This Week: Space Falcons and Solar Sails

11 06 2010

It’s with no small sense of excitement that I report two important developments this past week.  First, of course, is the successful inaugural flight of the Falcon 9 rocket I’ve been following for some time now (herehere, and here).

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, June 4, 2010. Credit: SpaceX

As the frontrunner corporate replacement for NASA’s retiring Space Shuttle, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has proven with this launch that they have the right stuff.  Their proprietary Merlin-class engines, Falcon series rockets, and their Apollo-styled Dragon spacecraft are primed to keep the good ol’ USA in the space transportation game through the transition, lessening our reliance on Russia’s (Energia’s) Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.  Details of the Falcon 9 launch include what SpaceX claims is an “orbital bulls-eye” -a near-perfect circular orbit at an altitude of 155 miles- and a wealth of aerodynamic data during ascent that they will use to refine future launches.  If you haven’t seen it, check out a high-def video of the launch here.

IKAROS solar sail partially unfurled last week. Credit: JAXA

Secondly, I’d like to applaud the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA‘s) recent successful full deployment of their IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by the Radiation Of the Sun) spacecraft’s solar sail.  (An illustration showing this process can be found here.)  The breakthrough craft, which was launched in late May, employs a hybrid sail intended to use solar radiation as a passive means of propulsion as well as a source of electrical power.

IKAROS is now on its way toward our sister planet, Venus.  During the next six months, JAXA researchers will step on the gas, orienting the sail for maximum acceleration to see how fast they can get IKAROS to go.  Should the light weight and utterly practical technology prove successful, look for similar systems to begin showing up on future spacecraft.

In all, a very exciting time, with much more on deck.  Stay tuned.

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SpaceX viral marketing for Falcon 9 launch with t-shirts?

9 05 2010

I leave you with a quick post to an even more curious post.  It appears that SpaceX is employing a bit of real-world viral marketing for the Falcon 9 launch.  F9 T-Shirts?  Take a look.  So, is this legit?

And more importantly, if so, where can we get one?





SpaceX’s Falcon 9 fired up for late May launch

7 05 2010

President Elon Musk of SpaceX and President Obama viewing the Falcon 9. Credit: Associated Press

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) continues to prepare their Falcon 9 rocket for its premier launch from Cape Canaveral late this month.  Should it be successful, it will herald the beginning of truly private crew-capable space transportation as an industry – a cornerstone of President Obama’s new space initiative.

As of yesterday, SpaceX reports they are in the midst of final testing, and they actually make it sound frustrating.  It seems that they’re as impatient for the next stage in commercial spaceflight as the rest of us are.

May is getting pretty crowded at the Cape, so if they can’t get by the preflight tests and system certifications quickly enough, they’ll have to wait until June.

The restlessness is at least doubled by the fact that resting on the success of this test flight is the next launch, which will be the first officially conducted under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program.  Falcon 9 Flight 2 will carry SpaceX’s first fully-operational Dragon spacecraft to orbit and is scheduled for a few months after Flight 1.

-If they can get past the blasted pre-flight tests, that is.

We’re with you, SpaceX.  Tell the guys on deck to hurry up.





SpaceX fires up first Falcon 9 rocket

13 03 2010

Test firing of the first Falcon 9. Credit: SpaceX

A short update – SpaceX successfully test-fired its first Falcon 9 launch vehicle today at the Cape in Florida, which will eventually carry their Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station as part of a first-of-its-kind contract with NASA.  Dragon is reusable and designed to carry unpressurized or pressurized cargo, ultimately including astronauts.

Stay tuned, guys.  If my sense here is correct, the ultimate success or failure of this system will define the role of private industry in space exploration for the next couple of decades.

Here’s wishing SpaceX well.








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