NASA hails SpaceX launch as ‘a new era’ for spaceflight

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In a pivotal moment for private spaceflight, a towering white rocket lifted a cone-shaped capsule into space early 23 May 2012 on a mission to the International Space Station.
Space X Falcon 9 rocket carried the unmanned Dragon capsule into space after a 3:44 a.m. EDT launch from Cape Canaveral, marking the first time a private company has sent a spacecraft to the space station.
The mission is considered the first test of NASA  plan to outsource space missions to privately funded companies now that its fleet of space shuttles is retired. SpaceX aims to prove to NASA  that its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are ready to take on the task of hauling cargo — and eventually astronauts.

Background

elon-muskSpaceX was founded in June 2002 by PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk who had invested $100 million USD of his own money by March 2006. In January 2005, SpaceX bought a 10% stake in Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. On 4 August 2008, SpaceX accepted a further $20 million USD investment from the Founders Fund.

Space Vehicles

SpaceX is manufacturing two main space launch vehicles: the Falcon 1, which made its first successful flight on 28 September 2008, and the large Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class Falcon 9, which flew successfully into orbit on its maiden launch on 4 June 2010. A Falcon 5 launcher was also planned, but its development was stopped in favor of the Falcon 9. SpaceX also developed the Dragon, a pressurized orbital spacecraft that is launched on top of a Falcon 9 booster, that can carry cargo, and is in the process of being human-rated.

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FALCON 9 OVERVIEW

The Falcon launch vehicle family is designed to provide breakthrough advances in reliability, cost, flight environment and time to launch.The primary design driver is and will remain reliability, as described in more detail below. In providing our launch and placement services, we recognize that nothing is more important than getting our customer’s satellite or other spacecraft safely to its intended destination.

Like Falcon 1, Falcon 9 is a two stage, liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (RP-1) powered launch vehicle. It uses the same engines, structural architecture (with a wider diameter), avionics and launch system

First Stage

The Falcon 9 tank walls and domes are made from aluminum lithium alloy. Space X uses an all friction stir welded tank, the highest strength and most reliable welding technique available. Like Falcon 1, the inters tage, which connects the upper and lower stage for Falcon 9, is a carbon fiber  aluminum core composite structure. The separation system is a larger version of the pneumatic pushers used on Falcon 1.

Nine Space X Merlin engines power the Falcon 9 first stage with 125,000 lbs-f sea level thrust per engine for a total thrust on lift off of just over 1.1 Million lbs-f. After engine start, Falcon is held down until all vehicle systems are verified to be functioning normally before release for lifto ff.

Second stage

The second stage tank of Falcon 9 is simply a shorter version of the first stage tank and uses most of the same tooling, material and manufacturing techniques. This results in significant cost savings in vehicle production.

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A single Merlin engine powers the Falcon 9 upper stage with an expansion ratio of 117:1 and a nominal burn time of 345 seconds. For added reliability of restart, the engine has dual redundant pyrophoric igniters (TEA-TEB).

MERLIN ENGINE

The main engine, called Merlin, was developed internally at SpaceX, but draws upon a long heritage of space proven engines. The pintle style injector at the heart of Merlin was first used in the Apollo Moon program for the lunar module landing engine, one of the most critical phases of the mission.

DRAGON OVERVIEW

Dragon is a free-flying, reusable spacecraft being developed by SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Initiated internally by SpaceX in 2005, the Dragon spacecraft is made up of a pressurized capsule and unpressurized trunk used for Earth to LEO transport of pressurized cargo, unpressurized cargo, and/or crew members.

The Dragon spacecraft is comprised of 3 main elements: the Nosecone, which protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent; the Spacecraft, which houses the crew and/or pressurized cargo as well as the service section containing avionics, the RCS system, parachutes, and other support infrastructure; and the Trunk, which provides for the stowage of unpressurized cargo and will support Dragon’s solar arrays and thermal radiators.

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Dragon berthed with International Space Station

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Dragon Space Craft docking with International Space Craft (ISS) Courtesy: Space X IAS Preparation Online

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