December 22, 2015

X Marks the Spot: A Perfect Landing (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX's Falcon-9 first stage landed right on target at the company's landing complex at the Cape Canaveal Spaceport. Click here. (12/22)

Goodbye Barges? What's Next for SpaceX? (Source: SPACErePORT)
SpaceX has procured at least one fully functional landing-pad barge for recovering their Falcon-9 first stage boosters. They were developing a fleet of these for landings off the coast of California and Texas. This week's successful landing at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport suggests that land-based landings will now become the method of choice...perhaps bringing an end to SpaceX's barge patent dispute with Blue Origin, and bringing a close to the company's Jacksonville barge base.

In a post-landing teleconference with news media, Elon Musk said SpaceX would move the recovered booster to a Florida launch pad for engine tests, and plans to reuse a stage or its engines sometime next year. With the company's capacity for Florida-based engine testing, this could mean the engine/stage refurbishment work could stay in Florida instead of SpaceX's test facility in Texas. (12/22)

Falcon 9’s Second Stage Restart was Just as Important as Sticking the Landing (Source: Space News)
SpaceX’s successful deployment Dec. 21 of 11 Orbcomm machine-to-machine messaging satellites and the apparently clean return and landing of the upgraded Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage also validated the ability of the redesigned second-stage propulsion system to restart in orbit after a coast phase, SpaceX said.

​The second stage’s performance will position SpaceX to conduct commercial operations the way it has long intended. SpaceX said the second stage engine performed the full re-ignition and burn sequence needed for geostationary satellites. SpaceX said its new-version Falcon 9 is 33-percent more powerful than the Falcon 9 v1.1 version it replaces.

Future Falcon 9 rockets will be of the upgraded version, whose main goal is to permit SpaceX to recover the first stage even when launching heavy telecommunications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit. ​Despite the growing popularity of smaller satellites and previously unheard-of orbital architectures, placing telecommunications spacecraft into geostationary orbit remains the biggest commercial space market. (12/22)

Spacewalkers Fix Stuck Rail Cart Outside ISS (Source: Reuters)
Two spacewalking astronauts quickly fixed a stuck cart on the exterior of the International Space Station Monday. Astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra spent 3 hours and 16 minutes outside the station on an unscheduled spacewalk to move the station's Mobile Transporter, which became stuck about 10 centimeters from its worksite. Astronauts released brake handles on the cart, which then moved to its worksite and locked in place. The two also spent time on other tasks, including routing a set of data cables. (12/21)

Japan Confirms ISS Support Through 2024 (Source: JAXA)
The Japanese government has formally agreed to extend its participation in the space station program. The government signed an agreement Tuesday with the U.S. government to continue to be part of the station program through 2024. Japan operates the Kibo laboratory module and provides cargo through its HTV spacecraft, which will continue to fly during the station's extension. JAXA will be "promoting unprecedented utilization" of the Kibo module. (12/21)

Air Force Consolidates Missile Warning Satellite Control (Source: Space News)
The Air Force has controlled all its missile warning satellites with a single ground system for the first time. The new Mission Control Station allowed controllers to operate SBIRS and older DSP satellites in geostationary orbit and SBIRS payloads on classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits. The Air Force current uses separate ground systems for each of the three sets of satellites. (12/21)

Reusability Could Dramatically Reduce Already-Low SpaceX Prices (Source: Economist)
If SpaceX is able to land, refurbish and reuse its first stages routinely, it could greatly reduce the cost of launching things into space. The first stage of a Falcon 9 accounts for around 70% of its $54m price tag. SpaceX’s going rate for a satellite launch starts at around $60m, already the lowest in the industry, but reusable rockets would allow the company to go even lower.

Blue Origin has yet to make a commercial flight, and its proposed business is rather different. Its New Shepard spacecraft is ultimately intended to carry passengers, though (at least at first) only just above the altitude of 100km (62 miles) that somewhat arbitrarily defines the edge of space. Crossing the Karman line, as this is known, requires a lot less energy than getting all the way into orbit.

SpaceX's ambition is to make the second stage reusable as well. That will be trickier. By the time the second stage has done its job it will be far higher and traveling far faster than the first stage ever does. But it is a goal worth pursuing. Mr Musk estimates that full reusability could lower the cost his rocket launches “by a factor of a hundred.” (12/22)

No Space for The Donald (Source: Space News)
"I wouldn't go on his rockets. I don't like that world. I've seen too many exploding before they get off the ground." That was Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, asked on the Fox News Channel's "MediaBuzz" show about an offer by Jeff Bezos to send Trump to space on a Blue Origin vehicle. Bezos made the offer recently after Trump criticized his ownership of the Washington Post. (12/22)

SpaceX Return-to-Flight Succeeds with Satellite Delivery, Florida Landing (Source: Geekwire)
SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket for the first time in six months today, and then brought he first-stage booster back down for a first-ever Florida landing. "The Falcon has landed!” SpaceX’s launch commentator announced. Hundreds of SpaceX employees cheered the touchdown at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. “USA! USA! USA!” they chanted.

The flight’s main objective was to send 11 satellites into low Earth orbit to boost Orbcom’s OG2 network for machine-to-machine communications. The landing attempt was a bonus, aimed at furthering SpaceX’s goal of bringing down the cost of spaceflight dramatically.

The engine firings were coordinated to set down the booster 10 minutes after launch on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) south of the launch pad on the Cape. SpaceX previously tried to land Falcon 9 boosters on an oceangoing platform, with mixed success, but this marks the first fully successful rocket landing for SpaceX. Here's the complete video. (12/21)

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