Try And Try Again: ‘Sledgehammer’ Winds Keep SpaceX Grounded

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SpaceX has been trying to get its next Falcon 9 rocket off the ground for about a week now, but high winds in the launch area around Cape Canaveral are keeping the rocket grounded. The commercial spaceflight company has also been dealing with fuel problems and has scrubbed the launch five times, with winds to blame for some of them and fuel problems to blame for others. In another case, a boat entering the keep-out zone caused problems.

SpaceX to try again Friday

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Tuesday that their next attempt to launch the Falcon 9 rocket will be on Friday.

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The rocket will carry an SES-9 satellite into orbit, and SpaceX wants to get everything right.

SpaceX tries out specialized fuel

Wired explains that the company is using super-chilled liquid oxygen, which is tricky to deal with. However, the company believes that this type of fuel will be an important factor in setting its rockets apart from others. SpaceX began using super-chilled liquid oxygen (rather than just liquid oxygen) in December, although at that time, the fuel also caused problems at launch. Liquid oxygen is already the standard in rockets as it’s a thousand times denser than the gas form of oxygen.

This means that the rocket’s fuel tank can be smaller, and there’s more room for kerosene, which is used to travel in space after the rocket has launched. Rockets can also carry larger payloads because of the extra room.

SpaceX stretches the boundaries

Using liquid rather than gas oxygen requires the tank to be insulated. Also a vent is needed so that oxygen that heats to boiling point can escape and not cause an exploding. Additionally, oxygen that gets out before the launch must be continuously refilled.

Cooling the liquid oxygen down more than where standard liquid oxygen is held has clearly been problematic for SpaceX though. According to Wired, the gain from the lower density is only about 10%, which is much smaller than the space that’s gained from using oxygen that has been cooled only to the point of being liquid.

The website also notes that the company probably needs as much space as it can get though to achieve the goal of reusing its rockets. Steering upon descent becomes a necessity to make a successful landing that results in the rocket being in good enough condition to reuse, but this requires more fuel. Further, the SES satellite that the latest Falcon 9 rocket must deliver into space must go further away from Earth than others, which means even more fuel is needed. The company made a historic vertical landing late last year, but more work must be done in this area as it has had more than one failed water landing.