Oh No! Rocket Launches Are Bad for the Environment? We’d Better Stay at Home Then

A small environmental impact, Falcon 1 launches in September 2008 (SpaceX)
A small environmental impact, Falcon 1 launches in September 2008 (SpaceX)

For every article written about the amazing advances in space vehicle technology, there are two negative comments about the pointlessness of space exploration.What’s the point?“, “We have war, famine, poverty and human suffering around the world, why invest billions on space?“, “What’s space exploration ever done for me?“. However, today, after I wrote a pretty innocuous article about the awesome SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being hoisted vertically on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, I get a comment (anonymous, naturally) starting off with, “This launch and others like it should be halted indefinitely until it’s carbon footprint and environmental impact can be accounted for.” The commenter then goes into something about making an environmental assessment, levying SpaceX’s taxes and setting up a board of environmental scientists. Oh please.

On the one hand, I’m impressed by this person’s spirited stand against environmental damage, carbon emissions and global warming, but on the other, this is probably one of the most misplaced environmentalism attacks I have seen to date. There are extremists on both sides of the “green” debate, but the last thing we need is an attack against the only answer we have to fight climate change. And that answer comes in the form of a cigar shaped polluter, blasting into Earth orbit; whether you like it or not, it is a necessary (yet small) evil…
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SpaceX Falcon 9 Fully Integrated at Cape Canaveral

The Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral (SpaceX)
The Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral (SpaceX)

As the first post of 2009, I couldn’t think of a more worthy topic: SpaceX. Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company is accelerating its progress ever since the successful launch of the Falcon 1 (Flight 4) in September. Just last week, it was announced that NASA had signed a $1.6 billion contract for 12 SpaceX launches to resupply the International Space Station over the next decade. As if that wasn’t enough, we start the New Year with some more great news, the heavy-lift rocket, Falcon 9, has just been assembled at Cape Canaveral in preparation for it to be hoisted vertically so it can begin preparations for its first launch.

Falcon 9 is now fully integrated at the Cape! Today we mated the 5.2 m payload fairing to the Falcon 9 first stage (see below). This was the final step in the integration process—one day ahead of schedule.

With Falcon 9 integrated, our focus shifts to the big launch mount and erector. All the pieces have been delivered, and the coming days will see a tremendous amount of welding to join them all together.

The long hours put in by the SpaceX team over the last several weeks, particularly the folks on the ground at the Cape, are certainly paying off. Once the launch mount and erector are complete, we’ll transfer Falcon 9 on to the erector and raise it to vertical early in 2009. Happy New Year!

SpaceX press release (Dec. 30th)

And just in case you wanted to see just how quickly this company ships and assembles their rockets, check out the image below. This is the same Falcon 9 first stage as the one above pre-paint-job, before being shipped from the Hawthorn facility in LA, during my visit in October. How time flies…

Falcon 9 1st stage in the SpaceX rocket-manufacturing facility in Hawthorn, CA (© Ian O'Neill)
Falcon 9 1st stage in the SpaceX rocket-manufacturing facility in Hawthorn, CA (© Ian O'Neill)

What an exciting year 2009 is shaping up to be. We are living in historic times for commercial spaceflight, with SpaceX spearheading a new age for space travel…

SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Awarded NASA Contracts: $3.5 Billion Total

SpaceX Dragon approaches the ISS (SpaceX)
SpaceX Dragon approaches the ISS (SpaceX)

NASA has just signed two very large cheques for two private spaceflight companies, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corporation. The contracts will allow private launches to re-supply the International Space Station beyond Shuttle decommissioning in 2010, and SpaceX claims they could be doing it by next year.

These contracts represent some of the largest ever given to private enterprise, and demonstrates the trust the US space agency is placing in these space start-ups. The contracts are worth $3.5 billion combined; $1.9 billion for Orbital Sciences and $1.6 billion for SpaceX, equating to 8 flights from Orbital and 12 flights from SpaceX. For now, these contracts are for cargo deliveries only, replacing the Shuttle and providing a viable alternative to the Russian Progress flights. Critically, the US now has a very real prospect to bridge the “5-year gap” from Shuttle retirement (2010) and Constellation launch (2015).

All we need now is for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket system to become “human rated” and we could see the first routine commercial launches of US astronauts before the Constellation Program is even rolled out onto the launchpad. Very exciting times

Source: Universe Today, SpaceX

Top 5 Space Exploration Mishaps of 2008

Houston, our toy rocket appears to be on fire. Photo by Jurvetson (flickr)

In the last 12 months, we’ve seen some of the most astonishing advances in space exploration technology. From SpaceX launching the first commercial rocket into Earth orbit to seeing the first Chinese spacewalk, all of our endeavours in space will help develop the future of manned spaceflight. Even the recently published Time Magazine Top 10 Scientific Discoveries list space and physics endeavours high up the list.

However, there is a flip-side to this coin. Fortunately there has been no loss of life through manned spaceflight in 2008, but we’ve had our fair share of mishaps. Some have been expensive, some just embarrassing, but each one has taught us what to do, and what not to do, as we begin to venture further from the protective atmosphere of Earth. So, to recognise our mistakes, and move on from them, here are the Top 5 Space Exploration mishaps of 2008…
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A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse of the XCOR Press Conference

The faces of the New Space Game: XCOR press conference, Dec. 2nd (© Space Lifestyle Magazine/Angela Kyle/Ian O'Neill)
The faces of the New Space Game: XCOR press conference, Dec. 2nd (© Space Lifestyle Magazine/Angela Kyle/Ian O'Neill)

In my second assignment for Space Lifestyle Magazine, I was sent to the plush Beverly Hilton (in Beverly Hills, CA) to sit in on a grand announcement by XCOR Aerospace. Having seen the operations behind another space commercialization company (SpaceX) I was keen to see how the two companies differed. Firstly, comparing XCOR with SpaceX would be like comparing apples with pears; they belong to the same family (i.e. fruit), but they taste entirely different.

For starters, SpaceX is focused on launching payloads into orbit. XCOR is a space tourism venture (with it’s closest competitor being Virgin Galactic). They do however, have some common ground: both build their own rockets and both have a very enthusiastic outlook for this emerging industry.

Tuesday was XCOR’s day, so my wife Debra, colleague Angela Kyle and myself were all treated to a great meeting in the Beverly Hilton (a location more commonly associated with Hollywood stars than spaceships) where XCOR communicated their vision to the world…
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Space Lifestyle Magazine #5, Fall Edition: SpaceX Article

The Fall Edition of Space Lifestyle Magazine has just been issued. For my first article in the electronic magazine, I took a trip to the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) headquarters in Hawthorn, near LA to have a tour around the site. With a special thanks to Diane Murphy, SpaceX Vice-President of Marketing and Communications, I fulfilled every space geek’s dream to see Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets being built, plus being within touching distance of the Dragon module (to undergo space tests in 2009). For me, the most significant moment was to see one of SpaceX’s complete Merlin-1C engines sitting on the rocket workshop floor, an amazing piece of engineering.

In this quarter’s edition of SLM, my Universe Today colleague Nancy Atkinson (Editor-in-Chief of the magazine), takes an in-depth look into the space policies of both Presidential Candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain (although we now know how that turned out!), and my SLM co-writer Katie Kline gives a rundown of what’s new and exciting in the world of space travel. It is an inspiring magazine with lots more articles and columns throughout its 70 pages…

Space Lifestyle Magazine is a free publication by New Forks Media, headed by Publisher David Bullock.

Falcon 1 Launch Success! SpaceX Makes History (Video)

The second stage of Falcon 1, functioning perfectly with the curvature of the Earth below (SpaceX)
The second stage of Falcon 1, functioning perfectly with the curvature of the Earth below (SpaceX)

Today marks the day when the first ever commercial space vehicle was launched into orbit. SpaceX will be relieved that Flight 4 of the Falcon 1 rocket was successful; the previous three had failed. Flight 3, last month, was carrying a commercial payload when an anomaly with the first stage separation brought disaster to the mission. So, the pressure was on the Californian company and its founder Elon Musk, should this flight have failed it might have been the last…
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Static Fire a Success for SpaceX Ahead of Flight 4

So far, so good. A static fire test for the upcoming Flight 4 is a success for SpaceX and Falcon 1 (SpaceX)
So far, so good. A static fire test for the upcoming Flight 4 is a success for SpaceX and Falcon 1 (SpaceX)

The run-up to Flight 4 of SpaceX Falcon 1 appears to proceeding nicely. Scheduled for a late-September launch, the rocket has been rolled out onto its South Pacific launch pad and prepared for launch. Today saw the successful static fire test of the Merlin 1C engines (pictured above), and according to the SpaceX press release, “no major issues came up.” However, after detailed analysis of test data, engineers decided to replace the second stage engine LOX supply line as a precaution. Apparently, Falcon 1 should operate fine without the replacement, but SpaceX will be extra cautious ahead of launch some time over the next couple of days.

For now, the exact launch time is being kept secret, and in light of last month’s Flight 3 failure, Flight 4 will be critical to the future of the private space company. Our hopes are high for the first successful commercial launch very soon…

The Anatomy of a Rocket Launch Anomaly; SpaceX Falcon 1 Failure

f1-003_liftoff

SpaceX recently posted the launch video of the ill-fated Falcon 1, flight 3 launch on August 2nd. At the time, I was glued to the screen watching the live video broadcast of the event seeing the launch unfold. The first launch attempt was terminated due some minor parameter fluctuations, but the rocket was re-fuelled and prepped for a second attempt within the hour. However, although Falcon 1 made it to well above 200 km altitude, a very small thrust anomaly during stage separation had huge consequences for the space vehicle and payload…
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