Rocketeer comments: The cartoon accompanying the Economist article is just inspired ;-)
The comments by Dumbacher (NASA) and Bonnal (CNES) in the SpaceNews article illustrate just how much the incumbent launch providers are whistling past the graveyard in the face of SpaceX reusability developments. Dumbacher claims that the viability of reusability depends on market demand, ignoring that the Falcon-9 can function in either reusable or expendable mode, and is already capturing the market at its unprecedentedly low expendable price. If the market is small, SpaceX wins. If the market is big, SpaceX wins more.
Dumbacher also makes an unconvincing comparison between SSME and the Merlin-1D engine. A highly-complex, high chamber-pressure staged-combustion LOX/LH2 engine operating beyond its rated power is NOT THE SAME as a simple, low chamber-pressure robustly engineered gas-generator LOX/kero engine designed for serviceability and minimum parts count. Apples, meet oranges.
Bonnal's argument distils to "we couldn't do it, therefore no-one can". He says: "Safety factors have to be higher, and you need around 30 percent more propellant in the first stage to fly the stage back to the launch site.” Yes, and SpaceX have already factored that into the quoted performance numbers for the F9v1.1.
SpaceX has revealed the first of four landing legs which will be fitted to the Falcon-9 Reusable ("F-niner"). The legs will be folded flat against the first stage fuselage on ascent, and will extend immediately prior to the powered vertical landing back at the launch site (CCAFS, Vandenberg or Brownsville, Texas). The ultralightweight composite legs will have a 60-foot span when extended, and will be deployed by high-pressure helium.
SpaceX has confirmed rumours that it will attempt to return the first stage of the Falcon 9 v1.1 carrying the CASSIOPE satellite from Vandenberg in June. The stage will turn around on cold gas thrusters, perform a braking burn, and attempt to return to a powered "landing" on the waters of the Pacific. The plans were confirmed by Musk in a joint NASA/SpaceX telecon at the end of the CRS-2 supply mission.
The tests will be continued over the following several flights. Musk emphasised that he expected it to take several attempts before succeeding. If successful, he predicts that a Falcon first stage will fly back to launch site and perform a powered landing on land by mid-2014.
Congratulations to SpaceX on a successful launch on 1st March of Falcon-9/Dragon from LC40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a cargo resupply mission to the ISS! Despite what appeared to be an issue with frozen oxidiser preventing full pressurisation of the Dragon's manoeuvring thrusters, the anomaly was quickly and successfully resolved, and at the time of writing, the Dragon is successfully docked with the ISS and the cargo of supplies and scientific experiments is currently being unloaded.
Footage of the Dragon C2+ spacecraft's approach on the R-bar (earth-radial) vector to the ISS, and subsequent capture and berthing by the SSRMS.
Footage of Dragon hatch opening and ingress:
Press conference with ISS Expedition 31 Flight Engineers Don Pettit, Andre Kuipers and Joe Acaba inside the Dragon spacecraft. The Dragon is scheduled to remain berthed until May 31, at which point it will be detached, and return for a splashdown off the coast of southern California.
Congratulations to SpaceX on a flawless launch of the Falcon 9, and separation and solar array deploy on the Dragon spacecraft!
The above video shows the entirety of the SpaceX livecast for the launch day. Liftoff occurred at about the 44:00 mark.
The third SpaceX Falcon 9 launch took place on 0744:38 UTC May 22, carrying a Dragon spacecraft on the COTS C2+ cargo demonstration mission for NASA. The launch window was described as "near-instantaneous", given the orbital mechanics constraints of reaching the International Space Station with sufficient fuel to carry out a series of test maneuvers. The spacecraft reached an initial orbit of 297 x 346 km x 51.6 deg inclination, deployed its solar panels and established communications via TDRSS.
Following a series of phasing burns, the Dragon C2+ was in a 380 x 396 km by May 24, and made a 2.5km flyby of the ISS, before following a 'racetrack' course ahead of, then above, then behind the ISS, before conducting an approach on the ISS 200-meter 'keep-out sphere'.
Rendezvous and berthing was slightly delayed by an issue with one of the Dragon's lidars locking on to spurious reflections from the Kibo Exposed Facility. This was addressed by adjusting the lidar's field of view. The Dragon reached the 10-meter hold point and was grappled by the SSRMS by US astronaut Don Pettit at 1347 UTC May 25, and berthed on the nadir CBM port of the Harmony module at 1552 UTC.
The following sites have excellent, regularly updated coverage of the progress of the C2+ mission:
The first attempt at launching the Falcon-9/Dragon on the COTS-2/3 cargo demonstration mission to the ISS was halted at T-0.5 seconds when monitoring software detected an unexpected rise in pressure in the combustion chamber of engine #5.
The fault was subsequently traced to a faulty check valve in the nitrogen purge system which was subsequently replaced, and liftoff is currently scheduled for the next available window on Tuesday, May 22nd at 3:44 AM Eastern.
So far, this has been an impressive vindication of the vehicle health monitoring systems on the Falcon 9, and their ability to trigger a safe and near-instantaneous abort 500 milliseconds from launch when an off-nominal engine condition is detected. The ability of the SpaceX ground team to conduct engine repairs on the pad, and be ready for another launch window within 72 hours is similarly impressive.