It looks like everything looks great in terms of the ascent phase of the mission. The rocket flight was perfect as far as we could tell and Dragon deployment went well. We had some slight initial challenges with Dragon with respect to enabling some of the thruster quads but those have been resolved. So it looks like everything is good on the Dragon front. For the rocket boost stage reentry, we have good data down to a pretty low level. To roughly around Mach 1.1 everything looks fine, and we're waiting for additional data to see how the potential landing burn went, but it was a very heavy sea state condition so I wouldn't give high odds that the rocket was able to splashdown successfully.
[Question about Easter eggs.] I don't know of anything.. do we have anything on the.. it's obviously.. NASA's our customer here so we defer to NASA as to what cargo is manifested, but I don't think we put anything onboard ourselves.
We were a little delayed in the launch.
[Question about splashing down successfully.] Maybe I wasn't speaking clearly. I said I wouldn't give high odds. The sea state is quite heavy. I heard reports of 15 to 20 foot wave high. It's really pretty crazy out there. In fact the boats weren't able to get particularly close because of the heavy seas. I think it's unlikely that the rocket was able to splashdown successfully, but I think we'll still get good data from the plane telemetry and we should get that pretty soon. As soon as we are able to look at that data we'll be able to provide some more information but I would consider it a success in the sense that we were able to control the boost stage to a zero roll rate, which is previously what has destroyed the stage - an uncontrolled roll where the on-board nitrogen thrusters were not able to overcome the aerodynamic torque and that sort of spun up. This time, with more powerful thrusters, and more nitrogen propellant, we were to null the roll rate. So that's a bit of good news there, and of course, we were able to show that on ascent the legs don't have any negative impact and that we were able to come back through hypersonic velocity. We don't yet have the data through transonic but we have it through the max dynamic forcing coming through - what's called max-Q - we have information on the rocket coming through max-Q okay. I'm quite anxious obviously to find that out and it'd be awesome if - as far as it gets, that data we'll be able to use to flow back into the next flight, with an increased probability of a successful recovery. "We're probably going to have to iterate our way there I think."
I should mention, one of the side points is, we did a longer coast and restart of the upper stage. This was a very optional thing, just to see what our propellant residuals were and what the environment would be on the stage during a depletion shutdown. The upper stage coasted for about 35 minutes and then restarted for a few seconds, and went to essentially zero liquid oxygen level with about 0.15% of propellant mass in fuel remaining, which is very close to our target. That's helpful for us to reduce the uncertainty associated with propellant residuals and thus improve the mission performance margin calculation on future missions.
[Question about upcoming Dragon operations.] Well, right now I'm on the phone, so.. when I left about 15 minutes ago, everything was looking good. There was an isolation valve that feeds two of the thruster quads and that valve was not responding, so we went to the backup valve and that one worked fine. So, when I left everything was looking good for all thrusters enabled on the vehicle. So, as far as I know, we're on track to make that burn.
[Question about number of launches in the rest of the year, and Dragon thruster issues.] We think we can probably still do ten, but it's a bit too early to tell if all ten will go this year. The main constraint is actually on vehicle production, which all boils down to this one particular part - an injector casting and we think we've resolved that particular issue, which should unlock quite a high rate of increased production and bottom line is, I think we'll do ten or something very close to ten this year. Obviously, it's a launch a month or slightly better than a launch per month. We don't yet know enough to say whether there's any commonality between this particular valve and the valve issue in the one that occurred previously. I don't think it's the same, and one has to be careful about making snap judgements until one has all the information. So, I don't think it's the same but we don't yet know.
[How are you feeling?] I feeling pretty excited. This is a happy day. "Most important of all is we did a good job for NASA. I always think, did we do a good job for our customer? Everything else is secondary to that." It seems like we've done the job we were contracted for, or at least thus far, it hasn't hooked up with the space station yet, but number one I'm super happy that we have made progress so far for our NASA customer. On top of that, I'm also excited that we got good data through max dynamic pressure of the reentry of the boost stage, and even though we probably won't get the stage back, I think we're really starting to connect the dots of what's needed. When you combine the take off and landing yesterday of the flight design landing legs and the greater progress of the boost stage on this flight today, there's just only a few more dots that need to be there to have it all work and "I think we've got a decent chance of bringing a stage back this year, which would be wonderful." What we've done thus far is just evolutionary improvements, but that holds the potential for something more significant.
[Question about the rocket getting dirty on launch.] I know what happened.. I thought that question might be asked, so I looked into it. We sprayed a bunch of water around the pad and, essentially what happened is we splashed dirty water on ourselves. It's a little embarrassing, but no harm done.
[Question about economics of reusability.] There is a step beyond simply reusing something that is important. There's some conditions on reuse in order to make the reuse have a big effect on the space industry, which is that the reuse must be both rapid and complete, like an aircraft or a car or something like that. If you had to disassemble and reassemble a car and replace a bunch of parts in-between driving it would make it quite expensive. It's true that we don't just have to recover it, we have to show that it can be reflown quickly and easily with the only thing changing being reloading propellant and other, basically the equivalent of refueling. The vehicle is designed for that. Ya know, the unfortunate thing with the shuttle was that the original design for the shuttle was fairly well suited for good reuse but then the requirements changed and made it very difficult to reuse efficiently. So, as long as we're able to hold to our requirements I think we'll be able to achieve the rapid and essentially complete reuse. What I'm hoping will occur, and I'm feeling a little bit more optimistic about it, is that this year at least we'll be able to recover the rocket booster. I'm not sure we'll be able to refly it this year, but I think reflying it next year is likely if we recover it this year. That will complete the picture, at least as far as the boost stage is concerned.
[Question about down-range distances.] I don't actually know the exact number, I think it's about 400 to 500 km downrange, away from the cape, essentially, and then the nearest shore is, I think, 200 to 300 km. That's the nominal splashdown point.. which it was headed for I should mention. It was headed quite precisely for the target splashdown point, so that's.. umm, yeah.
I have to head back to the control room as I have some telemetry to look at, so I'll only be on for another two minutes or so.
[Question about delays.] From the SpaceX side of it, there were a fair bit of new things with this rocket and with the Dragon avionics. This was quite a substantial revision of Dragon avionics, for example, a new software the accompanied it, and of course the rocket had the landing legs and improved nitrogen thrusters and a few others things. It was definitely not ideal. In the future we want to try to get to launching exactly on time without any delays and definitely get away from having delays. That's not our aspiration. But I do think the teams did a great job of responding to the various issues and I'm certainly very proud of what they've done.
[Question about F9R vehicle moving to New Mexico.] Sure, I'll answer that question and then I'm going to have to jump off the call. The Orbcomm launch is expected to happen in the next 4 to 6 weeks and we want to, obviously, make sure we review carefully the data from this launch because, although everything went fine, we always review the data to see if there were any near miss issues that need to be looked into and corrected. We don't know of anything yet, but we want to make sure of that. Regarding the F9R, we're going to have.. really, we're going to keep doing tests at our McGregor test site near Waco with the F9R stage. So what we have at McGregor in Texas is what we call F9R-Dev-1 which is, development unit one. There's also dev-2. So, one of those will be at McGregor and one of those will be at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Anything we can test at a relatively low altitude, below around 10,000 feet, we'll continue to do in Mcgregor, and then the high altitude stuff where it's going ex-atmospheric, and going to 300,000 feet, we'll be doing in New Mexico because we need a much better clear area. I would expect those tests to be.. we'll continue refining the technology over time because you'll recall the question that was asked earlier, reusability only matters to the degree that it's rapid and complete otherwise it's reusability but you don't get the equivalent economic benefit that has the huge potential to open up spaceflight. Alright, thanks for the question.