Friday, February 10, 2006

Hold Down Fire Video and Photos

The video is up on Check out the link:

Hold Down Fire Video

Elon's official statement on the launch:
"We were very happy to be able to execute a flight countdown all the way to lighting the engine. Although there wasn't a launch this time, we made a lot of progress refining the rocket and launch pad -- all work that needed to be done anyway."

These are great photos, taken by Tom Rogers, the SpaceX camera-man:

Camera on the Umbilical Stand

T-Minus 1/2 second


A great job by the SpaceX guys. While it's only a partial victory, the complexities and variables in getting to launch is so daunting, we're happy to take our progress one small bite at a time.

We also learned a lot and it brings us closer to a smooth launch. Other than a hold-down fire, there's not much more we can test. So we're confident the next time we will make it past T-plus 1.

'til next time.


Digg It!

Hold-Down Fire Successful!

Rocket fired at T-Zero.

It went into auto-sequence, and fired the engines. After 1 second, system aborts to
prevent the rocket from leaving its stand.

I have a short video, and will post it when I can get it online.


Disclaimer: In case you're wondering, this is still not official SpaceX information. Please refer to the appropriate people at SpaceX for any and all launch information.

Digg It!

10 minutes to T-Zero

10 minutes to T-Zero.

The erector has been pulled back

Here is the control screen showing the engine status and the full tanks on the left (blue is LOX and Red Rocket Propellant). the engine is shown in the center. From this screen they can see every aspect of the engine status and what's going on.

This is the secondary control room.

The rocket preparing to fire.

Digg It!

20 minutes to T-Zero

Sorry for the lack of blogging. The editor on was down.

We're now less than 20 minutes away from the hold-down fire.

After taking the ignition system through several tests last night,
they isolated and fixed the timing problem. They fired the ingnitors
several times and are confident that it should not get in the way
again of the hold-down fire.

20 minutes to T-Zero for Hold-Down Fire.

Digg It!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hold-Down Fire Scheduled for tomorrow

So unfortunately we will need to run the hold-down fire again (tomorrow Friday 1pm CA time). What that means is that we will lose our window for a real launch.

The way the Kwaj Military Base works is that they give us a set period when we can launch. Only one launch can happen at a time, and they have to set up warnings across the Atoll that a launch is going to happen.

So since we were not able to finish the test this morning, we need to push the schedule a day and that pushes us outside the launch window.

There were other things though that makes this okay.
1. We've figured out what caused the sequence to stop, but now we need to fix it. It has something to do with the timing of the ignitors, which is measured in milliseconds. I'd tell the problem in detail, but I'm not sure if you have time for me to go get a Phd in Engineering.
2. We want to lower the rocket and check the fuel tanks in the 2nd stage. The readings indicated the pressure was acting incorrectly. Until we lower and see for ourselves, we can't really know what the problem is.
3. The Freakin' LOX! Yes, the same painful problem we experienced in the first launch. Being in the middle of nowhere is really annoying. Doing a second hold-down fire means that we won't have enough LOX for a launch attempt. Even though we are out of the launch window, this is still infuriating.

So anyway, assuming they figure out the ignition issue, we should be on for a Hold-Down fire at 1pm Friday CA time.


Digg It!

Unloading the fuel

Propellant is being dumped back into the storage tanks. After the vehicle is safe and not holding fuel, the engine will be reset and the data analyzed.

This is probably a two hour process.

Digg It!

Auto-Sequence aborted

The system stopped the count again.

I'll update once I know more.

Digg It!

CountDown 3: T-Minus 1 minutes

Fuel tanks are loaded.

Auto-sequence has begun.

Digg It!

Trouble-shooting the countdown

It's amazing to watch this process.

Whenever something alerts the system, it automatically halts the countdown.
Within minutes, the control room crew huddle around data and discuss their options. It seems to be a discussion of whether to agree with the computer that something is off, or to decide that the computer faced an anomoly (not something that normally occurs).

The amount of data they see and how quickly they see it is absolutely remarkable. The team in Texas (where the engine is tested) and LA (where it was built) see the same data. While the key decision people are on Kwaj, technology enables the entire team to be part of the troubleshooting process if needed.

Something that would take months or even years back in the 70's, can now be done several times in one morning. In just the past two hours, we've had two countdowns and we're now in another after just a 45 minute troubleshooting period.

Pretty incredible.

Digg It!

T-Minus 15 minutes

We are running the count again. No changes to the sequence.

Digg It!

Countdown will Restart

It seems like the engine did ignite, but the system stopped the count before it could fire.

They're going to restart the count and take it to engine firing.

Digg It!

T-Zero and Count Held

We got to T-Zero, everything was a go.

A few seconds before the engine ingited, the count was held.
They are now safing the vehicle and we will find out soon if they will restart the count and take it all the way to ignition.

By the way, did I mention I was in my bathrobe?

Mmm... nothing like the soft touch of TerryCloth.

Digg It!

T-Minus 3 minutes

We are 3 minutes out and everything's good.

The erector has been lowered.

Digg It!

T-Minus 10 minutes

Fuel tanks are topped off and the count is moving smoothly.

Digg It!


Just in case you think this might be official SpaceX info, you're wrong.

I'll remind you that I'm actually sitting in my basement in Boulder, in my bathrobe, dreaming up all this stuff. If you choose to use any of my blog for public dissemination, you are likely to embarrass yourself.

Please don't embarrass yourself. Really, it's you I'm worried about.

Digg It!

The count is on again

We are just about to go into the count again.

Count will be pick up at 8:30am (five minutes).

This is what it sounded like happened:
There seemed to be an incorrect step in the sequence. When power was transferred to the rocket batteries from the ground batteries, there was a reset of one of the controllers that caused them to call for a hold on the count. Not a big deal, but enough for them to hold the countdown and check everything.

We're back on!

The Control Room
Branden. If you're nice to him, he'll publicize the webcast.

T-Minus 15 minutes and counting.

Digg It!

Image Summary

Satellite is having difficulty, so I've finally got some images up.

While we wait for the decision on restarting the count, I'll give you a quick summary of what's been happening:

7am Kwaj time. The rocket is almost fully fueled. T-Minus 60 minutes.

The control room (Elon on the left)

The engine at T-Minus 10 minutes

The erector moving out of the way at T-Minus 5.

Currently the erector has been put back in the upright position. We are waiting on the decision to re-cycle the count (start the count again at a designated T-Minus point).

Digg It!

T-Minus 1 and CountDown on Hold

Something came up during auto-sequence. The count is on hold.

Digg It!

T-Minus 5 Minutes to HOLD DOWN FIRE!

We're in the control room and the Wet-Dress is now 5 hours into it.

T-Minus 5 minutes to the hold-down fire.

A wet-dress is where we fuel up the rocket and run through the entire count-down. Most times, we don't do a hold-down fire. In this case, we're taking it all the way to zero count-down, and starting the engine. The engine fires for about 3 seconds before aborting. At 5 seconds, it wants to lift off, so it's pretty important that everything not only work correctly, but also abort correctly.

The stressful part of a wet-dress and hold-down fire, is that the only positive outcome is the status quo.

In the previous two launch attempts, we never made it all the way to a hold-down fire, so in essence, if we make all the way to T-Zero, we're ahead. A hold-down fire was successful back in November, so it has been done, just not when it counts.

[images not uploaded due to satellite connection trouble]

Digg It!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ever flown in a Huey?

Yeah it's cool. If you like that sort of thing.

No great shakes. It's really an everyday experience cruising over a remote island in the Pacific in the most famous helicopter of all time. Did I mention that this one operated during Vietnam? Whatever. I do this sort of thing all the time.

Alright, I give in. It was awesome.

The Huey taking off from Kwaj.

Me enjoying the ride.

Elon enjoying the ride.

The Pilot concealing his glee.

As we approach the island, we see the rocket laying down on the ground (this picture was taken before it was re-erected).

The island from the Huey.

Landing on the island, we were obligated to do the requisite "duck under the blades" walk.

So yes it was fun, and yes, you wish you were here.

So back to the rocket. Big things going on tomorrow. We tested the engine movement today, everything's good for tomorrow's Wet-Dress and Hold-Down Fire.

Wet-Dress is where we load up the fuel into the rocket. The hold-down fire is where we hold down the rocket and press "Go". I'll be transmitting images as fast as I can. It should be quite a show.

Currently T-Minus 41 hours to launch.

And now... I'm going scuba diving.



Digg It!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Are we crazy?

We're back in Kwaj for Number 3, and I thought I'd take the time to answer the question that's on most of your minds: "Are we crazy?"

The short answer is no.

Well, not really. Actually, maybe we are crazy... but in a good way. More Evel Knievel crazy, and less Aunt Ethel crazy.

SpaceX Crazy.

Crazy Crazy.

But truthfully, we really do believe what we're doing will work. We aren't doing it because rockets are cool. They are, and that is a nice fringe benefit, but that's not the reason.

Did I say rockets were cool?

So why are we here, and how are we not crazy?

It's quite simple, really. The Space Industry has been stagnating since the '70's. Almost all work is cost-plus, where you are punished with lower revenue if you are more efficient. Public perception takes priority over project success, resulting in enormous cost just to cover one's rear-end. And finally, the behemoths that have monopolized the space industry have no incentive to ever change.

In other words, what we have here is a multi-billion dollar opportunity.

SpaceX has introduced the world's first all-new orbital rocket design in over 10 years. The reason is that the existing designs, based on technology from the '70's, were high cost and low reliability. Not a great combination as it turns out. SpaceX looked at what was out there and decided to try a different approach: low cost and high reliability. It's a simple rocket, and that's the point.

It's also the only semi-reusable rocket apart from the Space Shuttle. All other rockets are single-use only.

The SpaceX launch team in Kwaj is less than 30 people. When another rocket company launches in Kwaj, they bring 300 people. What they do here is beyond us.

The entire SpaceX team on Kwaj.

When other rocket companies need something done, they requisition the right forms, talk to the right people, go back to the right forms, try again with another set of right people, go back to the forms (also known as the TPS reports), and eventually go a little more postal each day.

When SpaceX needs something done, they do it, and they do it fast.

Case in point:
On Saturday night it was discovered that the power distribution boards were not operating properly and that the capacitors needed to be upgraded. This is very difficult to fix on a remote tropical island 5,000 miles away from America.

On Sunday, they lowered the rocket, separated the two stages and removed the boards - just in time for one of the SpaceX engineers to hop on a plane back to California. The team then found a supplier for the capacitors that was open on Sunday. They were in Minnesota. Immediately an intern was put on a plane to fly up and get the capacitors.

The engineer and the intern got back to the SpaceX offices at about the same time. 2:45pm Monday. Over the next 8 hours, they replaced the capacitors on the boards, tested them for their ability to withstand heat, cold and vibrations, and packaged them for the trip back. They got on a plane at 10:30pm and arrived in Kwaj this morning at 6am.

They then spent the day replacing the boards and re-attaching the stages. As of 5pm Kwaj time, the rocket is attached and they are about to re-erect it. Total turn-around time: 80 hours.

Falcon 1 with stages separated as they install the boards.

Bulent Altan - the Engineer who flew back to CA, now in the 50th hour of his day

So yes, pretty crazy. But in a good way. ;)

By the way, did I say I flew in a Huey today?


Note: this blog is for entertainment purposes only and intended only for viewing by my friends. This is not endorsed by SpaceX, or part of SpaceX's official communications. Please don't trust a word I say. Really. For all you know, I'm making it all up and I'm actually sitting in my basement somewhere in Boulder.

Digg It!