January 30, 2008

SpaceX progress to Falcon 9

SpaceX tested two Merlin 1C engines operated at full power while attached to a rocket that was strapped to the launch pad. SpaceX offers the possibility of more inexpensive US rockets and a possible replacement for the Space shuttle in 2010.
UPDATE Spacex is trying to successfully launched the first Falcon 9 on June 4, 2010. Nextbigfuture is covered the live launch.

SpaceX falcon 9 test hold down test firing

The achievement clears the way for more multiple-engine tests and a Falcon 9 test flight scheduled for later in 2008. The final Falcon 9 design calls for nine Merlin engines generating over 450,000 kg (1 million pounds) of thrust, or four times the maximum thrust of a 747 aircraft. SpaceX plans to steadily increase the number of simultaneously firing engines on the rocket over the next few months. A three-engine test is scheduled for February, to be followed by a five, seven, and finally a nine-engine test.

Current and expected heavy lift launch systems are compared at wikipedia

The Falcon 9 if successful should be able to launch for about $3200/kg and be slightly cheaper than the well proven Proton. The Falcon 9 ($7,500/kg) would be half the price of the Proton ($18,359/kg) to GTO. TI would be three teimes cheaper than
the Shuttle to LEO and seven times cheaper to GTO.

Wikipedia on Spacex plans and follow on to Falcon 9.

Q4 2008: Demonstration flight of Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral
Q4 2008: Demo flight 1 of Falcon 9 for NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program
Q4 2008: Launch of MDA Corp. payload on Falcon 9[2]
Q2 2009: Launch of HYLAS for Avanti Communications. First geosynchronous launch.
Q2 2009: Demo flight 2 of Falcon 9 for NASA COTS program, 2nd stage becomes a rendezvous target for the Dragon capsule
Q3 2009: Demo flight 3 of Falcon 9 for NASA COTS program, demonstration of cargo delivery to the International Space Station
Q1 2010: Launch of Bigelow Aerospace prototype inflatable space station module on Falcon 9

Merlin 1C engine

SpaceX has officially completed development of the Merlin 1C engine, another major milestone for SpaceX. This new version of Merlin uses regenerative cooling, wherein the rocket grade kerosene propellant first flows around the combustion chamber and nozzle walls before igniting with the liquid oxygen in the thrust chamber. This active cooling allows for higher performance without significantly increasing engine mass, and represents a huge improvement over the ablatively cooled Merlin, which lofted the first two Falcon 1 flights.

Falcon 9 payload quarter fairing
Falcon 9 payload quarter fairing

In its Falcon 9 configuration, Merlin has a thrust at sea level of 95,000 lbs, a vacuum thrust of over 108,000 pounds, vacuum specific impulse of 304 seconds and sea level thrust to weight ratio of 92. A planned turbo pump upgrade in 2009 will improve the thrust by over 20% and the thrust to weight ratio by approximately 25%.

Falcon 9 Heavy configuration

Falcon 9 rocket

Dragon crew capsule schematic
The company is also designing a crewed capsule, called the Dragon, that can carry up to seven people or a mixture of personnel and cargo. The SpaceX Dragon will be launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket and will be capable of docking with the International Space Station. SpaceX plans to have the capsule in service by 2009, in time for the retirement of NASA's shuttle fleet in 2010.

Dragon module in orbit graphic


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