Future SpaceX & Blue Origin rocket recoveries may use largest mobile crane in the US

While there’s a good chance that SpaceX will avoid changing their current Port Canaveral recovery operations and the complement of cranes they …

Florida’s Canaveral Port Authority took delivery of what is now the largest mobile crane on U.S. soil, originally purchased in order to support both extremely large cargo ships (known as New-Panamax-class) and the unique needs of orbital-class rocket recovery operations for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s prospective New Glenn launch vehicle.

While there’s a good chance that SpaceX will avoid changing their current Port Canaveral recovery operations and the complement of cranes they already lease or own, Blue Origin will almost certainly take advantage of Port Canaveral’s vast new crane, capable of lifting more than 200 metric tons (~450,000 lbs) at heights greater than 50 meters (160 ft).

I know @AstroVicnet had some questions about the new mobile crane and how it will be used in Port Canaveral. Here is an explainer and how it connects to our Spaceport partners like @SpaceX and @blueorigin. #SpaceXFleethttps://t.co/UQqItZbdIr

— Julia (@julia_bergeron) January 19, 2019

To put the scale of the crane (and perhaps SpaceX and Blue Origin rockets) into perspective, Falcon 9’s booster – on its own – stands an incredibly 45m (~150 ft) tall or almost the same height as the LHM 600’s main boom (the gray cylinder/tower in the photos above), while Blue Origin’s New Glenn first stage – set to debut as early as 2021 – would tower an extraordinary 57.5m (~190 ft) tall, probably 60m if its small legs are deployed. While SpaceX’s BFR booster (now Super Heavy) is expected to attempt recoveries on the actual launch pad mount, it would stand around 63m (~210 ft) tall. New Glenn and Super Heavy are likely to weigh 50-150+ tons empty.

COLOSSAL CRANE ARRIVES: A 270-foot-tall mobile harbor crane billed as the largest in the United States sails into Port Canaveral aboard the cargo vessel Happy Dover on Friday morning. The 87-foot-long, 1.1-million-pound Liebherr LHM 600 is set to go into service later this year. pic.twitter.com/51DP8Hdb0w

— Port Canaveral (@PortCanaveral) January 18, 2019

The point is that for monolithic objects that are as tall as large rocket boosters, the logistics of actually moving them around can be surprisingly complex and challenging. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Heavy boosters happen to be short enough to be conveniently moved and manipulated by cranes that are quite large but still fairly common and easy enough to lease or purchase. SpaceX consistently uses similar tall, yellow cranes for the process of actually lifting Falcon 9 boosters – around 30t (~66,000 lbs) dry – off of their drone ships and onto land, while far smaller wheeled cranes can be used for the process of manipulating Falcon boosters once they are horizontal.

Given just how relatively light Falcon boosters are compared to their towering height, the cranes that can safely lift such tall and delicate objects tend to be designed to easily lift 5-10X as much weight at once. The next-generation rocket boosters (and even SpaceX’s Starship upper stage) will continue to push the height performance and begin to test the mass capabilities of modern cranes, particularly mobile varieties like the one that just arrived in Port Canaveral. One massive benefit of wheeled cranes like LHM 600 is how versatile and flexible they are, while tracked cranes like the largest ones SpaceX currently uses simply can’t move without risking the destruction of the ground beneath them, requiring that they use advanced mass-spreading technologies (i.e. giant beams of hardwood) wherever they crawl.

Another view of Port Canaveral’s shiny new LHM 600 crane shortly after arriving ashore. (Canaveral Port Authority)

Teslarati photographer Tom Cross managed to catch Port Canaveral’s new crane shortly after sunset, January 18th. (Tom Cross)

One of several large cranes used by SpaceX to vertically transport Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters is pictured here during third recovery of Falcon 9 B1046, December 2018. (Pauline Acalin)

Blue Origin’s New Glenn visualized shortly after landing aboard a recovery vessel. (Blue Origin)

Liebherr’s mobile harbor cranes offer a far more mobile solution in the form of traditional rubber tires and multiple large spreader plates that can be deployed and retracted when stationary. It will be genuinely interesting to see if SpaceX decides to replace its proven modes of vertical-lift recovery operations to gain the benefits of a crane that is new and an unknown quantity but could still simplify certain recovery operations. Perhaps even more importantly, the Canaveral Port Authority owns the new crane and apparently bought it with the specific intention of allowing companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin to use it – presumably for a reasonable fee – to assist during rocket recovery operations.


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Big Texas Will Be Production Site For SpaceX’s Biggest Rocket

SpaceX said it will develop and build its biggest spacecraft to date — Starship/Super Heavy – at its facility in South Texas instead of at the Port of Los …

SpaceX said it will develop and build its biggest spacecraft to date — Starship/Super Heavy – at its facility in South Texas instead of at the Port of Los Angeles as announced in April 2018.

Starship/Super Heavy was previously known as the BFR (for Big Falcon Rocket).

Development and manufacturing of the company’s Falcon 9/Heavy, Merlin and Raptor will continue at the company’s Hawthorne, California headquarters. The announcement of the move to South Texas, however, did not eliminate the possibility SpaceX still plans to develop an oceanside factory in the near future for Starship/Super Heavy.

What is clear is that SpaceX will assemble and test its Starship prototype in Texas instead of California.

To streamline operations, SpaceX is developing and will test the Starship test vehicle at its site in south Texas, said a SpaceX statement. The company said this decision does not impact its current manufacture, design, and launch operations in Hawthorne and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX will, however, continue recovery operations of its reusable Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft at the Port of Los Angeles.

SpaceX is making a lot of noise about the development of the Starship “hopper,” a prototype of Starship/Super Heavy. The first short test flights for the hopper are to begin this year.

Hopper will also be built in Texas (where SpaceX has a launch site) because the massive size of these launch vehicles makes them very difficult to transport by sea or land.

In 2018, SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell revealed that the estimated cost of moving a BFR-sized rocket from the company’s main Hawthorne factory to the Port of Los Angeles would average $5 million for a one-way trip.

She said this amount is almost 10% of the list price of an entirely new Falcon 9 rocket ($62 million). A BFR is nine meters tall.

As a result, SpaceX decided to build a permanent factory at a Port of Los Angeles dock known as Berth 240. Locating at the Port of Los Angeles would have allowed SpaceX to build a manufacturing facility on a 19-acre plot on Terminal Island.

The initial plan was for the huge BFRs to be then transported via barge and the Panama Canal to Cape Canaveral in Florida.

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon settles on Feb 9 launch debut as Falcon 9 nears static fire

In the midst of several confusing delays, schedule updates, and official statements, the orbital debut of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has made its …

In the midst of several confusing delays, schedule updates, and official statements, the orbital debut of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has made its way onto the Eastern range’s planning schedule for the first time, placing Falcon 9 B1051’s static fire and Crew Dragons launch no earlier than (NET) January 23rd and February 9th, respectively.

As the brand new spacecraft’s first attempted trip to orbit, the demonstration mission (Demo-1/DM-1) will be performed without crew aboard, allowing SpaceX and NASA an opportunity to fully verify performance and explore Crew Dragon’s capabilities without risking the lives of the astronauts that will step inside a nearly identical vehicle as early as June or July.

Obviously preliminary, but the Eastern Range is now showing the Static Fire for the DM-1 mission’s Falcon 9 (B1051.1) as NET January 23, (and still showing NET February 9 as the launch date). As always, but especially this one, all very much subject to change. pic.twitter.com/EWOEpbpI9o

— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 17, 2019

The US government has been shut down for more than four weeks as a consequence of the inability of elected representatives to pass and sign a funding bill, now the longest shutdown in the country’s history. As a result, more than 95% of NASA’s workforce has been furloughed, leaving around 800 people left working (without pay) across the agency in positions or groups deemed absolutely essential to avoid loss of life or property damage.

How NASA defines “essential” is unknown but it seemed improbable that the Commercial Crew Program – around six months away from actually launching astronauts and presently marked by NASA’s attempts to complete reams of approval and certification paperwork – would fall under that extremely narrow umbrella. Delays to Crew launches are unlikely to harm hardware or directly risk harm to astronauts, although a very tenuous case could be made that delays to the program now would snowball and cause the debut of operational crewed launches to slip so far into 2019 (or even 2020) that NASA could lose assured access to the International Space Station (ISS) for several months. Again, there is no obvious way that a slip like that would actually increase the risk to life or limb for astronauts and hardware/infrastructure.

Apparently, Demo-1 and 2 don’t need FAA launch licenses (under auspices of NASA, like TESS launch. Post-certification missions will require FAA license, like CRS flights today

— Irene Klotz (@Free_Space) January 16, 2019

Despite the logical improbability that NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) would – at this point in time – remain operating at full capacity during an extended government shutdown, NASA provided a statement to The Atlantic earlier this week more or less implying that CCP was deemed essential and has continued to operate for the last several weeks. There is certainly some wiggle room in NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs’ comments, enough to make it ambiguous if they are primarily PR spin, frank honesty, or something in between.

A SpaceX spokesperson added [paraphrased by The Atlantic] that “if NASA made the call, the company would carry out the uncrewed [DM-1] launch”, a tactical nonanswer that redirects the impetus to NASA. It’s not clear if the people at NASA that would ‘make the call’ to launch are furloughed or not – they certainly would not be essential in the sense described by NASA’s own overview of the current shutdown’s impact. Originally targeting a launch sometime in mid to late January, an official NASA update posted on January 10th showed that Crew Dragon’s first launch had slipped into February (on the launch range for February 9th).

DM-1 and Falcon 9 were greeted by an extraordinary – albeit mildly bittersweet – dawn during their first-ever trip out to Pad 39A. (SpaceX)

The integrated DM-1 Crew Dragon ‘stack’ rolled out to Pad 39A for the first time in the first few days of 2019. (SpaceX)

Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon vertical at Pad 39A. (SpaceX)

Crew Dragon shows off its conformal (i.e. curved) solar array while connected to SpaceX’s sleek Crew Access Arm (CAA). (SpaceX)

DM-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley train for their first flight in Crew Dragon. (NASA)

“NASA and SpaceX are now targeting no earlier than February for the launch of Demo-1 to complete hardware testing and joint reviews.” – NASA, 01/10/2019

“Hardware testing” likely refers to the need for Falcon 9 to complete a static fire at Pad 39A, a test now scheduled for January 23rd. It’s ambiguous whether SpaceX can actually perform a static fire test – a complete launch rehearsal involving full propellant loads and the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D engines – at Kennedy Space Center, a NASA operated with federal funding that does not currently exist. Although the Air Force-helmed range is operating at a normal capacity, KSC must still perform a number of basic tasks ranging from infrastructure maintenance to roadblock setup to allow a static fire test – let alone a launch – to occur. I

f SpaceX completes its NET January 23rd static fire with no problems, then it would appear to be the case that some sort of SpaceX-side delay – perhaps augmented or slowed down by NASA operating at 5% capacity – caused the slip from mid-January to mid-February. Stay tuned to find out!


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Space Notebook: Lunar lander arrives in Florida ahead of SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

A unique spacecraft slated to launch as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket next month completed the first leg of its quarter-million-mile …
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A unique spacecraft slated to launch as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket next month completed the first leg of its quarter-million-mile journey this week when it traveled from Israel to Florida.

The final destination for the SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries spacecraft: the lunar surface.

Shipped in a temperature-controlled container, the 400-pound lander (1,300 pounds fully fueled) was flown Friday from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv to Orlando International Airport. It will be driven to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for testing and final integration before the mid-February liftoff from Launch Complex 40.

The spacecraft, named “Beresheet” which means “in the beginning” in Hebrew, will fly as a secondary payload to the Nusantara Satu mission, a larger communications spacecraft that SpaceX will deliver to a geostationary orbit. Indonesian operator Pasifik Satelit Nusantara calls it the country’s “first high-throughput satellite.”

Built by SSL in California, the primary payload is expected to operate on orbit for 15 years and weighs 10,400 pounds.

As Nusantara Satu finesses its orbit around Earth, Beresheet will kick off a two-month journey to the moon that should result in an autonomous mid-April landing. Once there, it will capture photos of the landing site and take magnetic measurements for a joint Weizmann Institute – NASA experiment.

If successful, it will mark the first interplanetary mission for a Falcon 9 rocket as well as Israel’s first landing on the lunar surface.

Additional details about the mission – Falcon 9 booster number, whether or not there will be a landing attempt, and exact launch time – have not yet been released by SpaceX. The company is still prioritizing its first uncrewed demonstration flight of Crew Dragon from Kennedy Space Center, which is tentatively on the Eastern Range’s schedule for early February.

Delta IV Heavy launches national security mission from California

Powered by 2.1 million pounds of thrust, a three-core United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket blasted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base Saturday and successfully delivered a secretive national defense spacecraft to orbit.

Space Launch Complex 6 hosted the 11:10 a.m. Pacific time launch for the National Reconnaissance Office, which typically does not release specifics about its payloads. Labeled NROL-71, it marked the first launch of the year for ULA, though it was originally delayed from December.

The Colorado-headquartered company now turns its attention to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where it is expected to launch an Air Force communications satellite on a single-core Delta IV rocket no earlier than March 13. It will be the 10th launch of a Wideband Global SATCOM satellite, also known as WGS-10.

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

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SpaceX Laying-off 10% of Employees as Launch Business Wanes

Close to 600 employees of SpaceX have lost or will lose their jobs over the next few days as the space transportation company founded by Elon Musk …

Close to 600 employees of SpaceX have lost or will lose their jobs over the next few days as the space transportation company founded by Elon Musk fights to stay in business as the number of rocket launches is expected to drop this year.

The total of those being let go represents close to 10% of the company’s total workforce of some 6,000 employees. Most of those to be fired work at the company’s headquarters and rocket factory located at Hawthorne, California.

Analysts say this mass firing is the first large-scale reduction of its workforce since SpaceX was founded in 2002. The company, however, has laid-off many employees before but not on this scale.

In a statement, SpaceX said its ability to continue delivering for its customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet means “SpaceX must become a leaner company.”

And in a sop to the employees it fired, SpaceX said it is grateful for everything they’ve accomplished and their commitment to SpaceX’s mission. SpaceX said the employee firings were the result of the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary.

In late 2018, SpaceX President and CEO Gwynne Shotwell warned there might be a slowdown in the number of satellites to be launched by firms in the geo-telecommunications industry. These commercial launches are the lifeblood of SpaceX.

SpaceX says it costs more than $60 million to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on a commercial mission such as deploying a telecommunications satellite to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). On the other hand, it will cost a client some $90 million to use the more powerful Falcon Heavy rocket.

“Next year (2019) you won’t see as many launches as you see in 2018,” said Shotwell. “2019 is a lower-cadence year.”

Ironically, Space X had its best year in 2018. It successfully launched 21 missions, giving it the U.S. record for the most number of launches in a year.

It’s always unfortunate when there are large layoffs, noted Jan Vogel, executive director of the South Bay Workforce Investment Board.

He said the board is in touch with SpaceX and is ready to provide transitional services to employees that have been let go. We’re ready to help people, said Vogel.

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