Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Video: Can SpaceX Build A Reliable Rocket Ship? Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas
(Image: The first flight-ready Merlin engine on display at the DARPATech event in Anaheim CA, August 2007, before shipment to Texas for qualification testing. Credit: SpaceX)

While many rocket companies within the NewSpace arena focus on thrust for power or cheaper prices, it looks as if SpaceX, led by Elon Musk is seeking to build a world class, reliable rocket ship.

(SpaceX Press Release) More than anything else, the Falcon 9 design is absolutely focused on reliability. This is one of the few launch vehicles in the world designed to the higher safety and reliability standards required for manned spaceflight. Before carrying astronauts to the International Space Station, the Falcon 9 will undergo an intense NASA safety review and will be required to have far higher structural safety margins and ability to tolerate sub-system failure than are needed simply to launch satellites.

A significant advantage of the Falcon 9 is the ability to lose any engine on the first stage and still safely complete the mission, much as a Boeing 747 can lose an engine and still be ok. Like jet engines, each of our Falcon 9 Merlin engines is wrapped in a Nomex and Kevlar flak jacket, so that even a worst case fire or explosion is contained and cannot affect other engines or the stage itself. In the event of an engine failure, it just means that the first stage will fire for a little longer than would otherwise be the case.

Only time will tell whether or not SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will raise the standard within the industry. If the Falcon 9 is successful, SpaceX will probably find itself in the unique position of having too many customers desiring to launch their cargo aboard their rockets.

(Video: Merlin 1C engine firing on the vertical test stand. The blast extends dozens of feet and is ducted out to the side in a long trench. Credit: SpaceX)

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

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~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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