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Category: SpaceX

SpaceX plans to dock capsule with space station this year

 

Hawthorne-based rocket venture Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, is planning to send a rocket into space carrying a capsule that will dock with the International Space Station later this year. It is a mission that takes the company one step closer to cashing in on a $1.6-billion contract with NASA.

In a statement, SpaceX revealed that the space agency has approved a mission in which its Dragon space capsule would dock with the space station.

"NASA has given us a Nov. 30, 2011 launch date, which should be followed nine days later by Dragon berthing at the ISS," the company said.

SpaceX makes the Dragon capsule and 18-story Falcon 9 rocket at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once housed the fuselage assembly for Boeing Co.'s 747 jumbo jet. However, the hardware is put on a big rig and sent to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for launches.

Last December, SpaceX became the first private company to blast a spacecraft into Earth's orbit and have it return intact. The unmanned flight was intended to show NASA that SpaceX could handle the task of carrying cargo into space.

If it pulls off a trip to the space station, it will be the clear frontrunner take over the responsibility of running cargo missions and possibly carrying astronauts to the space station for NASA now that the space shuttle is retired.

Think of it as a space taxi.

SpaceX already has a $1.6-billion contract to haul cargo in 12 flights to the space station for NASA. If the November mission is successful, the company would start in earnest to fulfill the contract.

"This next mission represents a huge milestone not only for SpaceX, but also for NASA and the U.S. space program," the company said.

While nearly everyone's eyes were on the final flight space shuttle flight in July, SpaceX engineers and technicians at Cape Canaveral were readying the rocket that will lift the capsule into orbit.

The rocket has just two successful test launches.

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-- W.J. Hennigan

twitter.com/wjhenn

Video: On December 8, 2010, SpaceX became the first commercial company in history to recover a spacecraft from orbit.

SpaceX inks contract to launch Thai satellite into orbit

Hawthorne-based rocket maker SpaceX announced it signed a major launch contract with a Thai communications company to lift a 7,000-pound satellite into orbit.

Although the financial details were not disclosed, SpaceX and Thaicom said the satellite will be launched aboard SpaceX’s 18-story Falcon 9 rocket, which can cost up to $59.5 million. Falcon9

In a statement, SpaceX said it expects to launch the satellite, dubbed Thaicom 6, in the second quarter of 2013 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

“This deal highlights the confidence that satellite operators have in SpaceX capabilities, and is the latest example of the effect SpaceX is having on the international commercial launch market,” Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX, said in a statement. “Asia is a critical market and SpaceX is honored to support its growing launch needs with a reliable U.S.-based solution.”

The upstart, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has now signed contracts with eight international customers for its massive Falcon 9 rocket, which made its maiden flight last June from Cape Canaveral.

The Thaicom 6 satellite will be built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. and is “designed to serve the growing satellite television market in South and South-East Asia, as well as Southern Africa,” the statement said.

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--W.J. Hennigan

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Photo: SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifts off from Cape Canaveral on its maiden flight last June. Credit: Chris Thompson / SpaceX

SpaceX announces Falcon Heavy: a low-cost, heavy-lifting, 22-story rocket

Falcon Heavy

Space Exploration Technologies, more commonly known as SpaceX, announced on Tuesday the Falcon Heavy: a towering, 22-story rocket that will be able to carry heavier payloads and bring launch costs down.

The Falcon Heavy will be built on a similar platform to that of the Hawthorne company's Falcon 9 rocket. It will also be capable of lifting twice as heavy a payload as the next-largest rocket.

Times reporter W.J. Hennigan broke the news this morning, ahead of the company's formal announcement of the Falcon Heavy in Washington on Tuesday. From Hennigan's report:

"We're embarking on something that's unprecedented in the space industry," Elon Musk, the company's chief executive, told The Times. "This is territory that has only belonged to the U.S. government — with its tens of billions of dollars."

Musk's company is building the 227-foot-tall Falcon Heavy even though there are no guarantees that the military or NASA will step forward to pay for the rocket to lift its payloads — or even astronauts — into space someday.

SpaceX hopes to launch it in a demonstration flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, at the end of next year.

NASA and other government agencies haven't committed to buying any Falcon Heavy rockets. But SpaceX is developing the launcher with the hope that customers will come.

And they just might. The lower launch costs are a big selling point as federal funds are hard to come by. As Hennigan noted in his report:

NASA has invested $298 million in seed money to help SpaceX develop and build its smaller, nine-engine Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon space capsule. The space agency has awarded the company a $1.6-billion contract to have SpaceX's Dragon transport cargo to the space station — with trips possibly starting later this year.

SpaceX also released Tuesday an animated video of the Falcon Heavy, which can be seen below.

To read Hennigan's full report on the Falcon Heavy, click here.

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Massive rocket ready for launch at Vandenberg [Updated]

A 23-story Delta IV Heavy rocket, the tallest ever to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, is set to blast off at 1:10 p.m Pacific time. Ula-rocket

[Updated at 1:45 p.m.: Thursday's launch appeared to go off without a hitch. But about 10 minutes after blastoff the live feed went black -- likely due to the secret nature of the mission.

A United Launch Alliance spokesman said in a statement: "It was a picture perfect launch of the largest rocket to ever from the west coast of the U.S. It just doesn’t get any better!"]

The giant rocket will lift off from the base’s Space Launch Complex 6, known on base as “Slick Six.” The launch pad was built in the 1960s and later intended to accommodate space shuttle launches.

According to analysts, the 235-foot rocket will be carrying a top-secret spy satellite for the National Reconaissance Office -- the covert federal umbrella agency that operates spy satellites.

The Delta IV Heavy is built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. The rocket’s three massive engines were built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in Canoga Park.

The rocket was initially set to blast off at 1:08 p.m., but United Launch announced a two-minute delay "to avoid an object in space that could have been in the path of the rocket." 

Watch the launch live above or at the rocket maker's website when the final countdown starts at 12:43 p.m. Pacific time.

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-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: The Delta IV Heavy rocket is raised to a vertical position for launch during preparations at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Credit: United Launch Alliance

SpaceX's 'secret' payload? A wheel of cheese

Cheese

In the historic launch of its Dragon space capsule Wednesday, Hawthorne-based rocket venture SpaceX didn’t carry astronauts or cargo into outer space.

But it did transport a wheel of LeBrouere cheese.

The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., revealed Thursday that it lifted a “secret” payload into low Earth orbit aboard its cone-shaped Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX said the choice was a nod to the British comedy troupe Monty Python and its famous Cheese Shop skit.

In a news conference after Wednesday's launch, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk refused to say what the secret payload was, fearing that the joke would overshadow the momentous feat in the next day's headlines.

The launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., marked the first time that a private company has developed and lifted a space capsule into orbit and have it survive a fiery reentry.

In a half-century of spaceflight only five countries and one intergovernmental agency have been able to launch a spacecraft into orbit and have it successfully reenter the Earth's atmosphere: the U.S., the Soviet Union/Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Space Agency.

It also may have been the first spaceflight of cheese. The record books don't say.

Cheesr

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-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: SpaceX's "secret" payload, bolted to the floor of the Dragon spacecraft. Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon capsule lifts off, reaches orbit [Updated]

 

SpaceX, the Hawthorne-based rocket venture, has successfully reached orbit with its Dragon spacecraft, the company said.

The company's massive Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday at 7:43 a.m. Approximately 10 minutes later, the Apollo-like Dragon space capsule appeared to reach low Earth orbit. The entire event was streamed live from the company's website.

The live video cut out after Dragon reached orbit. Shortly thereafter the company tweeted: "Beautiful launch! Dragon is in orbit. Will provide status updates as available."

It was a key launch for the company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. The Dragon capsule is considered a contender for the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station after the space shuttle is retired in 2011.

Now the company waits to see if the cone-shaped spaceship can survive the fiery reentry back to Earth. Up to this point only five countries and one intergovernmental agency have been able to launch a spacecraft and have it successfully orbit and reenter the Earth's atmosphere: the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Space Agency.

The capsule is scheduled to orbit the Earth twice before reentering the atmosphere and splashing down around 11 a.m. in the Pacific about 500 miles west of Southern California. The craft would deploy parachutes to slow its descent.

[Updated Wednesday, 11:10 a.m.: SpaceX did not provide a live video feed of reentry or splashdown. Instead, it fed information through Twitter. The company tweeted: "SPLASHDOWN!!!" and "SpaceX is the first commercial company to reenter a spacecraft from space!"]

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SpaceX scrubs first attempt at launch on Wednesday, waits for second window [Updated]

Launch2

SpaceX, the Hawthorne-based rocket venture, has its Falcon 9 rocket upright at Cape Canaveral, Fla., ready to launch the Dragon capsule into low Earth orbit.

If the mission is successful, it would mark the first time a commercial spacecraft attains orbit and survives the fiery reentry back to Earth. Only five countries and one intergovernmental agency have been able to launch a spacecraft and have it successfully reenter the Earth's atmosphere: the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Space Agency.

The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., aborted its first attempt at launch at 6:06 a.m. for unknown reasons. Stay tuned.

SpaceX has two more launch windows Wednesday. The first is from 7:38 to 7:43 a.m. The second is 9:16 to 9:23 a.m.

In the unmanned test launch, the capsule would be lifted into space by a Falcon 9 rocket, also developed by SpaceX. The capsule is scheduled to orbit the Earth twice before reentering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific about 500 miles west of Southern California. The craft would deploy parachutes to slow its descent.

The entire undertaking is expected to take about four hours. It is being webcasted at the company's website.

[Updated Wednesday, 7:30 a.m.: According to SpaceX, the new target launch time is 7:43 a.m. "False telemetry reading caused earlier abort. Data corrected and we are tracking for our next attempt."]

[Updated Wednesday, 7:55 a.m.: Lift off appeared to go off without a hitch. Dragon seemed to reach low Earth orbit approximately 10 minutes after launch. Shortly thereafter, the live video cut out.]

[Updated Wednesday, 8:05 a.m.: The company tweeted: "Beautiful launch! Dragon is in orbit. Will provide status updates as available."]

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Photo: SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule lifts off Wednesday from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canavera, Fla. Credit: Scott Audette/Reuters

SpaceX set to launch Dragon space capsule Wednesday

Falcon9

SpaceX, the Hawthorne-based rocket venture, said it would attempt the first flight of its Dragon space capsule Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., after technicians completed repairs to a cracked engine nozzle.

The Dragon capsule, which is considered a contender for the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station after the space shuttle is retired in 2011, was slated to have its maiden launch Tuesday, but that was scrapped after engineers discovered the cracked nozzle.

The cone-shaped spacecraft will make the trip aboard SpaceX's massive Falcon 9 rocket. Read more about it here.

The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., will be the first to attempt to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. At this point, only five nations and one inter-governmental agency have tried: the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Space Agency.

SpaceX's launch window Wednesday is open from 6 a.m. to 9:22 p.m. PST. The launch will be webcast from the company's website.

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Photo: Falcon 9, with the Dragon capsule on top, awaiting launch at complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

SpaceX maiden launch of Dragon space capsule delayed [Updated]

F9_dragon_cargo_stage_sep

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the Hawthorne-based rocket venture better known as SpaceX, announced Monday that the first attempt to launch the Dragon space capsule had been bumped back due to cracking in a second-stage engine nozzle.

The privately owned company will now aim for Thursday for the maiden launch of the spacecraft, which is designed to carry cargo and crew for NASA. The launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., had been slated for Tuesday.

“We found some indications on second-stage nozzle that we're spending some time investigating," said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, during a press conference that was webcast on NASA’s website.

Shotwell added that if the nozzle had to be replaced, the company would aim for a Friday launch. SpaceX has a launch window that will remain open until Saturday.

It is a key launch for the company, which employs more than 1,100 people, most of whom are in California. The reusable Dragon capsule is considered a contender for the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station after the space-shuttle program is mothballed in 2011.

In the test launch, the capsule will be affixed to SpaceX’s massive Falcon 9 rocket, which made its first flight in June from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The capsule is expected to orbit the Earth, reenter the atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. Aside from the U.S., only five nations or governmental agencies have tried: Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Space Agency.

SpaceX makes the capsule and rocket at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once housed the fuselage assembly for Boeing Co.'s 747 jumbo jet.

[Updated Monday, 6:15 p.m.: Despite saying several times during Monday's press conference that a launch will take place no earlier than Thursday, SpaceX issued a statement late Monday that said, "A decision on whether or not to attempt launch on Wednesday will be provided tomorrow evening."]

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Photo: artist's rendering of the Dragon space capsule and the second stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Credit: NASA

SpaceX to webcast Falcon 9 test firing in preparation for next week's scheduled launch of Dragon capsule

Falcon9

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the Hawthorne-based rocket venture better known as SpaceX, plans to webcast the test firing of its Falcon 9 rocket engines in preparation for the landmark launch of its Dragon space capsule, scheduled for next week.

In the trial run at Cape Canaveral, Fla., the rocket's nine engines will fire at full power for two seconds, with only a hold-down system restraining the rocket from flight.

The webcast is set to begin on the company's website Friday at 5 a.m. PST. The test firing is scheduled for 6 a.m. PST.

After the test, SpaceX engineers will go through the data obtained and make final preparations for the scheduled Dec. 7 maiden launch of the Dragon capsule, which is being designed to carry cargo and crew for NASA.

In the test launch, the Dragon capsule will be affixed to a Falcon 9; the rocket made its first flight in June from Cape Canaveral. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth, reenter the atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

If successful, it will mark the first time a commercial company has recovered a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit.

The Dragon capsule is considered a contender for the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station after the space shuttle program is retired in 2011.

NASA has already awarded SpaceX $1.6 billion in contracts to transport cargo to the International Space Station on the Dragon, starting as early as next year.

SpaceX employs more than 1,100 people, most in California. The firm makes its rockets in a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once housed the fuselage assembly for Boeing Co.'s 747 jumbo jet.

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-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: A SpaceX Falcon 9 test rocket lifts off at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in June. Credit: Matt Stroshane / Getty Images

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