SpaceX Falcon Heavy

The “Second Time” Was the Charm.

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Recent events have brought back memories of past complications in my life. Particularly waiting for the birth of our son back in the 1970s. The pregnancy went quite well, but my wife had a series of false labor events. When the labor pains would  start we’d begin to get excited anticipating the imminent birth of our second child. Back then we didn’t know if we were going to have a boy or a girl. The false labor pains repeated themselves four more times before the fifth time which was finally the real thing – the birth of our son.

The current situation I am talking about is certainly not comparable the false labor events, but is still similarly  frustrating for those directly involved and interested bystanders. The situation is the postponement of the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Rocket which will send the Dragon Capsule containing two American astronauts up to the International Space Station (ISS). This will be the first time an American space mission is performed with the cooperation of NASA and a private company. It’s also the first time since July 8, 2011, the last space shuttle mission launch, that a space mission  is launched from American soil.

Elon Musk has been working on this project since he founded SpaceX in 2002. Here is a short recap of the more recent events leading up to the manned launch.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch
SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch | Photo by New Scientist

In February of 2019 they launched the test flight for the Falcon Heavy. SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy rocket Thursday April 11, 2019 on its first commercial mission. According to an article on CNBC.com published on Thursday 4/11/19 and written by Michael Sheetz and titled “SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy and lands all three rocket boosters for the first time.” The vehicle was built by using three Falcon 9 rockets making a powerful a 27-engine vehicle.

ARABSAT 6A
Building ArabSAT 6A | Photo by Satellitetoday.com

This particular flight was called Arabat 6A because of the satellite they were carrying up to orbit in space. The article quoted Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Vice President who described the satellite as one of “the most advanced communications satellites we’ve ever built. The future looks bright for SpaceX as they have 5 missions already contracted including one Government contract worth $130 million to launch the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite and three commercial missions.

Jettison Launch Escape System | Image by airandspace.si.ed

SpaceX has already been sending cargo up to the International Space Station (ISS) with it’s unmanned vehicle and now is embarking on the next stage of it’s program to actually fly humans to the ISS. The safety of astronauts onboard during the flight is something they have been contemplating for some time. This is where the LES comes back into view. It is the final step in taking humans back into space on this new rocket.

Escape Test
SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Escape Test | Photo by spaceflightnow.com

It is designated as either a Launch Escape System (LES) or Launch Abort System (LAS). Here is how it works. In case of an emergency abort caused by an automatic rocket failure  detection or impending explosion the system would be activated. There is also a manual activation for the crew commander’s use.

 

Booster landing
SpaceX Falcon Reusable Booster Rocket Landing On Robot Ocean Platform ship | Photo by spacenews.com

SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy rocket Thursday April 11, 2019 on its first commercial mission. According to an article on CNBC.com published on Thursday 4/11/19 and written by Michael Sheetz and titled “SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy and lands all three rocket boosters for the first time.” The vehicle was built by using three Falcon 9 rockets making a powerful a 27-engine vehicle.

Crew Dragon Capsule
Crew Ready To Blastoff In Crew Dragon Capsule | Photo by abcnews.com

Now the greatly anticipated launch day arrived. Wednesday May 27, 2020 at 4:22 PM EDT was the scheduled launch time. It was raining at the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida and overcast with a thick cloud cover. The countdown continued as the hope was that the weather would improve enough for a “go.” Another issue was the overcast conditions downrange. That would be where the Dragon Crew Capsule containing the two astronauts would land if there were a major problem and the had to eject from the Falcon Heavy rocket. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to see where the capsule would land so they could be retrieved as quickly and safely as possible.

NASA Countdown Clock Stopped-Mission Scrubbed | Photo by nytimes.com

The countdown continued and a “go” was issued to begin fueling the Falcon Heavy Rocket with the liquid oxygen fuel. That had everyone hopeful that the launch would finally happen. They waited as long as they could and when the next weather update was given there was a severe thunderstorm warning for the area and that was the last straw. There is no way they would launch in a thunderstorm with the threat of a lightning strike and the compounded threat of possible tornadoes. The official word came down to scrub the launch stopping the countdown clock at 16:54 minutes to launch.

Astronauts Bob Behnken (L) and Doug Hurley (R) Are Anxious to Blastoff | Photo by blogs.nasa.gov

The launch was rescheduled for Saturday May 30, 2020 at 3:30 PM EDT which is 12:33 PM PDT. The two astronauts, Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley were definitely eager to board their spacecraft and finally liftoff on their way to the ISS. A side note, the two men were classmates together in the 2000 NASA astronaut training program. They met their future wives in that class and both of their wives have also worked in space.

Liftoff
SpaceX Falcon 9 Lifts Off With Two Astronauts In The Dragon Crew Capsule | Photo by nasa.gov

Here we go again. Saturday May 5, 2020 and we’re waiting to see if the launch actually happens this time. Just a half hour before launch time the word is “go” concerning the weather which was one of the biggest issues that scrubbed the Wednesday launch. This time everything went perfectly! The launch occurred on schedule at 12:22 PM PDT (3:22 PM EDT). The two astronauts were on their way to a link-up with the International Space Station in 19 hours. A job well done. If you would like a tour of the Crew Dragon Capsule and find out it’s new name go to: http://https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2020/05/30/return-to-space-spacex-launches-astronauts-into-orbit-returning-human-spaceflight-to-florida/

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Who’ll Win This Next Space Race?

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I’ve already discussed the Chinese effort that landed a craft on the dark side of the moon. President Trump said we are going back to the moon soon. To my mind the only part of the story that is missing is who will actually accomplish this feat.  There are some known programs in the works now.

One of those programs is being run by the U.S. Government. NBC News.com published an article dated April 8, 2019 with the title “NASA’s $17-billion moon rocket may be doomed before it ever gets to the launch pad. Some stakeholders are asking if there are better alternatives to the Space Launch System [SLS], whose construction is behind schedule and billions over budget.” The article was written by Jason Davis.

Artists Rendering of the Space Launch System (SLS)| Image by NASA

The ambitious effort began 8 years ago to build and launch the largest space rocket ever made.  The project is not only 3 years behind schedule but also well over the original budget of $10.6 billion having already spent about $17 billion and it’s still not ready. Quoting the article “Experts say each SLS flight will cost at least $1 billion, or about 11 times more than SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which made its debut last year.” Out of frustration Vice President Mike Pence was quoted as saying “We’re not committed to any one contractor. If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will.”

Jim Bridenstein
Jim Bridenstein NASA Administrator-right, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama-left | photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA through nbcnews.com

The article quotes Jim Bridenstein, NASA Administrator, who referred to the SLS program as “The best option for getting to the moon as soon as possible. There is nothing sacred here that is off the table.” The article’s author also explained that cancelling the contract may not be as easy as you think. The reason is politics.

Launch
Artist Rendering of SLS Launch | Image by NASA through nbcnews.com

The example given is a partial list of the locations of some of those contractors. “The SLS program is managed by NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The rocket’s prime contractor, Boeing, operates out of NASA’s Michoud Assembly facility 10 miles from New Orleans. SLS rocket engines are tested at Stennis Space Center 40 minutes away in a Mississippi swamp. ” The Representative from Alabama, picture above, naturally would tend to want the contracts to continue to benefit his district and I’m sure the representative from Louisiana would feel the same  way. The question is whether or not their clout can actually save the project.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch
SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch | Photo by New Scientist

Now we go back to the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket project. In February of this year they launched the test flight for the Falcon Heavy. SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy rocket Thursday April 11, 2019 on its first commercial mission. According to an article on CNBC.com published on Thursday 4/11/19 and written by Michael Sheetz and titled “SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy and lands all three rocket boosters for the first time.” The vehicle was built by using three Falcon 9 rockets making a powerful a 27-engine vehicle.

ARABSAT 6A
Building Arabsat 6A | Photo by Satellitetoday.com

This particular flight was called Arabat 6A because of the satellite they were carrying up to orbit in space. The article quoted Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Vice President who described the satellite as one of “the most advanced communications satellites we’ve ever built. The future looks bright for SpaceX as they have 5 missions already contracted including one Government contract worth $130 million to launch the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite and three commercial missions.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk | Photo by Wired.com

The article quotes Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, when tweeting bout the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Block-5 version. Musk said that it adds ” some risk of failure between 5% and 10%, as “the changes are unproven” even with “many good design improvements.” The upgrade  gives a nearly 10% increase in the vehicle’s thrust capabilities.

There you have two entities in a race-of-sorts to make the biggest and strongest vehicle to return Americans to the moon safely. It is also possible that there are other companies and nations out there thinking they could be the one company that makes it back to the moon first. NASA and SpaceX seem to be the only players now, but how long will that last?

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].