Image Credit & Copyright: SpaceX.

LAUNCH ALERT: Friday, December 19, 2014 at 13:20 EST (18:20 UTC) a SpaceX Falcon 9, version 1.1 rocket will be launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40 or “SLICK-40”), Florida as part of CRS-5 (SpaceX-5 or SpX-5) to resupply the International Space Station. This, the seventh dragon capsule (Dragon C-7) will be grappled and berthed to the Earth facing Harmony module or “Node 2” on December 18, where it will deliver nearly 5000 lbs. of supplies to the ISS. It is then scheduled to be released after about a month when it will return almost two tons back to Earth where is will make splashdown off the coast of Baja California. This will be Space-X’s 5th of 12 contracted ISS resupply missions, the Falcon 9’s 14th flight “F9-14”, the Falcon 9 version 1.1 (F9v1.1) boosters 9th flight and the 3rd with affixed landing legs.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING?! SpaceX has, in the past attempted two soft water landings of their Falcon 9 1st stage with some degree of success just by re-firing a single Merlin 1D engine, extending the four affixed landing legs and touching it down in the Atlantic. This flight however, SpaceX will bring a whole new bag of tricks as they plan to turn up the tempo and take the next step in rocket reusability by landing the Falcon 9 first stage on a barge. Let’s take a look:

This flight will employ the use of not only re-firing one of the Merlin 1D engines and the four landing legs but it will have the added benefit of grid fins for stability as well as a place in the ocean to land which Elon calls the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship. Elon revealed that the barge was being constructed back on October 24 and come to find out, it’s being built at the Conrad Shipyard in Morgan City, Louisiana. That’s the same place that NASA’s Pegasus barge is being refitted to support the SLS program. Pegasus carried lots of equipment throughout the years but most famously the space shuttle external fuel tanks from NASA’s Michaud Plant in Louisiana to KSC.

On November 22, Elon released a series of images and information nuggets through Twitter starting with an image of the upper first stage of the Falcon 9 and its white grid fins that he apparently took on Nov 20 and the words, “Testing operation of hypersonic grid fins (X-wing config) going on next flight.” He would later go on to say that the “Grid fins are stowed during ascent and then deploy on reentry for “x-wing” style control. Each fin moves independently for pitch/yaw/roll.” He finished by adding a YouTube video of this summer’s 1000m successful test of the F9R with affixed grid fins at their McGregor, TX proving grounds. Here’s the video:

The image of the barge was shot from above showing the freshly painted platform with the SpaceX logo acting as a bulls eye in the center of a yellow and white set of rings with the words, “Autonomous spaceport drone ship. Thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs hold position within 3m even in a storm.” “Base is 300 ft by 100 ft, with wings that extend width to 170 ft. Will allow refuel & rocket flyback in future.”

NOW FOR THE ROCKET: The Falcon 9R v1.1 rocket is a 2-stage partially reusable rocket with future ambitions of becoming fully reusable. The new version is 3.7 meters (12ft) in diameter and 68.4 meters (224.4 ft.) tall which is much taller than the Falcon 9 v1.0 or “Block 1” in order to house a longer fuel tank. It is also fitted with upgraded and reconfigured Merlin family main engines replacing the 9 Merlin-1C with the more powerful Merlin-1D engines that will provide a thrust of nearly 600,200kg (1.5 million lb.) at sea level which equates to a significant payload capacity increase. Each Merlin-1D provides 147,000 lb. of thrust at sea level or about 55% more thrust than the original 1C engines. The new merlin 1-D engines are also in a circular “octaweb” configuration and are equipped with the capability to throttle between 70% and 100%. All in all the Falcon 9 v1.1 is able to loft 13,150kg (28,990lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO); 4,850kg (10,690lb) into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) or 2.9 tons to escape velocity.

DRAGON SPACECRAFT = The Dragon spacecraft is about 23.6 ft. (7.2 m) tall with trunk attached and 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide. It’s comprised of two main sections; the pressurized cargo area which can carry 388 cubic ft. of cargo as well as the unpressurized cargo area. The trunk (unpressurized area) carries 494 cubic ft. of cargo as well as the solar arrays. OR: MAIN COMPOSITE PAYLOAD FAIRING = the composite payload fairing is 13.1 meters (43ft) in length and 5.2 meter (17ft) in diameter.

SECOND STAGE = is powered by a single Merlin-1D Vacuum engine with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (LOX/RP-1). This stage can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into desired orbits. For maximum reliability, the second stage has redundant igniter systems and has a burn time of 375 seconds.

INTERSTAGE = a composite structure that connects the first stage to the second stage and holds the release and separation system. Its al all pneumatic stage separation system for low shock, highly reliable separation that can be tested on the ground, unlike pyrotechnic systems used on most launch vehicles.

FIRST CORE/BOOST STAGE = is powered by nine (9) Merlin-1D engines in their circular “octaweb” configuration with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (LOX/RP-1). The core stage has a burn time of 180 seconds and is gradually throttled. Its 9 Merlin-1D engine system can sustain up to two engine shutdowns during flight and still successfully complete its mission. The first stage is fitted with four independently steerable grid fins that help control pitch, yaw and roll during vertical decent. It’s also fitted with four landing legs that will extend before touchdown.

WATCH THE LAUNCH LIVE: NASA TV launch coverage begins at 13:15 EST (18:15 UTC). On December 18 grapple coverage begins at 04:30 EST with grapple slated for 06:00 EST. Berthing coverage begins later at 07:00 EST.


NASA TV Ustream:

SpaceX Webcast:

SpaceX Ustream:

NASA/SpaceX CRS-5 mission page:

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 page:

Elon Musk Twitter:

SpaceX Twitter:

SpaceX Facebook:

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  1. rayvandune says:

    I want to see the Falcon Heavy fly and the three boosters come back and land one after the other.

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