Taking aim at the United Launch Alliance‘s Delta IV, the Falcon Heavy will be not only the most powerful rocket in the world, but the most powerful since the legendary Saturn V of the Apollo missions. (That might not be for long, though, as Congress and NASA are haggling out plans for a heavy-lift rocket that could carry more.)
Set for its first launch in late 2013 or early 2014, the Falcon Heavy is designed to provide twice the carrying power of a Delta IV at “less than a third” of the cost. SpaceX’s emphasis on its efficiency over the Delta, to me, represents something of a first salvo of direct competition within private space: one private company very specifically trying to trump the offering of another.
And SpaceX has its eyes on more than just orbit:
“‘[The Falcon Heavy’s power] certainly opens up a wide range of possibilities, such as returning to the moon and conceivably going to Mars…The Falcon 9 Heavy could go much farther than low-Earth orbit.'” -Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO; “Huge Private Rocket Could Send Humans to Moon or Mars“, Clara Moskowitz, Space.com
With one Google Lunar X PRIZE team, Astrobotic, already having a ride with SpaceX lined up, SpaceX’s role as a major lunar player is starting to take shape.
And they could just be getting started…:
“SpaceX is also considering building an even more powerful rocket called a “super heavy-lift” vehicle that would have about three times the capability of a Falcon Heavy, or about 50 percent more power than the Saturn 5.” – “Huge Private Rocket Could Send Humans to Moon or Mars“, Clara Moskowitz, Space.com
SpaceX’s Dragon Takes Wing (and Touches Down) with Successful Flight! December 10, 2010Posted by Nick Azer in : Dragon, private sector, private space, SpaceX , 1 comment so far
On Wednesday, SpaceX successfully made the first launch (and return) of their Dragon capsule, making them the first commercial company to ever recover a spacecraft from orbit!
Launched aboard their historic Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon’s recovery via splashdown is a feat that’s only been achieved previously by six governments/agencies.
SpaceX already has in hand a contract to resupply the International Space Station—a role previously handled by the Space Shuttle— using the Dragon, so having such a smooth flight is a big step towards really having the private space industry touch down.
Check out the Spacevidcast.com webcast of the launch below:
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With a lot of customers already lined up to use the Falcon 9 (including NASA; Google Lunar X PRIZE team Astrobotic; and private space base builder Bigelow), getting one to orbit on the first try (versus the fourth try with the Falcon 1) helps quiet a lot of the questions underlying many of these customers’ efforts, particularly NASA’s shift towards relying on private space. A pretty historic milestone, the idea of increased access to space—and the Moon—just got a little bit more ‘when’, and not ‘if’.
Here’s a video of the launch, which includes the always neat on-board-rocket views:
It's Official: Constellation Cancelled, No NASA Return to Moon; Shift Towards Private Space February 1, 2010Posted by Nick Azer in : Constellation, NASA, Norm Augustine, Obama, SpaceX, U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, Vision for Space Exploration , 7comments
With the release of its 2011 budget proposal, the Obama administration has concurrently announced, in no uncertain terms, that the current NASA Constellation program is cancelled.
“The President’s Budget cancels Constellation and replaces it with a bold new approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable approach to space exploration…” -Official White House website, 2011 Budget fact Sheet
The fact sheet goes on to explain the new direction focusing on private space, including some significant funds:
- $1.2 billion for transformative research in exploration technology that will involve NASA, private industry, and academia, sparking spin-off technologies and potentially entire new industries
- $500 million to contract with industry to provide astronaut transportation to the ISS, reducing the sole reliance on foreign crew transports and catalyzing new businesses and significant new jobs.
“Entire new industries”, “catalyzing new businesses” and jobs…As hinted at in his campaign space plan (and by his initial Commerce Secretary appointment of NM Gov. Bill Richardson), Obama clearly believes in the economic potential of an industry-focused NASA. Note that the ISS contract mentioned there is already awarded—SpaceX just needs to prove its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are human-ready for the option to vest, and both Orbital and SpaceX are already the new ISS cargo suppliers.
What does this mean for moon colonization? It means that NASA itself won’t be landing anyone on the moon.
There is a lot of ‘doom and gloom’ out there about how there won’t be humans on the Moon anytime soon, which is a false assertion—the Chinese program is full-steam-ahead, and if private space can be trusted with the ISS contracts at this early stage, then they’re on a course to be putting men on the Moon before long; perhaps even before NASA would have landed men anyways.
Americans will be on the Moon again soon; they’ll just have to hitch a ride with a company or an international effort to get there. And the U.S. will remain a major lunar player, with many private companies and Google Lunar X PRIZE efforts being American.
The fact sheet doesn’t say anything about new human exploration options, such as the ‘Flexible Path‘ suggested by the Augustine panel, so word remains to be seen regarding that, and whether NASA will shift to a manned asteroid mission or mission to Mars’ moons.
A Stimulating Development?: NASA Assigns $50 Million in Stimulus Funds for Commercial Orbital Passenger Service August 10, 2009Posted by Nick Azer in : economy, Obama, Paragon, private sector, Space Shuttle, SpaceX , 1 comment so far
In an interesting economic development, NASA said today that $50 million in economic stimulus funds will be going towards developing commercial passenger service to orbit (to replace the retired Space Shuttle and to avoid pricey seats on the Russian Soyuz).
Private company SpaceX won one of two cargo contracts for the ISS back in January, and the Dragon craft they are using is designed to be modifiable to a human-passenger mode. NASA is holding a workshop this Thursday for SpaceX and other interested firms (quoted by the Reuters article as Ball Aerospace, Airborne Systems, Boeing, Tether Applications, Retro Aerospace, Emergent Space Technologies, Davidson Technologies, and Paragon Space Development Corp., many of whom appear specialized for certain systems).
Obama’s campaign space plan had hinted at this in the past—the idea of private U.S. space industry as stimulus. Frontiers do have a way of pushing economies along, so this could to be a road to developments much like the railroad projects of old. Considering the potential, Obama’s campaign plan, and certain past Obama decisions, there could be a lot more of this to come, and soon…
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Leading private space company SpaceX has successfully delivered a Malaysian satellite into orbit, it’s first ever commercial launch (and second successful Falcon 1 launch into orbit).
This came along fairly quietly, but will probably prove historic—SpaceX has a huge bulk of significant future private space launches (including many of the leading Google Lunar X PRIZE efforts) lined up, and so SpaceX’s commercial launches could be deeply engraved into moon colonization history as it unfolds (much like Union Pacific’s transcontinental railroad was a integral part of the development of the American West).
Check out the neat rocket-POV video of the launch below, as well as the numerous HD pictures of the launch SpaceX has up:
SpaceX Sucessfully Tests Falcon-9 Engines (News) November 24, 2008Posted by Nick Azer in : Current News, private sector, SpaceX , add a comment
While their current programs have their eye on low-earth orbit, long-term SpaceX is looking at trans-Lunar capabilities for their Falcon vehicle family, as is demonstrated in their Falcon Lunar Capability Guide (expect a detailed analysis of that report here at Luna C/I within the next week :) ).
SpaceX’s crafts are designed to be much more cost effective and reliable than past, government rockets, “up to a factor of ten“.
Check out SpaceX’s website–it is quite spiffy, being both very sharp graphically and stuffed full of great, accessible information; they really set a bar for space boom/base race web development. Also, check out the breathtaking Earth-to-orbit video of their historic Falcon 1 launch earlier this year, and their really, really crisp photos from that event.
Check back here later this week for that in-depth analysis of the SpaceX Falcon Lunar Capability Guide :)
SpaceX Becomes First Private Company to Launch Rocket Into Orbit (News) September 30, 2008Posted by Nick Azer in : Current News, Google Lunar X Prize, Integration, private sector, space tourism, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Youtube , add a comment
This past Sunday (September 28th), the private company Space Exploration Technologies (widely known as SpaceX, and based out of Hawthorne, CA) became the first private effort to ever launch a liquid-propelled rocket into orbit.
Their Falcon 1 craft successfully made it into orbit on what is actually the fourth attempt by SpaceX (kudos to their perserverance and pioneering spirit). Here’s a video (with raw sound, but incredible visuals) of the launch, including images from the Falcon 1 itself:
With SpaceX’s goal to “reduce the cost and increase the reliability of space access by a factor of ten”, this (combined with other recent efforts) is a huge sign that a private space boom really is coming, and coming fast. This is a historic step, amazingly coming right on the heels of events like the Chinese spacewalk. It’s been an incredible couple of weeks.