The flights are for a mix of commercial and government customers, and the manifest is dominated by launches for NASA and Iridium, a mobile communications satellite operator.
Spacex has made modifications to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.
Musk: The extension to the existing hangar is for payload processing and it’s also for Falcon 9 version 1.1, which is longer. It’s about 50 percent longer than version 1. We need a little bit of extra length and some extra facilities for the satellites that are coming.
NOTE: Falcon 9 v1.1 is an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 rocket with more powerful Merlin 1D engines and lengthened propellant tanks. It will also be the core for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, a colossal booster formed from three first stages strapped together. Falcon Heavy’s first test launch is expected as soon as mid-2013.
Question: When will the first Falcon 9 v1.1 fly?
Musk: We’ll certainly be vertical on the pad at Vandenberg [Air Force Base in California] by the end of the year. Launch could be early next year. The launch date depends on how the final phase of testing goes for the next-generation Falcon 9.
Question: What payloads will fly on Falcon 9 v1.1?
Musk: The next version of Falcon 9 will be used for everything. The last flight of version 1.0 will be Flight 5. All future missions after Flight 5 will be v1.1. We’ve got this mission, which is Flight 3. And we’ve two CRS [Commercial Resupply Services] missions, Flight 4 and Flight 5, which will fly Version 1.0. Then all future missions, CRS or otherwise, will fly Version 1.1.
Question: How many employees are you at now?
Musk: A little more than 1,800.
Question: As your business expands with potential crew flights, reusability, flyback and vertical landing of Falcon stages, trips to Mars, etc., do you foresee accelerating hiring?
Musk: We expect to continue hiring at a high rate at SpaceX. We’ve grown on average about 30 percent a year. We might not continue growing at that level, but I expect to continue growing at 15 percent or 20 percent per year. We’ll be hiring hundreds of employees every year. That’s my expectation.
Question: You believe that hiring rate will be sufficient for your business?
Question: What missions will you be doing in 10 years?
Musk: Our goal is to revolutionize space transport. So we’ll be doing every kind of space transport, except for suborbital. We’ll launch satellites of all shapes and sizes, servicing the space station with cargo and crew, and then the long term objective is to develop a space transport system that will enable humanity to become a multi-planet species.
Question: When do you expect a first manned flight to Mars?
Musk: I think it’s probably around 15 years from now. I think the best case is 10 years, and the worst case is 20 years.
Report on the Falcon Heavy, Merlin D and Future Falcon 9
On April 5, 2011, SpaceX announced that it would develop a triple-body Falcon Heavy powered by an upgraded engine named Merlin 1D. Each of the rocket’s 27 Merlin 1D engines would produce 63.5 tonnes thrust at sea level, nearly 1.5 times more than the Merlin 1C engines that powered the first two Falcon 9 rockets. Using the new engines, combined with propellant crossfeeding from the twin boosters to the central core, Falcon Heavy would be able to lift a surprising 53 tonnes to LEO, 19 tonnes to GTO, or 13.6 tonnes toward Mars. Plans called for the first Falcon Heavy to fly a demonstration mission in 2013 from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 4 East, the former Titan 4 pad.
SpaceX also divulged plans for a two-stage Falcon 9 powered by nine Merlin 1D engines. This Falcon 9, substantially more capable than either Falcon 9 Block 1 or Block 2, would be able to lift 16 tonnes to LEO or 5 tonnes to GTO, would stand 69.2 meters, and would weigh 480 tonnes at liftoff. The company continued to show Falcon 9 Block 2 as the baseline in its Payload Users Guide.
On April 25, 2011, Elon Musk, in a Space News interview, confirmed that Falcon Heavy would use a “stretched” Falcon 9 stage augmented by two additional “first stages”. He stated that Merlin 1D would fly in mid-2012 on a Falcon 9 mission, most likely on the seventh flight of the rocket. Mr. Musk described how the Merlin 1D combustion chamber is being explosively formed, streamlining the production process. He noted that a fully integrated Merlin 1D was already being test-fired.
During the August 2011 Joint Propulsion Conference, SpaceX VP of Propulsion Tom Mueller said that the Merlin 1D test engine had demonstrated a thrust to weight ratio greater than 160:1 and a vacuum specific impulse greater than 309 seconds.
Design details of Falcon Heavy, and of Merlin 1D performance, have not been divulged. In order to achieve the payload capability claimed by SpaceX, the new rocket engine will have to provide improved specific impulse and the stages will have to provide very high propellant mass ratios. SpaceX claimed that the two “first stage” strap-on units will achieve a 30 to 1 gross mass to dry mass ratio, implying an unprecedented propellant mass fraction of better than 0.966.
Spacex Falcon Heavy
Falcon 9 Block 1 and Falcon 9 v1.1 Comparison
On May 14, 2012, NASA announced that it had modified its Launch Services (NLS) II contract with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) by adding a new “Falcon 9 v1.1” variant to the program. The modification allowed SpaceX to offer “Falcon 9 v1.1” in competition for future launch contracts.
An image of “Falcon 9 v1.1” was provided during a presentation made on March 9, 2012 by Jeffrey White, an Iridium Director. The image showed a stretched Falcon 9, with both stages stretched. It also showed, compared to Falcon 9 Block 1, shortened interstage and propulsion sections. The bigger rocket appeared to be outfitted with Merlin 1D engines, possibly in a rearranged configuration.
By appearances, “Falcon 9 v1.1” represents an improvement over the long-expected “Falcon 9 Block 2” that, originally, was to be powered by improved Merlin 1C engines. The SpaceX user’s guide continued to show outmoded “Block 2” performance data as of May 14, 2012.
The Merlin 1D powered “Falcon 9 v1.1” is likely the building block for the company’s announced Falcon Heavy, but “v1.1” should also be a substantial performer in its own right, pushing deep into EELV payload territory. Falcon 9 v1.1 will likely premier at Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 4 East during 2013. During a May 18, 2012 interview, Elon Musk said that all Falcon 9 rockets after the first five would be 1.1 versions. He also referred to the original Falcon 9 as “v1.0”. An extension of the Cape Canaveral SLC 40 Hanger was underway during May, 2012 to accomodate the longer rocket.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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