|Space Launch Report: SpaceX Falcon Data Sheet|
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In June, 2002, dot-com multimillionaire Elon Musk
established SpaceX Corporation, setting up shop in a warehouse in El Segundo,
California. He staffed the tiny company with space vehicle engineering talent
gleaned from nearby California aerospace companies that were, at the time, rapidly
downsizing. He poured at least $100 million of his own money into the company to
develop not only the Falcon 1 space launch vehicle, but the rocket engines to propel
Falcon 1 development began quickly. The first
Merlin test firing took place at the company's McGregor, Texas test lab in March, 2003,
and Kestrel testing began soon after.
Fabrication of a "protovehicle" began in early
2003. On December 3, 2003, after a cross-country drive on its custom-built transport
trailer, SpaceX unveiled the protovehicle in Washington D.C., having parked it on the
street in front of the FAA building. During the ceremonies, Elon Musk announced that
SpaceX planned to follow-up Falcon 1 with a more powerful 3.7 meter diameter Falcon 5 that
would be powered by five Merlin engines. Falcon 1 was initially priced at
about $6 million while Falcon 5, designed to haul 4.5 tonnes to LEO, listed at $12
Merlin development was finally completed on January 14,
2005, when the first full run qualification test was performed. Falcon 1 development
was completed on March 31, 2005 with a series of structural qualification tests.
Merlin was integrated with the first flight vehicle in April, 2005 and on May 27, 2005,
the first 5-second hot fire test occurred at SLC 3W. Space reporters were
surprised to see how quickly the 15 on-site SpaceX personnel packed up Falcon 1 and its
mobile control center trailer after the hot-fire test. The rocket was back in
its Los Angeles area warehouse within hours of the test.
Inaugural Omelek Campaign
The first Falcon 1 launch attempt at Omelek on November 25, 2005 was scrubbed after a ground-supply LOX vent valve allowed the small LOX supply to boil off. A second attempt on December 19, 2005 was delayed by high winds. Then, the first stage fuel tank buckled during fuel draining when the fuel pressurization system suffered a controller failure. The damaged first stage was shipped back to Los Angeles for repair. The second flight vehicle's first stage was shipped to Omelek in its place.
On February 9, 2006, SpaceX completed a hot-fire test at
the Omelek pad with the new first stage, but a second stage propellant leak was discovered
during the testing process, thwarting a February launch attempt. The company shipped
the second stage to Los Angeles, replacing it with the second flight vehicle's second
stage. On March 18 and 23, 2006, the reconfigured vehicle performed hot-fire tests
in preparation for a fourth launch attempt.
SpaceX Falcon 1 Inaugural Liftoff Failure
Elon Musk's Falcon 1 failed in its March 24, 2006 inaugural launch attempt from Omelek Island in Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, after a 22:30 GMT liftoff. The two-stage rocket rose from its pad and ascended for about 25 seconds before a fire in the area just above the engine cut into the first stage helium pneumatic system, causing an engine shut-down at T+34 seconds. A downward looking on-board camera view showed a clean, stable ascent until the shutdown. After the shutdown, the camera showed the vehicle rolling and falling toward the ocean.
Falcon 1 is equipped with an engine cut-off range safety system rather than destruct charges. As a result, when the failure occurred, the rocket fell more or less intact to impact on a reef not far from the launch site. The Falconsat 2 payload, an experimental microsat built by U.S. Air Force Academy students, crashed through the roof of a shop building on the island.
According to Elon Musk, the fire, which began just a few seconds after liftoff, appeared to have been fed by a fuel leak. In a March 31 NPR interview, company VP Gwynne Shotwell said that the leak had been caused by a "procedural error" rather than a launch vehicle hardware failure. A fuel pipe fitting had been opened by a technician the day before the launch to provide access for other work. The presumption was that the fitting had not been properly restored after work was complete.
On July 25, 2006, SpaceX reported the
findings of a DARPA Falcon Return to Flight Board. The investigation
discovered that a kerosene fuel leak began 400 seconds before liftoff, when the propellant
pre-valves were opened. The leak occurred on plumbing associated with the turbopump
fuel inlet pressure transducer. When the Merlin main engine started at liftoff, the
leaking fuel ignited. The precise cause of the leak was not determined, although
initial reports that a pad processing error was responsible were ruled out. One
possible cause that could not be ruled out was stress corrosion cracking of an
aluminum B-nut on the transducer plumbing.
On July 25, 2006, SpaceX reported the findings of a DARPA Falcon Return to Flight Board. The investigation discovered that a kerosene fuel leak began 400 seconds before liftoff, when the propellant pre-valves were opened. The leak occurred on plumbing associated with the turbopump fuel inlet pressure transducer. When the Merlin main engine started at liftoff, the leaking fuel ignited. The precise cause of the leak was not determined, although initial reports that a pad processing error was responsible were ruled out. One possible cause that could not be ruled out was stress corrosion cracking of an aluminum B-nut on the transducer plumbing.
During 2006, Elon Musk announced that SpaceX had decided to begin work on a "Merlin 1C" engine with a regeneratively cooled thrust chamber. In early February 2007, SpaceX updated its web site with revised design information for both Merlin and Falcon. The data was said to be effective for vehicles launched in 2009 or later. Merlin 1C was shown to produce 46.259 tonnes of sea-level thrust - a 32% increase over the thrust produced by Merlin 1A during the initial Falcon 1 launches.
A revised Payload User's Guide was published in May 2007. It provided details of the new Merlin 1C powered "Falcon 1e" rocket that would be about 5.53 meters taller and 11.36 tonnes heavier than the original Falcon rocket. Falcon 1e, expected to enter service after 2009, would be able to haul 25-30% more payload than the original Falcon rocket.
The second Falcon 1 launch, carrying only a dummy payload for DARPA, was planned to occur during the first quarter of 2007. After being erected at Omelek and after having passed a wet dress rehearsal in mid-January, 2007, a planned late-January hot fire test had to be postponed when the vehicle's second stage engine failed a slew test during the countdown. The vehicle was moved back into its Omelek hanger for work, halting the launch campaign until at least early March.
performed a brief, successful static test ignition of the Falcon 1 first stage Merlin
engine on March 15. After a scrubbed launch attempt on March 19, 2007, Elon Musk's
SpaceX Falcon 1 failed to reach orbit during its second flight on March 21, 2007.
Flight control was lost about 2 minutes 10 seconds into the vehicle's second stage burn,
about five minutes into the roughly 10 minute planned ascent. It was the second Falcon 1
launch failure in two attempts.
On board video broadcast by SpaceX showed the second stage engine bell brushing against the side of the interstage at stage separation. The video also showed an apparent "coning" motion developing during the last minute of controlled flight. The magnitude of the oscillating motion increased during the final seconds of downlink, just before roll control and telemetry was lost.
On March 27, Elon Musk reported that propellant sloshing
had caused the oscillation. LOX sloshing had been initiated by the contact during
staging, specifically by the subsequent second stage "hard slew" required to
restore its orientation after its Kestrel engine ignited. The LOX slosh frequency
coupled with the thrust vector control system in a way that gradually amplified the
oscillation until flight control was lost. The Kestrel engine continued to fire
until the T+7.5 minute mark when roll rates increased sufficiently to cause propellant
starvation. Mr. Musk also reported that the first stage had not been recovered as
New Falcon Details Emerge
In April 2008, SpaceX revealed new details for the higher-thrust Merlin 1C and for Falcon 1e.
The upgraded Merlin 1C would produce 56.689 tonnes of sea-level thrust and 63.449 tonnes of thrust in vacuum, 1.5-1.6 times more than the original Merlin. With more available liftoff thrust,
With the beefed-up Merlin 1C, Falcon 1e grew
substantially heavier and more capable. Falcon 1e LEO payload increased to 1 tonne,
far more than the original Falcon 1, who's LEO payload had fallen to 0.42 tonnes.
An interim Falcon 1, the same size as the original but powered by the initial Merlin 1C
model and able to lift 0.47 tonnes to LEO, would fly before Falcon 1e appeared.
Third SpaceX Falcon 1 Launch Fails - Cause Announced (Updated 8/6/08)
The third SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket failed shortly after lifting off from Omelek Island, Kwajalein Atoll, on August 3, 2008. Liftoff of the 21.3 meter tall, 27.67 tonne, two stage rocket occurred at 03:34 UTC. According to a message from Elon Musk to NasaSpaceFlight.com, the failure occurred at staging, about 2 minutes 39 seconds after liftoff, following a nominal first stage burn. A video feed of the launch provided by SpaceX was cut off about 2 minutes 11 seconds after launch, shortly before second stage pressurization, first stage cutoff, and stage separation would have occurred.
On August 6, Musk announced that residual thrust produced by the Merlin 1C first stage engine had caused the stage to recontact the second stage immediately after stage separation. Separation was timed to take place only 1.5 seconds after Merlin 1C shutdown - a timing that had worked with the original ablatively cooled Merlin 1 engine. The pressure-fed Kestrel second stage engine had just started when it and its stage were damaged by the impact.
Lost with the Falcon 1 were the U.S. Air Force Jumpstart mission's Trailblazer satellite, NASA's Nanosail-D solar sail experiment, and NASA's PreSat experiment. Total payload mass was 170 kg. The payloads were expected to be boosted into a 685 x 330 km x 9 deg orbit.
The regeneratively cooled Merlin 1C engine flew for the first time on the flight, boosting Falcon 1 off its pad and downrange for its 2 minute 38 second burn. The engine had aborted an initial countdown attempt 34 minutes before the launch, shutting down during its start sequence when one measured parameter was detected to be out of limit. SpaceX crews recycled the count in 23 minutes.
It was the third Falcon 1 failure in three attempts. Musk said that the fourth Falcon 1 launch, which could occur within weeks, will now only carry a dummy payload. Additional time will be added between the Merlin 1C shutdown and stage separation for the launch.
The third Falcon 1 was shipped to Kwajalein in early
2008. After a delay to allow replacement of a defective Kestrel second stage engine
nozzle, the rocket performed a Merlin 1C static test at Omelek on June 25, 2008.
The fourth SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket carried a 165 kg payload mass simulator into space after a September 28 launch from Omelek Island, Kwajalein Atoll. SpaceX reported that the vehicle's second stage and dummy payload reached an initial 330 x 650 km x 9 deg orbit about 9.5 minutes after a 23:14 UTC liftoff. The company also reported that the Kestrel second stage engine subsequently performed a test of its restart capability in space. The stage was tracked by U.S. Space Command in a 621 x 643 km x 9.35 deg orbit after the Kestrel restart.
The reported initial orbit was less than the announced planned 330 x 685 km orbit. Second stage shutdown occurred about 8 seconds earlier than the time listed in the SpaceX press kit.
The flight took place less than two months after the third Falcon 1 suffered a staging failure. That failure happened when Merlin 1C first stage engine residual thrust caused the stage to recontact the second stage immediately after stage separation. Separation was timed to take place only 1.5 seconds after Merlin 1C shutdown - a timing that had worked with the original ablatively cooled Merlin 1 engine. For the fourth flight the separation time was extended to 5 seconds and the staging sequence was successful.
Prior to the launch, on September 20, 2008, SpaceX crews briefly ignited the Falcon 1 first stage Merlin 1C engine in a static test on the Omelek pad. After the test, crews decided to replace an unspecified second stage LOX supply component.
It was the first Falcon 1 success in four
attempts. The regeneratively cooled Merlin 1C engine flew for the second time on the
Falcon 1 Orbits RazakSAT for Malaysia
The fifth SpaceX Falcon 1 boosted RazakSAT, a Malaysian government earth observation imaging satellite, into orbit from Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands, on July 14, 2009. The 180 kg spacecraft was aimed toward a 685 km x 9 deg low earth orbit. Spacecraft separation was planned to occur 50-55 minutes after launch, following a brief restart of the second stage Kestrel engine to cirularize the orbit.
The 27.67 tonne, two-stage Falcon 1 lifted from Omelek Island at Kwajalien Atoll at 03:35 UTC on 35.38 tonnes of thrust from the rocket's first stage Merlin 1C engine. Following a 2 minute 40 second burn, the first stage fell away and the 3.175 tonne thrust second stage Kestrel engine ignited. Kestrel completed its first burn about 9 minutes 40 seconds after liftoff, boosting the stage and payload toward an approximate planned 330 x 685 km parking orbit. The engine reignited about 38 minutes after its first shutdown as the stack passed within tracking range of Ascension Island.
RazakSAT was designed and built by ATSB, a Malaysian satellite builder.
The launch, by the last original-size Falcon 1 on the SpaceX launch manifest, was the second consecutive Falcon 1 success. It was also the first successful Falcon 1 launch of a live satellite. Falcon 1 first flew in 2006. Two "Falcon 1e" launches, by vehicles with stretched tanks and higher-thrust Merlin 1c engines, are projected to fly in 2010.
** Estimates extrapolated from SpaceX User's
Guides or Data Sheets.
Falcon 1 Payload User's Guide, SpaceX, 2004
Last Update: 7-18-2009