Random space thoughts

Roamy here.  I’ve been wanting to write about the Falcon Heavy rocket ever since the announcement Tuesday by SpaceX.  It’s a Falcon 9 rocket with two additional Falcon first stages as strap-on boosters.  117,000 lbs to low Earth orbit is about twice the payload capacity of the Space Shuttle, and SpaceX is absolutely right to think ahead about man-rating the Falcon Heavy.  The structural design, triple-redundant avionics, and the use of liquid engines will make it easier to man-rate than to go back and man-rate an existing rocket like a Delta or an Atlas.  And I will admit I have a soft spot for anything with a Merlin engine.

This announcement followed on the heels of a Soyuz launch with the next crew for the International Space Station.  It irks me to no end that NASA has no replacement for the Space Shuttle and will be totally reliant on the Russians for manned launches, at least until Falcon 9 and Dragon finish their primary flight tests.  The looming government shutdown last week didn’t help my mood either.

SpaceX might put me out of my job, but if it means reliable American access to space, I’m okay with that.  The first Falcon Heavy will be delivered to Vandenberg AFB in 2012, with the launch planned for 2013.  First launch from the Cape will be in either late 2013 or 2014.  Godspeed.

7 thoughts on “Random space thoughts”

  1. Roamy, do you think it would be possible for SpaceX or a similar company to get us back to the Moon?

  2. GaigeM, I think SpaceX has a better chance than NASA at the moment. I’ve seen a number of programs that were supposed to be in addition to or a replacement for the Space Shuttle die on the vine – Advanced Launch System, National Launch System, Shuttle -C, Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle, X-33, X-34, Space Launch Initiative, and Ares. I’ll be a little too blunt – the only ones at NASA who have designed and successfully launched a manned spacecraft will be retired by the end of this year. The ones who have been given the responsibility for the next generation of launch vehicles know all the buzzwords (“system engineering”, “lean six sigma”, etc.) but have never gotten anything off the launchpad. NASA has also gutted its support contractor base this year with the continuing budget crisis, and the truly talented ones aren’t going to wait around for NASA to make up its mind what it’s going to do.

  3. Is man-rating Falcon Heavy a good idea? Why not leave Falcon 9 to ferry astronauts to orbit? If they did not man-rate Falcon Heavy, they could make it more efficient in getting everything else–fuel, supplies, modules–into space. It’s really the other cargo that constitutes most of the mass needed in space.

    1. Yeah, that makes a Hell of a lot of sense to me. Falcon 9 as the bus, Falcon Heavy as the freight truck.

    2. I think man-rating Falcon Heavy is a good idea because counting on multiple successful launches for a single mission is considered high risk. Look at the Gemini-Agena testing in the 1960’s. I also think if the Falcon 9 is already man-rated, and you are basically strapping three together to make one big one, you might as well make them all the same.

  4. Roamy, how large would a space station have to be so that it could rotate to provide 50% gravity for the crew, and do so safely?

  5. GaigeM, I will admit that I am not a structural engineer, but I have seen a proposal for a space station using a tether between two modules, spun up to provide gravity.

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