SpaceX: From Bothering Bovines to Revolutionizing Rockets
August 18, 2013 by Chris Bergin
SpaceX are continuing to make progress on several key projects as they head into a busy period of launches. With the debut launch of their Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket still on for September, an eye to the future for both their launch vehicles and spacecraft was highlighted over recent days, with the most spectacular event conducted by the Grasshopper test vehicle – as much as it was less-appreciated by some of the locals.
Preparations for an upcoming launch are continuing at SpaceX’s SLC-4E pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California.
The launch will debut the upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, known as the v1.1, which was the subject of extensive testing at the company’s Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.
With the successful conclusion to development and acceptance testing on the core’s nine Merlin 1D engines, the vehicle is currently being prepared at Vandenberg for its Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) – scheduled for the last week in August (L2) – and Hot Fire test.
The mission is tasked with launching the CAScade, Smallsat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) – a made-in-Canada small satellite from the Canadian Space Agency – into orbit, early in September. The launch date will be firmed up once the on-pad testing and vehicle integration tasks have been completed.
A successful mission for the upgraded launch vehicle will allow SpaceX to proceed toward the launch of what will be the debut launch of a geostationary satellite, with the lofting of the SES-8 spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
In a sign of SpaceX’s ability to hit the ground running with a busy launch schedule, an image was recently published showing several stages lined up on the factory floor at the company’s facility in Hawthorne, California.
The photo shows the first stages for flights 7, 8, 9 – along with second stages for flights 8 and 9 – on the factory floor, with one unidentified stage and octoweb inside “SpaceX Falcon 9 spray booth”.
Since the photo was taken, the core for Flight 7 (F9 S1-007) was shipped to the McGregor Test Facility for its acceptance test firing, as was the second stage (F9S2-007).
Following the development test firings on the F9 S1-006 core that will launch with CASSIOPE, stages are now expected to head in and out of Texas at a more rapid pace, with the objective of “simply” completing acceptance testing.
SpaceX officials usually inform the local media of firings, to provide nearby residents with a heads up of the loud noise and localized shaking that accompanies the ignition of their stages.
One of the reasons SpaceX upgraded their Falcon 9 rocket relates to its future as the F9-R (Reusable). Essentially the v.1.1 and F9-R are the same vehicle, although the upgraded F9 will not fly with the key reusable hardware – such as landing legs – until a later date.
However, that technology is already being tested at McGregor, with a number of stunning successes.
The test system is called the Grasshopper, which is tasked with testing hardware elements such as propulsive targeted landing and its own landing legs structure.
Seven tests have been conducted, with Grasshopper showing its ability to carry out incremental objectives, opening with a short hop of just six feet during Test 1, through to a massive 1,066 foot leap during Test 6.
The seventh test, carried out last week, proved to be the most stunning, as the Grasshopper did much more than rise upwards before returning to its concrete pad.
For this test, conducted on August 13, the test vehicle completed a divert test, flying to a 250m altitude with a 100m lateral maneuver before returning to the center of the pad.
While the video of the test was greeted with a huge outpouring of positive reaction from the space flight community, a herd of local cows were less enthusiastic, showing their disdain for the noise by rampaging away from the scene in front of one of the cameras filming the event.
Ultimately, the test demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.
It is also understood that this may have been the final test for this Grasshopper in Texas, although that is yet to be confirmed.
Edited by Matthew, 20 August 2013 - 05:23 AM.