News From Space: SpaceX Booster Explodes in Flight

spacex-falcon-9-octaweb-640x427Last week, during a test flight in McGregor Texas, a new space SpaceX Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle 1 (F9R Dev 1) exploded in midair. This three-engine variant of the F9 is the latest in SpaceX’s arsenal of vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) rockets designed to allow for easy recovery and reuse. Previously, Grasshopper had only used a single Merlin rocket engine; but for this test, a three-engine version of the vehicle was being used.

The F9R Dev 1 is a second-generation test vehicle rocket based on the SpaceX Grasshopper. Built as part of SpaceX’s program to develop a fully reusable launcher system and spacecraft with all components capable of a powered landing, the F9R has lighter, retractable landing legs and is 50 percent longer than the Grasshopper. It made its first flight last April and is capable of flight operations up to 3,000 m (10,000 ft).

https://i1.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/exploding-spacex-rocket-grasshopper-f9r-640x357.jpgThis marks the first major failure for SpaceX’s commercial space launch program, and in a statement, SpaceX says the initiated its self-destruct sequence automatically after detecting an anomaly. Nearby residents saw the fireball and local television station KXXV caught the incident on video. From the footage (seen below), the new test rocket is seen going up, turning 90 degrees to horizontal, and then detonating with a rather neat fireball.

Mercifully, no one was harmed (including the local livestock). Following the incident, Elon Musk tweeted that the vehicle “auto-terminated,” but there were no injuries or near-injuries, and that “Rockets are tricky …” SpaceX also released the following statement saying:

Earlier today, in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX conducted a test flight of a three engine version of the F9R test vehicle (successor to Grasshopper). During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission.

Throughout the test and subsequent flight termination, the vehicle remained in the designated flight area. There were no injuries or near injuries. An FAA representative was present at all times.

With research and development projects, detecting vehicle anomalies during the testing is the purpose of the program. Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.

SpaceX will provide another update when the flight data has been fully analyzed.

spacex-falcon-9-rocket-largeIn short, SpaceX was attempting something new and exciting and it didn’t quite go as planned. And although it cost them millions of dollars, rocket scientists know from experience that a controlled detonation in the air is far better than an uncontrolled one on the ground. Should a rocket lose control and crash into the Earth, it will detonate all of its unspent fuel and can cause extensive damage and loss of life.

At this point it’s impossible to say what kind of anomaly was experienced by the rocket, but SpaceX is poring over the gigabytes of flight telemetry data to try and find out what went wrong. In the meantime, space enthusiasts are hoping people will remember that mishaps are part of the development process, and that we’ve come very far since the early days of NASA and Project Mercury, where mistakes and deaths were far more common.

And if SpaceX wants to create the world’s first reusable space launch system, and crack the cheap, commercial space travel market wide open, there are going to be a few fireballs along the way. But as long as it’s just the test launches that explode, we should count our blessings. And in the meantime, be sure to check out the footage obtained by KXXV of the failed test flight:


Sources:
extremetech.com, gizmodo.com

News from SpaceX: Falcon 9 Reusable Rocket Test

falcon-9-reusable-test-640x353For over two years now, Elon Musk and his private space company (SpaceX) have been working towards the creation of a reusable rocket system. Known as the Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle (F9R Dev) – or “Grasshopper” – this system  may prove to be the greatest development in space travel since the invention of the multistage rocket. After multiple tests that reached greater and greater altitudes, the latest attempt at a takeoff and soft landing took place this past month.

Timed to coincide with SpaceX’s launch to the International Space Station (which took place on Friday April, 18th) the landing was apparently a success. Several days after the launch, Elon Musk tweeted that the “[d]ata upload from tracking plane shows landing in Atlantic was good!” This update came on April 22nd, and as of yet, no definitive data of whether the first stage landed correctly, or whether it was still in one piece by the time the recovery boats got to it.

falcon-9-crs-3-retractable-legsPresumably SpaceX will provide another update in due course. In the meantime, they took the opportunity to release a rather awesome video of what the Falcon 9 Reusable should look like when successfully performing a vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL). The video has accumulated an astonishing 3,598,143 views in the last two weeks, which is indicative of the level of interest this project and its impications have garnered over the past few years.

Meanwhile, the resupply mission went off without a hitch. Officially designated as CRS-3, this mission was even more significant due to the fact that its Falcon 9 launch vehicle featured the same retractable landing legs and the ability to soft land as the Grasshopper test rocket. However, in the case of the ISS mission, it was the first time where a Falcon 9 was tested in a real-world scenario where the rocket would return to Earth after reaching Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

spacex-dragon-capsule-grabbed-by-iss-canadarm-640x424

Though the rocket was successfully picked up by the ISS, the jury is still out on whether or not the soft landing was a success or not. To minimize any risk, the first stage of the Falcon 9 attempted to “soft land” in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, according to Elon Musk, due to “13- to 20-foot waves… It’s unlikely that the rocket was able to splash down successfully.” Using telemetry data gathered from a SpaceX spotter plane, it appears that everything else went to plan, though.

Because of the rough seas, though, the retrieval boats couldn’t make it to the landing site, and thus the rocket is unlikely to be recovered. In the meantime, SpaceX will spend the following days and weeks analyzing more detailed data from the launch, and then update the Falcon 9 design and launch protocol accordingly. However, it is clear at this point that these latest tests are not being considered a failure, or reason to cease in their efforts.

falcon-9-r-580x386As Musk himself explained in a series of public statements and interviews after the launch:

I would consider it a success in the sense that we were able to control the boost stage to a zero roll rate, which is previously what has destroyed the stage — an uncontrolled roll… I think we’re really starting to connect the dots of what’s needed [to bring the rocket back to the launch site]. I think that we’ve got a decent chance of bringing a stage back this year, which would be wonderful.

Considering the benefits of cheap, reusable rockets, and all the things they will make possible – space-based solar power, the construction of a Moon settlement, missions to Mars, the construction of a Space Elevator – there’s simply no way that a single unsuccessful rocket recovery will deter them. In the meantime, be sure to check out this video of what a successful Falcon 9 VTVL test looks like. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing a real-world example of this happening soon:


Source:
extremetech.com

 

News From Space: 3-D Printed Spacecraft

3D_spaceprinting13D-Printing has led to many breakthroughs in the manufacturing industry in recent years. From its humble beginnings assembling models out of ABS plastic, the technology has been growing by leaps and bounds, with everything from construction and food printing to bioprinting becoming available. And as it happens, another major application is being developed by a private company that wants to bring the technology into orbit.

It’s called SpiderFab, a system of technologies that incorporates 3-D printing and robotic assembly to create  “on-orbit” structures and spaceship components (such as apertures, solar arrays, and shrouds). Developed by tech firm Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI), the project is now in its second phase and recently landed a $500,000 development contract from NASA.

spiderfabOne of the greatest challenges of space exploration is the fact that all the technology must first be manufactured on Earth and then shuttled into orbit aboard a rocket or a shroud. The heavier the cargo, the larger the rocket needs to be. Hence, any major undertaking is likely to have a massive price tag attached to it. But by relocating the manufacturing process to a place on-site, aka. in orbit, the entire process will be much cheaper.

Towards this end, the SpiderFab, incorporates two major innovations in terms of transportation and manufacture. The first makes it possible to pack and launch raw materials, like spools of printable polymer, in a cost-effective way using smaller rockets. The second uses patented robotic fabrication systems that will process that material and aggregate it into structural arrangements.

3D_spaceprintingDr. Rob Hoyt, CEO of TUI, had this to say of his company’s brainchild in a recent interview with Co.Design:

SpiderFab is certainly an unconventional approach to creating space systems, and it will enable significant improvements for a wide range of missions.

The unorthodox system is also a solution to the problem that Hoyt began working on two decades ago when he first began working with NASA. While there, he experimented with on-orbit fabrication as a concept, but was limited due to the fact that there were no means available to make it reality. However, once 3-D printing became mainstream, he seized the opportunity presented. As he explains:

I didn’t strike on anything dramatically better than [previous investigations] until about six years ago, when additive manufacturing was really starting to take off. I realized that those techniques could be evolved to enable some dramatic improvements in what we can build in space.

spiderfab3At present, TUI is working on several different models of what the SpiderFab will eventually look like. The first of these is known as the Trusselator, one of many building blocks that will form the factory responsible for producing spacecraft components. The Trusselator is designed to print high-performance truss elements, while another, the Spinneret, will use 3-D printing-like techniques to connect and fuse together clusters of trusses.

Hoyt says that the TUI team will be further testing these processes in the next couple of months, first in the lab and then in a thermal-vacuum chamber. He hopes, however, that they will be able to conduct an on-orbit demonstration of SpiderFab a few years down the line. And with any luck, and more funding, NASA and other agencies may just convert their production process over to orbital 3-D printing facilities.

Alongside concepts like the SpaceX Grasshopper reusable rocket and reusable space craft, 3-D space printing is yet another revolutionary idea that is likely to bring the astronomical (no pun!) costs of space exploration down considerably. With affordability will come growth; and with growth, greater exploration will follow…

Star-Trek-universe

Sources: fastcodesign.com, tethers.com