Thursday, March 25, 2010

First Falcon 9 Flight Likely To Slip To At Least Late April

The first flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 likely will slip to at least late April so engineers can certify a system that would deliberate destroy the rocket if it veered off course after launch.

The Falcon 9 holds an April 12 launch date on the Air Force Eastern Range, which provides tracking and range safety services for launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center.

But SpaceX Founder Elon Musk told Florida Today Wednesday that the supplier of the rocket’s flight termination system still must finish testing and gain final flight approval from the Air Force.

“We’re waiting for them to complete the testing of the Flight Termination System hardware the are providing to us, and then the review and acceptance of that test data by Air Force range safety,” Musk said.

Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense Co. of Simsbury, Conn., is providing the destruct system for the Falcon 9.

The systems typically consist of small explosive charges used to deliberately destroy rockets if they careen out of control and threaten populated communities.

All rockets launching from Cape Canaveral and KSC are required to have systems that are approved for flight by Air Force range safety.

The 18-story Falcon 9 is being readied for flight at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, a former Titan rocket launch pad. The company employs about 100 people locally.

The Falcon 9 in recent weeks has undergone a propellant-loading test and a flight readiness firing of its nine first-stage Merlin engines.

Cork insulation on the rocket’s first-stage liquid oxygen tank peeled off the Falcon 9 during the propellant-loading test.

Musk said an adhesive failed to keep the cork bonded to the propellant tank when it was loaded with supercold liquid oxygen, which has a temperature of Minus 298 degrees Fahrenheit.

The cork on the tank is being replaced. A new adhesive is being used to bond it to the tank.

SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion NASA contract to launch 15 Falcon 9 flights – three test flights and 12 missions to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Contract options could increase the value of the deal to $3.1 billion.

The California-based company also holds contracts to launch commercial payloads for customers in Argentina, Canada, Europe, Israel and the U.S.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the SpaceX image of the company's first Falcon 9 rocket igniting its nine first-stage Merlin engines during a static firing earlier this month at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.


Wegendt said...

What baffels me is that NASA retires the Delta II launch Vehicle and gives out 1.5 Bilion dollars worth of launch contracts to vehicles that are not proven launsh vehicles.
Delta II lauches over 200 launch;s with a success rate of over 97% success rate penny foolish decisions.

Larry J said...

The Delta II is a fine rocket with a long legacy. However, it isn't nearly as powerful as the Falcon 9 and wouldn't be able to carry nearly so large a payload to the ISS.

Anonymous said...

If the falcon 9 gets off the ground it will be much much cheaper than Delta.

Tom said...

Low-cost is particularly valuable considering what the cargo is.

These are not $100 million communications satellites. Choosing an unproven launcher would bump up your insurance premium substantially. Might even come out a wash.

NASA, on the other hand, is flying food and water up to the ISS. Some other supplies, but all easily replaceable and *well* below the value-per-kilogram of commercial space launches. If a rocket blows up, no big deal.