Elon Musk’s ability to look on the bright side of things is again on test following the third launch failure of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 on August 2. Unlike the two previous flight attempts, this was the first to carry a significant payload of three satellites, the second Falcon having carried a 110 lbs experimental payload. It was also seen as much more of a graduation test ahead of the upcoming Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration flight for the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract in early 2009. SpaceX, together with the other COTS winner Orbital Sciences, is expected to provide US re-supply capability to the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. SpaceX is also the only COTS contender that has the planned capability to return pressurized cargo and crew to Earth. The first Falcon 9 will arrive at the SpaceX launch site (complex 40) at Cape Canaveral by the end of this year.
However, in terms of Falcon 9, Musk’s optimism from the latest attempt is at least partially justified..but why?
Falcon first stage and inter-stage. Stage separation was expected to have been a matter of routine.
Falcon 9 will be powered into orbit by a first stage made up of nine Merlin 1C regenerative engines. As part of its COTS contract, SpaceX successfully fired a set of nine Merlin ICs at its Texas test site on August 1, and a single 1C powered the first stage of the Falcon 1 on Saturday’s short-lived flight from Omelek Island in the Kwajalein Atoll. The good news for Musk and SpaceX is that the engine at least did its job. Now we must wait to see what happened with the separation system.
(see below for short video clip of Merlin 1C test firing)
(credit: google video)
Merlin 1C on test.
(pic credits: SpaceX)