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SpaceX says Falcon 9 rocket test fire is a success

• Reuters
Space Exploration Technologies successfully test fired its Falcon 9 rocket this weekend, clearing a milestone toward the inaugural flight of a privately developed spaceship to fly cargo, and possibly astronauts, into orbit, the company said.

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Comment by Powell Gammill
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Orbital, apparently not to be outdone by SpaceX released this today: 


-- Russian Tests of Heritage NK-33 Rocket Engine Confirm Performance and
Durability --

-- Engine Completes Two Times Normal Firing Duration of a Taurus II Launch
Profile --

(Dulles, VA 15 March 2010) -- Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) and
Aerojet, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, along with Aerojet's Russian
partner, United Engine Corporation/SNTK, announced today that a series of
NK-33 rocket engine tests conducted in Samara, Russia, were successfully
completed last week in support of the development of Orbital's Taurus® II
space launch vehicle. The purpose of the extended-time testing of the
NK-33 engine, on which the AJ26 first-stage engine for the Taurus II rocket
is based, was to demonstrate a "hot-fire" duration equal to two times a
normal Taurus II acceptance testing and launch profile duty cycle. Over
the last two weeks, three tests were conducted by SNTK with a cumulative
duration of more than 600 seconds. These tests verified the significant
technical margins on engine performance and durability required by
Orbital's Taurus II development program.

"The success of the NK-33 engine tests in Russia is an important step
forward in the development of the Taurus II rocket," said Mr. Ron Grabe,
Orbital's Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Launch
Systems Group. "With the performance of the heritage engine now confirmed
and well understood, we can move forward with confidence to configuration
verification and acceptance testing of AJ26 engines at NASA's Stennis Space
Center in Mississippi beginning in April."

Aerojet is the provider of the AJ26/NK-33 rocket engine for the first stage
of the Taurus II launcher. The basic NK-33 engine was originally designed
and produced in Russia for the Russian N1 lunar launch vehicle. Aerojet
subsequently purchased approximately 40 of the basic NK-33 engines in the
mid-1990s and, under contract with Orbital, the company is currently
modifying the engines specifically for the Taurus II launch vehicle.

Aerojet's Vice President for Space Programs, Ms. Julie Van Kleeck, said,
"Completing the margin testing is a significant milestone in Aerojet's
contract with Orbital. This success demonstrates the engine's robust
design and its ability to operate at the power levels and duration times
compatible with the Taurus II flight profile with additional performance

Orbital and Aerojet are scheduled to begin ground testing of the AJ26
engine at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in less than two
months. The U.S.-based testing will validate the Taurus II specific engine
configuration and continue to build on the extensive engine database that
includes more than 17 years of development testing, encompassing
approximately 1,500 engine-level tests totaling 194,000 seconds of firing
duration. After the design verification tests are completed at Stennis,
regular production acceptance testing will be initiated, paving the way to
the first flights of the Taurus II rocket in 2011.

About the AJ26 Rocket Engine

The AJ26 is a commercial derivative of the NK-33 engine that was first
developed for the Russian rocket that would have taken cosmonauts to the
moon. As the world's first oxidizer-rich, staged-combustion,
oxygen/kerosene rocket engine, it achieves very high performance in a
lightweight, compact package. Aerojet has been developing design
modifications to make the engine suitable for commercial launchers since
the mid-1990's.

About the Taurus II Launch Vehicle
Orbital is developing the Taurus II medium-class space launch vehicle to
boost payloads into a variety of low Earth and geosynchronous transfer
orbits and to Earth escape trajectories. Taurus II incorporates proven
technologies from the company's Pegasus®, Taurus and Minotaur rockets, and
is supported by a "best-in-class" network of suppliers from the U.S. and
around the world.
The Taurus II program currently has a backlog of nine launches, beginning
with the demonstration flight in 2011 for the Commercial Orbital
Transportation Services (COTS) project, a joint research and development
effort with NASA to develop a system capable of safely and reliably
supplying the International Space Station (ISS) with essential cargo.
Orbital is also under contract with NASA for the Commercial Resupply
Services (CRS) program with an eight-mission, $1.9 billion agreement to
deliver cargo to the ISS from 2011 through 2015.
In addition to its work with NASA on the COTS and CRS programs, Orbital is
also offering the Taurus II rocket to U.S. civil government and military
customers for dedicated launch services for medium-class scientific and
national security satellites. From its Wallops Island, Virginia, launch
site, Taurus II will be capable of supporting mid-inclination and polar
orbiting spacecraft weighing approximately 10,500 lbs. and 5,500 lbs.,

About Aerojet

Aerojet is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader principally
serving the missile and space propulsion, defense and armaments markets.
GenCorp is a leading technology-based manufacturer of aerospace and defense
products and systems with a real estate segment that includes activities
related to the entitlement, sale, and leasing of the company's excess real
estate assets. Additional information about Aerojet and GenCorp can be
obtained by visiting the companies' web sites at and

About Orbital

Orbital develops and manufactures small- and medium-class rockets and space
systems for commercial, military and civil government customers. The
company's primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including
low-Earth orbit, geosynchronous-Earth orbit and planetary exploration
spacecraft for communications, remote sensing, scientific and defense
missions; human-rated space systems for Earth-orbit, lunar and other
missions; ground- and air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into
orbit; and missile defense systems that are used as interceptor and target
vehicles. Orbital also provides satellite subsystems and space-related
technical services to U.S. Government agencies and laboratories.

More information about Orbital can be found at

# # #

Notes to Editors:

Downloadable images of Aerojet's AJ26 engine can be found at:

Downloadable images of Orbital's Taurus II rocket can be found at:

Comment by Powell Gammill
Entered on:

SpaceX Logo


Thursday, March 11, 2010

On Tuesday, March 9th, SpaceX performed our first Static Fire for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. We counted down to T-2 seconds and aborted on Spin Start (the process that fires the engines). Given that this was our first abort event on this pad, we decided to scrub for the day get a good look at the rocket before trying again.

The problem was pretty simple: our autostart sequence didn't issue the command to actuate (trigger) the ground side isolation valve to open. The ground side isolation valve releases ground-supplied high pressure helium to start the first stage engine turbopumps spinning at several thousand rpm. That generates enough pressure to start the gas generator, which is a small rocket engine that powers the turbopump. There are no vehicle side valves actuated for spin start (just check valves), so it is an all engines or none situation.

Ignition fluid flowing to the engines creating the green flame shown in this photo.

Ignition fluid (TEA-TEB) flowed nominally to all engines creating the green flame and the main valves opened, but no engines actually started and the system automatically aborted on lack of spin. The fire generated was from flushing the system of fuel and LOX from the open mains. No damage to the vehicle or ground systems and no other anomalies that need to be addressed.

Fire generated from the flushing of fuel and LOX, but no engines actually started.

We tested everything on the vehicle side exhaustively in Texas, but didn't have this iso valve on our test stand there. Definitely a lesson learned to make sure that *everything* is the same between test stand and launch pad on the ground side, not just on the vehicle side.

Despite the abort, we completed pad preps on time and with good execution. The integrated countdown with the range included holdfire checks, S- band telemetry, C-band, and Flight Termination System (FTS) simulated checks. We completed helium, liquid oxygen (LOX), and fuel loads to within tenths of a percent of T-zero conditions. Tanks pressed nominally and we passed all Terminal count, flight software, and ground software abort checks right down to T-2 seconds.

We detanked and safed the vehicle and launch pad. Preliminary review shows all other systems required to reach full ignition were within specification. All other pad systems worked nominally.

It is important to appreciate that what we are going through right now is the equivalent of “beta testing”. Problems are expected to occur, as they have throughout the development phase. The beta phase only ends when a rocket has done at least one, but arguably two or three consecutive flights to orbit.

Extreme weather at the Cape preventing additional static fire attempts

Right now, we are holding due to extreme weather. It is raining sideways at 46 mph and tornados have been spotted just north of the Cape. If all goes well, we will try the static fire again in the next few days.