Relativity Space and 3D printed launchers

It was recently announced by NASA that Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral (unused since 1988) is to be turned over to Relativity Space. They intend to use the complex to launch their methane/LOX Terran 1 launcher. This 2 stage rocket stands 100 feet tall and can launch a 2750 lb payload into low-Earth orbit.

But the real kicker here is that the Terran 1, engines, tanks, and other structures, will be produced by a 3D printer! 3D printing has come a long way. The Terran 1 isn’t going to be plastic… at least not pure plastic. Their printer is a metal 3D. It doesn’t actually produce pure metal, but a metal mixed with a plasticizing agent.  This leads to higher strength and greater durability.

I don’t doubt the ingenuity of the folks at Relativity Space. But maybe I’m from Missouri. I want to see this thing fly a few times before I put much stock in its reliability. In my mind, a metal/plastic mix is… well… plastic!

WorldSpaceFlight code changes

The WorldSpaceFlight pages dealing with the various flights (US, Russia, China) have undergone a behind-the-scenes update. A new class was introduced which eliminates a lot of code duplication and makes maintenance easier. Of course, this means a number of modules had to be changed to accommodate the new class structure. I might have missed something. If you notice anything “funky” about a particular page, please let me know so I can fix it. This can be something like weird characters, misplaced text, missing data, inappropriate data like a number where text is expected, or some kind of error message.

World Space Flight website pages

The World Space Flight pages are anything BUT mobile friendly! That is a sad fact.

The good news is that that will be changing. The changes will be gradual, a few MAJOR changes coming first, followed by more general changes. The first big change which will be rolled out will involve the menus on the left side of practically every page.

As it is, you have to enlarge the area just to read it, much less actually click on something. America in Space already has the beginning of that change on MOST of the pages.

Once the menus have been adapted, then there will follow changes in the content layout. Be patient. Things will be getting better.

NASA announces date maiden flight of Crew Dragon

NASA recently announced that an unmanned test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon to the ISS will take place on 7 January 2019. The Boeing Starliner will have a similar test sometime in March.

If all goes well, The first manned flight of Crew Dragon will be sometime in June with the Starliner doing so in August.

But there are no guarantees. Both vessels do have issues. With the Crew Dragon, there are parachute issues and, more importantly, concerns about the high pressure helium tank. Remember the tank failure on 1 September 2016 that took out the Falcon 9 and the entire launch pad?

Personally, I am concerned about SpaceX’s procedure in which the crew is boarded BEFORE the Falcon 9 is fueled. The crew has to sit atop the rocket while fueling takes place. I know SpaceX fuels at the last minute because they use super-cooled propellants for added power. But I have to ask, is a little extra efficiency more desirable than a reduced risk to human life? For purely cargo or satellite launches, go for it. But when lives are at stake?

I like what SpaceX has accomplished. They are definitely daring. But then again, there is a fine line between between being daring and being cocky. Cocky can get you killed.

 

Did you know…

The WorldSpaceFlight site covers a lot of territory. There are shortcut ways of reaching particular sets of pages.

Americainspace.com redirects to the America in Space pages.
Russiainspace.com redirects to the Russia in Space pages.
Chinainspace.com redirects to the China in Space pages.
Canadainspace.com redirects to the Canada in Space pages.
Europeinspace.com redirects to the Europe in Space pages.
Japaninspace.com redirects to the Japan in Space pages.
And astronauts-n-cosmonauts.com redirects to the astronaut and cosmonaut Bio pages.

Other sets of pages within WorldSpaceFlight aren’t so lucky. But the big seven sets which are may save you a little bit of typing.

Dream Chaser now another ISS supply option

The Russian Progress has always been a prime ISS cargo option. Europe for a time provided the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) which flew 5 cargo missions to the ISS, the last being in July 2014.  Japan also has the H-II Transfer Vehicle, but this flies at the most maybe once per year.

Much more recent, and more frequent, are SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital Science’s Cygnus cargo vehicles, which takes the load off the Progress.

Sierra Nevada, which once was a consideration for manned transport to the ISS with their Dream Chaser, now has a NASA contract for a cargo version of their Dream Chaser. The first two flights will be lofted by ULA in 2020 and 2021.

While Boeing and SpaceX won the nods from NASA for manned transport, Sierra Nevada continued on their own with Dream Chaser. Naturally, Sierra Nevada must now concentrate on the Dream Chaser Cargo System, I, for one,  am hoping the manned Dream Chaser stays alive and becomes a reality at some point in the future.

Face it… Dream Chaser is a beautiful craft, and the concept of gliding in for a landing at an airport near home is an improvement over a splashdown far out in the ocean or thumping down in some remote grassland.

Current state of rocket landings

As of this time, Blue Origin has nailed 5 successful landings in a row. The last landing was actually unexpected as the launch was to test (successfully) the launch escape system. The push back was expected to damage the launcher and make it unable to land. In a big plus for Blue Origin, not only did the escape system perform well, the booster was able to make a successful landing as well. Blue Origin may start launching tourists for suborbital flights this year. At least, that’s the plan.

Meanwhile, SpaceX just nailed a landing in Florida after a successful launch of a Dragon cargo vessel to ISS. This was the third success of bringing Falcon 9 first stage back to LZ1. There have also been 5 successful barge landings (4 in the Atlantic, 1 in the Pacific). So what is SpaceX’s record at this juncture? They have 8 successful landings in 18 tests. Consider that on the first 5 tests, all at sea, there was no barge involved. These were strictly systems tests and all the stages were intentionally lost at sea. Now we are talking 8 of 13. There have been 4 successes in a row, 7 successes in the last 8 attempts, 8 successes in the last 11 attempts. Overall, considering the complexity of the systems involved, not a bad record at all!

SpaceX is currently constructing a second landing pad in Florida, LZ2, and LZ3 is in the works. This will come into play when the Falcon 9 Heavy comes on line later this year. Three cores coming down at once! It is anticipated that two will return to LZ1 and LZ2, and the third to a barge in the Atlantic. If SpaceX can pull this one off, it will be a sight to see. A Falcon 9 Heavy launch and three core landings in a single act!

Between Blue Origin and SpaceX, 2017 could be quite a year.

Blue Origin does it yet again. One booster, three launches, three landings.

On April 2, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard booster for the third successful West Texas landing after a suborbital flight. Previous landings of the same booster previous took place on January 22 and November 23, 2015.

The crew capsule successfully landed by parachute shorty after the booster landed.

SpaceX, which has been successful only once (so far), but it has to be noted that the Falcon 9 is larger and, being orbital, has a greater velocity to contend with. SpaceX hopes to be able to recover and reuse a booster sometime in 2016.

Whether it is Blue Origin or SpaceX, recovering a booster is no simple matter. It is, after all, rocket science!

One NASA year – Not your Father’s year!

Scott Kelly just returned to Earth after his highly touted “year in space”. By NASA standards, a “year” is apparently only 340 days, a little less than 94% of a “standard” year.

I am wondering if the the NASA devaluation is restricted to time, or does it apply to distance as well. If so, does that mean a mission to Mars wouldn’t ACTUALLY reach Mars, but would turn around a couple million miles short?

If Kelly had been up for 364 days, or even 360, I’d give NASA the extra couple days and call it a year, but when you come up 6+% short, I’m not so forgiving. NASA is just patting itself on the back for its BIG ACHIEVEMENT, the “big achievement” that Russia (and predecessor USSR) had already done four times.  Valari Polyakov bested the “NASA year” by 97 days (437 total) and that was 22 years ago.

Blue Origin does it again

Kudos go out to Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin team. Yesterday their New Shepard booster made a successful landing, the second in two months. This was the SAME booster that flew last November 24, and carried the SAME capsule.

True, the booster isn’t as big as Falcon. It doesn’t need to be as it has a different purpose. Falcon is designed for orbital cargo launches, while New Shepard is designed for manned suborbital launches. It doesn’t go as high as Falcon, but it doesn’t need to do that either, for the same reasons.

What IS important is proof of concept. A booster CAN be landed, now proven 3 times, once by SpaceX and twice by Blue Origin. A booster CAN be reused as proven by Blue Origin. Blue Origin also demonstrated the re-usability of a crew capsule. The amount of refurbishment required by New Shepard and the capsule was minimal, also demonstrating the cost savings by reusing hardware.

To argue that one company is better than the other because they were first or are bigger with greater challenges is a meaningless and petty waste of time.

SpaceX and Blue Origin are BOTH great companies with great vision. They have DIFFERENT missions, but share the same objective of re-usability. They are both innovators, and as innovators we can expect to see both triumph and failure from each.  Yesterday Blue Origin experienced triumph.