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SpaceX Falcon 1 on Launch Pad  (Source: SpaceX)
Falcon 1 Flight 3 experienced an "anomaly" two minutes into flight

Saturday August 2, 2008 was the launch date for SpaceX's third attempt to launch a privately funded rocket into space. Falcon 1 Flight 3 launched from the Kwajalein Atoll located about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.

According to the New York Times, Falcon 1 Flight 3 failed to reach orbit. Reports say that around two minutes into the flight the rocket was seen to be oscillating before the live signal from an on-board camera went dead and the rocket was lost.

Mission Manager Max Vozoff and launch commentator said, "We are hearing from the launch control center that there has been an anomaly on that vehicle." SpaceX's Elon Musk wrote in a blog post on Saturday at the SpaceX website, "It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit on this flight [Falcon 1, Flight 3].  On the plus side, the flight of our first stage, with the new Merlin 1C engine that will be used in Falcon 9, was picture perfect.  Unfortunately, a problem occurred with stage separation, causing the stages to be held together.  This is under investigation and I will send out a note as soon as we understand exactly what happened."

Musk continued writing, "The most important message I’d like to send right now is that SpaceX will not skip a beat in execution going forward.  We have flight four of Falcon 1 almost ready for flight and flight five right behind that.  I have also given the go ahead to begin fabrication of flight six.  Falcon 9 development will also continue unabated, taking into account the lessons learned with Falcon 1.  We have made great progress this past week with the successful nine engine firing."

Falcon 1 Flight 3 is not the first failure for SpaceX. DailyTech reported in March 2006 that the first Falcon 1 flight failed 20 seconds after liftoff. It was later determined that the failure of the rocket was due to a fuel line leak. In March 2007, DailyTech reported that the second Falcon 1 flight had failed about five minutes into launch.

The payload on Falcon 1 Flight 3 was varied and included the Trailblazer satellite developed for the Jumpstart Program from the Department of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space ORS Office. Two small NASA satellites were also onboard Falcon 1 Flight 3 including PRESat -- a micro laboratory for the Ames Research Center -- and the NanoSail-D -- a test project to study propulsion for space vehicles using an ultra-thin solar sail.

The New York Times reports that the rocket was also carrying the ashes of 208 people who wished to be shot into space. Among the cremated remains were those of astronaut Gordon Cooper and actor James Doohan of Star Trek fame.

SpaceX's Falcon 1 launch facilities are on Omelek Island and part of the Reagan Test Site (RTS) at the United States Army Kwajalein Atoll in the Central Pacific. SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket was designed from the ground up  in Hawthorne, California and is a two-stage, liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene powered vehicle.

SpaceX says that the first stage of the Falcon 1 is powered by a single SpaceX Merlin 1C Regenerative engine and the engine was flying for the first time aboard Falcon 1 Flight 3. The second stage of Falcon 1 is powered by a SpaceX Kestrel engine.



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RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 12:34:30 AM , Rating: 2
> "NERVA and Orion had true potential for interplanetary - and if scaled up, even interstellar travel, but nuclear rockets are unlikely to ever be clean enough to be used in the atmosphere"

Eh? Nuclear thermal rockets don't emit any radiation in operation. Orion is obviously a different story, but there's no reason a NERVA-type design couldn't operate in the atmosphere without any safety concerns.

> "No possibility for further innovation in chemical rockets, and I stand by that claim"

But the figures don't support that claim. There are at least four different areas for major innovations. First is the increase in specific impulse possible from exotic fuels -- yes, they're too difficult to use with current technology...but technology improves. Second is the lowering of platform dead weight. Your example of Proton-M, for instance, which weighs 49 tons empty, and can only boost 6 tons into GEO. A weight savings of only 20% would roughly double that payload.

Third, even without increasing overall rocket performance, there's the simple expedient of making a launch simpler and cheaper. With less than 5% of a launch being fuel costs, there's no reason a launch couldn't be far cheaper than it is today, even assuming the same payload and engine performance.

And fourth, there's the possibility of a hybrid launch system that uses a rocket as well as an airbreathing engine, an airplane-assisted launch, or even a ground-based accelerator.

The idea that "we've innovated all we can" is just plain silly. It's like Horatio Nelson claiming his 28-gun wooden sailing ship is the pinnacle of naval technology. Launch technology is in its very infancy...and private firms are ultimately going to be the ones to carry it beyond its current roots.

> "All the more reason to keep using the tried-and-true designs..."

The problem is those "tried and true" designs are decades old. To progress, one has to evolve and try new things.

> "..."instead of starting the whole thing over from scratch."

But no one is "starting from scratch". Even for a company like Space, nearly all their design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In 20 years or so, private launch vehicles will have evolved quite a ways from their public counterparts, but for now, those designs are very similar.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 1:02:49 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
Nuclear thermal rockets don't emit any radiation in operation.


In theory, yes. In practice, every proposed implementation leaves a VERY nasty trail.

quote:
First is the increase in specific impulse possible from exotic fuels -- yes, they're too difficult to use with current technology...but technology improves.


No improvement in technology is going to make hydrogen fluoride viable... unless we become brain-in-a-jar cyborgs and kiss goodbye to biosphere.

quote:
A weight savings of only 20% would roughly double that payload.


And yet, and yet, those "new cutting edge designs" fail to improve mass to payload ratio. Angara, Zenit, Ariane 5, the private ventures... all have only superficial differences in this area.

quote:
It's like Horatio Nelson claiming his 28-gun wooden sailing ship is the pinnacle of naval technology.


...and for a wood-and-canvas construction, he'd be right. SpaceX is basically building a better wood-and-canvas ship - when they need a gas turbine.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 9:49:53 AM , Rating: 3
> "In theory, yes. In practice, every proposed implementation leaves a VERY nasty trail."

Stuff and nonsense. A nuclear thermal rocket separates its reaction mass from the nuclear fuel; there is no release of radiation except by catastrophic failure.

> "And yet, and yet, those "new cutting edge designs" fail to improve mass to payload ratio"

The kerosene-fueled Soyuz-U lifts 6.9 tons to LEO with a mass of 313 tons. SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifts 9.9 tons with a mass of 325 tons. That's a 43% payload increase for only a 3% mass increase...a quite siseable increase in payload ratio.

> "No improvement in technology is going to make hydrogen fluoride viable."

A nice red herring, but there are dozens of potential fuels with Isps higher than those in commercial use. A beryllium-hydrogen-oxygen tripropellant, for instance, would have a performance of 700+ seconds, far higher than the Space Shuttles 420.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 1:20:52 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Stuff and nonsense. A nuclear thermal rocket separates its reaction mass from the nuclear fuel; there is no release of radiation except by catastrophic failure.


http://episteme.arstechnica.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f...

quote:
NERVA rockets would still emit punitive amounts of radiation via neutron absorption and breeding of tritium.


So, no. Not until we become fully robotic beings who don't give a damn about the biosphere.

quote:
SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifts 9.9 tons with a mass of 325 tons.


SpaceX's Falcon 9 currently doesn't lift anything, because none have been made yet. They're making ambitious claims, but right now, they can't even get the smaller and simpler Falcon 1 to fly right.

As for beryllium for propulsion... granted, it's not as nasty as fluorine and derivatives, but not by much - and at $745/kg, it'll make one gold plated rocket.

Reaction drives are an evolutionary dead end, at least for launching things from planet(s). Until some sort of launch system that does not involve rockets or other reaction drives is developed - launch loop, space tether/beanstalk, electromagnetic accelerator - space industry and colonization will not happen; getting out of earth's gravity well is simply too expensive.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 2:00:15 PM , Rating: 2
> "quote: NERVA rockets would still emit punitive amounts of radiation..."

You're really grasping to quote anonymous posters on random web sites as an authority. A nuclear thermal reactor isn't terribly different from a nuclear naval power reactor -- the primary difference is power density. The reaction mass is shielded from the nuclear fuel; there is no reason for it to emit radioactive waste in normal operation.

> "SpaceX's Falcon 9 currently doesn't lift anything, because none have been made yet"

The company is only five years old also. Give them some time.

> "As for beryllium for propulsion... granted, it's not as nasty as fluorine and derivatives"

Come now, don't stick your head in the sand. "Not as nasty"? Beryllium oxide is more benign than the exhaust components of a kerosene-fueled engine. The US Air Force thinks beryllium tripropellants have enough promise that they have a pilot program to investigate them.

As for cost, aluminum was once much more expensive per ounce than gold. Technology improves, extraction processes progress, and prices drop.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 2:16:10 PM , Rating: 2
> "You're really grasping to quote anonymous posters on random web sites as an authority. "

Just one final point on this "authority", who claims a NERVA-style reactor couldn't weigh less than 100 tons. He seems blithely unaware that Project Timberwind modelled a small NTR with a specific impulse of 1000 seconds and a weight of only 1.5 tons -- 70 times less than your 'expert' claims is possible":

http://www.astronautix.com/engines/timind45.htm


By Gholam on 8/5/2008 4:53:27 PM , Rating: 2
Project Timberwind was basically a feasibility study - they sat around, made some claims, and got shot down. They never actually had to design the hardware.

By the way, if the first quote wasn't clear enough, here's another one:

quote:

It is. Hydrogen consists to 0.015% of deuterium. And that will readily transmutate into tritium via neutron capture. And yes, tritium is a severe issue for any LWR, and more so for CANDU reactors. Under normal operation those plants will emit 50-50 tritium via the water markup system, and radioactive noble gases. You can AFAIK look up the relevant numbers on NRC.gov . These are not small amounts.
Any maintenance on primary loop systems in LWRs can only be done after purging the relevant system with inert gas. And even after that, one would sustain the yearly allowable radiation dose within 5min while wearing an air tight "space suit".

Hydrogen is evil. Pure evil at 1400K. It will react with anything at those temperatures. NERVA rockets were designed with the hope that the core would not severely degrade within the short time span that they would operate in.

Do you want to know what really killed NERVA?

The test stands. Building a close loop, leak tight exhaust coolant loop, with sufficient radioactive shielding and then scrubbing that stuff clean would have already cost in the 50s billions of dollars. Please, do not underestimate the dangers of radioactivity.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 4:45:35 PM , Rating: 2
If you follow arstechnica forums for a while, you'll realize that dio82's background is in nuclear reactor engineering. He knows his stuff.

If you shield reaction mass enough from fuel, you won't be able to transfer energy to said reaction mass, and the rocket won't fly. Transfer enough energy to make the rocket feasible, and exhaust will kill anyone coming into contact with it. The difference between naval reactor and nuclear rocket is precisely in power density - rocket must take it past critical point to fly; plus any shielding that you take cuts into payload.

You'd have a point about aluminium, if it wasn't so common (the most common metallic element, in fact) - and if beryllium wasn't so rare. With aluminium problem was extracting it from bauxites, which became trivial with industrial production of electricity - but with beryllium, not only does the production involve highly toxic and dangerous chemicals, but ores themselves are anything but common.

...and finally, if it's so great, why isn't SpaceX using it? Aren't they supposed to be the latest, greatest, most innovative in launch technology?


By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 6:07:23 PM , Rating: 2
> "If you follow arstechnica forums for a while, you'll realize that dio82's background is in nuclear reactor engineering. He knows his stuff."

This is the same chap that claims a NERVA reactor can't possibly mass under 100 tons, when even our first crude designs have gotten as small as 1.5 tons? Sorry, I don't buy it. Quite a few reputable nuclear engineers *have* worked on NTR designs. They say it's very feasible. I trust them...not "dio82".

> "If you shield reaction mass enough from fuel, you won't be able to transfer energy to said reaction mass"

You should be able to realize this isn't true. Look at the cooling towers on an ordinary nuclear power plant. See the steam coming out? That's hot water...heated by the reactor itself. And it isn't radioactive.

There are plenty of materials efficiently capable of transmitting thermal energy while reflecting or absorbing neutron flux.

> "...and finally, if it's so great, why isn't SpaceX using it?"

Come now, don't be trite. That's like claiming if nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are so great, why weren't we using them in the Civil War? We don't have the technology to readily use exotic tripropellants. But at some point, we will. Your original claim was that we had already gone as far as chemical rockets could take us. But the fact is, there's still a substantial amount of progress to be made.


By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 9:58:52 AM , Rating: 2
> "...and for a wood-and-canvas construction, [Horatio Nelson] would be right."

But that *isn't* right. Technology did improve dramatically from the time of Nelson's first command of the Boreas, even for wood-and-canvas sailing ships. Things like triangular sails, advanced hull and keel designs, stronger pintles, and even little innovations like davits and sights on the cannon meant that a man-of-war from 1784 was substantially inferior to one from 1840.

Similarly, chemical rockets are nowhere near their pinnacle of performance, efficiency, operating costs, or safety. Those that claim otherwise should bear in mind the example of the patent officer who claimed in 1899 that "everything that can be invented already has been".


By Ringold on 8/5/2008 5:38:51 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
there's the simple expedient of making a launch simpler and cheaper. With less than 5% of a launch being fuel costs, there's no reason a launch couldn't be far cheaper than it is today, even assuming the same payload and engine performance.


quote:
But no one is "starting from scratch". Even for a company like Space, nearly all their design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In 20 years or so, private launch vehicles will have evolved quite a ways from their public counterparts, but for now, those designs are very similar.


The above two are the key elements to the debate, as I see it. The technical issues -- you're nit picking each other on specific points. Those don't matter, they aren't where private enterprise will win. They'll will because government, by its very nature, is incapable of being as innovative in the application of technology as private enterprise, and government agencies are culturally incapable of achieving great change. I like again Bigelow's application of inflatable modules; technology they took from NASA and worked in to a low-cost alternative.

It might be possible that NASA will have a long, long life as the institution that does the expensive R&D that the industry itself can not afford to undertake on its own. To argue that private industry can't more efficiently make use of technology though is really a direct attack on the whole of economic thought. I don't even mean conservative schools of economic thought, as even liberal economists were upset recently at the news of Russia nationalizing some of its farms, for example. Thats a different industry, but identical issues at play in terms of maturity of technology. Right down to NERVA -- the 'nuclear' equivalent in ag being GM seed.


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