SpaceX, NASA Space Mission Doomed To Fail? New Test Ends In Failure

It hasn’t been a good month so far for SpaceX as Elon Musk’s company once more failed another systems test after the disastrous explosion that …

It hasn’t been a good month so far for SpaceX as Elon Musk’s company once more failed another systems test after the disastrous explosion that happened in Cape Canaveral on April 20.

According to Inverse, the SpaceX Crew Dragon, a capsule which was built to bring U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, failed a parachute test held at Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada. SpaceX was trying to figure out if the capsule would survive if all four parachutes failed to launch in time. During testing, three of the parachutes failed to set off, causing considerable damage to the Crew Dragon during impact.

The parachute test was revealed by NASA’s associate administrator of human exploration, Bill Gerstenmaier, during a hearing led by the U.S. House of Representatives’ science, space and technology committee.

The test result was given in answer to a question from Mo Brooks, a Republican representative from Alabama. Brooks has been known to be one of the top critics of “commercial” space agencies such as SpaceX.

The failure seriously undermined the possibility of SpaceX successfully bringing astronauts to the ISS via the Crew Dragon. However, NASA explained that there is a silver lining to all the failed tests since it can provide the much-needed data that scientists will need to make the necessary changes to the capsule and ensure its passengers’ safety.

“Their teams are fully engaged, we are understanding this. This is a gift to us. We have gotten data that is unique, that will help us design and understand if this is something that needs to be fixed, or if this is something that was just a nuance of the test and the configuration,” Gerstenmaier said.

After a successful demo that brought the SpaceX Crew Dragon to the ISS without assistance, Musk’s space agency has been working hard on the next phase of their mission: human transport.

During a crucial test, however, the Crew Dragon blew up while SpaceX was firing up engines embedded within the spacecraft. The capsule is equipped with eight small thrusters known as SuperDraco engines, which are intended to play an important role in case of glitches during space flights.

The thrusters were intended to bring the Crew Dragon away from danger should the SpaceX rocket (either the Falcon 9 or the Starship) encounters a fatal malfunction. However, the engines ignited while conducting a test of the engines at the company’s landing pad at Cape Canaveral.


spaceXThe exterior of SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California as seen on July 22, 2018.Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

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Old Falcon 9 rockets done firing their engines will now inflame imaginations

Absent a costly, time-consuming renovation, this “full-thrust” Falcon 9 rocket will never fly into space again. SpaceX prefers to re-fly its newer “Block 5” …
  • The twice-flown booster last used during the CRS-13 mission will go on display at Space Center Houston this summer.
  • Donated by SpaceX, the rocket will be displayed horizontally.
  • It will be near the main entrance, with a SpaceX logo-shaped walkway.
  • We’re definitely checking it out.

Ten days before Christmas 2017, a Falcon 9 rocket blasted a Dragon spacecraft into orbit. The first stage then performed a series of engine burns and landed safely along the Florida coastline. The core has remained in storage since then.

Absent a costly, time-consuming renovation, this “full-thrust” Falcon 9 rocket will never fly into space again. SpaceX prefers to re-fly its newer “Block 5” version of the Falcon 9, which incorporated reuse lessons learned from earlier flights like the ones this rocket core had made. This rocket’s job, therefore, was seemingly done.

But William Harris, the president and chief executive of Space Center Houston, thought he knew of a way rockets like this one could still serve the aerospace enterprise, albeit in a different way. Although such a Falcon 9 rocket would no longer fire its engines, it could still inflame the enthusiasm of young people.

“Our goal with Space Center Houston is really learning [and] to excite the public about space exploration,” Harris said in an interview. “This was an opportunity to do just that.”

So last year, Harris visited SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and asked if the company would consider donating a used Falcon 9 rocket for display at the Houston facility, which is the official visitor’s center for Johnson Space Center. Space Center Houston is the No.1 tourist destination in the Houston area, Harris told the company.

The rocket would allow the museum to educate visitors about what is happening in space now, in addition to the past. And displaying a Falcon 9 rocket would allow SpaceX to share its vision for the future of spaceflight, with lower-cost, reusable boosters.

As it turns out, SpaceX was interested. The company would be happy to donate the rocket that flew both the 11th and 13th supply missions to the International Space Station, its officials told Harris. This particular core also has some historical heft, as it is the first Falcon 9 rocket NASA agreed to fly a second time.

Space Center Houston hopes to take possession of the booster sometime this summer and immediately put it on horizontal display near the entrance to the museum. Exactly when the facility gets the booster is up to SpaceX. “We’re a little bit dependent upon them for when they’re ready to transport it,” Harris said. “They’ve got a lot of things on their plate, obviously.”

A Falcon 9 at Space Center Houston.

This kind of interaction with museums is new for SpaceX, as it has historically focused on flying rockets into space, not putting them into museums. Harris said the company is being generous in pulling employees off some projects to help move the Falcon 9 core and assist the Houston museum with designing displays.

The rocket will be displayed as is, complete with singed marks due to atmospheric reentry and engine firing. Initially, the rocket will be elevated horizontally, nearly four meters off the ground, allowing visitors to walk around and underneath the vehicle. (In a nice touch, the walkway will be shaped like the SpaceX logo). Eventually, perhaps in about a year, Harris said the Falcon 9 will be displayed vertically. But this will require additional engineering to safely secure the rocket, especially given Houston’s propensity for hurricanes and other types of severe weather.

Presently, a used Falcon 9 rocket is on display in only one location around the world: in front of SpaceX’s headquarters. Later this year, Harris said he expects other museums around the United States may also acquire used Falcon 9 boosters, so by displaying one horizontally to start, Space Center Houston has a good chance to be the first site after the SpaceX factory.

It is not clear how durable the rocket will be in the elements, given the Bayou City’s humid climate. Over time, Harris said the museum will perform its usual conservation work to ensure the Falcon 9 core remains in pristine condition. He anticipates it will quickly become one of Space Center Houston’s greatest attractions.

“SpaceX does such a brilliant job of marketing their launches with their webcasts,” Harris said. “We feel confident that people will want to come and see one of these rockets up close and personal.”

We’re pretty confident in that, too.

Listing image by Space Center Houston

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SpaceX broadband testing to ramp up with launch of dozens of satellites

SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says …
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar after a flight.
Enlarge/ A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar after a flight in April 2017.
SpaceX

SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says it will begin launching satellites for the actual service later this year.

This week, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that dozens of Starlink satellites will be aboard the Falcon 9 launch scheduled for May 15, according to several news reports.

“This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” Shotwell said on Tuesday at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, DC, according to SpaceNews. “We start launching satellites for actual service later this year.”

“Shotwell characterized this first wave as a demonstration set, with no satellite-to-satellite communication links,” GeekWire wrote. “Depending on how the demonstrations proceed, from two to six Starlink launches could follow by the end of this year, she said.” (As we’ve previously written, SpaceX says its satellites will essentially operate as a mesh network, and they communicate with user terminals at customer homes.)

Commercial service in 2020—or later

SpaceX hasn’t revealed a specific commercial availability date. The latest details appear to put SpaceX on track to launch commercial service no earlier than 2020, consistent with the company’s past statements. In October 2017, SpaceX told a Congressional committee that it would launch at least 800 satellites before offering commercial service and said the commercial service would likely become available in 2020 or 2021, as SpaceNews reported at the time.

SpaceX launched its first two test Starlink satellites in February 2018, but it has changed the design since then. The changes were made in part so that satellites will burn up completely during atmospheric re-entry in order to prevent physical harm from falling objects.

SpaceX has Federal Communications Commission approval to launch nearly 12,000 broadband satellites over nine years. On April 26, SpaceX received FCC approval to halve the orbital altitude of more than 1,500 of those planned broadband satellites in order to lower the risk of space debris and improve latency. After that latest approval, Shotwell said that “Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.”

SpaceX has said that Starlink will offer gigabit-per-second speeds and latency of around 25ms, which would make it a lot more appealing than current satellite broadband services.

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SpaceX to launch Starlink satellites as early as next week

At a conference in Washington D.C., a SpaceX executive said the first dedicated launch of Starlink satellites is scheduled to fly as early as May 15.
Derek Richardson
May 8th, 2019
A file photo of a Falcon 9 launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. SpaceX plans to launch the first batch of Starlink satellites from this launch pad. Photo Credit: Vikash Mahadeo / SpaceFlight Insider

A file photo of a Falcon 9 launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. SpaceX plans to launch the first batch of Starlink satellites from this launch pad. Photo Credit: Vikash Mahadeo / SpaceFlight Insider

At a conference in Washington D.C., a SpaceX executive said the first dedicated launch of Starlink satellites is scheduled to fly as early as May 15.

According to SpaceNews, SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said during the Satellite 2019 conference the May 15 Falcon 9 launch would orbit dozens of Starlink internet satellites, but did not specify how many. Additionally, she said this would be the first of anywhere between two and six Starlink-dedicated missions this year.

However, Shotwell said the first batch of spacecraft is to be a demonstration set and exactly when the next set launches depends on how the first satellites operate.

A number of things likely still need to occur before SpaceX sets a firm date and time, including a static fire test on the Falcon 9 that will be utilized for the mission. Liftoff is expected to take place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. Should the May 15 date hold, the specific time of the flight could be during a 90-minute window opening at 10:30 p.m. EDT (02:30 GMT May 16), according to NASASpaceflight’s Michael Baylor in a tweet.

Starlink was started in 2015 and the project is being developed at a facility in Seattle, Washington. The goal is to provide a low-cost, high-performance internet constellation.

The first two test satellites, dubbed Tintin A and B, were launched in February 2018. Several months after that, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the satellites, which had a low latency of 25 milliseconds, had a connection good enough to play fast-response video games.

When complete, the full Starlink satellite internet constellation is expected to have around 12,000 satellites, launched over the next decade, at a cost of about $10 billion.

Recently, SpaceX was granted Federal Communications Commission approval to launch its first group—nearly 1,600 spacecraft—into a lower orbit than initially planned. According to the FCC, the first satellites are expected to orbit at 340 miles (550 kilometers), rather than the initially planned 715 miles (1,150 kilometers).

In addition to the 1,600 at 340 miles (550 kilometers), another 2,800 is planned to be placed in orbits 710 miles (1,150 kilometers) in altitude while 7,500 are planned to be placed at 210 miles (340 kilometers). According to an FCC document, SpaceX is planning to have half the constellation in orbit by 2024, with it being completed by 2028.

The first two prototype Starlink satellites were launched by SpaceX in February 2018. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The first two prototype Starlink satellites were launched by SpaceX in February 2018. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Tagged: Cape Canaveral Air Force StationFalcon 9Lead StoriesSpace Launch Complex 40SpaceXStarlink

Derek Richardson

Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter

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Dozens of SpaceX Starlink Satellites To Be Launched May 15

SpaceX said it will orbit at least two dozen of its Starlink small internet satellites on May 15 in what will be the first in a series of mass satellite …

SpaceX said it will orbit at least two dozen of its Starlink small internet satellites on May 15 in what will be the first in a series of mass satellite deployments that will take place until 2021.

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said the launch using a Falcon 9 will carry “dozens of satellites,” into low Earth orbit (LEO). These new demonstration satellites will join two Starlink test satellites now in LEO.

“This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” she said. “We start launching satellites for actual service later this year.”

Shotwell said SpaceX intends to launch two to six more times for its Starlink broadband constellation this year in addition to the May 15 launch. She said the number of Starlink launches for this year will depend on the results of the May 15 mission.

Shotwell said the demonstration or test satellites launching May 15 will be scaled-down “test satellites” lacking inter-satellite links. The test satellites will have capable onboard antennas and electric propulsion, she said.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave SpaceX six years to launch at least half of its initial group consisting of 4,425 Starlink satellites. This deadline was a condition set by the FCC when it approved SpaceX’s request to orbit a group of Starlink satellites at a lower LEO than the one it originally applied for. SpaceX eventually plans to have a total of nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites provide internet coverage to every part of the world.

In 2017, SpaceX said it will need 800 satellites in orbit to begin Starlink commercial service. This target is expected to be met in either 2020 or 2021.

Shotwell said SpaceX targets 18 to 21 launches in 2019, not including the Starlink missions. That launch cadence is consistent with previous years. SpaceX launched 18 times in 2017 and 21 times in 2018. SpaceX has launched five times this year so far.

“We thought the commercial market might expand to that, I think we probably wished it had, but [now] we’ve got plenty of capacity to launch our Starlink system,” she said.

In 2018, SpaceX became the first U.S.-based company to be licensed by the FCC to operate an NGSO (non-geostationary satellite orbit) constellation of close to 12,000 satellites.

Earlier this year, SpaceX submitted an application to operate one million user terminals, as well as its first six gateways to provide the necessary communications links back from the satellites to the global Internet.

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