The launch of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle of the v1.2 modification took place on 22 on December 10 at 01: 29 GMT from the launch site SLC-40 of the launch site at Cape Canaveral. Onboard the rocket were 11 satellites of the Orbcomm-G2 series. According to reports, the launch took place in the normal mode. The first stage brought the rocket to a predetermined height, after which it separated and returned to the corresponding site of the cosmodrome. The second stage after this put the payload into an orbit of height 620x640 km. It should be noted that successful launches of Falcon 9 rockets with payload, including in the form of layouts, have been carried out since 2010, however, this time, for the first time, it was possible to carry out a flight according to a program that fully meets the initial requirements of the project. The main goal of the launch was to return the first stage to the ground, after which it is expected to be used for the construction of a new launch vehicle.
After 140, after launch, the first stage raised the launch vehicle to an altitude of about 72 km, while the flight speed reached 6000 km / h. After the first stage engines were disconnected and disconnected from the rest of the rocket units. In the fourth minute of the flight, the team went to the beginning of the maneuvering before returning to the ground. Three engines provided a turn of the stage to transfer to the desired path. At the ninth minute of flight, the stage began to enter the dense layers of the atmosphere, after which braking started with the help of engines. Immediately before landing, the engines again started to operate in the braking mode, while landing supports were released. After 9 mines 44 seconds after launch, the first stage of the launch vehicle successfully descended to the landing site №1 of the launch site at Cape Canaveral.
Recall, the Falcon 9 v1.2 launch vehicle is the newest modification of the family, which differs from its predecessors by a number of innovations. The main goal of the project was to ensure the return of the spent first stage at the launch of the payload to any orbits. The changes affected the design and capacity of the fuel tanks, the power elements of the first stage, etc. were strengthened. Increased performance has led to an increase in the size and weight of the rocket. Its starting mass increased to 541,3 t, and its length increased to 70 m. The payload mass remained at the same level.
The most important innovation of the Volume 1.2 project was the use of the upgraded Merlin 1D engines, differing from their predecessors by increased traction. It is noteworthy that this version of the engine develops the full thrust allowed by the design. In the case of previous engines, there was an intentional limitation of thrust. In the new configuration, nine engines of the first stage develop thrust at the level of 6806 kN at sea level, and a single engine of the second stage gives thrust of the order of 930 kN. Due to the change in thrust, the first-stage engine running time has been reduced to 162 s, the maximum second-stage engine running time is 397 s.
Over the past years, SpaceX has been working on the development of algorithms for the return and landing of the first stage. Initially, imitation landings were carried out on the water, after which the opportunity arose to begin full-fledged tests with a landing on land platforms or special sea vessels. A number of launches that allowed a payload to be put into orbit did not end with a successful landing: the first stages of the launch vehicles regularly received various damage or collapse. Only 22 December 2015 of the year managed to hold braking, descent and landing without any problems. The return stage successfully completed all the necessary maneuvering and made a soft landing at the given site.
The developer of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle is pleased with its success. The recent launch has completed the successful implementation of all the tasks and confirms the fundamental possibility of the implementation of existing plans. The SpaceX company intends not only to create the project, but also to begin full operation of the new launch vehicle. For a long time, the specialists of the development company told about the advantages of the proposed rocket architecture and the advantages of the returnable first stage. Due to the return to the ground of the first stage, equipped with nine rather complicated and expensive engines of the Merlin family, it is planned to drastically reduce the cost of launching rockets and thereby reduce the cost of delivering cargo to orbit.
According to reports, SpaceX specialists are now studying the returned first stage. The result of this study should be an assessment of the efficiency of the units and the determination of the possibility of their reuse. Further, in this way, it will be necessary to conduct one more launch, which will help to prove the possibility of re-use of the already flying stage. The exact timing of the re-launch has not yet been clarified. The next launch of the Falcon 9 rocket is planned for January next year, but it is not yet known whether it will use the already tested first stage.
The development company claims that using reusable first stages will allow a significant reduction in launch costs. The possibility of such work has not yet been confirmed by trials, but the authors of the project are looking to the future with optimism. Moreover, the approximate schedule of launches of Falcon 9 missiles with one or another payload is determined for the next few years. Along with practical launches, various studies will be carried out aimed at achieving the goals set.
As we see, before the start of full-fledged operation of launch vehicles with reusable first stages is far away. However, the first real step has already been taken towards this goal. How long it will take the whole process to master new technologies, while it is difficult to say. Real results are likely to be achieved by the end of this decade. Thus, in the very near future a real revolution could occur in the space program.
The booster carrier Falcon 9 v1.2 has so far solved the task only partially: only one successful launch has been performed with the return and the standard landing of the first stage. Nevertheless, taking into account the pace of development and implementation of the project, it is already necessary to build predictions for the future and try to predict what results for the global space program will be the appearance of a fully functional reusable rocket system. It can be assumed that the completion of the Falcon 9 project can also affect the Russian space program, which is one of the leading in the world.
In the current configuration, the Falcon 9 booster is able to put into a low reference orbit a payload weighing up to 13,15 tons. For a geo-transient orbit, this parameter is 4,85 tons. Thus, the main parameters of the latest Russian launch vehicles of a similar class or even surpass them. Given the promised reduction in launch costs, the Falcon 9 project may pose a threat to the future future of the Soyuz-2 family and light versions of the Angara.
Thus, in the foreseeable future, the main Russian launch vehicles, including the newest, will be able to maintain their positions in the market for spacecraft launch services with different parameters. In the case of a more distant prospect, the situation may look worse. With the existing characteristics and the possibility of reducing the cost of launches, the Falcon 9 rocket in the current or new versions is able to win back a certain market share, pushing out both Russian and foreign counterparts. It is possible that at a certain stage, the volume of launches of such missiles will be limited only by the production capabilities of the developer company.
Nevertheless, the Russian space program is fully capable of retaining some of the developed market sectors, as well as increasing its presence in them. At present, our country has a heavy Proton-M carrier rocket, which is capable of outputting up to 23 tons of cargo and up to 6,75 tons per GPO to NOU. In addition, a new project, Angara-A5, is being developed. A promising rocket will be able to raise at least 24 tons to a low reference orbit and to a geo-transmission one - 5,4 tons. 5 t.
The company SpaceX in parallel with the work on the medium booster Falcon 9 designs heavy systems Falcon Heavy with enhanced performance. It is argued that this rocket will be able to deliver to a low reference orbit of the order of 53 tons of cargo and up to 21,2 tons of geo-transfer. The development of the Falcon Heavy project was announced in 2011, and the first launch was originally planned for 13. In the future, the timing of the first launch, as well as the cost, has been repeatedly adjusted. At the moment, the first launch is scheduled for May 2016. The launch of 6,4 t in a geotransfer orbit is estimated at 90 million USD.
In the project of a heavy rocket it is supposed to use the groundwork for the Falcon 9, namely the structural elements returned to the ground. It is due to this that it is proposed to reduce the cost of launching and outputting various loads to certain orbits.
As part of the Falcon Heavy project, it is planned to create a launch vehicle with uniquely high performance, but so far these are only intentions that are not supported by practical results. The first prototype of a promising rocket will take off no earlier than the end of spring of next year, after which it will take some time to work out various elements of the project. As a result, the timing of the actual receipt of the stated maximum characteristics has not yet been determined. Moreover, they can significantly shift to the right due to problems at one time or another associated with the need to return some of the rocket modules.
It can be assumed that the future prospects of the Falcon program, implemented by SpaceX, do not look quite straightforward, but on the whole positive. The existing middle-class Falcon 9 rocket is already successfully coping with the delivery of cargo into orbit, although it is not notable for the success in returning the spent first stage to the ground. Of the several flights in the program of which this procedure was provided, only one ended in success. Whether it will turn out to repeat this success in the foreseeable future is still not entirely clear. Nevertheless, it is already possible to speak about the appearance of a new competitive carrier rocket, which can press other systems and take its place in the market.
As for the Falcon Heavy project, its prospects are still hazy. With the implementation of existing plans, this system is really able to win a significant market share and select orders from space agencies in other countries. However, the development of this project has not yet been completed and, apparently, it faces certain difficulties. As a consequence, the launch dates of such a rocket were repeatedly shifted, and further work will be complicated both by the design features of the heavy launch vehicle and by the requirements for returning the units with subsequent reuse.
As for the prospects of the domestic space industry in the light of the achievements of SpaceX, the situation in this area may be associated with certain problems. A promising competitor has emerged on the “space cargo” market, which is fully capable of winning a significant share of customers in the light and medium-sized spacecraft sector. In addition, this competitor intends to get a place in the heavy sector, for which he is developing a corresponding rocket.
Fortunately for domestic and foreign companies in the space industry, during the struggle for the market, SpaceX will have to face many competitors in the face of recognized market leaders from Russia, the USA and Europe. Therefore, the struggle for the market is unlikely to be easy, and this will affect both the medium and heavy sectors. In addition, we should not forget that not all the main problems have been solved yet, because of which the Falcon program does not yet have any planned advantages over competitors.
Nevertheless, despite all the issues of market division, it must be admitted that the recent launch is indeed a landmark event in the history of world cosmonautics. It shows that private companies in the space industry are really able not only to build new equipment, but also to solve some issues, ahead of the recognized leaders in the face of government agencies and other structures. December 22 private company managed not only to put into orbit cargo, but also to ensure the return of the first stage of the launch vehicle to the landing site. Although the future prospects of rocket technology and the market may yet be the subject of controversy, it is unlikely that anyone will disagree with the fact that a new era is beginning in the history of the space industry.
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