Tag Archives: Falcon

SpaceX's Merlin rocket engines

How Does A Rocket Engine Work?

Ever wondered how rockets create all that trust to blast off into space? Queue Tom Mueller, SpaceX’s Vice President of Propulsion Development, who will tell you all about it with his narrated schematic of SpaceX‘s Merlin rocket engine here. Don’t forget to toggle the full screen option.

Of course, this engine isn’t your run of the mill rocket engine, if there is such a thing. According to Mueller this 140,000-pound-thrust Merlin 1D has the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of any rocket engine ever made, and they are made in-house! Not something that was planned originally but unworkable supplier demands and high proces meant they went for it by themselves. This decision did probably not only save the company millions in the long run but also secured SpaceX‘s status as one of the leading companies in the industry, with the technical know-how to prove it means business.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk (1971)

Billionaire genius, inventor and entrepreneur through and through, founder of companies like Tesla, Paypal and more relevant here SpaceX… who is the man they sometimes refer to as “the real Tony Stark” (aka Iron Man)?

Born in South Africa, Musk taught himself how to code and sold a game he programmed – called Blastar – when he was only 12 years old. Leaving home at 17 to avoid military service (this was during the time of the Apartheid), he ended up studying in Ontario, Canada (his mother was Canadian) for two years before pursuing business and physics at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

After completing both those degrees, Musk then moved to Silicon Valley and started a PhD at Stanford, but dropped out after two days already to start Zip2 (with his brother Kimbal) which provided online content publishing software for news organizations – it got acquired by Compaq four years later for $307 million in cash and another $34 million in stock options!

Musk once said he considered three areas he wanted to get into that were “important problems that would most affect the future of humanity”, as he said later, “One was the Internet, one was clean energy, and one was space.” So, after Zip2, he founded Paypal which changed the way we pay online. After that he founded SpaceX which is now a major player in the race for space, and bidding for NASA contracts. Then came Tesla, which might some day change (or debatably has already changed) the way we all look at our cars, and he is also the chairman and main chairholder of SolarCity… the man has no limits it seems.

Focusing on SpaceX, which he founded with $100 million of his early fortune and of which he remains its CEO and CTO, the company won a major NASA contract in the first program to entrust private companies with delivering cargo to the International Space Station. Worth between $1.6 billion and $3.1 billion, it has become a cornerstone of the Space Station‘s continued access to cargo delivery and return. But aside from cargo missions, Musk’s goal is to reduce the cost of human spaceflight by a factor of 10 and much like Stephen Hawking’s thinking wants to secure the future of the human race by “expanding life beyond this green and blue ball“.

In the coming years, Musk will focus on delivering astronauts to the International Space Station, but as he stated before, his personal goal is that of eventually enabling human exploration and settlement of Mars. At SXSW this year he joked: “I Would Like to Die on Mars, Just Not on Impact”.


Cost of Space Travel

The Cost Of Space Travel; Watch Out For Here Be Dragons…

SpaceDev, a subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corporation, is developing a very cool looking seven-seater spacecraft called Dream Chaser, designed to launch astronauts into space using the by now well-established Atlas 5 rocket. Think of the spacecraft as a mini-shuttle – it’s about four times smaller and based on designs that NASA and Russian engineers experimented with in the 80’s and 90’s, using on-board propulsion systems derived from SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motor technology – technology being designed and developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) for Scaled Composites. No word as of yet about cost for potential passengers, but the primary Dream Chaser Space System mission is to provide NASA with a safe, reliable commercially-operated transportation service for crew and cargo to the ISS and back to Earth and not just to carry out low Earth orbital flights.

Closer to reality, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) will be happy to fly you into low Earth orbit in their Dragon capsule, launched on top of their Falcon 9 rocket as soon as 2015. But as if that isn’t exciting enough yet, Elon Musk announced that he will be looking to send people to Mars for a cool half a million dollars – not too bad when you put it in perspective. It will be a trip of months, not hours at only a few times the cost of a low orbit ride. Elon Musk might truly be the real Tony Stark – where is the suit though? SpaceX confirmed in 2012 that their target launch price for crewed Dragon flights is $140,000,000 which means a solid $20,000,000 per seat if the maximum crew of 7 is aboard – still about 3 times cheaper than Soyuz but cheap it is not!

If you are looking for the feeling of weightlessness without actually becoming an astronaut and losing a fortune doing so, then there’s an astronomically cheaper option out there. Zero Gravity Corporation (also known as ZERO-G) is an American company in Virginia that offers flights aboard a cargo plane that goes into a parabolic arc. This way, it actually simulates weightlessness for its passengers, at a mere $4,950, plus tax. A flight lasts 90 to 100 minutes, and consists of fifteen parabolas, each of which simulates about 30 seconds of reduced gravity: one that simulates Martian gravity (one third of Earth’s), two that simulate Lunar gravity (one sixth of Earth’s), and 12 that simulate weightlessness. That’s value for money if you ask us!

Next time, what is Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos up to, and more!

SpaceX Dragon C2


Let’s take a closer look at SpaceX. If the fact that it was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk (aka “the real Tony Stark“) doesn’t guarantee it success (he did after all start PayPal and Tesla Motors amongst others!), the numbers do most of the talking: with nearly 50 launches on its manifest, representing more than $4 billion in contracts, SpaceX continues to push the boundaries of space technology down at 1 Rocket Road in California where their 3000 staff are headquartered.

A year ago, SpaceX successfully launched a private unmanned spaceship on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS), which made a bold statement that one of their main objectives is to offer a viable alternative to the now retired space shuttle program. With that effort, SpaceX‘s Dragon capsule became the first commercial spacecraft to attach to the space station, deliver cargo, and return to earth.

The company has this month also signed a three-year lease with Spaceport America to test their Grasshopper reusable rocket, meaning they can test at higher altitudes, as well as Sir Richard Branson having neighbours in New Mexico. Furthermore, plans are underway though for a commercial launch facility in Texas to keep the action closer to home. SpaceX is on a mission. As Elon Musk recently said at SXSW:

“I’d like to die on Mars, just not on impact”