China is Working on Their Own Reusable Rocket: the First Stage of the Long March-8, Which Could Launch in 2021

In recent decades, China’s space program has advanced considerably. In addition to deploying their first space station (Tiangong-1) and developing a modern rockets (the Long March 5), the nation has also sent robotic mission to the lunar surface and plans to conduct crewed missions there in the coming years. To this end, China is looking […]

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Jeff Bezos Says The New Shepard Will Soar Next on Sunday. Here’s How to Watch It Live.

The 8th test flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket – a major step towards the development of space tourism – will be live-streamed today.

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SpaceX Just Put The Coolest Garden Gnome Ever In Its Front Yard

The first stage of the first Falcon 9 to successfully make a soft landing is now on display at the SpaceX facility where it was built. Credit: collectSPACE/Bryce Allen

SpaceX has certainly pulled off some successful feats lately. In the past few months, the private aerospace company made its second successful landing on solid ground and its third successful landing at sea with their Falcon 9 rocket. In so doing, they demonstrated that they have achieved the long sought-after dream of reusable rocket technology.

And to celebrate these feats, SpaceX has placed a particularly special first stage on display outside the company headquarters in Hawthorne, California. This particular rocket stage made history about eight months ago (on Dec. 21st, 2015), when it became the first-ever first stage to be recovered in the entire history of spaceflight.

For the sake of this mission, which was the 20th flight conducted by SpaceX using this class of rocket, the Falcon 9 was tasked with delivering 11 Orbcomm-OG2 communications satellites into orbit. After separating, the first stage descended to Earth and became the first rocket stage ever to make a soft landing and recovery.

https://youtu.be/O5bTbVbe4e4

Prior to this flight, SpaceX’s had made two attempts at a vertical landing and booster recovery, both of which ended in failure. The first attempt, which took place in January of 2015, ended when the rocket came close to a successful landing aboard the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), but then fell over and exploded.

An investigation determined that failure was due to the rocket’s steering fins running out of hydraulic fluid. The second failed attempt, which took place in April of last year, ended when the rocket stage was mere seconds away from landing on ASDS, but once again fell over and exploded. This time around, the culprit was a failure in one of the rocket stage’s engine throttle valves.

On the third attempt, which took place on Dec. 21st, the Falcon 9 first stage landed a mere ten minutes after launching from Earth. After its descent, it successfully touched down in an upright position on SpaceX’s Landing Zone (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The success of this recovery was a major milestone for the company, and a breakthrough in the history of space exploration and technology. Little wonder then why the company is choosing to honor it by placing it on display at the Hawthorn facility, where their rocket manufacturing plant is located.

It all happened this past weekend, where work crews spent Saturday and Sunday standing the 50 meter (165 foot) Falcon 9 stage up on its landing skids. Prior to it being transported to their headquarters in Hawthorne, the rocket’s first stage was being kept in a horizontal position at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and then at a location a few blocks away from the HQ.

Getting it to stand again was no easy task, and required two days and two cranes! The rocket also underwent some “aesthetic renewal” before being erected, which included a cleaning in order to remove all the soot it had accumulated on re-entry. Its logos were also repainted, and most of its engines were replaced by spent versions.

Since this first recovery, SpaceX has managed to conduct five more successful recoveries, four on land and four on its ASDS. They are moving ahead with the first launch of their Falcon Heavy  – Demo Flight 1, which is scheduled to take place by the end of 2016 – which will be the heaviest rocket to be launched from the US since the retirement of the venerable Saturn V.

Yes, the little company Elon Musk started with the dream of one-day colonizing Mars has certainly achieved some milestones. And between the creation of this display, and the Dragon capsule they have on display inside their Hawthorn headquaters, the company is clearly committed to immortalizing them.

And be sure to enjoy this video of the Falcon 9 making its first successful landing, courtesy of SpaceX:

https://youtu.be/ANv5UfZsvZQ

Further Reading: Collect Space

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Spectacular Imagery Showcases SpaceX Thaicom Blastoff as Sea Landed Booster Sails Back to Port: Photo/Video Gallery

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Thaicom-8 communications satellite to orbit on May 27, 2016 at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Julian Leek

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Spectacular imagery showcasing SpaceX’s Thaicom blastoff on May 27 keeps rolling in as the firms newest sea landed booster sails merrily along back to its home port atop a ‘droneship’ landing platform.

Formally known as an Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) the small flat platform is eclectically named “Of Course I Still Love You” or “OCISLY” by SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk and is expected back at Port Canaveral this week.

Check out this launch gallery of up close photos and videos captured by local space photojournalist colleagues and myself of Friday afternoons stunning SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff.

The imagery shows Falcon roaring to life with 1.5 million pounds of thrust from the first stage Merlin 1 D engines and propelling a 7000 pound (3,100 kilograms) commercial Thai communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

The recently upgraded Falcon 9 launched into sky blue sunshine state skies at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, accelerating to orbital velocity and arcing eastward over the Atlantic Ocean towards the African continent and beyond.

Relive the launch via these exciting videos recorded around the pad 40 perimeter affording a “You Are There” perspective!

They show up close and wide angle views and audio recording the building crescendo of the nine mighty Merlin 1 D engines.

https://youtu.be/qvtVnmlkPx4

Video caption: Compilation of videos of SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of Thaicom 8 on 5/27/2016 from Pad 40 on CCAFS, FL as seen from multiple cameras ringing pad and media viewing site on AF base. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Watch from the ground level weeds and a zoomed in view of the umbilicals breaking away at the moment of liftoff.

https://youtu.be/8558pMdSAyo

Video caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 at 5:39 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from Mobius remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

After the first and second stages separated as planned at about 2 minutes and 39 seconds after liftoff, the nosecone was deployed, separating into two halves at about T plus 3 minutes and 37 seconds.

Finally a pair of second stage firings delivered Thaicom-8 to orbit.

Onboard cameras captured all the exciting space action in real time.

When the Thai satellite was successfully deployed at T plus 31 minutes and 56 seconds exhuberant cheers instantly erupted from SpaceX mission control – as seen worldwide on the live webcast.

“Satellite deployed to 91,000 km apogee,” tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk.

https://youtu.be/ajpsfxdvP34

Video caption: SpaceX – “Falcon In” “Falcon Out” – 05-27-2016 – Thaicom 8. The brand new SpaceX Falcon 9 for next launch comes thru main gate Cape Canaveral, just a few hours before Thaicom 8 launched and landed. Awesome ! Credit: USLaunchReport

Both stages of the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 are fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene which burn in the Merlin engines.

Less than nine minutes after the crackling thunder and billowing plume of smoke and fire sent the Falcon 9 and Thaicom 8 telecommunications satellite skyward, the first stage booster successfully soft landed on a platform at sea.

Having survived the utterly harsh and unforgiving rigors of demanding launch environments and a daring high velocity reentry, SpaceX engineers meticulously targeted the tiny ocean going ASDS vessel.

The diminutive ocean landing platform measures only about 170 ft × 300 ft (52 m × 91 m).

“Of Course I Still Love You” is named after a starship from a novel written by Iain M. Banks.

OCISLY was stationed approximately 420 miles (680 kilometers) off shore and east of Cape Canaveral, Florida surrounded by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.

Because the launch was target Thaicom-8 to GTO, the first stage was traveling at some 6000 kph at the time of separation from the second stage.

Thus the booster was subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating and a successful landing would be extremely difficult – but not impossible.

Just 3 weeks ago SpaceX accomplished the same sea landing feat from the same type trajectory following the launch of the Japanese JCSAT-14 on May 6.

The May 6 landing was the first fully successful landing, brilliantly accomplished by SpaceX engineers.

With a total of 4 recovered boosters, SpaceX is laying the path to rocket reusability and Musk’s dream of slashing launch costs – by 30% initially and much much more down the road.

Thaicom-8 was built by aerospace competitor Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, VA. It will support Thailand’s growing broadcast industry and will provide broadcast and data services to customers in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Thaicom-8 is the fifth operational satellite for Thaicom.

It now enters a 30-day testing phase, says Orbital ATK.

The Falcon 9 launch is the 5th this year for SpaceX.

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pad.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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SpaceX Test Fires Recovered Falcon 9 Booster in Major Step To Reusable Rockets

Recovered Falcon 9 first stage standing on LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral after intact landing on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

In a major advance towards the dream of rocket reusability, SpaceX successfully test fired the first stage engines of the Falcon 9 booster they successfully recovered last month – following its launch to the edge of space and back that ended with a history making upright landing at Cape Canaveral.

The re-firing of the engines from history’s first recovered rocket took place Friday evening, Jan. 15.

And the test results were initially confirmed by Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president for mission assurance during a media briefing, moments after it occurred.

“Apparently it went very well,” said Koenigsmann, at the pre-launch briefing for NASA’s Jason-3 mission set for blastoff on a Falcon 9 on Sunday, Jan. 17, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The static fire test of the 156-foot-tall first stage involved ignition of all nine Merlin engines and was carried out at the same pad from which it launched on Dec. 21, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla and soft landed about 10 minutes later.

Proving that the recovered rocket can be refurbished with minimal maintenance and eventually reflown is critical to demonstrating the rocket reuse is economically viable.

The successful outcome of the test was announced by SpaceX billionaire founder and CEO Elon Musk.

“Conducted hold-down firing of returned Falcon rocket,” Musk tweeted overnight after an initial data review.

“Data looks good overall.”

During the static fire test, the Falcon 9 was held down in place at the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-40, as is customary, as the engines fire for several seconds.

However the duration of this particular test firing is not known at this time.

Musk noted that although the “data looks ok” there was an issue with one of the nine Merlin 1D engines, which are attached at the boosters base in an octoweb arrangement.

“Engine 9 showed thrust fluctuations,” Musk stated.

“Maybe some debris ingestion. Engine data looks ok.

Engineers are now inspecting the engine to precisely determine its condition.

“Will borescope tonight. This is one of the outer engines.”

Conducting the test at pad 40, amounted to a change in plans from what Musk had announced last month.

During a post launch briefing on Dec. 21, Musk stated that SpaceX was conduct the test firing of the recovered first stage at the Kennedy Space Center on historic Launch Complex 39A.

Musk’s space vision is to radically slash the costs of launching people and payloads to space by recovering and reflying rockets – built individually at great expense – rather than completely discarding them after a single use.

Musk’s long term dream is to enable “A City on Mars” – as I reported earlier here.

The Dec. 21 upright landing recovery of the intact Falcon 9 first stage counts as a game changing achievement in the history spaceflight on the once fantastical road to rocket reusability and “A City on Mars”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

https://youtu.be/l2s9CtJdRAE

Video caption: Mobius remote video camera positioned at launch pad showing blastoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Orbcomm-2 mission on December 21, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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Guest Post: Spaceflight is on the Verge of a Revolution, but don’t Count your Rockets Before they Land

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Lukas Davia & Marijn Achternaam. Typing “reusable rockets” into a search engine, you can’t help but be drawn to the allure of SpaceX-related links which fill the screen. In fact, the corporate brainchild of Elon Musk dominates the first few pages of results near-exclusively. The reason for […]