SpaceX’s Dragon capsule to visit ISS in February

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    Okay, I misspoke. Everything is not cool. [LINK]

    Orbcomm Inc., owner of a data communications satellite launched by SpaceX on Sunday, is evaluating whether it can recover the spacecraft after it was deployed in a lower-than-planned orbit by a Falcon 9 rocket.

    The 363-pound Orbcomm satellite, built by Sierra Nevada Corp., is designed to provide two-way data communications services for customers in the heavy equipment, transportation, maritime, agriculture, oil and gas, energy, and government sectors.

    The Falcon 9 suffered a failure in one of its nine first stage engines 79 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla., but the 15-story launcher continued into orbit and released its primary payload – the commercial Dragon resupply craft – on a good trajectory to reach the International Space Station.

    The rocket’s first and second stages fired longer than programmed to compensate for the lost engine, but the extra burn time left the rocket with insufficient propellant to safely place the Orbcomm satellite into a higher orbit.

    The second stage’s Merlin engine was supposed to reignite briefly to place the Orbcomm payload in an orbit between 350 kilometers and 750 kilometers above Earth, or about 217 miles by 466 miles.

    Because of strict safety constraints instituted to ensure satellites and space debris do not come too close to the space station, the Falcon 9 upper stage’s second burn was aborted.

    “For this reason, the OG2 prototype satellite was deployed into an orbit that was lower than intended,” Orbcomm said in a statement issued Monday. “Orbcomm and Sierra Nevada Corporation engineers have been in contact with the satellite and are working to determine if and the extent to which the orbit can be raised to an operational orbit using the satellite’s on-board propulsion system.”

    This is a bit of a big “oops” on your second commercial launch – strictly speaking, one flight out of two botched things for a customer. I’m not sure why they’d be offering to piggyback a payload on a flight meant to take a Dragon capsule up, but… maybe they need to stick to a single payload until the booster’s more proven.

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    I heard the secondary payload couldn’t make it to the proper orbit yesterday but I couldn’t find the link to back it up. Good jorb finding it Earl.

    Why did they offer a piggyback ride? More money, of course. That and the fact that the first launch was so successful they felt confident they could offer additional capacity with low risk. The customer grabbed the piggyback because the cost was so much less; probably less than half.

    It’s like that in the commercial hot air balloon ride business. The going rate for a hot air balloon ride is about $130. You get the full package: first balloon ride off the field, champagne, initiation and so forth. When the balloon lands, the first wave exits the gondola (which can hold 12-15 passengers) and, if the weather is right, they take on the second wave of passengers. This second wave pays only $65-$70 and they are not guaranteed a ride on the balloon. If they do get a ride it will be shorter than the ride the first wave got. There is, I believe, a third and possibly fourth wave, if business (and weather) is really good. They cart the passengers to and from the landing site in short buses.

    The business with the Falcon 9 is similar: the Dragon X gets first priority and they will do what’s necessary to achieve success at the risk of the secondary payload. And that’s exactly what happened. To get the Dragon X to its target, they had to burn the engines in such a way get it there which also put it into a lower orbit. No doubt the satellite owners paid a much lower launch fee (no doubt the insurance premium would go up) but it was obviously a risk the satellite owners were willing to take.

    The good news is they have a chance to get the satellite into the right orbit using the maneuvering thrusters. I’m sure they’ll spend a lot of money on supercomputer time to calculate the gravity assist from the Earth and so on. That exact scenario happened a year ago with a NASA or Air Force bird (I can’t remember) and the rocket engineers figured out how to get the satellite in the proper orbit using thrusters and gravity assist. So, I’m optimistic they’ll get something going right. Maybe not 100% but enough to get some operation out of the thing.


    @ubikuberalles wrote:

    No doubt the satellite owners paid a much lower launch fee (no doubt the insurance premium would go up) but it was obviously a risk the satellite owners were willing to take.

    That was my next pondering, how much of this issue is going to be eaten by their insurance. Open up wide…

    These guys didn’t pay for the cheap seats in the nosebleed section, it sounds more like they paid a few bucks to ride along on the luggage rack. SpaceX still needs to look into the problem that their booster experienced, but it’ll be interesting to see how much complaining this generates from the customer and the aerospace press.

    EDIT: WTF, the ISS crew opened the hatch on Dragon a full day early! They must be expecting some Cheetos or something, they’re awfully eager to get in there. Or maybe some room deodorant. 😆


    Whoops! [LINK]

    The prototype Orbcomm data communications satellite launched into an incorrect orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket Sunday has re-entered and burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, and although its owners say the mission achieved several objectives, Orbcomm is claiming the mission a total loss.

    In a press release issued Thursday, the New Jersey-based firm said it has filed a notice of claim under it launch insurance policy for a total loss of OG2 prototype satellite. Orbcomm said the policy covers a maximum loss of $10 million, which would “largely offset the expected cost of the OG2 prototype and associated launch services and insurance.”

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    The latest launch of the SpaceX capsule is in trouble:–finance.html


    Apparently all four thrusters are operating normally and they expect to be able to rendezvous with the station over the weekend – or at least that’s the plan right now.

    It was looking kinda hairy there for a bit, which would’ve created a rather alarming trend of each successive Dragon/Falcon launch exhibiting worse problems. Not exactly the track record one wants.


    There’s a fresh Dragon clinging to the ISS as we speak, but perhaps the more interesting news is what happened with the rocket that launched it into orbit. [LINK]

    The California-based space transportation company, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, has tried to retrieve rocket stages after several launches, initially trying a parachute-assisted recovery before switching to a concept involving a propulsive soft touchdown on a landing pad.

    The first step was to prove the rocket’s first stage could complete a series of unprecedented engine burns using leftover propellant after finishing its primary job of boosting a satellite into orbit.

    Musk announced late Friday the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral earlier in the day had apparently reached a splashdown zone in the Atlantic Ocean intact, based on data from a tracking plane dispatched to monitor telemetry from the descending rocket booster.

    Using Twitter to share the news, Musk said the aircraft received data for 8 seconds after the rocket reached the water, an indication the first stage at least survived the landing long enough to continue powering its transmitter.

    The first stage was supposed to fire its engines twice after separating from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage less than 3 minutes after liftoff Friday. The first burn was expected to slow the rocket’s velocity enough to fall into a prescribed landing zone in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral, and a second firing was to have allowed the rocket to gently settle into the sea.

    Four carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb mounting legs mounted around the base of the 12-foot-diameter first stage were supposed to extend shortly before the water landing. Friday’s launch was the first SpaceX flight to feature landing legs, which officials said had no negative effect on the flight’s ascent. If the launcher stage can be plucked from the sea, SpaceX plans to return it to port and analyze its condition.

    Regardless of whether the first stage is retrieved in one piece, Musk told reporters Friday the recovery experiment went further in demonstrating the Falcon 9’s potential for reuse than any mission before.

    “We were able to control the boost stage to a zero roll rate, which is previously what has destroyed the stage — uncontrolled roll where the on-board nitrogen thrusters weren’t able to control the aerodynamic torque and spun up,” Musk said. “This time, with more powerful thrusters and more nitrogen propellant, we were able to null the roll rates.”

    Though this kind of makes me wonder what effect this has on limiting payload weight. If you’re weighing the booster down with additional fuel to bring the booster back for reuse, doesn’t that mean that you’re “stealing” weight from the payload – i.e. the payload has to be lighter to accomodate the additional fuel?

    It’ll be interesting to see what the first stage looks like after recovery, and I wonder when they’ll get brave enough to try to bring it down on land, because that means – potentially – having a rocket coming down toward a populated area, and you have to hope that the telemetry is right and it’s in a controlled descent.

    Fascinating stuff. Reminds me of all that crazy stuff from the early days of the design of the space shuttle when the shuttle’s booster/fuel tank stack was basically supposed to be its own aircraft/spacecraft that would get the shuttle close to MECO (main engine cutoff, not the guy who did the Star Wars disco covers) altitude and then return to the ground where it, too, would land on an airstrip to be refurbished and refilled for the next weekly shuttle launch (!!), because, you know, spaceflight was going to be routine then.

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