the webcast page above for updates to this schedule. We appreciate your ongoing support and we hope you will tune in on launch day.
Preparations for First Falcon 9 Launch
Thursday, May 6, 2010
As we continue to progress towards the first Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, certification of the flight termination system (FTS) and subsequent range availability remain the two primary schedule drivers.
Air Force Range safety requires the FTS system, which allows them to safely end the launch should the vehicle stray from its designated flight corridor. The system consists of a command receiver and an ordnance system designed to split the vehicle’s fuel and liquid oxygen tanks in the event of an errant flight.
Static test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage, conducted at SpaceX’s launch site, Cape Canaveral, Florida on March 13, 2010.
Credit: SpaceX / Chris Thompson.
SpaceX is working closely with Ensign Bickford to complete testing of the explosive elements of the FTS system, but there are other components, such as the FTS radios, antennas and the transponder that come from other suppliers as well. All of these components must be qualified specifically for our flight environments, so unfortunately, it is not simply a case of buying “off the shelf”.
FTS testing is an iterative process where the number of remaining tests depends on the results of previous tests, making it very difficult to predict a completion date. Once testing is complete, final data is submitted to SpaceX and Air Force Range safety officials for review and acceptance. Much of the range calendar for May is already reserved for other activities, so range availability will be a key factor in identifying a launch date. Fortunately the FTS is the last remaining significant milestone–the vehicle is otherwise ready for flight, so once we complete certification, we will be “all systems go” for launch.
Wet Dress Rehearsal
During our successful wet dress rehearsal (WDR) in late February, we experienced some problems with the thermal protective cork layer that covers the first stage. In some areas subjected to the extreme cold of liquid oxygen (LOX), the cork’s bonding adhesive failed and several panels separated from the vehicle. It is important to emphasize that the cork is not needed for ascent and there is no risk to flight even if it all came off. This is for thermal protection on reentry to allow for the possibility of recovery and reuse. While stage recovery is not a primary mission objective on this inaugural launch, it is part of our long-term plans, and we will attempt to recover the first stage on this initial Falcon 9 flight.
After applying a new layer of cork thermal protection using a new adhesive system, we opted to perform a second wet dress rehearsal, as well as an electromagnetic interference (EMI) test. Everything performed well and the new adhesive remained properly bonded. A word of thanks to NASA and our resin supplier for helping our structures team find these effective solutions.
As we ramp up our flight rate, Florida will continue to be SpaceX’s fastest growing region. We are entering continuous launch operations mode, meaning we will have over 100 people in Florida on average. That count may go as high as 200 later this year when we start preparing and launching Dragon. We expect our direct employment at the Cape to eventually reach thousands of people; using standard multipliers for indirect regional employment, this could mean in excess of several thousand jobs long term.
President Obama honored us with a visit to the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch site at Cape Canaveral on April 15, 2010, just prior to his national speech at Kennedy Space Center describing the administration’s new space initiatives.