Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has successfully landed a Falcon 9 first stage back at its launch site, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.


The success comes after two unsuccessful attempts by SpaceX to land a Falcon 9 on a floating platform at sea. In retrospect, it is not surprising that today’s landing met with greater success. Anyone who has served in the Navy can tell you that everything is harder at sea. (Getting FAA and Air Force permission to land the stage back at Cape Canaveral, on the other hand, was no doubt harder than getting permission to land on a SpaceX platform at sea.)

The landing comes just one month after Blue Origin launched its reusable New Shepard into space and successfully returned to Earth. The New Shepard booster performed a similar vertical landing under rocket power. This has led to some comparisons between the two companies whose CEOs have spared verbally in the past.

Various “NewSpace” commentators have taken exception to such comparisons, pointing out that New Shepard and Falcon 9 are very different rockets, from a performance view, and aimed at different markets. Those commentators ignore the fact that Blue Origin was pursuing the same NASA Commercial Crew contract, before NASA “downselected” the field to just two companies (Boeing and SpaceX). Although New Shepard is a suborbital vehicle, Blue Origin is using it to test technologies that it plans to use in its future orbital vehicle. From that perspective, it could be argued that Blue Origin has demonstrated more than Boeing at this point, despite the billions in funding which NASA has awarded to Boeing. And Blue Origin is working toward a fully reusable vehicle, while Boeing is merely building a 60’s-style capsule to be launched atop an existing expendable rocket.

Taken together, the two test flights point to the start of a new era in spaceflight. The age of expendable rockets is coming to an end.

This fact has not been lost on the rest of the world. Russia, Europe, and even India, are busy making plans for their own fully or partially reusable rockets. In the US, SpaceX’s leading commercial competitor, the United Launch Alliance, is working to replace its existing Atlas and Delta rockets with the new, partially reusable Vulcan rocket.

The odd man out, at this point, is NASA. While everyone else is working to incorporate new reusable technologies to reduce the cost of access to space, NASA is spending tens of billions to develop a Saturn V clone — one giant leap (backward) for mankind.


Written by Astro1 on December 21st, 2015 , SpaceX

SpaceX has released a new animation of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is targeted for first flight later this year. Falcon Heavy will place payloads of up to 117,000 pounds into Low Earth Orbit, more than any American rocket since the Saturn V. More significantly, it will incorporate reusable boosters to reduce launch costs.


Written by Astro1 on January 27th, 2015 , SpaceX

SpaceX employees

According to The Waco Tribune, SpaceX will be adding 300 new jobs due to a $46-million expansion at its McGregor, Texas test facility.

That’s in addition to 500 jobs at the SpaceX launch site near Brownsville, Texas — a total of 800 new jobs.

To put that into perspective, NASA’s Johnson Space Center employs about 3,000 civil servants and 10,000 contractors. (Or perhaps 12,000  contractors– the Houston Chronicle and various NASA websites give conflicting figures.) But that number is down from 17,500 workers in 2007 and will remain relatively flat, based on projected NASA budgets. The SpaceX workforce, on the other hand, has the potential to grow rapidly as the company expands into commercial markets.

Written by Astro1 on December 30th, 2014 , SpaceX

Launch America

After months of public speculation, NASA has finally revealed its selected ISS crew contractors.

Not surprisingly, the big winner in the competition is Boeing. The aerospace giant will receive a contract worth up to $4.2 billion. The total value includes vehicle development, certification, and operational flights to the International Space Station.

SpaceX will receive up to $2.6 billion to meet the same goals. It may seem strange that SpaceX is receiving less money for the same amount of work, but the contract payments are based on each company’s own bid.

NASA hopes that both companies will be able to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017. Meeting that date will depend on adequate funding from Congress, however. In the past, Congress has urged NASA to downselect to a single contractor, and there may be additional pressure on NASA in future budgets.

Before operational flights begin, each company will conduct at least one demonstration flight to ISS with a NASA astronaut onboard. The contracts are said to include six operational flights to the International Space Station (presumably split evenly between the two companies). The actual number of flights flown (and the actual value of the contracts) will depend on the needs of ISS, however.

The apparent loser in the competition is Sierra Nevada, which will receive no funding to continue development of its Dream Chaser lifting body. That development is unsurprising. Sierra Nevada was reduced to half funding in the previous round of CCDev contracts, signaling NASA’s direction.

In the long run, however, Sierra Nevada might turn out to be the winner. Sierra Nevada has been much more aggressive than Boeing or SpaceX in lining up customers outside of NASA. It has signed memoranda with the European Space Agency, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the Japanese space agency (JAXA) which could lead to joint development and operations. By contrast, SpaceX reportedly turned down an offer from Dennis Tito to supply a capsule for the Inspiration Mars mission, for fear of alienating NASA, forcing Tito to turn to NASA’s Orion instead. Sierra Nevada is now free to pursue foreign and commercial customers with fear of contract reprisals.

NASA has invited the losing company to continue participating in the Commercial Crew program, without funding, and share its data with NASA. Whether Sierra Nevada takes NASA up on this offer or not remains to be seen. In any case, Sierra Nevada will not be obliged to comply with all of NASA’s certification rules, processes, and procedures, however. SpaceX project manager Garrett Reisman has spoken of “one thousand separate requirements” which NASA has imposed on contractors. Without this red tape, Sierra Nevada will be free to move more quickly, assuming it can find funding. In the end, it may be that Sierra Nevada wins for losing.

Written by Astro1 on September 16th, 2014 , Boeing, SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that the firm plans to build “the world’s first commercial launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions” in South Texas.

The launch site, which could be operational as soon as 2015, will eventually support up to two Falcon 9 Heavy and 10 Falcon 9 launches per year.

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced that the state will offer $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund as well as $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to bring the launch facility to Cameron County.

“Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades,” Governor Perry said. “It is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight. In addition to growing the aerospace industry in Texas, SpaceX’s facility will provide myriad opportunities for STEM education in South Texas, and inspire a new generation of Texas engineers and innovators.”

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez called the announcement “A historical moment for the greater Brownsville region and the State of Texas… the culmination of a dream and a vision that began more than three years ago.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “SpaceX is excited to expand our work in Texas with the world’s first commercial launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions. In addition to creating hundreds of high tech jobs for the Texas workforce, this site will inspire students, expand the supplier base and attract tourists to the south Texas area.”

Written by Astro1 on August 4th, 2014 , SpaceX

SpaceX has released a statement on the results of their latest booster-recovery experiment. SpaceX reports that “following last week’s successful launch of six ORBCOMM satellites, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage reentered Earth’s atmosphere and soft landed in the Atlantic Ocean.”

According to SpaceX, “This test confirms that the Falcon 9 booster is able consistently to reenter from space at hypersonic velocity, restart main engines twice, deploy landing legs and touch down at near zero velocity.”


The booster tipped over after touchdown (as expected), causing the structure to rupture. Based on the result of this test, SpaceX says it is now “highly confident of being able to land successfully on a floating launch pad or back at the launch site and refly the rocket with no required refurbishment.”

The next recovery test won’t occur for a while. The next two launches are for geostationary satellites with high delta-v requirements. These missions do not allow enough residual propellent for booster recovery. (In the long term, SpaceX plans to switch these missions to the Falcon Heavy.)

The next attempt at water landing will be on flight 13 of Falcon 9 (an ISS resupply mission). If that goes well, SpaceX will attempt to land on a solid surface on flights 14 and 15 (an ORBCOM satellite launch and another ISS resupply run).

Written by Astro1 on July 23rd, 2014 , SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon V2 capsule

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) unveiled the next iteration of its Dragon capsule during a Thursday evening event at SpaceX headquarters. According to SpaceX, the bullet-shaped Dragon V2 will fly unmanned in late 2015, manned in 2016, with NASA personnel in 2017.

This animation shows how Dragon V2 will perform in flight:


The complete webcast of the unveiling is online here:


Written by Astro1 on May 30th, 2014 , SpaceX

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket today, on the CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 successfully deployed its secondary CubeSat payloads, and the Dragon capsule is now on its way to ISS.

The hoped-for test of the Falcon 9 first-stage recovery may not be successful, however. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the chances of recovering the first stage were not looking good due to high sea states. (Waves over six feet have been reported.) SpaceX previously estimated that the chances of recovering the stage on the first test mission were low, probably no more than 20-30%, and several trials will likely be needed to achieve success.

[Update: Apparently, the first-stage landing went went better than expected. A tweet from Elon Musk says, “Data upload from tracking plane shows landing in Atlantic was good! Several boats enroute through heavy seas. Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal.]

[Update 2: The Coast Guard reportedly located the stage April 22, but it’s likely in bad shape after being battered by waves for several days.]


Written by Astro1 on April 18th, 2014 , SpaceX


Just ahead of the SpaceX 3 mission to the International Space Station, SpaceX conducted a test flight of the Falcon 9 Reusable first stage at its test facility in McGregor, Texas. On April 17, The Falcon 9R reached altitude of 250 meters, hovered, then landed.

Falcon 9R replaces the earlier Grasshopper test vehicle, which had only a single engine. SpaceX says the new vehicle is essentially a complete Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs, although some sources claim it has only three engines rather the full nine. During the first test, the legs were fixed, but they will be retracted during future tests. The rocket will move to New Mexico for higher-altitude flights at a more remote site.

Written by Astro1 on April 18th, 2014 , SpaceX Tags:


SpaceX recently test-fired the first stage of Falcon 9R rocket, in preparation for its upcoming first test flight. SpaceX says reusability is “the key to making human life multi-planetary.” The reusable Falcon 9R first stage is their first step toward that goal.

Written by Astro1 on March 28th, 2014 , SpaceX

"Red Dragon" Mars Sample-Return Mission Architecture

NASA could launch a Mars sample-return mission in 2022 without breaking the bank, according to an internal study conducted at NASA Ames Research Center. The mission would use a slightly modified version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, called Red Dragon.

Red Dragon could land two tons (twice the weight of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity) on the Martian surface. The payload would include a new Mars Ascent Vehicle, Earth Return Vehicle, and equipment to drill two meters into the Martian surface.

The NASA Ames study team presented a paper at the IEEE Aerospace Conference, which took place this week in Montana. Leonard David has details on

Written by Astro1 on March 8th, 2014 , Planetary science, SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

A SpaceX launch site near Brownsville in South Texas is looking more likely, according to news reports.

Spaceflight Now quotes SpaceX founder Elon Musk saying, “I think Texas is looking increasingly likely,” although the final go-ahead is still dependent on environmental and regulatory approval.

According to Spaceflight Now, SpaceX believes it has enough business to justify four launch pads: two in Florida, and one each in Texas and California.

The Texas launch site would be dedicated to commercial launches, while NASA missions would continue to be launched out of Florida. SpaceX currently uses pad at Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and is also bidding on Pad 39A, the former Apollo/Shuttle launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

California is the site for polar launches (including military missions) from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

SpaceX has nearly 50 missions scheduled over the five-year lease period it is seeking at Pad 39A. SpaceX believes this is sufficient to justify developing and maintaining four launch pads. This demand is based on both the Falcon 9 and proposed Falcon Heavy.

An interesting question is now the reusable Falcon 9R, now in development, would affect these pad requirements. The answer to that question is unknown to us and, we suspect, probably unknown to SpaceX.

Written by Astro1 on November 16th, 2013 , Spaceports, SpaceX Tags:

SpaceX will begin testing a methane-fueled rocket engine next year, according to Space News.

The Raptor is “is a highly reusable methane staged-combustion engine that will power the next generation of SpaceX launch vehicles designed for the exploration and colonization of Mars,” according to SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin. “The Raptor engine currently in development is the first in what we expect to be a family of engines.”

Methane engines are considered a key technology for Mars exploration and settlement because methane can be produced from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. NASA has done work on small methane engines, for that reason. NASA paid XCOR Aerospace and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) $3 million to develop a 7,500-pound-thrust LOX/methane engine, which could be used in alternative service module for NASA’s Orion capsule. Work on the engine was completed in 2007. (NASA has no plans to use the engine at this time, however.)

XCOR/ATK XR-5M15 rocket engine

The Raptor engine is expected to be much larger than the XCOR/ATK XR-5M15 engine. According to Space News, the Raptor will produce 660,000 pounds of thrust in vacuum (about 30% larger than the Space Shuttle Main Engine).

Raptor testing will be performed at NASA Stennis Space Center in Louisiana, rather than SpaceX’s usual rocket test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX must negotiate a reimbursable Space Act Agreement to rent facilities first, however.

Written by Astro1 on October 26th, 2013 , SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 descent

SpaceX released this image which shows the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket descending toward the ocean. According to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, the stage was intact just before touchdown but did not survive contact with the ocean. SpaceX plans to continue development of its recovery system, which will eventually return to the launch site for landing.

A statement on the SpaceX website says:

Though not a primary mission objective, SpaceX was also able to initiate two engine relights on the first stage. For the first restart burn, we lit three engines to do a supersonic retro propulsion, which we believe may be the first attempt by any rocket stage. The first restart burn was completed well and enabled the stage to survive reentering the atmosphere in a controlled fashion.

Written by Astro1 on October 16th, 2013 , SpaceX

SpaceX released this video of the Next Generation Falcon 9 demonstration flight.


Written by Astro1 on October 15th, 2013 , SpaceX


SpaceX’s reusable first-stage teatbed, Grasshopper, reached a record 744 meters (2,441 feet) during a test flight at McGregor, TX on October 7. The latest flight of the Grasshopper will be the last flight, according to The Waco Tribune.

The Tribune quotes a Facebook post by SpaceX: “Next up will be low altitude tests of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) development vehicle in Texas followed by high altitude testing in New Mexico.”

Written by Astro1 on October 13th, 2013 , SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Red Dragon capsule landing on Mars

Last year, there were rumors that Space Exploration Technologies would soon conduct an initial public stock offering (IPO). If there was any truth to those rumors, those plans have apparently been put on the shelf. Any IPO plans are long-term and tied to Mars settlement, according to today’s tweet from SpaceX founder Elon Musk:

No near term plans to IPO SpaceX. Only possible in very long term when Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Settlement, SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Grasshopper VTVL reusable first-stage demonstrator

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will soon move its VTVL reusable first-stage demonstrator, Grasshopper, to Spaceport New Mexico for further testing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on May 7th, 2013 , Spaceports, SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon capsule berthing at the International Space Station

Space Exploration Technologies launched another Dragon capsule this morning, heading for the International Space Station. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket was perfect, but the Dragon capsule has experienced some anomalies. SpaceX mission controllers have had trouble getting some of the thrusters online.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained the problem in a message to his Twitter followers: “Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override.”

SpaceX now reports that vital signs on a second thruster pod are “trending positive.” When SpaceX has at least two pods restored, it will begin manuevering the capsule toward the space station. The loss of some thrusters could result a later-than-planned arrival at the space station. In the worst case, if SpaceX can’t get the second thruster pod working, the mission could be a total loss.

Some people have said that Dragon flights are becoming “routine,” but spaceflight will never be routine until we have reusable vehicles.

Expendable rocket and capsule: “We have a problem with our thrusters and can’t dock with the space station. Looks like we’ll have to abort the mission, lose the vehicle, the payload, and the $100 million customer payment. Space-station crew won’t have clean underwear for another three months. Life is tough.”

Reusable spacecraft: “We have a problem with our thrusters and can’t dock with the space station. Looks like we’ll have to return to base, call in the mechanics, and fly the mission again tomorrow. Space-station crew won’t have fresh sushi for another night. Life is tough.”

Because they don’t throw away expensive hardware, reusable vehicles can also afford more testing and redundancy. So, anomalies are less likely to occur and better tolerated when they do occur. For the most common failures, reusable vehicles are not only “fail safe” but “fail operational.” Most airline passengers are unaware of how often airliners suffer equipment failures in flight. Airliners have enough redundancy that when a piece of hardware fails, the pilots simply shut it down and report the failure to mechanics when the plane lands. Spaceflight needs to evolve to the same point.

Again, we’re just saying.

Written by Astro1 on March 1st, 2013 , Space Policy and Management, SpaceX

Citizen space explorers and space entrepreneurs will appear at the prestigious South By Southwest (SxSW) film, music, and interactive-media festival, which takes place in Austin next month.

A panel on “Crowd-sourcing the Space Frontier” will include Anousheh Ansari, who visited the International Space Station in 2006 and was name sponsor for the Ansari X-Prize in 2001, and Citizens in Space project manager and citizen-astronaut candidate Edward Wright.

Also participating on the panel will be NASA Open Innovation Program manager Christopher Gentry and Darlene Damm, founder and co-president of DIY Rockets. The panel will run from 11:00 am to noon on Saturday, March 9.

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, who visited the International Space Station in 2008, will speak on “The New Golden Age of Spaceflight” at 11:00 Monday, March 11. Garriott de Cayeux is also vice-chairman of Space Adventures, which markets flights to the International Space Station.

Also on Saturday will be a keynote address by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, at 2:00 PM.

South by Southwest attracts over 32,000 people each year. Admission to these talks will require an Interactive, Gold, or Platinum Badge. Badges are still available at walkup rates of $1150, $1350, or $1595. (Sorry, we do not have any free or discount passes to hand out.)

Citizen space explorer Anousheh Ansari aboard the International Space Station

Anousheh Ansari aboard the International Space Station

Written by Astro1 on February 15th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Space Adventures, SpaceX

Texas Governor Rick Perry devoted almost a full minute to commercial spaceflight during his State of the State Address.

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and XCOR Aerospace are helping to make Texas the Space State.


Written by Astro1 on January 31st, 2013 , Blue Origin, Commercial Space (General), SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace Tags:

Florida Today reports on a NASA press conference about SpaceX’s Merlin engine problem. NASA says the engine is good to go for the next ISS mission, with certain precautions, but engineers still have not located a specific cause for the failure.

“Investigators think that extra testing may have contributed to a pressure chamber breach,” [NASA ISS program manager] Mike Suffredini said….

Suffredini said engineers had reviewed a huge amount of data but not produced a specific smoking gun,” which he said is not uncommon when investigating systems cannot be recovered.

The next engines in line to fly have been inspected thoroughly, and none has been tested beyond the levels needed to certify them for flight.

Emphasis added.

It sure is nice to bring your engines back home with you, rather than dumping them into the ocean, isn’t it?

That’s hardly news to anyone in the aviation industry. A&P mechanics hate it when a pilot who doesn’t bring part of the airplane back with him.

Still, common wisdom in the space business says expendable vehicles must be cheaper and easier to develop. After all, Von Braun did it that way!

We’re just saying.

Written by Astro1 on January 19th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), SpaceX

Boeing CST-100 capsule docks at Bigelow Aerospace space station

Stewart Money at Innerspace has some additional details from the NASA/Bigelow press conference. This part is particularly interesting:

Bigelow announced that the transport price to the station, would be $26.25 million aboard a SpaceX Dragon, or $36.75 million aboard a Boeing CST-100. The 40% price difference is almost certainly due to the much higher cost of the Boeing’s Atlas V launch vehicle, as compared to the SpaceX Falcon 9. The gap could become even more pronounced if Congress ultimately removes the large annual subsidy going to United Launch Alliance in the form of the Launch Capability Contract which is currently on the order of nearly $100 million per flight at current rates.

If this is true, we wonder how Boeing plans to make money. It’s hard to believe that many customers would voluntarily pay $10.5 more for what is essentially the same service.

This might explain why Boeing is reportedly investing very little of its own money in the CST-100. Given a price disadvantage like this, they might not have any customers beyond NASA.

On the other hand, it’s possible Boeing might consider switching the CST-100 to the Falcon 9. Boeing has previously said that CST-100 is booster agnostic. Last year, Boeing said the CST-100 would fly on either the Atlas V or ATK Liberty (the rocket formerly known as Ares I). Liberty is also likely to be a very expensive rocket, besides being vaporware at the moment.

Written by Astro1 on January 18th, 2013 , Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, SpaceX

SpaceX has released a new video with some dramatic views of its Grasshopper reusable first-stage test vehicle during the 12-story test flight on December 17.


Written by Astro1 on January 12th, 2013 , SpaceX