SpaceX executives announced a successful launch of their Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 3 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The rocket helped deliver a sophisticated, 6,900-pound satellite into orbit, peaking at 49,700 miles above Earth.
Space.com dubs the mission as “landmark,” allowing SpaceX to provide “reliable and affordable launch services to commercial satellite operations and government space agencies” such as NASA.
Based in California and founded in 2002, SpaceX is the world’s fastestgrowing launch services provider. The company designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.
But a successful launch could never have happened without rigorous testing of the payload fairing — a shroud atop a missile, covering items it brings aloft — occurring at NASA Plum Brook Station this past spring.
“NASA was an incredibly helpful partner during the testing of SpaceX’s 5.2 meter Falcon 9 rocket payload fairing at NASA Plum Brook” SpaceX spokeswoman Hannah Post said. The testing “will be integral to Falcon 9 satellite launches going forward”
The payload fairing, which protects the satellite, separates from the rocket in the upper atmosphere.
If the payload or rocket gets damaged before or during a separation process, the mission can be fatally compromised. Plum Brook
In August 2012, SpaceX executives and NASA administrators signed a Space Act Agreement. The pact allowed SpaceX to use Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility for testing in 2013.
Three tests on the payload fairing occurred inside Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility:
• Separation of the payload, the satellite and the fairing, or the material protecting the satellite.
• Vibrations, simulating the “shake, rattle, and roll” process every rocket experiences when ascending into space.
• Acoustics, or horns blaring, replicating sound waves by noises hitting the payload and fairing to ensure if they can withstand these loud sounds in space.
“NASA’s facilities, such as the Space Power Facility, offer space companies the ability to test their hardware in the environments of both launch and space flight” said Gen. David Stringer, NASA Plum Brook Station director. “Through such testing, companies significantly improve the chances of a trouble-free experience”
The experience, however, cost SpaceX $581,300 for testing, according to financial data the Register obtained through a public records request.
“It’s a small price to pay for the safeguard of the satellite and the execution of the rocket,” said Kurt Landefeld, a member of the Friends of NASA Plum Brook, a local volunteer group marketing and supporting the station.
A partnership between NASA and SpaceX represents a growing trend of cooperation between private and public space agencies.
NASA, like almost every other government organization, faces constant financial pressures to reduce an annual budget topping $17 billion in 2013.
Looking forward, NASA administrators plan to promote SpaceX’s successful launch in hopes of landing other companies and providers for future testing at Plum Brook based in Erie County.
“NASA Plum Brook Station facilities will continue to be available to space companies for testing” Stringer said.