Image Credit & Copyright: SpaceX.
LAUNCH ALERT: Monday, December 21, 2015 at 20:34 EST (01:34 UTC on the 22nd), an upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9, rocket (known as version 1.2) will be launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40 or “SLICK-40”), Florida. The mission is being called “Return to Flight (RTF)” following the CRS-7 failure earlier this year and will be carrying 11 Orbcomm Generation-2 (OG-2) communications satellites into orbit.
This will be the Falcon 9’s 20th flight “F9-20”, the Falcon 9 version 1.2 (F9v1.2) 1st flight, 7th propulsive landing attempt, the 6th with affixed landing legs, 4th with grid fins and 1st flight where they will attempt to fly the Falcon 9 1 stage back to Cape Canaveral for a solid ground landing vs the 2 previous attempts on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING?! SpaceX has, in the past attempted six propulsive vertical water landings by re-firing a single Merlin 1D engine. The first, (CASSIOPE) was in the Pacific and had no landing legs. The following 5 attempts have all utilized landing legs. Three splashed down with some degree of success into the Atlantic while the last two (CRS-5 & 6) attempted to land the first stage back on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Just Read the Instructions” in the Atlantic using the same technique but also adding four hypersonic grid fins in an “X-wing” configuration that deploy at hypersonic speeds to help slow and control the first stage during the descent. Each grid fin moves independently for pitch, yaw and roll. The last attempt was to be on the ASDS “Of Course I Still Love You” but never happened as the Falcon 9 carrying CRS-7 broke up in flight.
This week, in the early hours of December 19, Elon announced on Twitter that “Currently looking good for a Sunday night (8pm local) attempted orbital launch and rocket landing at Cape Canaveral.” That’s right, if all goes to plan, the first stage of the improved Falcon 9 will be flown back to Cape Canaveral (to, I would assume, Landing Complex-1) for its landing attempt.
Here’s the post I created earlier in the year covering Landing Complex 1 (LC-1): https://danspace77.com/2015/03/21/welcome-to-space-launch-comperr-landing-complex-1/
Here’s a video of the F9R with affixed legs and grid fins during a 1000m test at SpaceX’s proving grounds in McGregor, TX as well as the CRS 6 landing attempt video and image.
“Of Course I Still Love You” and “Just Read the Instructions” Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships: were 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. The barges are 300 by 100 ft. and can deploy wings that extend the width to 170 ft. It has also been fitted with thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs that are able to hold balance and position to within 3 meters even in storm conditions. Both drone ships are painted black with the SpaceX “X” logo acting as a bull eye.
These fun yet odd names come from Scottish Sci-fi legend Iain Banks’s “Culture” series of 10 novels. They are spacecraft known as General Contact Units (GCU’s) from the novel “Player of Games.” Other spacecraft in the series (which get to name themselves) are even more entertaining such as “Size Isn’t Everything,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Death and Gravity.” Here’s a fun Wiki page with more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spacecraft_in_the_Culture_series
NOW FOR THE ROCKET: The greatly improved Falcon 9R v1.2 rocket is a 2-stage partially reusable rocket with future ambitions of becoming fully reusable. The new version is 3.7 m (12 ft.) in diameter and 70 m (229.6 ft.) tall which is about 1.6 m (5.6 ft.) taller than the Falcon 9 v1.1 or “Block 2” in order to house a higher volume fuel tank. It is also fitted with upgraded Merlin family main engines. They have replaced the 9 Merlin-1D (and before them were the 1C engines), with the more powerful Merlin-1D+ engines that will provide a thrust of nearly 694,000kg (1.53 million lb.) at sea level. Each Merlin-1D+ provides 180,000 lb. (81,600 kg) of thrust at sea level, which equates to roughly a 20% increase in overall performance. If you add that with the new process of densifying the fuel and improving the overall airframe, the total gain in performance is about 33%.
DRAGON SPACECRAFT (when in use) = 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 (when is use) = 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). The Merlin 1D+ are basically the same Merlin-1D engines used previously but instead of utilizing them at only 80%, they will now be operating at 100%. 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 Merlin 1D+ engines are basically the same Merlin-1D engines used previously but instead of utilizing them at only 80%, they will now be operating at 100%. 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 Sunday at 09:00 EDT (14:00 UTC). Later, grapple coverage begins at 05:30 EDT with grapple slated for 07:00 EDT. Berthing coverage begins later at 08:30 EDT.
SpaceX Webcast: http://www.spacex.com/webcast/
SpaceX Ustream: http://www.ustream.tv/SpaceX
Orbcomm Webcast: http://www.orbcomm.com/en/networks/satellite/orbcomm-og2
ORBCOMM OG2 Mission: http://www.orbcomm.com/en/networks/satellite/orbcomm-og2
SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 page: http://www.spacex.com/falcon9
Elon Musk Twitter: https://twitter.com/elonmusk
SpaceX Twitter: https://twitter.com/SpaceX
SpaceX Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SpaceX
SpaceX YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/spacexchannel
SpaceX Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+SpaceX
SpaceX Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spacexphotos
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/117296901276081507418