Main Engine Cut Off

Canaveral’s Polar Express

Interesting tidbit from James Dean of Florida Today:

How could the 45th Space Wing support national security missions if fires closed Vandenberg for 12, 18 or 24 months, Monteith asked his safety and flight analysts?

First, they looked north, but Newfoundland proved too difficult an obstacle. Turning their attention south, a path materialized.

“They crunched numbers for about eight months, and I am confident we can go south,” said Monteith.

Monteith did not detail the precise trajectory, but said it involved “a little jog shortly off the pad” to turn south once offshore, “and then we’d skirt Miami.”

The rocket’s first stage would drop safely before reaching Cuba, he said. The second stage would be so high up by the time it flew over the island that no special permissions would be required.

This will only get really interesting when someone books a launch to use such a path, and any thoughts of consolidating all US launch infrastructure to a single location are nonsensical, but the possibility does enable some fun discussions for those working on Falcon Heavy and New Glenn, specifically.

Those two vehicles have quite a bit of payload margin, and their polar plans aren’t quite clear—we don’t know what if anything Blue Origin has in mind for polar launches with New Glenn, and I haven’t heard substantial discussion of Falcon Heavy support out at Vandenberg in over a year (though that could easily be explained by the amount of pad work SpaceX has on its plate right now).

Vulcan seems less likely to use such a path. ULA has a plan to transition Atlas pads to Vulcan pads on both coasts, and because of Vulcan’s solid booster-based architecture, they don’t have payload margin to spare without adding quite a bit of cost.

SpaceX Leases Another Canaveral Facility for Dragon 2 Processing

James Dean, for Florida Today:

The 45th Space Wing said work on the capsule called Crew Dragon or Dragon 2 would take place in Area 59, a former satellite processing facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“This summer, they should be receiving their first Dragon 2 capsule, which will directly support NASA and the return of astronauts (launching into orbit) from U.S. soil,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the Wing commander, at a recent transportation summit in Port Canaveral.

The language used here is imprecise, so it’s tough to draw conclusions, but “summer” implies a slip for the uncrewed test flight of Dragon 2, currently scheduled for April.

Unless he meant to say that SpaceX would be receiving their first Dragon 2 spacecraft at Area 59 this summer, meaning they would process the very first Dragon 2 elsewhere. The former seems more likely, but the latter is a possibility.

This also makes me wonder if the Dragon processing facility over near LZ-1 is still planned, and if each location will play different roles.

Update: Per NASASpaceFlight.com, SpaceX’s first flight has tentatively slipped to August:

According to the latest long-term International Space Station (ISS) schedule, known as the Flight Planning Integration Panel (FPIP) document (L2), both the Boeing and SpaceX Commercial Crew test missions are showing a work to date of late August 2018 for uncrewed test flights and year-end 2018 for crewed test flights to the orbital outpost. All the flights are two weeks in length.

Thanks to December Patrons

Very special thanks to the 135 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of December, and for all of what has been an incredible 2017. Your support keeps this blog and podcast going, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 24 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Mike, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Robert, Brian, Russell, John, and five anonymous executive producers. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

There are some great perks for those supporting on Patreon, too. At $3 a month, you get access to the MECO Headlines podcast feed—every Friday, I run through the headlines of the week and discuss the stories that didn’t make it into the main show. And at $5 a month, you’ll get advance notice of guest appearances with the ability to contribute questions and topics to the show, and you get access to the Off-Nominal Discord—a place to hang out and discuss all things space.

If you want to get in on some of these perks, of if you’re getting some value out of what I do here and just want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and do it there.

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.

T+69: Robin Seemangal

Robin Seemangal joins me for a free-flowing discussion on the stories we found most important in 2017 and what we’re looking forward to in 2018, including SpaceX’s huge year, Blue Origin’s under-the-radar work to lay foundations for their future, SLS’ rough year, and—what else?—Falcon Heavy.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 23 executive producers—Kris, Mike, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, and five anonymous—and 108 other supporters on Patreon.

T+68: Mike Lewis, CTO of NanoRacks

Mike Lewis, CTO of NanoRacks joins me to talk about what they’re working on today, as well as their big plans for the future, including their upcoming airlock and the Ixion project—their ongoing work to turn spent upper stages into useful spacecraft.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 23 executive producers—Kris, Mike, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, and five anonymous—and 108 other supporters on Patreon.

T+67: Special Preview of MECO Headlines, December 1–8, 2017

A special preview of the MECO Headlines shows: Elon Musk kinda-sorta-maybe announces the Falcon Heavy demo payload, Russia and China carry out successful military launches, NASA announces some very interesting NextSTEP-2 contracts, OA-8E Cygnus departs ISS, and SpaceX’s SLC-40 is back, baby!

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 23 executive producers—Kris, Mike, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, and five anonymous—and 107 other supporters on Patreon.

Relativity Space’s Terran 1

Jeff Foust of SpaceNews had a great article about Relativity Space in the November issue of SpaceNews Magazine, and it’s now online. It contains some great photos of Relativity’s hardware, including one shot of their engine, which I had never seen.

Most interesting to me is the payload capacity they’re targeting with Terran 1, their first vehicle:

While the company has been developing technologies to 3D print launch vehicles, it has also been working on an engine for it. The Aeon 1 engine, powered by methane and liquid oxygen and producing more than 15,000 pounds-force of thrust, has undergone tests at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The Space Act Agreement between NASA and Relativity for those tests was one of the few hints of the company’s activities while the company was in stealth.

“It simplifies a lot of the vehicle architecture,” Ellis said of the choice of propellants. That combination allows for what’s known as “autogenous” pressurization, where the propellants in effect self-pressurize, eliminating the need for helium bottles and plumbing to pressurize the tanks.

The company plans to initially put those technologies together into a rocket called Terran 1. The two-stage rocket will have nine Aeon 1 engines in its first stage and one in its second. It will be capable of placing up to 1,250 kilograms into low Earth orbit.

In recent weeks, I’ve been talking about the fact that the new batch of small launch vehicles—Electron, LauncerOne, and the like—are all a bit too small for some payloads—especially Department of Defense payloads.

If Virgin Orbit delivers on their stated cost and performance goals for LauncherOne, they’ll put Minotaur I out of work in a hurry. But the market is still without any vehicles that put the heavier Minotaurs—Minotaur IV and Minotaur-C specifically—in any danger.

Terran 1 could be the first truly commercial launch vehicle to take on those heavier Minotaurs.

Not to mention Relativity’s focus on a quick timeline from production to launch, which would also be quite interesting to the Department of Defense, I’m sure.

Thanks to November Patrons

Very special thanks to the 126 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of November. Your support keeps this blog and podcast going, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 23 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Mike, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Robert, Brian, Russell, and five anonymous executive producers. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

There are some great perks for those supporting on Patreon, too. At $3 a month, you get access to the MECO Headlines podcast feed—every Friday, I run through the headlines of the week and discuss the stories that didn’t make it into the main show. And at $5 a month, you’ll get advance notice of guest appearances with the ability to contribute questions and topics to the show, and you get access to the MECO Discord—a place to hang out and discuss all things space.

If you want to get in on some of these perks, of if you’re getting some value out of what I do here and just want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and do it there.

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.