Is it a natural disaster? Is it the apocalypse? Not to worry – it’s SpaceX!
Waco is home to the only development facility of privately owned spacecraft company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX. Once parts for rockets and space craft are engineered and maufactured at other SpaceX locations around the country, Waco is the place they are sent to be tested before they are sent to a different SpaceX location to be launched, said Jeff Van Treuren, the test director at the Waco facility.
SpaceX is the only American company that can take cargo both to and from the International Space Station, Van Treuren said. SpaceX often works closely with NASA.
Recently SpaceX in Waco has been testing the vertical takeoff and landing of rocket Grasshopper, Van Treuren said.
“Here in Texas we’ll lift that thing off and land it a couple of times a month, even, ” Van Treuren said. “As far as actually sending stuff into space, I think we will launch at least three times this year.”
The goal for SpaceX with the Grasshopper is to make the first stage vehicle section of the rocket reusable, where the capsule is not the only part of the rocket that returns to Earth, Van Treuren said.
Another project of SpaceX is a rocket called the Falcon 9. The Falcon 9 is a payload to orbit. Instead of being used for commercial space tourism, it hauls cargo into orbit, such as to get items to the International Space Station, Van Treuren said. According to SpaceX’s website, the Falcon 9, named after the Millenium Falcon from the Star Wars movies, was designed for maximum reliability.
“Falcon 9 features a simple two-stage design to minimize the number of stage separations, ” the website states. “Historically, the main causes of launch failures have been stage separations and engine failures. With nine engines on the first stage, it can safely complete its mission even in the event of a first-stage engine failure.”
SpaceX has launched the Falcon 9 six times and all launches were successful, he said.
The most recent launch of the Falcon 9 was an upgraded version of the rocket, Van Treuren said. The engines and tanks were upgraded, as well as storage capacity.
The next step of the project with Falcon 9 is to get it man rated which means for it to be suitable for manned flight.
“We are working on getting our vehicle man rated, but that’s still a couple of years out, ” Van Treuren said.
The Dragon, which carries cargo, is the space capsule portion of the Falcon 9. It flies to the International Space Station and can return and re-enter, Van Treuren said. The Dragon is what SpaceX is trying to make ready to carry people.
“The big thing there is we’ve got to deal with the launch-abort system, so we’re developing that right now, ” Van Treuren said.
SpaceX has is also developing a rocket called the Falcon Heavy, whose expected launch is in 2014, SpaceX’s website states.
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