News Shorts: Falcon 9, Felix Baumgartner, and The Spaceship Company

Debris falls following the loss of Engine 1 during Falcon 9’s October 7 flight (Credits: SpaceX).

Falcon 9 Engine Loss Still Under Investigation

 Although no official report has been released, there is talk of Sunday’s Falcon 9 engine loss being due to a fracturing of the Merlin 1C engine’s fuel dome with the failure localized to the fractured region.  Experts are viewing Falcon 9’s ability to withstand such a severe failure as a sign of the rocket’s underlying robustness and reliability. Although Dragon is well on its way to a nominal rendezvous with the International Space Station, the ORBCOMM satellite stranded by Falcon 9’s backup trajectory is just trying to stay afloat. The satellite is attempting to circularize its orbit to avoid reentering the atmosphere as drag decreases its perigee. The satellite’s insertion point was not an accident, but the result of a preprogrammed backup launch calculation. The satellite was sacrificed to meet ISS safety protocols relating to the distance the second stage and satellite would end up from the station based on available propellant.  

Felix Baumgartner receives the call to abort at 11:42 AM MDT on October 9 (Credits: Red Bull Stratos).

Red Bull Stratos Jump Postponed

In a frustrating day for Felix Baumgartner and his Red Bull Stratos team, Baumgartner’s record breaking skydive from the stratosphere was postponed once again. The jump had already been postponed from August due to capsule damage, then from October 8 due to wind. Tuesday morning a problem with the capsule radio gummed up the works. While the radio was being fixed, winds started to pick up again. Baumgartner was actually sitting in the capsule, with the balloon being inflated when they had to abort the mission. Weather continues to look dicey over the next few days, but the team is going to try for another launch attempt on October 10.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (Credits: Virgin Galactic).

Virgin Galactic Acquires The Spaceship Company

On October 5, as quietly as possible, Virgin Galactic announced its acquisition of The Spaceship Company (TSC).

TSC was founded in 2005 as a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites. Located in the Mojave desert along side Scaled Composites, the company was tasked with building WhiteKnight Two and SpaceShip Two which Virgin will operate to fly suborbital tourists. Virgin apparently bought out Scaled Composites’ 30% share, although details of the deal are being kept undercover. While Scaled Composites has pledged to continue support of the remaining test phase for SpaceShip Two and WhiteKnight Two, there are rumors that tensions between Scaled Composites and Virgin had risen ever since the December 2011 creation of Stratolaunch Systems, a collaboration of Scaled Composites, SpaceX, and Dynetics that promised to supply Virgin’s competitors using the same basic Scaled Composites technology.

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