SpaceX's Launch Craft and Upcoming Launch

By Cje95 | Texas Living | 18 Dec 2020

I might spin SpaceX out into its own separate series but I am not sure if I want to or not yet so for now I will continue to just place it under Texas Living... I have written about before my love for SpaceX and what they have to offer the science world and the civilian world as a whole. With SpaceX now making huge strides in Starship I decided I should write about the other two spacecraft offered right now. While the Falcon and Falcon Heavy might not be as different from each other as Starship is they do fulfill entirely different purposes!


Falcon 9

This is the rocket that is SpaceX's most commonly used rocket to launch both satellites and crewed space flights. The Falcon 9 rocket is currently on its 5th variation which is supposed to be the final variation of this rocket series. Block 5 as it is called is the only active rocket from this series and the most powerful one. This rocket is designed to be reused 10 times with only minor refurbishments and currently, one booster has flown a company record 7 times! While most of the launches have the booster being reusable some do not. This is due to the weight of the payload and the distance some satellites have to go. When launching into Low Earth Orbit or LEO a reusable rocket's payload typically is around 16,800 kg but if a company or government wants to carry a heavier payload of 22,800 kg or more the rocket will be expendable due to the amount of fuel needed. SpaceX is smart with its boosters and will only use the ones that they were not going to reuse for the expendable launches they do not use a new one. 


SpaceX has launched 101 Falcon 9 rockets the one that will launch tomorrow, December 18, 2020, will be the 102 Falcon 9 launch. All 46 Block 5 launches have been successful including the two crew missions so far. Till Starship is ready Falcon 9 should be assumed to be the workhorse and constant rocket used by SpaceX once Starship is fully operational it would be safe to assume the Falcon 9 fleet will be retired. Of the ones that have been retired only SpaceX and Space Center Houston have one on display. SpaceX has its own museum in Hawthorne the current base of SpaceX while Space Center Houston has the first booster NASA agreed to use two times to prove flight reusability. 


Today the Falcon 9 system auto aborted at 1:53 remaining on the clock. After deciding to stand down the craft is looking to launch tomorrow morning December 18, 2020. They have a three-hour launch window so hopefully, they will be able to pull off the launch. The weather while it has been cloudy is not bad so the mission should not be aborted due to that. This launch is a payload from the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO with the payload being classified due to it being a spy satellite. The booster that will be carrying it will be that particular booster's 4th mission this year alone!


Falcon Heavy

This craft is currently the most powerful in the world by a factor of two. It is not typically used and has flown only 3 times with not all boosters being recovered. With this vehicle, the center booster is a modified Falcon 9 that is strengthened and two additional Falcon 9's are strapped to it. These two boosters Falcon 9's return after liftoff and land in Flordia while the center rocket continues on before either being expended or attempted to land on a drone ship at sea. Heavy launches are naturally much more expensive with having 3 Falcon 9's in use over just a single one. The rocket is the 3rd most powerful rocket of all time actually and the most powerful in operation like I mentioned before. The two other more powerful rockets were the Saturn Rocket from NASA and Energia a rocket that was developed by the USSR but Russia has been looking at bringing it back. While the Saturn Program is well known and had quite a few missions the Energia only had two launches. The first had a software issue and the payload burned up in orbit the second was the USSR's spaceplane..... This plane was a knockoff Space Shuttle and was quickly shelved.  


The first Falcon Heavy launch was mostly done to show off as the "payload" was Elon Musk's personal Tesla which had Starman behind the wheel. The Scientific community was not very happy by this launch as it could damage or contaminate untouched worlds but it served its job for SpaceX perfectly. It has launched one satellite for ArabSat and another for the Department of Defense. This rocket while initially designed to transport people beyond LEO is no longer pursuing that path as that will be Starship's job. It is for launching a non-human payload into either LEO, the payload can be much much heavier than a regular Falcon 9, or payloads to either higher orbits/out of orbit towards another planet. CUrrenlty the next launch is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021 but no firm date has been announced yet. 



The newest SpaceX vehicle still under construction and going through testing. While the details for this are evolving at this moment this is the future workhorse to perform Elon's goal of colonizing Mars. These ships interestingly enough will be one vehicle that contains everything. There will be no boosters or rockets that come off of it. A shocking part is that it will be made of stainless steel. I do not understand how this will be able to exit and reenter the atmosphere but according to the engineers and people in charge, it will. Elon also wants it to have a lot of windows as it will carry up to 100 people at a time. If the craft was able to do this it would really be in a league of its own as other countries and companies are only building spacecraft for 6 maybe 8 people max. 


There will be a variation to land on the moon as SpaceX recently advanced to the next round with its lunar lander version of Starship. From what I have heard and seen it appears to be a scared down version and not a full-blown one. Out of all of the proposals NASA selected to move forward this one was considered the longshot as it would need to be ready by 2024 and currently there are not any operational models. It also requires whole new systems to be designed, created, and tested for it. Other lands can borrow on technology from the past with Apollo but Starship is just well too unique! 


The way that testing has gone in Boca Chico, Texas allows for rapid testing with failures like the failed landing last week to be replaced within a couple of weeks. There is a whole manufacturing line of them down there in different stages of completion so when one blows up another can quickly be finished and tested to its point of failure. It is honestly a genius idea that I do not see many other companies in this area doing (Blue Origin for example). From what I have read and seen it appears SpaceX is taking a little break from the typical pace to go over all the data that they acquired with this last test. If you remember Starship was able to successfully complete its flip it was just not able to reorient and ignite the engine for landing before it hit the ground. One can easily guess they have tons and tons of data to comb through and the holidays are rapidly approaching. It would not surprise me to see it be the beginning of the New Year before the test another but honestly knowing SpaceX they will start testing another tomorrow....


Recently Announced Dragon XL

Not a lot is really known about this Dragon variation as it was only announced back in March. It is supposed to be fired upon a Falcon Heavy and dock with the planned Lunar Gateway orbiting the moon. It is designed to be able to stay at the Gateway for 6-12 months and carry both pressurized and unpressurized payloads. Thus far Dragon XL will not carry people but rather cargo that will be needed. It will also be able to return to Earth to return future samples from Gateway. The payloads will also be able to be operated remotely. This is especially important because it can be remotely operated when there is no crew on the Lunar Gateway thus possibly being able to help build it and supply it before crews arrive.

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Graduated from Texas A&M in May of 2020 had dabbled in crypto since 2017 but dove in at the end of 2019. December of 2020 packed up and moved to D.C.! Huge sports fan, space nerd, and international newsreader! Follow me on Twitter @Cje95_

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