SpaceX’s Philosophy: Reliability Through Continual Upgrades

falcon9_debris
Remains of a Falcon 9 rocket fall to Earth.

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

To succeed in the launch business, you need to be very, very good and more than a little bit lucky. Eventually, there comes a day when you are neither.

That is what happened to SpaceX on June 28. A string of 18 successful Falcon 9 launches was snapped as the company’s latest rocket broke up in the clear blues skies over the Atlantic Ocean. A Dragon supply ship headed for the International Space Station was lost, SpaceX’s crowded manifest was thrown into confusion, and the company’s reputation for reliability was shattered.

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SpaceX’s Busy To-Do List for Rest of 2015

SpaceX vehicle integration building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX vehicle integration building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was making the rounds last week in Washington, D.C., speaking before the Satellite 2015 conference and a House Armed Services subcommittee meeting. Much of the focus was on the latter, where Shotwell engaged in a she said-he said battle over launch costs with United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno.

More interesting were the updates Shotwell provided on SpaceX’s plans for 2015 and beyond. What emerged is just how crowded the company’s agenda is for the rest of the year. The table below provides a summary.

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SES to Fly Satellite on Upgraded Falcon 9 as SpaceX Plans Barge Upgrade

Falcon 9's Merlin 1D engines in an octoweb structure. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9’s Merlin 1D engines in an octoweb structure. (Credit: SpaceX)

Satellite operator SES has agreed to be the guinea pig for SpaceX’s upgraded Falcon 9 rocket later this year. Meanwhile, SpaceX is upgrading its barge where first stages will land to handle rough seas.

The decision comes after a review of the risks of launching the SES 9 satellite with rocket engines operating at higher thrust for the first time….

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Highlights of Elon Musk’s Reddit Ask Me Anything Session

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk did an interactive Ask Me Anything Q&A last night on Reddit. Here are some excerpts from that session.

Q. Previously, you’ve stated that you estimate a 50% probability of success with the attempted landing on the automated spaceport drone ship tomorrow. Can you discuss the factors that were considered to make that estimation?

In addition, can you talk more about the grid fins that will be flying tomorrow? How do they compare to maneuvering with cold-gas thrusters?

Elon Musk: I pretty much made that up. I have no idea 🙂

The grid fins are super important for landing with precision. The aerodynamic forces are way too strong for the nitrogen thrusters. In particular, achieving pitch trim is hopeless. Our atmosphere is like molasses at Mach 4!

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SES-8 Satellite Arrives at Cape as Falcon 9 Launch Slips into November

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The SES-8 communications satellite has arrived at Cape Canaveral in Florida from its manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corporation, in Virginia.  The spacecraft is now scheduled for a launch to geosynchronous orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket sometime in November, SES announced in a press release.

The launch was originally scheduled for later this month, but SpaceX was unable to restart the upper stage of its Falcon 9 when it launched the CASSIOPE spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base last month. An upper stage restart is required to place satellites into geosynchronous orbit.

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SES Awaits Answer on Falcon 9 Anomaly as Explosion Claim Denied

Falcon 9 lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: SpaceX)

Satellite fleet operator SES is awaiting a detailed explanation from SpaceX as to why the second stage of its upgraded Falcon 9 booster failed to reignite during a flight on Sunday before placing its communications satellite on the next launch of the rocket.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has denied a report that the second stage might have exploded after delivering multiple satellites in low Earth orbit during a demonstration of the upgraded Falcon 9 version 1.1.

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