NDT and rocket science

The company for which I work has been acquired by a large corporation with a New York Stock Exchange listing and worldwide offices and activities. As a part of this corporation, we are now providing non-destructive testing services to a company called SpaceX.

SpaceX was founded in 2002 to revolutionise space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Thus, SpaceX manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.

SpaceX’s audacious vertical rocket landing on 22 December 2015 laid a critical foundation for reusable rockets that could help humans to colonise Mars, according to the company’s CEO Elon Musk.

After successfully sending its Falcon 9 rocket into orbit from Cape Canaveral on the satellite launch mission, the company landed a 15-storey booster rocket back on Earth.

Musk noted that each Falcon 9 rocket costs $60 million, while the propellant for each launch costs around $200,000: “The potential cost reduction in the long term is probably in excess of a factor of 100.”

The mission to launch 11 small satellites was SpaceX’s first since an accident last summer. Previous landing attempts ended in fiery blasts, but whereas these aimed for an ocean platform, the latest landing used a former Atlas missile-launching site about six miles from the Falcon 9 launchpad.

Next year, Musk expects four to five launches and eight to ten the year after that, with the launch rate increasing by 100% every year for the next four to five years. At that rate, Musk, a self-taught engineer and internet whizz-kid, will be launching more rockets than even China.

Space is thought of as a frontier so dangerous, so daunting, so complex and impossible that it belongs not to the realm of lone adventurers and daring entrepreneurs, but to the combined might of the most powerful military industrial complex in the world. Except this rocket wasn’t built or launched by the US government, or even Lockheed or Boeing, but by guys in surfer shorts and t-shirts, overseen by an internet millionaire. Its flight was historic: the first privately designed, built and launched cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Or, put another way, since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, a small start-up company’s rocket and space capsule, the launch of which cost roughly one-tenth of that of the Space Shuttle, has become the United States’ sole means of reaching the $100 billion Space Station.

Musk said he could build a rocket that would put cargo and humans into orbit in a more cost-effective and reliable way than any nation or corporation has ever done before and that he could do it faster than any other private company. Musk’s rocket docking with the Space Station on only its second flight required a “sequence of miracles that was a phenomenal achievement,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former Navy test pilot, a veteran of four NASA space shuttle missions and President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

My company (TEAM Industrial Services) supplies liquid penetrant testing, radiography and certificated welding inspection services on rockets and engine frames – our contribution on the journey to Mars!

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