Falcon 9 and Dragon: Preparing for the International Space Station

August 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Over the last several months, SpaceX has been hard at work preparing for our next flight – a mission designed to demonstrate that a privately-developed space transportation system can deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has given us a Nov. 30, 2011 launch date, which should be followed nine days later by Dragon berthing at the ISS.

NASA has agreed in principle to allow SpaceX to combine all of the tests and demonstration activities that we originally proposed as two separate missions (COTS Demo 2 and COTS Demo 3) into a single mission. Furthermore, SpaceX plans to carry additional payloads aboard the Falcon 9’s second stage which will deploy after Dragon separates and is well on its way to the ISS. NASA will grant formal approval for the combined COTS missions pending resolution of any potential risks associated with these secondary payloads. Our team continues to work closely with NASA to resolve all questions and concerns.

This next mission represents a huge milestone not only for SpaceX, but also for NASA and the US space program. When the astronauts stationed on the ISS open the hatch and enter the Dragon spacecraft for the first time, it will mark the beginning of a new era in space travel.

Through continued private-public partnerships like the one that helped develop the Falcon 9 and Dragon system, commercial companies will transform the way we access space. Together, government and the private sector can simultaneously increase the reliability, safety and frequency of space travel, while greatly reducing the costs.

The update below highlights our recent progress towards the combined C2/C3 mission and missions beyond. From the 1,500 team members here at SpaceX, thank you for your continued support, and for joining us in this exciting, vital adventure.

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The Week At SpaceX

August 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

This week, we successfully completed a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) for the Falcon 9 Flight 3 launch vehicle at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The WDR is a significant test during which we load propellant into the vehicle and perform all operations just as we would on launch day right down to T-1 seconds, at which point we abort and detank the propellant.

Photo: Kyle Cothern / SpaceX

Since our last flight, we have made significant upgrades to the launch pad to streamline the countdown. For example, we installed new liquid oxygen (LOX) pumps that reduced our previous loading time from 90 minutes to under 30. Improvements like this are getting us closer to our long term goal of Falcon 9 going from hangar to liftoff in under an hour. This is no easy task for a vehicle with about the same takeoff weight as a fully loaded Boeing 747, but if a 747 can do it reliably day after day, then Falcon 9 can too.

Photo: Roger Gilbertson / SpaceX

In a SpaceX clean room shown above in Hawthorne (Los Angeles) California, technicians prepare the Dragon spacecraft for thermal vacuum chamber testing. The open bays will hold the parachutes. NASA has given us a launch date of Nov 30, 2011 for Falcon 9 Flight 3, which will send a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

Photo: SpaceX

Also in Hawthorne, we have conducted separation tests of the Dragon trunk from the Falcon 9 second stage (shown above). Release mechanisms hold the trunk (top, with solar panel covers on left and right sides) to the stage (bottom). When activated, springs on the Falcon 9 push against the Dragon trunk. The trunk separates and the test fixture’s counterbalance system raises the spacecraft up and away.

Photo: SpaceX

 

In the Hawthorne factory high bay, we tested the Dragon solar array rotary actuator by hanging the full array from the ceiling. The actuator (top center) turns the entire array. In flight, the solar panels will track the sun for maximum energy capture.

Clockwise from upper left: First stage tank, with domes and barrels for the second stage; all nine Merlin engines have been individually tested in Texas and then returned to California for integration into the thrust assembly; the pressure vessel for the CRS-1 Dragon spacecraft has 10 cubic meters (350 cu ft) of interior volume; composite interstage structure that joins the stages. Photos: Roger Gilbertson / SpaceX

We are well into production with all parts (shown above) for the following launch, Falcon 9 Flight 4 and its Dragon CRS-1 spacecraft, which should be the first commercial cargo resupply mission under NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. Significant additional tooling and automation with be added to the factory, as we build towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks. Depending on demand, Dragon production is planned for a rate of one every six to eight weeks.

 

Photos: Melissa Heilman / SpaceX

Demolition work continues at Space Launch Complex 4 East, our new launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast of California. Recently, the crew dropped the big “hammerhead” overhanging structure from the legacy Titan IV Mobile Service Tower (sequence above). Removing the tower is a major step in upgrading the pad for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. We are targeting late 2012 to bring Falcon Heavy to Vandenberg for vehicle to pad integration tests and 2013 for liftoff. Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world.

Stay tuned for more updates on the combined COTS-2 and COTS-3 mission to the ISS, slated for launch on Nov 30, 2011.

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Space Adventures Planning Lunar Trip

May 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

May 5 2011

Today, Space Adventures, the only company that has provided human space missions to the global marketplace, outlined a forecast for commercial orbital spaceflight and announced details of how additional living space will be made available during the company’s planned circumlunar mission.

“As we celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Dennis Tito’s pioneering orbital spaceflight, and the seven other private spaceflight missions that have launched since, we need to stay focused on the future. As always, I remain optimistic; but, there will only be a robust market when there is more than one commercial launch provider and more than one destination for private missions in low-Earth orbit,” said Eric Anderson, Chairman of Space Adventures. “We must credit Dennis Tito for helping to create the business model for space tourism. If it were not for him, the commercial spaceflight industry would not have progressed as far as it has to date.”

As part of a market sizing exercise for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development bid, submitted on behalf of the Boeing Company, Space Adventures estimates that by 2020 approximately 140 more private individuals will have launched to orbital space. These participants would include private individuals, corporate, university and non-profit researchers, lottery winners and journalists. Destinations would include the International Space Station, commercial space stations and orbital free-flys.

“The next 10 years will be critical for the commercial spaceflight industry with new vehicles and destinations coming online,” continued Mr. Anderson. “But, in order to truly develop the industry and extend the reach of humanity over the course of time, there will need to be breakthrough discoveries made and innovative propulsion systems designed that will bring the solar system into our economic sphere of influence.”

In working towards the goal of extending private space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, Space Adventures continues to pursue its planned circumlunar mission. After consultation with Rocket Space Corporation Energia, modifications to the Soyuz TMA configuration have been agreed upon. The most important of which is the addition of a second habitation module to the Soyuz TMA lunar complex. The additional module would launch with the Block DM propulsion module and rendezvous with the Soyuz spacecraft in low-Earth orbit.

“Space Adventures will once again grace the pages of aerospace history, when the first private circumlunar mission launches. We have sold one of the two seats for this flight and anticipate that the launch will occur in 2015,” said Richard Garriott, Vice-Chairman of Space Adventures. “Having flown on the Soyuz, I can attest to how comfortable the spacecraft is, but the addition of the second habitation module will only make the flight that more enjoyable.”

Space Adventures, the company that organized the flights for the world’s first private space explorers, is headquartered in Vienna, Va. with an office in Moscow. It offers a variety of programs such as the availability today for spaceflight missions to the International Space Station and around the moon, Zero-Gravity flights, cosmonaut training, spaceflight qualification programs and reservations on future suborbital spacecraft. The company’s advisory board includes Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, Shuttle astronauts Sam Durrance, Tom Jones, Byron Lichtenberg, Norm Thagard, Kathy Thornton, Pierre Thuot, Charles Walker, and Skylab/Shuttle astronaut Owen Garriott.

 

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Why the US Can Beat China: The Facts About SpaceX Costs

May 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

by Elon Musk

Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics.

So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed.  But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.

As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them.  This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America’s commercial space industry.

Here are the facts:

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website (www.spacex.com).  We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less).  Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs.  This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today’s dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions.  This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station.  If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference.  (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.)

The total company expenditures since being founded in 2002 through the 2010 fiscal year were less than $800 million, which includes all the development costs for the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon.  Included in this $800 million are the costs of building launch sites at Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and Kwajalein, as well as the corporate manufacturing facility that can support up to 12 Falcon 9 and Dragon missions per year.  This total also includes the cost of five flights of Falcon 1, two flights of Falcon 9, and one up and back flight of Dragon.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle was developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and half years for just over $300 million. The Falcon 9 is an EELV class vehicle that generates roughly one million pounds of thrust (four times the maximum thrust of a Boeing 747) and carries more payload to orbit than a Delta IV Medium.

The Dragon spacecraft was developed from a blank sheet to the first demonstration flight in just over four years for about $300 million. Last year, SpaceX became the first private company, in partnership with NASA, to successfully orbit and recover a spacecraft.  The spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it were designed, manufactured and launched by American workers for an American company.  The Falcon 9/Dragon system, with the addition of a launch escape system, seats and upgraded life support, can carry seven astronauts to orbit, more than double the capacity of the Russian Soyuz, but at less than a third of the price per seat.

SpaceX has been profitable every year since 2007, despite dramatic employee growth and major infrastructure and operations investments.  We have over 40 flights on manifest representing over $3 billion in revenues.

These are the objective facts, confirmed by external auditors.  Moreover, SpaceX intends to make far more dramatic reductions in price in the long term when full launch vehicle reusability is achieved.  We will not be satisfied with our progress until we have achieved this long sought goal of the space industry.

For the first time in more than three decades, America last year began taking back international market-share in commercial satellite launch.  This remarkable turn-around was sparked by a small investment NASA made in SpaceX in 2006 as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.  A unique public-private partnership, COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor—even an all-American one—can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

China has the fastest growing economy in the world.  But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation.

–Elon–

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Commercial Spaceflight Federation Applauds Winners of Round Two of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program

April 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Washington, D.C., Monday, April 18, 2011 – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation congratulates NASA’s announcement today to award a total of $269 million through NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Round Two (“CCDev2”) Program.  The winners include CSF members Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX.  The Commercial Spaceflight Federation would also like to congratulate the Boeing team that includes CSF Member Bigelow Aerospace.  The awards will allow US commercial companies to achieve critical milestones on the path to achieving commercial human spaceflight capabilities, thereby enabling America to end America’s reliance on Russian vehicles to send humans to space, lower costs to the U.S. taxpayer, replace some of the capabilities of the Space Shuttle when it retires later this year, and help spur new technology innovation and job growth in the U.S. space industry.

The CCDev2 program represents the continuation of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (“COTS”) Cargo and CCDev programs, under which companies have been developing various commercial launch vehicles and spacecraft. Awards will take the form of milestone-based, fixed-price, pay-for-performance NASA investment using Space Act Agreements instead of traditional government contracts.  The program will culminate in a Commercial Crew Program in which companies will demonstrate the capability of taking NASA crews to and from the International Space Station.

“Today is a landmark day for commercial spaceflight.  This is a big step towards opening up the space frontier,” said John Gedmark, Executive Director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.  “Leveraging private investment is the only way NASA can make its dollars go farther in these times of belt tightening.  And by investing in commercial spaceflight rather than continuing to sending billions of dollars to Russia, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is creating American jobs instead of sending them abroad.”

“Today’s announcement marks a critical milestone on the path to a commercial human spaceflight sector that will lower the cost of space access and open new markets,” said Eric Anderson, Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.  “To have a large and diverse group of U.S. companies among today’s winners, including both established contractors and newer entrants, emphasizes that American industry is ready to handle the task of commercial human spaceflight—safely, affordably, and rapidly. We expect immediate job creation across the United States, including in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, and Washington state.”

Anderson added, “A major advantage of commercial spaceflight programs over traditional NASA procurements is that the CCDev program is commercially structured so that NASA pays only when performance milestones are met.  These agreements are fixed-price, milestone-based, and leverage private investment.  These companies are investing their own money alongside NASA’s money adding even more investment in the final system.  Each taxpayer dollar goes farther.”

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is pleased to congratulate:

• Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, which will receive $22 million for orbital commercial spaceflight vehicle design and development, including testing of its pusher escape system and engine testing.

• Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado, which will receive $80 million to mature the Dream Chaser human spaceflight system, focusing on multiple spacecraft items.

• SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, which flew its Dragon capsule to orbit and recovered it successfully last year, which will receive $75 million for items including launch escape system engine maturation and crew accommodation prototype development.

• The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas, whose team includes CSF member Bigelow Aerospace, which will receive $92.3 million for CST-100 crew spacecraft maturation and launch vehicle integration, focusing on multiple items including launch escape system propulsion.

About the Commercial Spaceflight Federation
The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever-higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s member companies, which include commercial spaceflight developers, operators, spaceports, suppliers, and service providers, are creating thousands of high-tech jobs nationwide, working to preserve American leadership in aerospace through technology innovation, and inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. For more information please visit www.commercialspaceflight.org or contact Executive Director John Gedmark at john@commercialspaceflight.org or at 202.349.1121.

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Rear Admiral Craig Steidle Named President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

April 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Washington, D.C., Wednesday, April 13, 2011 – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is pleased to announce that Rear Admiral Craig E. Steidle (U.S. Navy, Ret.) has been named as President, effective May 15. Admiral Steidle was approved for the position by a unanimous vote of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s board of directors and will serve full-time in this capacity working from the organization’s headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C.

Admiral Craig Steidle, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation

Admiral Steidle has a long and distinguished track record in aerospace as a former senior NASA official, flag officer, program manager, aerospace engineer, Naval aviator and combat veteran, and technology innovator.  At NASA, Adm. Steidle served as the first Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems, one of the most senior positions in the agency.  In 2004 and 2005, Adm. Steidle built the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate from the ground up into a $3 billion a year organization, personally initiating several innovative programs including efforts to foster commercial space transportation to the International Space Station, the Centennial Challenges prize program, and a far-ranging program of advanced technology development.

During his tenure at the Navy, Admiral Steidle became most well known for serving in the mid 1990’s as Director of the Joint Strike Fighter Program – the single largest Department of Defense development program in history.  As program manager, he implemented the innovative “fly-off” competition between the X-32 and X-35 prototype aircraft.  Under his command, the Joint Strike Fighter Program was awarded the David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award.  Adm. Steidle also commanded the Navy’s F/A-18 Program, naval aviation’s largest production, research and development program, as well as the largest foreign military sales program, and the Secretary of Defense presented Steidle with the Navy’s Outstanding Program Manager Award.  Earlier in his career, Adm. Steidle flew carrier night combat missions as an attack pilot during the Vietnam War and has served as a test pilot and test pilot instructor.  A graduate with merit as an aerospace engineer from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Adm. Steidle also has M.S. degrees in aerospace engineering and aeronautical systems management from Virginia Tech and the University of Southern California, respectively.  Adm. Steidle is currently a distinguished visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and serves as a consultant to the Department of Defense.

Admiral Steidle will succeed Bretton Alexander, who has served as the President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation since December of 2006.  Alexander stated, “We are incredibly fortunate to have someone of Admiral Steidle’s caliber able to devote his full-time attention to our organization.  It’s been a delight to serve the Commercial Spaceflight Federation as President these last four years, during what has truly been a time of dramatic change for the space industry.  Commercial spaceflight is now the law of the land and will be the primary way NASA gets astronauts to and from the International Space Station.  This robust partnership between NASA and U.S. industry will transform human spaceflight, providing the opportunity for all people – not just government astronauts – to one day travel into space.  Membership in the Federation has grown from under 10 companies when I joined to over 40 now, providing a strong foundation for our members to work together to open spaceflight to all.  Admiral Steidle’s vision for commercial spaceflight while at NASA convinced me then that this was truly the space program of the future, and I can think of no better person to lead this effort moving forward.”

Eric Anderson, Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and CEO of Space Adventures, Ltd., stated, “We could not have found a more qualified candidate to lead the Commercial Spaceflight Federation than Admiral Steidle.  He is a true visionary who knows that commercial spaceflight is the key to unlocking humanity’s future in space, and he is a proven manager and engineer who understands what is necessary to make our dream of becoming a true space-faring people a reality.”  Anderson added, “Bretton Alexander has done an outstanding job leading the organization during a critical period of dramatic industry and policy changes, operating under very limited resources, and we look forward to building on his record of success.”

Admiral Steidle stated, “It is an honor to be selected as President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.  The commercial space industry truly represents the future of America in space, and I’m excited to be a part of it.  This industry is inspiring kids, keeping America economically competitive, creating thousands of jobs, and ensuring our leadership in space.  It is a privilege to lead the Federation as we embark on the grandest adventure of the 21st century: opening up space to everyone.”

Admiral Steidle added, “The commercial spaceflight industry encapsulates all that is best about American entrepreneurship – the Wright Brothers’ can-do attitude, Thomas Edison’s penchant for innovation, the job creation fostered by a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, and the youthful excitement of Google and Facebook.  America badly needs commercial spaceflight to succeed.  What could be more motivating to our nation’s youth than a good-news story about job creation, entrepreneurship, inspiration, and old-fashioned can-do spirit?”

About the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever-higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s member companies, which include commercial spaceflight developers, operators, spaceports, suppliers, and service providers, are creating thousands of high-tech jobs nationwide, working to preserve American leadership in aerospace through technology innovation, and inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. For more information please visit www.commercialspaceflight.org or contact Executive Director John Gedmark at john@commercialspaceflight.org or at 202.349.1121.

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SpaceX Announces Launch Date for the World’s Most Powerful Rocket

April 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

WASHINGTON – Today, Elon Musk, CEO and chief rocket designer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) unveiled the dramatic final specifications and launch date for the Falcon Heavy, the world’s largest rocket.

“Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions,” Musk told a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

“Falcon Heavy will arrive at our Vandenberg, California, launch complex by the end of next year, with liftoff to follow soon thereafter.  First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014.”

Musk added that with the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft weighing over 53 metric tons or 117,000 pounds to orbit, Falcon Heavy will have more than twice the performance of the Space Shuttle or Delta IV Heavy, the next most powerful vehicle, which is  operated by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

Just for perspective, 53 metric tons is more than the maximum take-off weight of a fully-loaded Boeing 737-200 with 136 passengers. In other words, Falcon Heavy can deliver the equivalent of an entire airline flight full of passengers, crew, luggage and fuel all the way to orbit.

View the launch simulation video at www.spacex.com/multimedia/videos.php?id=59 or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTwRxtmQ9IY

Falcon Heavy’s first stage will be made up of three nine-engine cores, which are used as the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.  It will be powered by SpaceX’s upgraded Merlin engines currently being tested at the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.  Falcon Heavy will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.  This is the equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747s taking off at the same time.

Above all, Falcon Heavy has been designed for extreme reliability.  Unique safety features of the Falcon 9 are preserved, such as the ability to complete its mission even if multiple engines fail. Like a commercial airliner, each engine is surrounded by a protective shell that contains a worst case situation like fire or a chamber rupture, preventing it from affecting other engines or the vehicle itself.

Anticipating potential astronaut transport needs, Falcon Heavy is also designed to meet NASA human rating standards, unlike other satellite launch vehicles.  For example, this means designing to higher structural safety margins of 40% above flight loads, rather than the 25% level of other rockets, and triple redundant avionics.

Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to do propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core, thus leaving the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate. The net effect is that Falcon Heavy achieves performance comparable to a three stage rocket, even though only the upper stage is airlit, further improving both payload performance and reliability.  Crossfeed is not required for missions below 100,000 lbs, and can be turned off if desired.

Despite being designed to higher structural margins than other rockets, the side booster stages will have a mass ratio (full of propellant vs empty) above 30, better than any vehicle of any kind in history.

Falcon Heavy, with more than twice the payload, but less than one third the cost of a Delta IV Heavy, will provide much needed relief to government and commercial budgets. In fact, Falcon Heavy at approximately $1,000 per pound to orbit, sets a new world record in affordable spaceflight.

This year, even as the Department of Defense budget was cut, the EELV launch program, which includes the Delta IV, still saw a thirty percent increase.

The 2012 budget for four Air Force launches is $1.74B, which is an average of $435M per launch. Falcon 9 is offered on the commercial market for $50-60M and Falcon Heavy is offered for $80-$125M. Unlike our competitors, this price includes all non-recurring development costs and on-orbit delivery of an agreed upon mission. For government missions, NASA has added mission assurance and additional services to the Falcon 9 for less than $20M.

Vehicle Overview

Mass to Orbit (200 km, 28.5 deg):      53 metric tons (117,000 lbs)
Length:                                                        69.2 meters (227 ft)
Max Stage Width:                                       5.2 m (17 ft)
Total Width:                                                11.6 meters (38 ft)
Weight at Liftoff:                                 1,400 metric tons or 3.1 million lbs
Thrust on Liftoff:                                 1,700 metric tons or 3.8 million lbs

Please note that Falcon Heavy should not be confused with the super heavy lift rocket program being debated by the US Congress.  That vehicle is intended to carry approximately 150 tons to orbit.  SpaceX agrees with the need to develop a vehicle of that class as the best way to conduct a large number of human missions to Mars.

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Astronaut Garrett Reisman Joins SpaceX

March 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Joining Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Team as SpaceX Prepares to Carry Astronauts

Hawthorne, CA– Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is proud to announce that NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman is joining the company as a senior engineer working on astronaut safety and mission assurance.

“We’re excited about the great team that we are building. Our talent is the key to our success. Garrett’s experience designing and using spaceflight hardware will be invaluable as we prepare the spacecraft that will carry the next generation of explorers,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Technology Officer.

Dr. Reisman will join former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox’s team in preparing SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts. In December, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully return from orbit. In the coming years, NASA will use Dragon for at least 12 cargo missions to the International Space Station, creating strong flight experience before the first manned mission.

“I am excited to help SpaceX because I care deeply about the future of human spaceflight,” said Dr. Reisman. “I see commercial spaceflight as our country’s best option for a robust and sustainable human spaceflight future.”

Beyond safety, Dr. Reisman’s experience as an operator of both American and Russian spaceflight hardware will help SpaceX in the development of human interfaces including controls, displays, seats, suits and environmental control systems.

“After the Space Shuttle’s last flight later this year, America will be dependent on our Russian partners for getting NASA astronauts to space. NASA’s commercial crew development program is our only hope for a quick, safe and affordable alternative, and SpaceX is well-positioned to lead this effort given the strength of their performance during the NASA COTS program,” said Reisman.

Both the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft have been designed from the start to one day carry astronauts.

Dr. Reisman comes to SpaceX from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration where he has served since 1998. He has flown on two Space Shuttle missions, which include launching with STS-123 and returning with the STS-124 crew, as well as flying on STS-132. During these two missions, he logged over 3 months in space including over 21 hours of extravehicular activity (EVA) in 3 spacewalks. Dr. Reisman served with both the Expedition-16 and the Expedition-17 crews as a Flight Engineer aboard the International Space Station. Early in his time at NASA he was assigned to the Astronaut Office Robotics Branch, worked in the Astronaut Office Advanced Vehicles Branch, and was a crewmember on NEEMO V in 2003, living on the bottom of the sea in the Aquarius habitat for two weeks.

Dr. Reisman holds a B.S. in Economics and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics from the University of Pennsylvania, a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology. He is an FAA Certified Flight Instructor. Dr. Reisman is from Parsippany, New Jersey.

Astronaut Garrett Reisman joins SpaceX as a senior engineer working on astronaut safety and mission assurance

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Conservative, Free-Market Leaders Call for Competitive Market in U.S. Spaceflight

February 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Competitive Space Task Force Unveils Framework for American Leadership, Innovation in Emerging Space Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 8, 2011 – The Competitive Space Task Force, a coalition of fiscal conservatives and free-market leaders, unveiled today its strategy for creating a free and competitive market for spaceflight and space services enabling the country to recapture the imagination and innovation of America’s space program and foster a new entrepreneurial spirit in the emerging Space Economy. The Task Force unveiled its core strategy and principles today at a press conference in the hearing room of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Retired Congressman and former Chairman of the House Science Committee Robert S. Walker remarked, “The Space Economy is emerging as the next great frontier for economic expansion and U.S. leadership. If we really want to ‘win the future’, we cannot abandon our commitment to space exploration and human spaceflight. The fastest path to space is not through Moscow, but through the American entrepreneur.”

In recent years, between the long-planned retirement of the Space Shuttle and the cancellation of Constellation and NASA’s troubled Ares rocket program, the U.S. has grown increasingly reliant on the Russian Soyuz for transportation to and from the International Space Station costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over just the next few years.

Rather than funding the Russian space program, the U.S. could be creating jobs at home by relying instead on America’s private space industry. America’s dependence on the Russian program is complicated by our foreign policy as we seek to discourage the Russians from aiding U.S. adversaries in the development of nuclear weaponry and missile technology.

Said Rand Simberg, Chairman of the Competitive Space Task Force, “America cannot simply sit in the passenger seat and expect to lead. We need to pilot the ship. We need to lead the way.”

According to the Task Force, an open and free market for both space transportation and services would fuel innovation, lower costs and create jobs. Recommendations to Congress include:

  • Accelerating efforts to stimulate new American industrial competitive crew transportation systems to low Earth orbit;
  • Opening up the U.S. segment of the International Space Station to the fullest possible economic utilization by the U.S. private sector;
  • Utilizing fixed-price, pay-for-performance contracts to reward private investment and innovation in human exploration and spaceflight projects;
  • And dramatically reducing the costs of NASA programs while opening up new commercial opportunities for private business in space.

The flawed assumption in the management of America’s space program, according to Task Force leaders, is that centralized five and ten-year plans through cost-plus contracts to selected contractors is the most efficient way to innovate and compete with the global space community. While the Task Force acknowledges this approach worked for the Apollo program, they point to recent successes and innovation in commercial space transportation, increased international competition and the limitations on government funding as catalysts for a new decentralized and entrepreneurial approach.

Said Simberg, “Government can and should create a framework for American industry and individuals to pursue their ideals and dreams, and space should be no exception. By opening space up to the American people and their enterprises, NASA can ignite an economic, technological, and innovation renaissance, and the United States will regain its rightful place as the world leader in space.”

About Competitive Space Task Force

Competitive Space Task Force (“CSTF”) is a coalition of leading conservative and free-market thinkers from organizations committed to creating a free and competitive market for U.S. spaceflight and space services, reducing government waste at NASA, and reclaiming America’s proud legacy of achievement in human spaceflight and technology innovation. Members of the Task Force include the Honorable Robert Walker; Competitive Enterprise Institute; Citizens Against Government Waste; TechFreedom; Andrew Langer, Institute for Liberty; Robert Poole, Reason Foundation; Ed Hudgins, The Atlas Society; and James Muncy, Space Frontier Foundation. Rand Simberg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute serves as Chairman of the Task Force.

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Astrobotics: First Iteration of Rover Solar Array

January 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

From the Google Lunar X Prize site, comes this update from the Astrobotics team. And if you’re not familiar with this outfit, you’ll want to read the June 23, 2010 STN post titled The Undiscovered Country. Led by “Red” Whittaker of the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, they’ve got the best lunar exploration plan I’ve seen to date.

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Our power systems team reached a major milestone by integrating a full complement of four solar panels into the rover’s avionics. These solar panels, which were fabricated in house, provide power to the rover’s electric motors and computers during field tests. A second iteration of the rover solar array is in development; this next iteration will incorporate space rated materials and be flight worthy.

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Taking the Next Step: Commercial Crew Development Round 2

January 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

December 8th 2010 marked an incredible accomplishment for SpaceX.  As most of you know, we became the first commercial company to successfully recover a spacecraft from Earth orbit.  This is a feat previously only accomplished by six other nations/government agencies, and was made possible only through our ongoing partnership with NASA.

While the flight was a significant technical achievement for SpaceX as a company, it was probably most significant for the American taxpayer.  The United States has an urgent, critical need for commercial human spaceflight.  After the Space Shuttle retires next year, NASA will be totally dependent on the Russian Soyuz to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station for a price of over $50 million per seat.

The December 8 COTS Demo 1 flight demonstrated SpaceX is prepared to meet this need–and at less than half the cost.

We believe the now flight-proven Falcon 9 and Dragon architecture is the safest path to crew transportation capability.  Both vehicles were designed from the beginning to transport astronauts.  The cargo version of the Dragon spacecraft will be capable of carrying crew with only three key modifications:  a launch abort system, environmental controls and seats.

In addition to last month’s successful demonstration, SpaceX recently took another critical next step towards the development of an American alternative to the Russian Soyuz.  On December 13th, we submitted our proposal to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev2) to begin work on preparing Dragon to carry astronauts.  The primary focus of our CCDev2 proposal is the launch abort system.  Using our experience with NASA’s COTS office as a guide, we have proposed implementing the crew-related elements of Dragon’s design with specific hardware milestones, which will provide NASA with regular, demonstrated progress including:

  • initial design of abort engine and crew accommodations;
  • static fire testing of the launch abort system engines; and
  • prototype evaluations by NASA crew for seats, control panels and cabin

SpaceX has proposed an integrated launch abort system design, which has several advantages over the tractor tower approaches used by all prior vehicles:

  • Provides escape capability all the way to orbit versus a tractor system , which is so heavy it must be dumped about four minutes after liftoff.
  • Improves crew safety, as it does not require a separation event, whereas any non-integral system (tractor or pusher), must be dumped on every mission for the astronauts to survive.
  • Reduces cost since the escape system returns with the spacecraft.
  • Enables superior landing capabilities since the escape engines can potentially be used for a precise land landing of Dragon under rocket power.  (An emergency chute will always be retained as a backup system for maximum safety.)

Click here to view the video.

While the maximum reliability is designed into our vehicles, there is no substitute for recent, relevant flight experience when it comes to demonstrating flight safety.  The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to fly at least 11 more times and the Falcon 9 launch vehicle is scheduled to fly 17 times before the first Dragon crew flight.  Given the extensive manifest of Falcon 9 and Dragon, the SpaceX system will mature before most other systems will be developed.

The inaugural flight of the Dragon spacecraft confirmed what we have always believed—the responsiveness and ingenuity of the private sector, combined with the guidance, support and insight of the US government, can deliver an American spaceflight program that is achievable, sustainable and affordable.  The SpaceX team is excited about the new opportunities and challenges the New Year will bring.   Thank you for your ongoing support and we look forward to helping build America’s future space program.

Illustration of Dragon spacecraft in orbit. Credit SpaceX.

Photo of actual Dragon spacecraft after its first successful orbital flight. Credit: Mike Altenhofen / SpaceX

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Space Adventures Concludes Agreement to Offer Commercial Spaceflight Opportunities to the International Space Station

January 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Three seats available beginning in 2013

January 12 2011

Space Adventures, the only company that has provided human space mission opportunities to the world marketplace, announced today the conclusion of an agreement with the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation (FSA) and Rocket Space Corporation Energia (RSC Energia) to commercially offer three seats on the Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS), beginning in 2013.

These seats will be made available through the increase of Soyuz production, from four to five spacecraft per year. Each flight will be short duration, approximately 10 days, and will contribute to the increase of launch capacity to the ISS.

“We are extremely excited to announce this agreement and would like to thank our Russian partners in increasing Soyuz production and providing Space Adventures these well sought-after transportation services on the only commercially available manned spacecraft currently in operation,” said Eric Anderson, Chairman of Space Adventures. “Since Guy Laliberte’s mission, there has been an increase of interest by private individuals, organizations and commercial entities seeking ways to access the space station. We have been speaking with these parties about science, education and multi-media programs and hope to make some major announcements in the coming year.”

Space Adventures became world-renowned 10 years ago with the launch of Dennis Tito, the world’s first privately-funded space explorer. Since then, the company has arranged seven additional missions to the ISS. Cumulatively, our clients have spent almost three months in space, traveling over 36 million miles, and have been true ambassadors in sharing their experience and explaining to millions of people around the world why it’s important to explore space,” continued Mr. Anderson.

“We are very pleased to continue space tourism with Space Adventures. Also, the addition of a fifth Soyuz spacecraft to the current manifest will add flexibility and redundancy to our ISS transportation capabilities. We welcome the opportunity to increase our efforts to meet the public demand for access to space,” said Alexei Krasnov, Director of Human Spaceflight of FSA.

In support of the continued partnership between FSA, Energia and Space Adventures, Vitaly Lopota, President of RSC Energia, commented, “We were first in the space tourism marketplace and we are glad to expand our capabilities by adding a fifth Soyuz and to use these three additional opportunities for commercial flight participants, starting in 2013.”

Space Adventures, the company that organized the flights for the world’s first private space explorers, is headquartered in Vienna, Va. with an office in Moscow. It offers a variety of programs such as the availability today for spaceflight missions to the International Space Station and around the moon, Zero-Gravity flights, cosmonaut training, spaceflight qualification programs and reservations on future suborbital spacecraft. The company’s advisory board includes Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, Shuttle astronauts Sam Durrance, Tom Jones, Byron Lichtenberg, Norm Thagard, Kathy Thornton, Pierre Thuot, Charles Walker, and Skylab/Shuttle astronaut Owen Garriott.

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Space Industry Leaders and Astronauts Congratulate SpaceX on Historic Flight of Dragon Spacecraft

December 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Washington, D.C., Wednesday, December 8, 2010 – Space industry leaders, astronauts, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation are issuing the following statements following the successful launch, orbital operation, and splashdown of the Dragon capsule, a milestone in commercial spaceflight:

Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation:

“It’s a milestone on the path to realizing the first commercial human spaceflight capability. It’s historic in that it’s the beginning of a paradigm shift from a government human spaceflight architecture to one that opens up human spaceflight to the private sector.”

Mark Sirangelo, Chairman of Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems and Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation:

“On behalf of all the members of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation I would like to send our congratulations to Elon, Gwynne Shotwell and everyone working at SpaceX. The spaceflight community has received a historic piece of great news today. Years of hard work, resources and risk went into this flight and have led to this terrific achievement that stands as a door-opener for a new era in space.”

Frank DiBello, President and CEO of Space Florida:

“This flight marks another giant leap forward on the path of commercial spaceflight. Florida’s aerospace workforce can take special pride that SpaceX’s launch happened right here at the Space Coast. This success means more jobs for Florida and Floridians, and promises a vibrant commercial space capability for the nation. Florida is proud to host SpaceX for launch operations, and we look forward to many more flights of the Falcon and Dragon spacecraft as SpaceX and other commercial companies continue to create new jobs for Florida’s aerospace workforce.”

Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation:

“In NASA’s new plans for space exploration a new player has taken center stage – American capitalism and entrepreneurship – and today’s SpaceX success strengthens my hope that entrepreneurial commercial space companies will at long last remove the cost barrier that slows our exploration of the solar system.”

Eric Anderson, Chairman of Space Adventures:

“What a tremendous accomplishment for SpaceX to succeed on the first Dragon spacecraft launch attempt. We see a bright future for the commercial spaceflight industry and today was another advancement.”

Byron Lichtenberg, former Space Shuttle astronaut:

“I expect that there will be a lot more astronauts in the future because of today’s success with Dragon. Lower cost launches means more flights, which means more astronauts. We’ve only had 500 astronauts in the history of the Space Age, but I hope to see thousands more in the decades to come thanks to new spacecraft like Dragon.”

Dr. Alan Stern, former NASA Associate Administrator for Science and now Associate Vice President at the Southwest Research Institute:

“Congratulations to SpaceX on this historic achievement and giant leap forward! Falcon 9, Dragon, and similar commercial rockets and spacecraft will open up commercial spaceflight in new ways, and make NASA’s Space Station program far stronger. They’ll also someday hopefully reduce or eliminate the need to depend on Russian launchers to get NASA astronauts to and from the Station, and that’s extremely important.”

Mike Lounge, former Space Shuttle astronaut:

“This is an exciting tipping point for commercial space. It goes a long way to validate a legitimate role for private enterprise in space exploration. Congratulations to SpaceX for their successful mission!”

About the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever-higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s member companies, which include commercial spaceflight developers, operators, spaceports, suppliers, and service providers, are creating thousands of high-tech jobs nationwide, working to preserve American leadership in aerospace through technology innovation, and inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. For more information please visit www.commercialspaceflight.org or contact Executive Director John Gedmark at john@commercialspaceflight.org or at 202.349.1121.

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FAA Awards SpaceX First Ever Commercial License to Re-Enter Spacecraft from Orbit

November 23, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Hawthorne, CA – Since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation was created in 1984, it has issued licenses for more than 200 launches.

On Monday, November 22nd, the FAA made SpaceX the first-ever commercial company to receive a license to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit.

Next month, SpaceX is planning to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later.

This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only 6 nations or governmental agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.

It is also the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station and encourage the growth of the commercial space industry. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will make at least 12 flights to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the COTS and CRS missions will yield valuable flight experience towards this goal.

The license is valid for 1 year from the date of issue.

About SpaceX

SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles and spacecraft that will increase reliability and performance of space transportation, while ultimately reducing costs by a factor of ten. With the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, SpaceX has a diverse manifest of launches to deliver commercial satellites to orbit. After the Space Shuttle retires, the Falcon 9 and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will start carrying cargo, including live plants and animals, to and from the International Space Station for NASA. Falcon 9 and Dragon were developed to one day carry astronauts.

Founded in 2002, SpaceX is a private company owned by management and employees, with minority investments from Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Valor Equity Partners. The company has over 1,100 employees in California, Texas and Florida. For more information, and to watch the video of the first Falcon 9 launch, visit the SpaceX website at SpaceX.com.

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Caterpillar Inc. Joins Sponsors of Astrobotic Expedition

August 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

I’m posting this press release from Monday, because it really is big news. I’ve been wondering how long it would take companies manufacturing earth moving equipment to realize the enormous potential of lunar mining. Well, the wait is over. Caterpillar has stepped up in a bold and visionary move to aid in the first commercial expedition to the moon. Way to go Caterpillar!

PITTSBURGH, PA – August 23, 2010 – Astrobotic Technology, a Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) spin-off company announces that Caterpillar Inc. will be a sponsor its first robotic expedition to the lunar surface. The initial Astrobotic mission will revisit the Apollo 11 site in April 2013 with a five-foot tall, 160-lb. robot broadcasting 3D high-definition video. The mission will carry payloads to the Moon and convey the experience to the world via Internet video access.
The expedition also will claim a financial trifecta: up to $24 million in the Google Lunar X Prize, a $10 million data sale to NASA, and Florida’s $2 million bonus for launching from that state.
In 2007 Caterpillar sponsored Carnegie Mellon’s winning machine in the Urban Challenge, a competition for autonomous vehicles conducted by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The sensors and code base developed for this race of driverless cars through city traffic are evolving into the guidance and control for the spacecraft that will take Astrobotic’s robot to the lunar surface.
“Caterpillar has enjoyed a successful relationship with Carnegie Mellon University over the last two decades. Our sponsorship of CMU’s winning machine in the 2007 Urban Challenge has served as a technology foundation for further work to automate our large mining trucks,” said Eric Reiners, Caterpillar Automation Systems Manager. “Our customers are moving to more remote and harsh environments. This drives the need for further development of autonomous and remote operation of equipment. We look forward to applying the technology developed and lessons learned from the Astrobotic expedition toward our own Cat equipment.”
Carnegie Mellon and Astrobotic have expended more than $3 million creating mission designs and prototype Moon robots engineered to operate during extreme heat — soil temperatures at the lunar equator hit 224 degrees F at noon.
“Operating during the Moon’s daytime heat is the central engineering challenge for lunar robots, and we will take advantage of Caterpillar’s experience with rugged electronics for harsh environments,” said Dr. Red Whittaker, director of CMU’s Field Robotics Center and founder of Astrobotic Technology.
Caterpillar’s experience in autonomous mining and construction machinery also will assist with learning how to “live off the land” using lunar resources. For example, polar ice deposits can be transformed into propellant to refuel spacecraft for their return to Earth, doubling their productivity. New NASA research shows that some of the polar ice (a mix of water, methane and other compounds) is covered by an insulating layer of dry soil that robotic excavators can remove to access the volatiles.
“Caterpillar makes sustainable progress possible by enabling infrastructure development and resource utilization on every continent on Earth. It only makes sense we would be involved expanding our efforts to the 8th continent, the Moon,” said Reiners.
Astrobotic has just completed the first phase of a NASA contract to design lightweight robotic excavators for this task (see http://astrobotic.net/activities/lunar-construction-research-completed).

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