Daily Archives: October 7th, 2009

Falcon9 Tests and Verne-ian Space Guns

Falcon 9 flight edges closer:


Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announces the successful completion of acceptance testing of both the Falcon 9 first and second stages in preparation for the first flight of Falcon 9. Acceptance testing took place at SpaceX’s Texas Test Site, a 300-acre structural and propulsion testing facility, located just outside of Waco, Texas.This recent series of tests subjected both stages to a variety of structural load and proof pressure tests to verify acceptability for flight. Acceptance testing began in late summer with the first stage and concluded last week at SpaceX’s Texas facility with completion of acceptance testing for the second stage.

“The successful completion of these tests marks another key milestone in our preparation for Falcon 9’s first flight,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “Our team will now move forward with a static fire of the first and second stages, the last major milestone before hardware is transferred to SpaceX’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral.”

The inaugural flight of Falcon 9 is a demonstration flight, and is expected to occur one to three months after Falcon 9 arrival at Cape Canaveral next month. The final launch date will depend on range scheduling, weather conditions and time required to make adjustments for any vehicle-to-ground equipment interactions. For its first flight, Falcon 9 will launch a Dragon spacecraft qualification unit into orbit to provide SpaceX with valuable aerodynamic and performance information.

The second flight of the Falcon 9/Dragon system is the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, a new commercial-government partnership under which SpaceX will demonstrate the ability to dock with the International Space Station, transfer cargo, and return cargo safely to Earth.

Elon Musk is determined to snag some of that LEO/ISS business despite what some congress-critters think about commercial space endeavours.

Good luck to Musk and SpaceX!

SpaceX Announces Completion of Acceptance Testing

Another version of the Jules Verne space capsule-launch cannon:

When Jules Verne wrote about a gigantic gun that could be used to launch people into space in the 19th century, no one expected it to become a reality. Now physicist John Hunter has outlined the design of such a gun that he says could slash the cost of putting cargo into orbit.

The gun is based on a smaller device Hunter helped to build in the 1990s while at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. With a barrel 47 metres long, it used compressed hydrogen gas to fire projectiles weighing a few kilograms at speeds of up to 3 kilometres per second.

Now Hunter and two other ex-LLNL scientists have set up a company called Quicklaunch, based in San Diego, California, to create a more powerful version of the gun.

At the Space Investment Summit in Boston last week, Hunter described a design for a 1.1-kilometre-long gun that he says could launch 450-kilogram payloads at 6 kilometres per second. A small rocket engine would then boost the projectile into low-Earth orbit.

Huge g-forces

While humans would clearly be killed and conventional satellites crushed by the gun’s huge g-forces, it could lift robust payloads such as rocket fuel. Finding cheap ways to transport fuel into space will lower the cost of keeping the International Space Station in orbit, and in future it may be needed to supply a crewed mission to Mars.

The gun would cost $500 million to build, says Hunter, but individual launch costs would be lower than current methods. “We think it’s at least a factor of 10 cheaper than anything else,” he says.

Franklin Chang-Diaz, a former astronaut and physicist at the Ad Astra Rocket Company based in Webster, Texas, says a launch gun might make more sense on the moon, where there is no atmosphere. “You don’t have to worry about drag or heating or anything like that,” he says.

Welder’s torch

Hunter acknowledges that the projectile would be slowed by its passage through Earth’s atmosphere. But he says drag would be minimal on a pointy-nosed projectile, causing it to slow by only half a kilometre per second.

He also admits that the heat generated by the high-speed passage through the atmosphere is “like a welder’s torch”. However, it would be relatively short-lived, he says, with the projectile clearing the atmosphere in less than 100 seconds. Designing the projectile so that it could survive having some layers of its outer skin burned off would get around this problem, Hunter says.

As ways to bypass expensive, and expendable rockets get tossed around, various versions of an old stand-by resurface every so often.

Verne was a genius. His stories were pretty accurate as seen through a lens 150 years removed in time.

Curiously, his tales were based on the theoretical science known then, especially submarines and airships.

Who knows what the reality will be 150 years from now?

Maybe his simple cannon idea is the way to cheap space flight?

At least where getting cargo into LEO is concerned anyway.

Blasted into space from a giant air gun