Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘aviation’

SpaceX launches private spaceship into orbit

Posted by Richard on December 8, 2010

The first operational test of the Dragon spacecraft, capable of carrying up to 7 astronauts, appears to be a success. This morning, SpaceX launched the Dragon into orbit atop its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Gizmodo has video.

This was only the second launch of the Falcon 9 (the first was in June), and the first under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The plans for this flight were ambitious: 

The upcoming demonstration mission will launch from Cape Canaveral and should follow a flight plan nearly identical to the first Falcon 9 launch, but this time the Dragon spacecraft will separate from the second stage and will demonstrate operational communications, navigation, maneuvering and reentry. Although it does not have wings like Shuttle, the Dragon spacecraft is controlled throughout reentry by the onboard Draco thrusters which enable the spacecraft to touchdown at a very precise location – ultimately within a few hundred yards of its target.

While Dragon will initially make water landings, over the long term, Dragon will be landing on land. For this first demo flight, Dragon will make multiple orbits of the Earth as we test all of its systems, and will then fire its thrusters to begin reentry, returning to Earth for a Pacific Ocean splashdown off the coast of Southern California. The entire mission should last around four hours.

It looks like they're well on their way to a successful mission.

UPDATE: Splashdown! And complete success!

The Dragon spacecraft the first private space to reach orbit and return to Earth. It just splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, after a perfect launch, separation, orbit and re-entry. This is a huge milestone in the history of space exploration.

Woohoo! Congrats to Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team!

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SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled

Posted by Richard on June 3, 2010

The inaugural flight of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's Falcon 9 launch vehicle is scheduled for this Friday, with a backup launch date of Saturday. The launch window on both days is from 11 AM to 3 PM Eastern, and the launch will be webcast here.

The Falcon 9 is SpaceX's next step in cheap, reliable private space transportation. Its predecessor, Falcon 1, has already successfully placed satellites into orbit. Falcon 9 will provide much greater payload capacities, including the reusable Dragon crew and cargo capsule that's expected to be used to resupply the International Space Station. 

One of the few decisions President Obama has made that I wholeheartedly agreed with was the cancellation of NASA's Ares/Orion shuttle replacement program in favor of relying on private companies like SpaceX. Unfortunately, after an uproar from all the vested interests and their congresscritters (Republican and Democrat), he backpedaled, so now it's going ahead in some kind of scaled-back form.

When Obama originally cancelled Ares/Orion, SpaceX CEO/CTO Elon Musk succinctly stated the argument against the breathtakingly expensive shuttle replacement: "The President quite reasonably concluded that spending $50 billion to develop a vehicle that would cost 50% more to operate, but carry 50% less payload was perhaps not the best possible use of funds."

Orion was designed to carry four people and cost $1.5 billion per flight. SpaceX's Dragon capsule will carry seven people in crew configuration. SpaceX has a contract with NASA to resupply the ISS using Falcon 9 and Dragon. The cost? $1.6 billion for twelve flights. Total. Just a smidge more than a single Orion mission.

I hope the Falcon 9 flight goes well (although a failure or limited success wouldn't be a big deal; the first Falcon 1 launch failed, but it went on to success). The commercialization and privatization of space flight can't come soon enough. As Glenn Reynolds says, "Faster, please!"

UPDATE (June 4): Woohoo! A completely successful inaugural launch:

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time
T+ 00:09:34 Please continue to check SpaceX.com for additional flight information, including photos and videos as they become available!

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time
T+ 00:09:04 Falcon 9 has achieved Earth Orbit!

Unfortunately for me, it happened while I was out getting lunch. Oh, well — I'm sure they'll post a video here soon enough.

UPDATE 2: The first video clips are available. 

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Top Gun in an armchair?

Posted by Richard on August 13, 2008

A generation of would-be aviators has grown up sitting in front of a computer mastering Microsoft Flight Simulator. The day has arrived when they can earn their wings, and kill people and break things, in the same comfortable surroundings, flying combat missions in a comfortable chair in front of a bank of LCD monitors:

The U.S. Air Force is, for the first time, converting a fighter wing from manned (F-16) combat aircraft, to unmanned ones (the MQ-9 Reaper.) The conversion, for the 174th Fighter Wing, has been in the works for three years, and the last combat sorties in manned aircraft were flown last week, by members of the 174th serving in Iraq.

The air force has already converted several combat wings to fly Predators which, while armed (with two 107 pound Hellfire missiles), are considered reconnaissance aircraft. The Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, optimized for seeking out and destroying ground targets. Jet powered combat UAVs are in development. It's only a matter of time before UAVs take over air superiority, strategic bombing and suppression of enemy air defenses duties as well.

Top Gun

It seems to be Air Force only at this point, but you can bet the Navy is thinking about how many UAVs it could put on an aircraft carrier. 

Reaper pilots may not look as cool as Tom Cruise in his flight suit, but their aircraft are much more cost-effective than F-16s. These combat UAVs aren't exactly cheap at $18 million apiece, but F16s cost three times as much, use 100 times as much fuel, and are far more expensive to operate. And then there's the elimination of risk to the pilots. 

The Reapers aren't small, either — almost five tons, with a 66-foot wingspan and a 1.5 ton payload capacity. That's a fair number of smart bombs and missiles. And they can remain airborne over 14 hours, with their ground-based pilots working shifts. And going home to their families each day.

Pretty cool. I just hope the Air Force isn't working on that SkyNet thing to take over control of these weapons from humans.

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