SpaceX Lands the Falcon9 First Stage - A revolution in Rocket Science and Engineering
Today, at 8:33, Spacex made history. They landed the first stage of their Falcon9 rocket after having it successfully deploy a second stage into low earth orbit.
The Video is here:
Unlike other rocket companies, Spacex in not making small hops - they did that 2 years ago with their grasshopper rocket. In fact, this is how they tested the initial avionics systems that would be able to land the rocket in a stable position autonomously. Here is some footage:
Unlike the companies that make these hops, Spacex has to use this stage to help get payloads into low earth orbit… and then recover it! This is incredibly difficult and requires an advanced retro-thrusting maneuver that has never been successful - until now! The diagram below shows this thrusting maneuver, which happens shortly after the second stage has decoupled and ignited.
Spacex claims that this is similar to throwing a pencil over the Empire State Building, then having it flip perfectly, then haveing it fall into a shoebox… easy enough right?
Only, in real life SpaceX isn’t shooting a pencil… they are shooting a rocket! This is the pad that the now famous falcon9 rocket landed on:
Now you might ask, why does this matter? This means space will become cheaper! We can already build satellites that are less than $10,000,as a matter of fact I’m building a small satellite with a team right now! As it currently stands, space travel is too expensive for creative people to take risks. Now, thanks to SpaceX, we may be mining or visiting asteroids, visiting the moon, visiting mars, or doing something crazier - and we may be doing this very soon! The Falcon9 rocket costs $54 million to build but only $200,000 to refuel… let’s put this in perspective… That’s the same amount that it costs to refuel a Boeing 747 (which is the airplane that consumers use to fly around the world). This means that space travel could be as cheap as air travel very soon! Way to go SpaceX!
Hat’s off to SpaceX for releasing footage of their attempt to safely land their first stage on a barge so they could reuse it. The fact that they hit a barge in the middle of the ocean at all is pretty incredible. Their ultimate goal is to soft land it so they can reuse their rocket engines. Of course, the engines would have to be refurbished between every shot, but this could end up being an incredible cost savings for low earth orbit resupply missions. When you watch this video, don’t think about how much money this cost to not work…. but how much future savings something like this could represent!
SpaceX successfully lands its rocket on a floating drone ship for the first time
SpaceX has finally landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship at sea, after launching the vehicle into space this afternoon. It’s the first time the company has been able to pull off an ocean landing, after four previous attempts ended in failure. Today’s success is a crucial milestone for SpaceX, as it shows the company can land its rockets both on solid ground and at sea.
Among the arriving cargo is the first of two international docking adapters, which will allow commercial spacecraft to dock to the station when transporting astronauts in the near future as part of our Commercial Crew Program.
This metallic ring, big enough for astronauts and cargo to fit through represents the first on-orbit element built to the docking measurements that are standardized for all the spacecraft builders across the world.
Experiments launching to the station range from research into the effects of microgravity on the human body, to regulating temperature on spacecraft. Take a look at a few:
A Space-based DNA Sequencer
DNA testing aboard the space station typically requires collecting samples and sending them back to Earth to be analyzed. Our Biomolecule Sequencer Investigation will test a new device that will allow DNA sequencing in space for the first time! The samples in this first test will be DNA from a virus, a bacteria and a mouse.
How big is it? Picture your smartphone…then cut it in half. This miniature device has the potential to identify microbes, diagnose diseases and evaluate crew member health, and even help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system.
OsteoOmics is an experiment that will investigate the molecular mechanisms that dictate bone loss in microgravity. It does this by examining osteoblasts, which form bone; and osteoclasts, which dissolves bone. New ground-based studies are using magnetic levitation equipment to simulate gravity-related changes. This experiment hopes to validate whether this method accurately simulates the free-fall conditions of microgravity.
Results from this study could lead to better preventative care or therapeutic treatments for people suffering bone loss, both on Earth and in space!
The goal of the Phase Change Material Heat Exchanger (PCM HX) project is to regulate internal spacecraft temperatures. Inside this device, we’re testing the freezing and thawing of material in an attempt to regulate temperature on a spacecraft. This phase-changing material (PCM) can be melted and solidified at certain high heat temperatures to store and release large amounts of energy.
Technically not upcoming, ion propulsion is already a reality. Since it propels a spacecraft one particle at a time (as opposed to chemical propulsion, which explodes, generally, out the back), this propellant is hugely efficient.
The trick is what’s known to physicists as “specific impulse”. When a chemically propelled vehicle propels, it causes an explosion out the back, pushing the object forward. After exiting the vehicle however, the explosion immediately spreads in all directions, meaning that much of the energy of the explosion is lost on direction other than the one the spacecraft wishes to move.
Ion propulsion takes a long time to build speed but is so efficient that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, being an ion propelled machine, is the first to be able to orbit multiple things in the solar system.
With ion propellant, a spacecraft may be able to even generate enough speed to allow for interstellar space exploration (meaning it could enable us to leave the Solar System). Though speculative, the possibility is undeniable.
2. Solar Sailing
(Image credit: NASA)
This technology is still controversial. The science is this:
Light has momentum. When light hits a highly reflective surface, the surface, is pushed. With gradual building of velocity, a spacecraft could easily attain vast speeds, again leading to aspirations toward interstellar exploration.
The advantage over ion propulsion though, is that this is exploration without propellant.
Such methods of discovery haven’t been relevant since our ancestors explored the Earth on boats driven by the wind.
Though the science is known, the engineering applications are still somewhat mysterious.
The momentum gained from a single photon is very small. The area of material needed for a solar sail that could carry something like a generation starship is many orders of magnitude larger than any tested solar sail concept. It’s arguable whether or not this technology would ultimately turn out to be the most efficient way to go.
That space exploration is expensive means that when someone bothers to pay for a launch, the first thing they would hate to do is lose their spacecraft because it turns out to not be able to propel itself. Most bankrollers of space travel tend to favor tried and true methods.
That said, the testing of solar sails is underway.
Agencies like NASA, JAXA and even the Planetary Society (holla) are currently undergoing mission preparation, or already have a mission underway, testing solar sails.
3. Renewable Rocketry
(Image credit: SpaceX)
This one’s a biggie.
Imagine, you buy a car. You go buy groceries, come home and then your car explodes.
Every. Single. Time.
Tell me, could you afford to buy a new car every week to buy groceries, or would you figure something else out?
Personally, I wouldn’t be able to travel by car. I just don’t have the money to buy a new one every week.
Space exploration faces the same problem. Rocket technology was mostly driven and invented by military ventures that didn’t care about getting the rocket back. In fact, for a military rocket - if you see it coming back at you then you’ve probably done something wrong.
New efforts are underway to change this.
Companies like SpaceX, Reaction Engines and Blue Origin are devising groundbreaking new technologies that are fundamentally different from the rocketry of yesteryear.
Soon SpaceX will be carrying people into low Earth orbit, dropping them off and returning to a landing pad in Florida.
Reaction Engines Ltd has invented a hybrid rocket engine which breathes oxygen from the atmosphere like a jet engine, then becomes a spacecraft engine once the air becomes too thin (meaning it needs a fraction of the fuel to get to space as most others).
Blue Origin plans on carrying tourists to the edge of space, with the rocket then returning to the landing pad softly on a plume of fire.
Each of these ventures has already proven their technology. They’re each on the road to implementing it now, with both SpaceX and Blue Origin currently launching with the technology.
Let me give you an idea of how much this is going to change humanity:
The cost of a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is around $61 million.
Of that, the cost of fuel is about $200,000 (according to SpaceX).
In two years, SpaceX will be regularly launching seven astronauts at a time to the space station.
If all you need to pay for (approximately) is the cost of fuel (similar to fueling up your car), the cost of fuel between seven to get to space drops to a potential $28,500 or so.
Though still expensive, it’s easily within the bounds of startup companies to launch to space on commercial endeavors, meaning there will be private sector astronaut positions opening up in the very near future (they already exist actually).
Some vacations cost more than this. It’s within the bounds of reason to expect such entertainment prospects to carry into orbit.
Imagine: zero-gravity theme parks and floating hotels where you can watch, romantically as the Sun sets on the Earth below 16 times a day and you can see the Northern lights, lightning storms and the artificial spark of city lights spread out below you like some wondrous surreal painting.
With companies already developing espresso machines and cups for microgravity, and astronauts already testing greenhouses that grow vegetables in orbit, it seems inevitable that humanity is on the cusp of realizing the experience of the final frontier.
“For the prototype, at least, I would recommend not dropping anything when you’re near it,” Musk said, proving that even billionaire superhero/villains find the idea of butt stuff hilarious. Try to concentrate on the higher things please Musk.
Following its landing, SpaceX technicians will safe the rocket and lower it to a horizontal position. From there, it will be sent to a facility for further safing and inspection. Sometime in 2016, the stage will be used for fit checks at the company’s newly-acquired and renovated LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center.