12/3/2015 Archives: SpaceX is Coming Back

This was posted to codingastronomer.com on 12/3/2015.

The archives were created to preserve my writings from various blog sites which I have used over the years. Most come from my wordpress blogs nathanphoffman.com and codingastronomer.com. I hope to make medium.com my new home.

Since SpaceX’s launch failure on June 28th, 2015, they have not embarked on a single mission. But that is about to change.

If SpaceX stays on track, they will be launching a communication satellite this month. Then in January, they will launch an ISS resupply mission (the same type of mission they were on that failed) and a science mission for NOAA.


This is all just the beginning, however, should things go well for SpaceX, they should have close to a dozen or so launches including new Iridium satellites (I personally am looking forward to that for my satellite SOS device) and debut the mighty Falcon Heavy, perhaps as early as April. This rocket will boast three falcon 9 v1.1 cores, making it substantially more lift-capable than any launcher currently available to any country. They also have future re-usability plans for their falcon 9s and the falcon Heavy. As a caveat, it is not certain that re-usability will come to fruition in 2016 given they have not actually landed a core yet, though they have come VERY close.

It is good to see a company like SpaceX rebounding from failure. Orbital Sciences too, who suffered a much worse failure at Wallops Island, is also coming back and will be launching their Cygnus cargo capsule a-top an Atlas* rocket tomorrow.

*The Atlas is a rocket owned by the ULA, a joint partnership by Boeing and Lockheed.

I think it is important to mention that failures in space happen and when humans ride a-top rockets those rockets are tested thoroughly and are designed with more stringent safety features than those used in cargo missions.

SpaceX plans to use boosters on the side of the capsule to propel it upwards as its escape mechanism for its possible future in manned flight. Escape systems like these are intended to fling astronauts clear of disasters, at incredible accelerations. In theory, the astronauts can be flung free before ground is even aware (as there are all sorts of automated-emergency mechanisms in place to auto-trigger an escape).

A rocket-powered escape mechanism has never been used to save an astronaut’s life because disaster has never struck a traditional rocket during launch. Thanks to Matthew for correcting me here, there was one use of the launch escape system during a manned launch. It occurred on 1983 atop a Soviet rocket. The rocket caught fire and the two astronauts were flown away to safety by the escape system, proving that they work. The rocket exploded seconds after they jettisoned, and they still survived.

The shuttles did have ejection seats for a time, but because the astronauts did not ride inside a capsule that could easily be flung free from the craft, odds of survival was much lower. If the Challenger had an escape system like SpaceX’s below, things might have been very different.

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