Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Blue Origin recently achieved a pair of rocket milestones.
The Air Force on Jan. 25 updated the certified baseline configuration of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Launch System to Falcon 9 Upgrade, for use in National Security Space (NSS) missions, according to an Air Force statement. A Falcon 9 Upgrade was used in a commercial launch on Dec. 21, according to the Air Force.
SpaceX is eligible for award of NSS launch missions, in accordance with the updated certification letter, as one of two currently certified launch providers. United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA], is the other certified launch provider.
Blue Origin flew its New Shepard rocket to an apogee of 101.7 km and landed vertically, demonstrating reuse, according to a Jan. 22 company statement. The company said on its website it replaced the crew capsule parachutes and pyro igniters, conducted functional and avionics checkout and made several software improvements.
Blue Origin also achieved a new landing strategy that it says increases margins and improves the rocket’s ability to reject disturbances created by low-altitude winds. Rather than the vehicle landing at the exact center of the pad, it now initially targets the center, but then sets down at what Blue Origin calls a position of convenience on the pad, prioritizing vehicle attitude ahead of precise lateral positioning.
Blue Origin said this is like a pilot lining up a plane with the centerline of the runway. If the plane is a few feet off center it gets close, it doesn’t swerve at the last minute to ensure hitting the exact midpoint. The aircraft, Blue Origin said, just lands a few feet left or right of the centerline. The company said its Monte Carlo sims demonstrates the validity of this strategy.
For its own reusability efforts, SpaceX will attempt another landing on its automated drone ship after its launch mission for SES [SESG], according to an industry source. The company came close on its last attempt, hitting the target before the rocket tipped over and exploded.