SpaceX working to return Falcon to service
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is working to return the Hawthorne, California-based company’s Falcon 9 v1.1 booster to service. The firm has been working for almost three months to rise above the unsuccessful seventh CRS mission (under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program) where a strut in a Falcon 9’s upper stage failed, which resulted in the complete loss of the rocket and its payload of the Dragon spacecraft.
At the time of the accident, the booster was 139 seconds into its flight – and SpaceX was preparing to upgrade the Falcon 9 from the v1.1 to the v1.2.
The company, founded in 2002, has maintained that it will return the Falcon 9 to flight later this year. Moreover, according to a report appearing on The Verge, SpaceX plans to launch the first of its Falcon Heavy boosters in the spring of next year (2016) from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.
It remains to be seen if either of these events will occur on the currently projected schedule.
At present, some 19 Falcon 9s have taken to the skies between 2010–2015, for a flight rate of slightly less than four launches per year.
Each Falcon 9 employs nine Merlin engines in its first stage (depending on the model, they have either used the Merlin 1C or 1D versions of the engine).
The Falcon Heavy, essentially a triple-bodied version of the Falcon 9, will utilize 27 of these engines – providing a total sea-level thrust at liftoff of 20,418 kN (4,590,000 lbf), rising to 22,279 kN (5,008,500 lbf) as the craft climbs out of the atmosphere.
In March of this year, Space News writer Peter B. de Selding reported that the new version of the F9 was to take to the skies this summer. This new rocket will use the same Merlin 1D engines but with a modified fuel mix; it will also be 30 percent more powerful than the current version of the booster.
The rationale behind this increased power is that it would be needed if one of the Falcon 9’s were to heft a communications satellite to a geostationary orbit. That extra capability would be required to have the booster conduct the ballistic re-entry maneuver that SpaceX has been attempting to have the Falcon 9 carry out for the better part of two years.
At the time of the Space News report, Global satellite owner and operator SES had said that they were willing to be the first company to utilize this new version of the Falcon 9 to launch the 11,684 lb (5,300-kilogram)telecommunications satellite to geostationary orbit.
Although the new Falcon 9 version has been noted in some circles as the “v1.2“, an official name has not yet been assigned to the booster. As reported in Aviation Week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said, “I don’t know what we’re going to call it. Enhanced Falcon 9, Falcon 9 v1.2, Full-Performance Falcon 9.”
Perhaps ironically, SpaceX had opted to delay the launch of the TurkmenAlem52E / MonacoSAT from March 21 to an April 27, 2015 launch date. This delay, according to Space News, was due to: “an unspecified suspected anomaly in the helium pressurization tanks that are on both the first and second stage.”
SpaceX has several projects that it is currently working on, such as launching commercial and NASA payloads to orbit, as well as working to ferry cargoes for the U.S. Department of Defense. Besides those projects, the NewSpace firm is also developing a crewed version of its successful Dragon spacecraft and, as noted, efforts to decrease the cost of sending payloads to orbit via reusable launch systems.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.