For fans of space travel, science fiction and technology, the retirement of the Space Shuttle, which forced the U.S. to buy rides to ISS from Russia, and cutting back on NASA’s budget seemed to signal the U.S. pulling away from aggressive exploration of space. There were even rumors that the International Space Station, which is showing its age, was going to be abandoned. However, that development opened the door for private investment in space and for other countries to up their game in space delivery systems, which at this point are primarily designed to put satellites in space for private industries or governments lacking that capability.
Now a host of companies are in the game designing rockets, logistical systems, habitats for ISS, spacecraft, space planes for tourism and much more. SpaceX, Orbital ATK, United Launch Alliance (Boeing-Lockheed Partnership), Bigelow Aerospace, Spaceflight and others are in the game and NASA is employing them on various tasks.
SpaceX has made big headlines by sending the first private spacecraft (Dragon) to deliver supplies to ISS and become the first entity to safely recover the first stage of a delivery rocket, which blasted Dragon into orbit, by landing it on a barge in the ocean. Recovery of a first stage rocket for re-use had been thought impossible until Elon Musk and SpaceX did it, thus altering the economics of space delivery systems dramatically. Everyone else must now play catch up, including the bureaucratically heavy NASA which continues to take far too long on major projects.
Bob Zimmerman, who runs the website Behind the Black and is a regular on the John Batchelor and Coast to Coast Radio Shows, really loves the entry or aggressive private companies in the space game and often decries how slow and bloated NASA has become in many projects. He is always a great source of information at www.BehindtheBlack.com.
Being a Space Fan has become fun again, but make no mistake it is a serious business as evidenced by a recent SpaceX rocket exploding and destroying a NASA launch pad. Advances in technology will keep making it easier and cheaper to go into space, but it will probably always be dangerous and unpredictable. In July 1992 I flew around the world across Russia with a bunch of single and twin engines planes and luckily the GPS system had just been released by the United States for civilian use, which was probably a life saver as flying over Siberia offered few navigation aids for small aircraft with limited range. A result of the Space Race and it is now a normal part of our everyday lives, in our cars, smart phones and many other devices.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Astronaut John Glenn, Jr. before prepping for launch aboard Mercury Atlas 6. FEB. 20, 1962
We recently lost American icon John Glenn, war hero fighter pilot, test pilot, speed record holder and the first American in space. He didn’t believe he would make it home from that mission, but then again that was his attitude every time he went up to fight during his war service. Glenn loved to fly and become the oldest person to go into space. We must never forget those who have braved the unknown to test new aircraft, who crawled into tiny capsules and shuttles to be thrust into space by powerful rockets into the heavens to expand Man’s reach and explore the heavens.
Here are some descriptions and facts about SpaceX rockets and Spacecraft from the SpaceX website:
“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.” –Elon Musk
FALCON 9 ROCKET: It is a two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX for the reliable and safe transport of satellites and the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. As the first rocket completely developed in the 21st century, Falcon 9 was designed from the ground up for maximum reliability. Falcon 9’s simple two-stage configuration minimizes the number of separation events—and with nine first-stage engines, it can safely complete its mission even in the event of an engine shutdown.
Falcon 9 made history in 2012 when it delivered Dragon into the correct orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station, making SpaceX the first commercial company ever to visit the station. Since then SpaceX has made multiple flights to the space station, both delivering and returning cargo for NASA. Falcon 9, along with the Dragon spacecraft, was designed from the outset to deliver humans into space and under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is actively working toward that goal.
INTERSTAGE: The interstage is a composite structure that connects the first and second stages and holds the release and separation system. Falcon 9 uses an all-pneumatic stage separation system for low-shock, highly reliable separation that can be tested on the ground, unlike pyrotechnic systems used on most launch vehicles.
FIRST STAGE: Falcon 9’s first stage incorporates nine Merlin engines and aluminum-lithium alloy tanks containing liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellant. After ignition, a hold-before-release system ensures that all engines are verified for full-thrust performance before the rocket is released for flight. Then, with thrust greater than five 747s at full power, the Merlin engines launch the rocket to space. Unlike airplanes, a rocket’s thrust actually increases with altitude; Falcon 9 generates more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to over 1.8 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage flight to limit launch vehicle acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel.
THRUST AT SEA LEVEL: 7,607kN1,710,000 lbf
THRUST IN VACUUM: 8,227kN1,849,500 lbf
NINE MERLIN ENGINES: With its nine first-stage Merlin engines clustered together, Falcon 9 can sustain up to two engine shutdowns during flight and still successfully complete its mission. Falcon 9 is the only launch vehicle in its class with this key reliability feature.
SECOND STAGE: The second stage, powered by a single Merlin vacuum engine, delivers Falcon 9’s payload to the desired orbit. The second stage engine ignites a few seconds after stage separation, and can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into different orbits. For maximum reliability, the second stage has redundant igniter systems. Like the first stage, the second stage is made from a high-strength aluminum-lithium alloy.
BURN TIME: 397sec
THRUST: 934kN210,000 lbf
HEIGHT: 70m229.6 ft
MASS: 549,054kg1,207,920 lb
PAYLOAD TO LEO: 22,800kg50,265 lb
PAYLOAD TO MARS: 4,020kg8,860lb
DIAMETER: 3.7m12 ft
PAYLOAD TO GTO: 8,300kg18,300 lb
DRAGON SPACECRAFT: It is a free-flying spacecraft designed to deliver both cargo and people to orbiting destinations. Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth, a feat previously achieved only by governments. It is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth. Currently Dragon carries cargo to space, but it was designed from the beginning to carry humans. Under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is now developing the refinements that will enable Dragon to fly crew. Dragon’s first manned test flight is expected to take place in 2-3 years.
TOTAL LAUNCH PAYLOAD MASS: 6,000kg13,228 lbs
TOTAL LAUNCH PAYLOAD VOLUME: 25m3883 ft3
PRESSURIZED SECTION: The pressurized section of the spacecraft, also referred to as the capsule, is designed to carry both cargo and humans into space. Towards the base of the capsule but outside the pressurized structure are the Draco thrusters, Dragon’s guidance navigation and control (GNC) bay and Dragon’s advanced heat shield.
SPACECRAFT PAYLOAD VOLUME: 11m3388 ft3
TRUNK: Dragon’s trunk supports the spacecraft during ascent to space, carries unpressurized cargo and houses Dragon’s solar arrays. The trunk and solar arrays remain attached to Dragon until shortly before reentry to Earth’s atmosphere, when they are jettisoned.
TRUNK PAYLOAD VOLUME: 14m3494 ft3
TOTAL RETURN PAYLOAD MASS: 3,000kg6,614 lbs
TOTAL RETURN PAYLOAD VOLUME: 11m3388 ft3
INSIDE THE SPACECRAFT: The Dragon spacecraft has three configurations to meet a variety of needs: cargo, crew and DragonLab. To ensure a rapid transition from cargo to crew capability, the cargo and crew configurations of Dragon are almost identical. This commonality simplifies the human rating process, allowing systems critical to crew and space station safety to be fully tested on unmanned cargo flights. With DragonLab, essentially the same spacecraft can be used as a platform for in-space technology demonstrations and experiments.
DELIVERY AND RETURN SERVICES: Dragon is the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and currently the only cargo spacecraft flying capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth. Dragon accommodates pressurized cargo in the capsule as well as unpressurized cargo in its trunk.
VERSATILE CARGO RACKS: The racks are a honeycomb carbon-aluminum construction designed for efficient packing in a zero-gravity environment. They accommodate a variety of standard-size NASA cargo bags as well as freezers for carrying materials such as biological samples.