Sep 28 2015

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Full Thrust nears readiness for launch

Enhanced Falcon 9 Booster Raises Excitement, Concern, As Return to Flight Date Nears, likely in six to eight weeks. Last week in their test facility in MacGregor, they successfully conducted a 15 second static firing of the new and improved Falcon for the first time.

They expect a 33% increase in thrust over the old Falcon 9 v1.1.

However, the 20-percent performance hike achieved by throttling the engines from their 80-percent to 100-percent power levels has been expanded yet further to reach an overall 33-percent “performance gain” over the v1.1. This gain has been met in part through structural enhancements to the vehicle’s airframe, including a 10-percent increase in propellant tank volumes, a lengthened second stage with extended Merlin 1D Vacuum engine, upgraded landing legs and grid fins, an improved “Octaweb” support structure for the first-stage engine suite, a strengthened “interstage” between the two stages, and a central “pusher” to ensure a smooth stage-separation process. All told, these enhancements increase the height of the v1.2/FT vehicle to 229.6 feet (70 meters), about 5.6 feet (1.6 meters) taller than the v1.1.

Additionally, the 33-percent performance gain has been met through “super-cooling” the liquid oxygen load—in what Musk described as “deep cryo oxygen”—below its normal saturation condition, in order to increase its density and permit the carriage of a larger load of propellants in the Falcon 9’s tanks.

There seems to be some concern from the Air Force. They only recently certified the Falcon for DoD launches, which then had a launch failure, and now SpaceX has come out with an upgrade on the Falcon that hasn’t even launched yet:

“The launch industry tends to be very conservative,” a Parabolic Arc article highlighted last July. “Changes are made very carefully and only after thorough testing. Experience has shown that while upgrades can improve a rocket’s performance, they can also cause problems.” The article quoted Gen. William Shelton, former commander of Air Force Space Command, who expressed concern that the upcoming v1.2/FT—which is believed to be the vehicle that SpaceX will use to bid for Department of Defense contracts—has yet to complete a single mission, much less pass through a full certification process. “In other words, the Air Force will be launching on yet another version of the Falcon 9, with an even shorter launch history than the one that just failed,” Parabolic Arc noted. “That can be handled with some additional certification work. However, it’s an unnerving prospect for an organization whose primary focus is on mission assurance, not cost.”

Which raises an interesting chicken-and-egg question: Is the launch industry naturally conservative when upgrading and modifying, or has the launch industry evolved into being conservative because the government (a major customer) is slow in reacting to change and is risk averse?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/09/28/spacex-falcon-9-full-thrust-nears-readiness-for-launch/

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