25 November 2013

Reusable launchers

If Falcon 9 launches the SES-8 communications satellite successfully, this will be a doubly historic day in the life of SpaceX and for spaceflight in general. It is SpaceX's first attempt at a geostationary transfer orbit, and it's the second flight of their new partly reusable rocket.


The first Falcon 9 1.1 launch
The first Falcon 9 1.1 launch
Today is a very special day. SpaceX plans to launch its first mission to put a commercial satellite into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

This is what all launcher companies aspire to, and it's the core of their business.

From GTO a communications satellite can make its own way to geostationary Earth orbit (GEO), the place it needs to be if it's a TV relay or a weather satellite.

Today's projected launch is for a satellite called SES-8, flying to provide communications links for South-East Asia.

A new, reusable rocket - This is also the second launch for SpaceX's Falcon 9 1.1, a new and more powerful design that has replaced the original version of Falcon 9. Uniquely among current launch vehicles, Falcon 9 1.1 is designed to be reusable; after stage separation and ignition of the second stage and the payload, all other first stages simply re-enter the Earth's atmosphere, break up under aerodynamic stresses, and crash into the sea.

But Falcon 9 1.1 is intended to rotate, fire three of its nine engines to slow and control its descent, and finally use a single engine to land back at the launch pad. The cost savings will be immense if first stages can be re-used.

SpaceX will not attempt a return this time, though on the first flight they did so [Tweet it!] (and almost succeeded). The idea was to simulate a landing on the sea's surface and then ditch the stage.

But early next year, SpaceX would like to try again using a Falcon 9 1.1 equipped with deployable landing legs. Eventual success will transform the space launch industry very dramatically.

Watch this space! (No pun intended.)

Questions:

  • Reusable rockets would greatly reduce costs to orbit (think in terms of around one tenth the cost or less) What might cheaper access to space make possible?
  • Do you think humans will one day live in places other than the Earth? (See, for example, Mars One.)

See also: 

2 comments:

  1. I have this and many other Fisherfolk recordings, both vinyl and CD. I guess I'm "stuck" on them but my hour long commute to and from work might as well be praise and worship time for me in the car listening to them. I know, they're so OLD, but it was their music which became an impetus to learn guitar so many years ago. I still play and sing in our worship team. Thoughtful young people today can still be moved by this music. It's true, though, "...so many older people have never forgotten them."

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  2. Wish there were other musicians here in the Albuquerque area who I could get together with and play Fisherfolk pieces. Never to be forgotten!

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