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Thread: SpaceX COTS-1 Flight Preparations

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    SpaceX COTS-1 Flight Preparations

    This seems like a good opportunity to start a new thread. According to this Aviation Week article, SpaceX plans on performing the COTS-1 demostration flight of the Dragon capsule sometime this summer. Stay tuned for further updates as they become available.

    SpaceX plans to ship its second Falcon 9 to Florida in July, and launch later this summer with the first full-up version of the Dragon capsule the company hopes will one day carry astronauts to the ISS. That flight is the first of three demonstration missions under SpaceX’s $278-million COTS contract with NASA, a precursor to its $1.6-billion, 12-flight contract to deliver cargo to the space station.

    SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk says it will take about a month to digest data collected during the 9.5-min. flight of the first Falcon 9, which put a Dragon cargo module structural test article into a 250-km. (155-mi.) circular orbit at an inclination of 34.5 deg.

    “We achieved a near bulls-eye on the target—about 99.9 percent on the perigee and about 101 percent on the apogee,” Musk says. “We would have been excited to have the first stage work or get some of our way through the second stage.”

    Pending NASA’s approval, Musk wants to attempt docking at the station with the second COTS flight, keeping the third mission as a backup. That raises the stakes for Dragon’s debut flight.

    “For COTS-1, the gating factor is not going to be the rocket,” Musk says. “The rocket’s done. COTS-1 demo will be first launch of an operational Dragon capsule, so there are a lot of things that are going to have to work, everything from the heat shield to the engines to avionics, all the software.”

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    For those as ignorant as me, COTS = Commercial Orbital Transportation Services. Nice article Larry.
    At night the stars put on a show for free (Carole King)

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    Also from the Aviation Week article

    "Musk says he has shelved plans for a traditional tractor tower escape system in favor of putting engines directly into the Dragon spacecraft.

    “It makes the whole thing considerably lighter and there’s less to go wrong,” he says. “We also have the ability to abort all the way to orbit insertion. [With]the launch escape tower approach, you have to toss off shortly after second-stage ignition [due to weight], so you actually don’t even have it for most of your flight.”

    Musk says the engines in a push-off escape system can double as a propulsive landing system, enabling Dragon to land on the ground and saving the expense and time of a water recovery."


    I wonder if the "propulsive landing system" would be something like the Soyuz system still using a parachute and just using rockets to decelerate the Dragon capsule immediately before touchdown?

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Jacks View Post
    “For COTS-1, the gating factor is not going to be the rocket,” Musk says. “The rocket’s done. COTS-1 demo will be first launch of an operational Dragon capsule, so there are a lot of things that are going to have to work, everything from the heat shield to the engines to avionics, all the software.”
    Apart from it technically also not being correct, this sounds overconfident to me. One flight doesn't statistically mean very much. The F9 inaugural test flight showed the design is viable, but it takes many flights to see if all the engineering margins built into the vehicle were sufficient. Having one successful flight doesn't immediately mean the subsequent flights will go off without a hitch, you don't even need to look past the historical Saturn V to realize that this is the case.

    I will be more confident in the vehicle if it pulls off another success in a row and will be fairly confident with at least 3 successes in a row.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by mto View Post
    I wonder if the "propulsive landing system" would be something like the Soyuz system still using a parachute and just using rockets to decelerate the Dragon capsule immediately before touchdown?
    I would very much hope that is the case. Don't imagine it would be a fun ride screaming all the way down wondering whether you'll brake gently down there or do some lithobraking instead.

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    From all that I've read, Dragon will use parachutes. I'm pretty sure Musk is describing using a retro blast just before landing to decrease the descent rate. The Soyuz system is very similar to what the Russian military has long used to airdrop heavy equipment. Shortly before impact, retro-rockets attached to the parachute bridle fire and soften the landing. From what I've read of SpaceX's LES, one or more rocket engines will be part of the Dragon capsule structure at or near the base. During ascent, they would be powerful enough to separate the capsule from the rocket in an emergency. To cushion a landing on land, they would fire briefly just before impact. Let's hope they don't set things on fire in the process but that seems likely.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    ...you don't even need to look past the historical Saturn V to realize that this is the case.
    Yet, the very next flight after the problem test was manned.
    Two test flights before a manned mission on a craft much larger and more complex than F9.

    And; we're talking about an unmanned capsule. So; I would agree that the rocket is done for this purpose. Since it's not specified whether it's done for all or for this, I think it's fair to treat the statement as open ended.

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    While this isn't directly related to the COTS-1 flight, SpaceX just announced they've signed a $492 million deal to provide launch services to Iridium for their Iridium Next constellation.

    MCLEAN, Va. and HAWTHORNE, Calif. – June 16, 2010 – Iridium Communications Inc. (Nasdaq:IRDM) and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) are pleased to announce that the Falcon 9 will be a major provider of launch services for Iridium NEXT, Iridium’s next-generation satellite constellation. The $492 million contract, while being the largest single commercial launch deal ever signed, nonetheless represents a new benchmark in cost-effective satellite delivery to space.

    Iridium operates the world’s largest commercial satellite constellation, and is the only communications company to offer mobile voice and data services across the entire globe. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle will carry multiple Iridium NEXT satellites per vehicle, inserting the satellites into a low-earth orbit (LEO) as Iridium replaces its current satellite constellation. The Iridium NEXT satellites are set to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California between 2015 and 2017.

    The contract stipulates that SpaceX will provide launch services to Iridium over a two-year period starting in early 2015. Iridium is also in discussions with, and expects to contract with, at least one additional launch services provider. Launch services are included in the total estimated cost of $2.9 billion for Iridium NEXT.

    “This is the third major building block on the road to Iridium NEXT,” said Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium. “Two weeks ago, we announced our fixed-price contract with Thales Alenia Space. We also announced our Coface-backed financing plan, and today I am pleased to announce our partnership with SpaceX for extremely cost-effective launch services.”

    Added Desch, “We are proud to be partnered with SpaceX, and want to congratulate Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team on its successful inaugural Falcon 9 launch. Hands down, SpaceX offered us the best value coupled with an unwavering commitment to flawless performance and reliability. SpaceX has combined the best of aerospace and commercial best practices to design reliable and cost-effective access to space, and Iridium will be the beneficiary of that effort.”

    Desch further commented, “SpaceX also offered dedicated Iridium NEXT launch slots within its manifest, which currently has 24 Falcon 9 flights scheduled ahead of us, including those for commercial and government customers, during the coming five years. Clearly, SpaceX has established itself as a significant player in the launch industry, and we have great confidence that SpaceX will build on its recent success and continue to cement an impressive track record of successful space flight in advance of our mission.”

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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Jacks View Post
    While this isn't directly related to the COTS-1 flight
    So how is it "indirectly" related? What does Dragon have to do with launching satellites?
    There's plenty of spacex threads around here that is a much better fit for this story. For example

    In fact, it's probably better and interesting enough to start a new thread.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    Yet, the very next flight after the problem test was manned.
    Two test flights before a manned mission on a craft much larger and more complex than F9.
    I don't see how that invalidates my point, other than illustrating the level of risk NASA was willing to take back then.

    I would agree that the rocket is done for this purpose.
    Assuming they are still investigating the cause for the roll control nozzle failure on the 2nd stage, it would very much mean the vehicle is not ready. Also, what about the failed MVac restart? What if it's a systemic problem with the engine in that not all ignitions actually work? What if the next flight decides to skip even the first ignition and Dragon ends up in the drink? We don't know yet. It's too early in development life to retire all those risks.

    The rocket is completely manufactured and tested, yes, but implying all the development risk was retired with one flight is just untrue. His statement implied development being "done", not manufacture - otherwise he wouldn't list all those untested Dragon systems.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    I don't see how that invalidates my point, other than illustrating the level of risk NASA was willing to take back then.
    It was to show that test flight history after a problem is not a factor in continuing.

    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    Assuming ...What if...
    So; we are basing this on assumptions and speculation. That's where things usually stray apart.

    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    The rocket is completely manufactured and tested, yes, but implying all the development risk was retired with one flight is just untrue. His statement implied development being "done", not manufacture
    Again; "implied". And, I did say "for this purpose" of which the risk seems to be acceptable.

    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    otherwise he wouldn't list all those untested Dragon systems.
    What does the Dragon systems have to do with the booster being ready?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Jacks View Post
    While this isn't directly related to the COTS-1 flight, SpaceX just announced they've signed a $492 million deal to provide launch services to Iridium for their Iridium Next constellation.
    $492 million? I know there's going to be all sorts of costs that come out of that but its more than the entire Falcon 9 program cost isn't it?

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    It was to show that test flight history after a problem is not a factor in continuing.
    Whoever said it was a factor in continuing? You're twisting my point around. Poing being: a successful 1st flight doesn't imply a successful 2nd one.

    Again; "implied". And, I did say "for this purpose" of which the risk seems to be acceptable.
    Who said the risk was unacceptable? Did I imply that I think they should not launch an unmanned Dragon - or for that matter, did I ever make any references to manned Dragon?

    What does the Dragon systems have to do with the booster being ready?
    Nothing. The fact he mentions Dragon systems as untested and in the same sentence says the vehicle's done means the vehicle is tested and design validated. Except it is not. Musk said so himself today during a conference:

    Klotz: How is data analysis from flight going?

    Elon: Not a lot to report. It went great. Slight roll anomaly isolated to probably the roll-control actuator, but still not positive, still seeking internal consensus. A little too concerned that it went too good. Will be looking for “near misses” to prepare for next flight.
    The near misses is what I'm talking about. And unresolved anomalies. Nothing more, nothing less.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Garrison View Post
    $492 million? I know there's going to be all sorts of costs that come out of that but its more than the entire Falcon 9 program cost isn't it?
    Or, to put it differently: one Ares I-X.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    Or, to put it differently: one Ares I-X.
    Ooooh, snap.

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    Wow, they're moving pretty quickly on this!

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    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    Whoever said...
    Then please tell me what your original comment was trying to get at. I feel like I'm misinterpreting something.

    It sounded to me like you were knocking a comment that can be interpreted to be correct or not depending on the point of view due to the lack of qualifying comments.

    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    The fact he mentions Dragon systems as untested and in the same sentence says the vehicle's done means the vehicle is tested and design validated.
    Are we mixing terms here?
    First; the quote was "rocket" not "vehicle". Second, I took that as the booster, and not the whole configuration.

    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    Except it is not. Musk said so himself today during a conference:
    I'm not sure what part you are referring to. I did see this.
    Klotz: How is data analysis from flight going?

    Elon: Not a lot to report. It went great. Slight roll anomaly isolated to probably the roll-control actuator, but still not positive, still seeking internal consensus. A little too concerned that it went too good. Will be looking for “near misses” to prepare for next flight.

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    $492 million? I know there's going to be all sorts of costs that come out of that but its more than the entire Falcon 9 program cost isn't it?

    That price covers multiple launches but the exact number isn't mentioned. Since the current Iridium constellation had something like 66 satellites in multiple orbital planes plus some spares, we could be talking about as many as 10 Falcon 9 launches. It depends on the weight of each Iridium Next satellite and the exact constellation. It also covers the cost to build a multiple satellite dispenser. Musk estimates it'll cost about $60 million to cover the old Titan IV pad at Vandenberg to support polar launches but I doubt Iridium is paying much (if any) of that cost. When the original Iridium constellation was launched, they used a combination of Proton, Delta II and Long March boosters to populate the constellation. It's possible there may be a few Falcon 1e launches to fill gaps, assuming the new satellite isn't too heavy for that booster.

    Oh, I forgot to mention, $492 million is about the total amount SpaceX has spent developing the Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Dragon, and all of the support infrastruture, not just the Falcon 9.
    Last edited by Larry Jacks; 2010-Jun-16 at 11:10 PM. Reason: Added another thought

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    Then please tell me what your original comment was trying to get at. I feel like I'm misinterpreting something.
    Frankly, I don't know how else to spell it to make it more understandable.

    Are we mixing terms here?
    First; the quote was "rocket" not "vehicle". Second, I took that as the booster, and not the whole configuration.
    I'm not mixing anything here. Vehicle or launch vehicle is the rocket/ booster. Dragon is the spacecraft.

    I'm not sure what part you are referring to. I did see this.
    Is that not the exact same quote I posted above?

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Jacks View Post
    It's possible there may be a few Falcon 1e launches to fill gaps, assuming the new satellite isn't too heavy for that booster.
    I believe they'll be too heavy for F1e to reach 700+ km altitude. It'll be all F9 launches, which would also be less expensive per satellite delivered to orbit. Probably up to 9 F9 launches total.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    Frankly, I don't know how else to spell it to make it more understandable.
    Well then, I'll let it drop. I think our views are the same, but just quibbling on the interpretation of the quote.

    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    Is that not the exact same quote I posted above?
    Yeah; I just went straight to the source to get the whole context.

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    I believe they'll be too heavy for F1e to reach 700+ km altitude. It'll be all F9 launches, which would also be less expensive per satellite delivered to orbit. Probably up to 9 F9 launches total.

    According to SpaceX, the Falcon 1e will be able to lift over 1000 KG to a low inclination 185 km orbit. I don't see the numbers for a polar orbit at 700 km, so as a SWAG I'd guess it's about half of that. They have not released the information (or I have not seen it) on the mass of the Iridium Next satellites so I don't know if a Falcon 1e could carry one or not. Back when they launched the original Iridium constellation, there were times when they needed to launch a single satellite to fill a gap. They may need to do that again and it'd be cheaper to use a Falcon 1e for that role. To populate the primary constellation, you'll definitely want to use a Falcon 9 to carry as many satellites into a particular orbital plane as possible. It'd take too much energy to try to populate more than one orbital plane in a single launch.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Jacks View Post
    According to SpaceX, the Falcon 1e will be able to lift over 1000 KG to a low inclination 185 km orbit. I don't see the numbers for a polar orbit at 700 km, so as a SWAG I'd guess it's about half of that.
    The numbers and graphs are in the F1 User Guide, available on their site. Even Formosat 5 looks like it will be skirting the edge of F1e performance to the target orbit. I'm thinking the Iridium sats will be more than 500 kg each so will be a no-go for F1e.

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    You're right. I just saw an article that states each Iridium Next satellite is 800 kg, so Falcon 1e can't carry it to the required orbit. If they need a single launch, they'll have to use a different booster.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    Assuming they are still investigating the cause for the roll control nozzle failure on the 2nd stage, it would very much mean the vehicle is not ready. Also, what about the failed MVac restart? What if it's a systemic problem with the engine in that not all ignitions actually work? What if the next flight decides to skip even the first ignition and Dragon ends up in the drink? We don't know yet. It's too early in development life to retire all those risks.

    The rocket is completely manufactured and tested, yes, but implying all the development risk was retired with one flight is just untrue. His statement implied development being "done", not manufacture - otherwise he wouldn't list all those untested Dragon systems.
    True. I was concerned about that roll during orbital insertion as well. As I watched I kept thinking "that can't be a normal thing" and I feared it might cause the Dragon to not make it to orbit or might put it in an incorrect orbit. I was relieved when I found out it went to more or less the proper orbit but I realized that would be a problem for a manned mission.

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Parallax M86 View Post
    I was relieved when I found out it went to more or less the proper orbit but I realized that would be a problem for a manned mission.
    Actually, it wouldn't be a problem for a manned mission, the roll wasn't near dangerous levels for humans. Not that the damn thing doesn't need fixing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ugordan View Post
    Actually, it wouldn't be a problem for a manned mission, the roll wasn't near dangerous levels for humans. Not that the damn thing doesn't need fixing.
    Glad to hear that. I hope it's an easy fix. Intuitively you think it would be, it seems like it would just need some sort of reliable roll control thrust.

  28. #28
    The problem with the roll control actuator reminds me of the problem with J-2 spark igniter line. A failure that doesn't have an immediate onset, but is a result of engine operation in vacuum and it isn't present in ground tests. I wouldn't be surprised the MVac problem also had something to do with the specific vacuum environment (like the J-2 problem was), say something to do with that outgassing from lower left in the onboard video or maybe simply due to overheating as no air cooling was present. Issues like these can have their root cause be tough to find.

  29. #29
    Acceptance test firing of the COTS-1 F9 1st stage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW_A4ua7p8M

  30. #30
    Second Falcon 9 rocket begins arriving at the Cape

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