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SpaceX Falcon 1 on Launch Pad  (Source: SpaceX)
Falcon 1 Flight 3 experienced an "anomaly" two minutes into flight

Saturday August 2, 2008 was the launch date for SpaceX's third attempt to launch a privately funded rocket into space. Falcon 1 Flight 3 launched from the Kwajalein Atoll located about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.

According to the New York Times, Falcon 1 Flight 3 failed to reach orbit. Reports say that around two minutes into the flight the rocket was seen to be oscillating before the live signal from an on-board camera went dead and the rocket was lost.

Mission Manager Max Vozoff and launch commentator said, "We are hearing from the launch control center that there has been an anomaly on that vehicle." SpaceX's Elon Musk wrote in a blog post on Saturday at the SpaceX website, "It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit on this flight [Falcon 1, Flight 3].  On the plus side, the flight of our first stage, with the new Merlin 1C engine that will be used in Falcon 9, was picture perfect.  Unfortunately, a problem occurred with stage separation, causing the stages to be held together.  This is under investigation and I will send out a note as soon as we understand exactly what happened."

Musk continued writing, "The most important message I’d like to send right now is that SpaceX will not skip a beat in execution going forward.  We have flight four of Falcon 1 almost ready for flight and flight five right behind that.  I have also given the go ahead to begin fabrication of flight six.  Falcon 9 development will also continue unabated, taking into account the lessons learned with Falcon 1.  We have made great progress this past week with the successful nine engine firing."

Falcon 1 Flight 3 is not the first failure for SpaceX. DailyTech reported in March 2006 that the first Falcon 1 flight failed 20 seconds after liftoff. It was later determined that the failure of the rocket was due to a fuel line leak. In March 2007, DailyTech reported that the second Falcon 1 flight had failed about five minutes into launch.

The payload on Falcon 1 Flight 3 was varied and included the Trailblazer satellite developed for the Jumpstart Program from the Department of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space ORS Office. Two small NASA satellites were also onboard Falcon 1 Flight 3 including PRESat -- a micro laboratory for the Ames Research Center -- and the NanoSail-D -- a test project to study propulsion for space vehicles using an ultra-thin solar sail.

The New York Times reports that the rocket was also carrying the ashes of 208 people who wished to be shot into space. Among the cremated remains were those of astronaut Gordon Cooper and actor James Doohan of Star Trek fame.

SpaceX's Falcon 1 launch facilities are on Omelek Island and part of the Reagan Test Site (RTS) at the United States Army Kwajalein Atoll in the Central Pacific. SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket was designed from the ground up  in Hawthorne, California and is a two-stage, liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene powered vehicle.

SpaceX says that the first stage of the Falcon 1 is powered by a single SpaceX Merlin 1C Regenerative engine and the engine was flying for the first time aboard Falcon 1 Flight 3. The second stage of Falcon 1 is powered by a SpaceX Kestrel engine.



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By Bender 123 on 8/4/2008 2:18:35 PM , Rating: 5
Goodbye Scotty...Had you been more than ashes you would have figured a way to reroute the power allowing the Falcon to maintain orbit.

This was just sad to hear...




By MrBlastman on 8/4/2008 3:31:45 PM , Rating: 2
From what I hear of these ashes to orbit programs, they only send a few cubic centimeters of Ashes at most... so...

There is hope that he'll get a second shot at his dream. I hope so. :(

What a geat actor.


By Bender 123 on 8/4/2008 3:33:54 PM , Rating: 3
That would be his third shot at his dream...He already crashed once the last time the Falcon failed. Maybe they should recalibrate the pattern bufferes and attempt to beam him into orbit?


By Bender 123 on 8/4/2008 3:34:09 PM , Rating: 2
That would be his third shot at his dream...He already crashed once the last time the Falcon failed. Maybe they should recalibrate the pattern buffers and attempt to beam him into orbit?


By Fnoob on 8/4/2008 6:55:56 PM , Rating: 3
While it may take at least two weeks, Scotty would have had it fixed in half an hour.

His philosophy of technical repair has served me well over the years. All of my clients marvel over the speed at which I work!


By xphile on 8/4/2008 7:27:39 PM , Rating: 3
I dun noo hoo long I kin hold er - she cannae take much more o this captain...

It's alright Mt Scott, everyone knows it's third time lu.. oh s%$t!


Ouch
By JasonMick (blog) on 8/4/2008 2:19:17 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
The New York Times reports that the rocket was also carrying the ashes of 208 people who wished to be shot into space.


Ouch...there goes that plan.

But seriously, you gotta appreciate SpaceX's determination and effort. Its good to see private companies trying to get involved in the space industry.

Let's just hope they don't try to send any human passengers on any of their flights...

I guess it makes you appreciate Virgin Galactic and Spaceship One just a little bit more.




RE: Ouch
By Ringold on 8/4/2008 3:48:36 PM , Rating: 2
And these guys:

http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/

quote:
Sundancer, planned for launch early in the next decade, will be the first module built by Bigelow Aerospace capable of manned operation. It would support a crew of up to three for varying mission durations and eventually provide the backbone for the first commercial space station. It follows the successful and continuing missions of the unmanned Genesis I and Genesis II, which continue to test and verify systems for future commercial space habitats.


Yes, I'm a Bigelow Aero fanboy. :) I know launch systems are required to get up there, but the idea that we can get a space station together with a price tag not in the many billions, like the ISS boondoggle, is exciting to me.

From earlier this year:

quote:
The Atlas booster has been used for decades to launch government and commercial payloads to a wide range of orbits and its reliability record is at the top of the space industry. As the simplest, most robust, and most reliable version of the Atlas V family, the 401 configuration has been selected by Bigelow to launch its space complex. This launch vehicle, compliant with the Federal Aviation Administration's stringent requirements for unmanned spaceflight, will undergo modest system upgrades that will augment existing safety features prior to flying the first passengers. During the operational phase, which is currently planned to begin in 2012, up to 12 missions per year are envisioned, increasing as demand dictates.


I'll point out that, in 2012, Orion will still be a 3+ year distant dream. The private industry may manage to literally go from almost nonexistant to regular service to a new space station in less time than it will have taken NASA to make a souped-up CEV (and a bunch of unnecessary new launch vehicles for their new toy).


RE: Ouch
By othercents on 8/4/2008 3:49:12 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder what would have happened to the ashes if the rocket actually made it into space? Would there be a failure in another system that would keep the cargo from being released? Is the rocket going to be retrievable or will there just be more space junk floating around out there?

Anyone who fires rockets into space needs to have a retrieval plan if something fails.

Other


RE: Ouch
By Fnoob on 8/4/2008 6:52:23 PM , Rating: 5
Anyone who fires rockets into space needs to have a retrieval plan if something fails.

'The Plan' is already in place, as instituted by S.I. Newton I believe.


Why?
By DigitalFreak on 8/4/2008 3:50:55 PM , Rating: 4
Why would anyone trust these morons with their payloads? They haven't been able to get one to launch yet without exploding or crashing!

I'm surprised any insurance companies are still willing to insure payloads on those rockets.




RE: Why?
By DigitalFreak on 8/4/08, Rating: -1
RE: Why?
By nvalhalla on 8/4/2008 7:44:03 PM , Rating: 4
That's similar to what I was thinking. While I wouldn't call them morons, this sh** is complicated, I am surprised that they had so many satellites. I wouldn't put mine on a prototype.


RE: Why?
By Polynikes on 8/4/2008 11:12:50 PM , Rating: 2
Neither would I. Seems kind of silly.


RE: Why?
By jeff834 on 8/5/2008 7:58:18 PM , Rating: 3
While I'm sure the cost of making a satellite is not trivial by any means I believe the true cost of launching satellites into space is the actual launch. Previously you didn't have any real choice for launching satellites and it cost an arm and a leg. I'm betting you could probably lose 5 satellites trying to get them launched on prototype rockets on the cheap and still be ahead of the game compared to launching one with NASA. Bear in mind I have no actual numbers to back this up it's just my theory.


what goes up...
By poundsmack on 8/4/2008 2:34:27 PM , Rating: 2
I actualy am rather impressed that they got so far so fast. if you look at NASA throughout the years (especialy early on in the program) a lot of the rockets never even made it off the launch pad, let alone to the second or third phase of their launch.




RE: what goes up...
By FITCamaro on 8/4/2008 2:38:10 PM , Rating: 5
OK but at that period, said rockets had never even been designed yet. These new engineers have the benefit all the information, research, and mistakes NASA made early on to learn from.


Anomoly
By DigitalFreak on 8/4/2008 3:53:30 PM , Rating: 5
I love how companies call launch failures "anomalies". The shit blew up!




RE: Anomoly
By codeThug on 8/4/2008 6:54:29 PM , Rating: 2
Down modded for calling a spade a spade. Tsk Tsk.

Same as a code bug being called "an idiosyncratic software anomaly".

It tastes sweeter, but it still rots your teeth.


To infinity, and beyond!
By waltzendless on 8/4/2008 5:09:48 PM , Rating: 4
Guess third time isn't always the charm. Good to hear they still have a positive and foward mindset.

"Why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up"
-Batman Begins

"Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of scraps!"
"Well, I'm sorry...I'm not Tony Stark."
-Iron Man

Anybody got Tony Stark's #?




RE: To infinity, and beyond!
By rudolphna on 8/6/2008 1:31:57 AM , Rating: 2
lol omg, i just watched batman begins earlier. great line. still, agreed, good to hear that they are moving forward.

"Just keep moving forward" Meet the Robinsons


Ego Fueled
By Suntan on 8/4/2008 4:23:48 PM , Rating: 3
Too bad they can’t get the rocket to run on Mr. Musk’s ego. Then they could get that thing into space with one stage, and have plenty of power left to go on to the moon and back.

-Suntan




The status of space
By foolsgambit11 on 8/4/2008 3:00:43 PM , Rating: 2
Is anybody clear on what the current status is for private enterprise in space? I think I heard that all private space enterprises must have government oversight (whichever government the launch takes place in, I guess?). I'm assuming, with a NASA payload, and launching from a military base, that these guys are well overseen.

What if the launch is from a platform in international waters?




Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/4/08, Rating: -1
RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/4/2008 3:52:35 PM , Rating: 3
> "They aren't innovating anything, and they can't even if they wanted to, because there is nothing left to innovate - chemical rockets have come as far as they can go"

On the contrary, firms like SpaceX and Bigelow *are* innovating and there's still a huge amount of progress possible in reducing launch costs and complexity. A very small part of current launch costs are due to fuel...its the overall complexity of the launch itself that makes the cost per-kg prohibitive.

As far as that goes, there's still a large amount of innovation possible in boosting specific impulse as well. There's no theoretical reason a chemical craft can't get an effective Isp of several thousand (10X current values) simply by an engine design which uses the atmosphere as reaction mass during a portion of the launch.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/4/2008 4:12:22 PM , Rating: 1
Fuel is (relatively) cheap, true, but the huge rocket necessitated by the fuel is anything but.

Current air breathing engines are basically unsuitable for air launch of space vehicles. Most are limited to subsonic speeds, and none are capable of more than M=3 or so. Launch aircraft can only give the booster several percent of needed altitude and speed, everything else has to be done by the rocket, same as 50 years ago when Sputnik flew. As for air breathing hypersonic engines actually useful for space launch, the only ones actually working on those are NASA - X-43A flew in 2004, and X-51 is scheduled to fly next year, and they're estimating a two stage to orbit system within 20 years.

Meanwhile, "private enterprises" are doing the same thing Werner von Braun and Sergei Korolev have done half a century ago, claiming that they can make it work for less money. 50 years into the future, they'll be building primitive scramjets and claiming innovation as well, I suppose - while NASA will likely have workable concepts of reactionless launch by that time.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/4/2008 4:27:14 PM , Rating: 4
> "Fuel is (relatively) cheap, true, but the huge rocket necessitated by the fuel is anything but"

The "huge rocket" is neccessitated by our primitive engineering and materials, not basic physics. Private launch firms are innovating here, with lighter, stronger materials and advanced control electronics.

> "none are capable of more than M=3 "

Some Scramjet designs are capable of speeds of Mach 20+, enough to hit LEO. The University of Queensland has *already* launched a scramjet that briefly hit Mach 7.5.
There is no theoretical reason a Scramjet can't provide 50-100% of the boost required for an LEO.

> "Meanwhile, "private enterprises" are doing the same thing Werner von Braun and Sergei Korolev have done half a century ago"

Except they're doing it with far less weight and overhead, and ultimately a far more practical design. Remember, these programs are operating on a shoestring, not the several-percent-of-national-GDP programs like Apollo had.

NASA essentially stopped innovating in the 1970s. The Space Shuttle is a design many of its own top engineers have called a failure, and Ares, its successor, looks to be an even bigger failure. Private space flight is still in its infancy...give them another 15-20 years, and their launch achievements will be putting NASA to shame.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/4/2008 4:43:31 PM , Rating: 1
Show me a single production scramjet. Right now they're in early design and testing phases - and once again, NASA has already conducted several launches of X-43A and is launching a more advanced X-51 next year.

Current rockets already have well over 90% of their mass in fuel - whatever materials you use, you won't gain much, and what you do gain is likely to come at the cost of safety margins. Proton-M, for example, weighs 49 tons empty, almost 700 tons fully fueled, and boosts 22 tons to LEO - and it has a 96% safety record, with over 300 launches. The design is over 40 years old. For comparison, SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy, which has yet to fly, claims 27.5 tons to LEO with launch weight of 885 tons - precisely same ratio as 40 years old Proton, only without proven safety record. Where are those material advances now?


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/4/2008 5:05:51 PM , Rating: 4
> "Show me a single production scramjet..."

Whoa, whoa...stop moving the bar. Your original claim was that there was no possibility for further innovation. Now you want a working mass market model immediately.

> "NASA has already conducted several launches of X-43A and is launching a more advanced X-51 next year"

Which proves there is certainly room for continued innovation.

> "SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy, which has yet to fly, claims 27.5 tons to LEO with launch weight of 885 tons - precisely same ratio as 40 years old Proton "

Wow, where to start. First of all, the Proton-M is not "40 years old". It's the newest design, and its payload has increased substantially through its several redesigns.

Secondly, Falcon 9 is fueled with cheap kerosene, not the Proton's expensive and difficult to work with hydrazine variant. That lower specific impulse means a lower payload ratio...to achieve the same ratio with a fuel having a lower Isp is a great improvement...and it makes the Falcon much simpler and cheaper to launch.

Thirdly, the Proton rocket had over two dozen failures when it was first being developed. It's safety record of *today* is excellent, but when first starting out, it bombed worse than the Falcon.

> "whatever materials you use, you won't gain much, and what you do gain is likely to come at the cost of safety margins. "

Eh? Composite materials can be both lighter AND stronger than conventional construction. Also, weight savings can be had in many other areas, such as control electronics and wiring. This doesn't affect safety one bit...and it can mean payload increases of up to 100%.

Furthermore, regardless of fuel isp, things such as nozzle design and total thrust can greatly affect total payload.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/4/08, Rating: 0
RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 12:34:30 AM , Rating: 2
> "NERVA and Orion had true potential for interplanetary - and if scaled up, even interstellar travel, but nuclear rockets are unlikely to ever be clean enough to be used in the atmosphere"

Eh? Nuclear thermal rockets don't emit any radiation in operation. Orion is obviously a different story, but there's no reason a NERVA-type design couldn't operate in the atmosphere without any safety concerns.

> "No possibility for further innovation in chemical rockets, and I stand by that claim"

But the figures don't support that claim. There are at least four different areas for major innovations. First is the increase in specific impulse possible from exotic fuels -- yes, they're too difficult to use with current technology...but technology improves. Second is the lowering of platform dead weight. Your example of Proton-M, for instance, which weighs 49 tons empty, and can only boost 6 tons into GEO. A weight savings of only 20% would roughly double that payload.

Third, even without increasing overall rocket performance, there's the simple expedient of making a launch simpler and cheaper. With less than 5% of a launch being fuel costs, there's no reason a launch couldn't be far cheaper than it is today, even assuming the same payload and engine performance.

And fourth, there's the possibility of a hybrid launch system that uses a rocket as well as an airbreathing engine, an airplane-assisted launch, or even a ground-based accelerator.

The idea that "we've innovated all we can" is just plain silly. It's like Horatio Nelson claiming his 28-gun wooden sailing ship is the pinnacle of naval technology. Launch technology is in its very infancy...and private firms are ultimately going to be the ones to carry it beyond its current roots.

> "All the more reason to keep using the tried-and-true designs..."

The problem is those "tried and true" designs are decades old. To progress, one has to evolve and try new things.

> "..."instead of starting the whole thing over from scratch."

But no one is "starting from scratch". Even for a company like Space, nearly all their design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In 20 years or so, private launch vehicles will have evolved quite a ways from their public counterparts, but for now, those designs are very similar.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 1:02:49 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
Nuclear thermal rockets don't emit any radiation in operation.


In theory, yes. In practice, every proposed implementation leaves a VERY nasty trail.

quote:
First is the increase in specific impulse possible from exotic fuels -- yes, they're too difficult to use with current technology...but technology improves.


No improvement in technology is going to make hydrogen fluoride viable... unless we become brain-in-a-jar cyborgs and kiss goodbye to biosphere.

quote:
A weight savings of only 20% would roughly double that payload.


And yet, and yet, those "new cutting edge designs" fail to improve mass to payload ratio. Angara, Zenit, Ariane 5, the private ventures... all have only superficial differences in this area.

quote:
It's like Horatio Nelson claiming his 28-gun wooden sailing ship is the pinnacle of naval technology.


...and for a wood-and-canvas construction, he'd be right. SpaceX is basically building a better wood-and-canvas ship - when they need a gas turbine.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 9:49:53 AM , Rating: 3
> "In theory, yes. In practice, every proposed implementation leaves a VERY nasty trail."

Stuff and nonsense. A nuclear thermal rocket separates its reaction mass from the nuclear fuel; there is no release of radiation except by catastrophic failure.

> "And yet, and yet, those "new cutting edge designs" fail to improve mass to payload ratio"

The kerosene-fueled Soyuz-U lifts 6.9 tons to LEO with a mass of 313 tons. SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifts 9.9 tons with a mass of 325 tons. That's a 43% payload increase for only a 3% mass increase...a quite siseable increase in payload ratio.

> "No improvement in technology is going to make hydrogen fluoride viable."

A nice red herring, but there are dozens of potential fuels with Isps higher than those in commercial use. A beryllium-hydrogen-oxygen tripropellant, for instance, would have a performance of 700+ seconds, far higher than the Space Shuttles 420.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 1:20:52 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Stuff and nonsense. A nuclear thermal rocket separates its reaction mass from the nuclear fuel; there is no release of radiation except by catastrophic failure.


http://episteme.arstechnica.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f...

quote:
NERVA rockets would still emit punitive amounts of radiation via neutron absorption and breeding of tritium.


So, no. Not until we become fully robotic beings who don't give a damn about the biosphere.

quote:
SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifts 9.9 tons with a mass of 325 tons.


SpaceX's Falcon 9 currently doesn't lift anything, because none have been made yet. They're making ambitious claims, but right now, they can't even get the smaller and simpler Falcon 1 to fly right.

As for beryllium for propulsion... granted, it's not as nasty as fluorine and derivatives, but not by much - and at $745/kg, it'll make one gold plated rocket.

Reaction drives are an evolutionary dead end, at least for launching things from planet(s). Until some sort of launch system that does not involve rockets or other reaction drives is developed - launch loop, space tether/beanstalk, electromagnetic accelerator - space industry and colonization will not happen; getting out of earth's gravity well is simply too expensive.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 2:00:15 PM , Rating: 2
> "quote: NERVA rockets would still emit punitive amounts of radiation..."

You're really grasping to quote anonymous posters on random web sites as an authority. A nuclear thermal reactor isn't terribly different from a nuclear naval power reactor -- the primary difference is power density. The reaction mass is shielded from the nuclear fuel; there is no reason for it to emit radioactive waste in normal operation.

> "SpaceX's Falcon 9 currently doesn't lift anything, because none have been made yet"

The company is only five years old also. Give them some time.

> "As for beryllium for propulsion... granted, it's not as nasty as fluorine and derivatives"

Come now, don't stick your head in the sand. "Not as nasty"? Beryllium oxide is more benign than the exhaust components of a kerosene-fueled engine. The US Air Force thinks beryllium tripropellants have enough promise that they have a pilot program to investigate them.

As for cost, aluminum was once much more expensive per ounce than gold. Technology improves, extraction processes progress, and prices drop.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 2:16:10 PM , Rating: 2
> "You're really grasping to quote anonymous posters on random web sites as an authority. "

Just one final point on this "authority", who claims a NERVA-style reactor couldn't weigh less than 100 tons. He seems blithely unaware that Project Timberwind modelled a small NTR with a specific impulse of 1000 seconds and a weight of only 1.5 tons -- 70 times less than your 'expert' claims is possible":

http://www.astronautix.com/engines/timind45.htm


By Gholam on 8/5/2008 4:53:27 PM , Rating: 2
Project Timberwind was basically a feasibility study - they sat around, made some claims, and got shot down. They never actually had to design the hardware.

By the way, if the first quote wasn't clear enough, here's another one:

quote:

It is. Hydrogen consists to 0.015% of deuterium. And that will readily transmutate into tritium via neutron capture. And yes, tritium is a severe issue for any LWR, and more so for CANDU reactors. Under normal operation those plants will emit 50-50 tritium via the water markup system, and radioactive noble gases. You can AFAIK look up the relevant numbers on NRC.gov . These are not small amounts.
Any maintenance on primary loop systems in LWRs can only be done after purging the relevant system with inert gas. And even after that, one would sustain the yearly allowable radiation dose within 5min while wearing an air tight "space suit".

Hydrogen is evil. Pure evil at 1400K. It will react with anything at those temperatures. NERVA rockets were designed with the hope that the core would not severely degrade within the short time span that they would operate in.

Do you want to know what really killed NERVA?

The test stands. Building a close loop, leak tight exhaust coolant loop, with sufficient radioactive shielding and then scrubbing that stuff clean would have already cost in the 50s billions of dollars. Please, do not underestimate the dangers of radioactivity.


RE: Stupidity of massive proportions
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 4:45:35 PM , Rating: 2
If you follow arstechnica forums for a while, you'll realize that dio82's background is in nuclear reactor engineering. He knows his stuff.

If you shield reaction mass enough from fuel, you won't be able to transfer energy to said reaction mass, and the rocket won't fly. Transfer enough energy to make the rocket feasible, and exhaust will kill anyone coming into contact with it. The difference between naval reactor and nuclear rocket is precisely in power density - rocket must take it past critical point to fly; plus any shielding that you take cuts into payload.

You'd have a point about aluminium, if it wasn't so common (the most common metallic element, in fact) - and if beryllium wasn't so rare. With aluminium problem was extracting it from bauxites, which became trivial with industrial production of electricity - but with beryllium, not only does the production involve highly toxic and dangerous chemicals, but ores themselves are anything but common.

...and finally, if it's so great, why isn't SpaceX using it? Aren't they supposed to be the latest, greatest, most innovative in launch technology?


By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 6:07:23 PM , Rating: 2
> "If you follow arstechnica forums for a while, you'll realize that dio82's background is in nuclear reactor engineering. He knows his stuff."

This is the same chap that claims a NERVA reactor can't possibly mass under 100 tons, when even our first crude designs have gotten as small as 1.5 tons? Sorry, I don't buy it. Quite a few reputable nuclear engineers *have* worked on NTR designs. They say it's very feasible. I trust them...not "dio82".

> "If you shield reaction mass enough from fuel, you won't be able to transfer energy to said reaction mass"

You should be able to realize this isn't true. Look at the cooling towers on an ordinary nuclear power plant. See the steam coming out? That's hot water...heated by the reactor itself. And it isn't radioactive.

There are plenty of materials efficiently capable of transmitting thermal energy while reflecting or absorbing neutron flux.

> "...and finally, if it's so great, why isn't SpaceX using it?"

Come now, don't be trite. That's like claiming if nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are so great, why weren't we using them in the Civil War? We don't have the technology to readily use exotic tripropellants. But at some point, we will. Your original claim was that we had already gone as far as chemical rockets could take us. But the fact is, there's still a substantial amount of progress to be made.


By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 9:58:52 AM , Rating: 2
> "...and for a wood-and-canvas construction, [Horatio Nelson] would be right."

But that *isn't* right. Technology did improve dramatically from the time of Nelson's first command of the Boreas, even for wood-and-canvas sailing ships. Things like triangular sails, advanced hull and keel designs, stronger pintles, and even little innovations like davits and sights on the cannon meant that a man-of-war from 1784 was substantially inferior to one from 1840.

Similarly, chemical rockets are nowhere near their pinnacle of performance, efficiency, operating costs, or safety. Those that claim otherwise should bear in mind the example of the patent officer who claimed in 1899 that "everything that can be invented already has been".


By Ringold on 8/5/2008 5:38:51 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
there's the simple expedient of making a launch simpler and cheaper. With less than 5% of a launch being fuel costs, there's no reason a launch couldn't be far cheaper than it is today, even assuming the same payload and engine performance.


quote:
But no one is "starting from scratch". Even for a company like Space, nearly all their design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In 20 years or so, private launch vehicles will have evolved quite a ways from their public counterparts, but for now, those designs are very similar.


The above two are the key elements to the debate, as I see it. The technical issues -- you're nit picking each other on specific points. Those don't matter, they aren't where private enterprise will win. They'll will because government, by its very nature, is incapable of being as innovative in the application of technology as private enterprise, and government agencies are culturally incapable of achieving great change. I like again Bigelow's application of inflatable modules; technology they took from NASA and worked in to a low-cost alternative.

It might be possible that NASA will have a long, long life as the institution that does the expensive R&D that the industry itself can not afford to undertake on its own. To argue that private industry can't more efficiently make use of technology though is really a direct attack on the whole of economic thought. I don't even mean conservative schools of economic thought, as even liberal economists were upset recently at the news of Russia nationalizing some of its farms, for example. Thats a different industry, but identical issues at play in terms of maturity of technology. Right down to NERVA -- the 'nuclear' equivalent in ag being GM seed.


By codeThug on 8/4/2008 6:57:25 PM , Rating: 1
Yeah dewd, that's why they call it rocket science . Try it sometime.


Leave it to the pros
By vcolon on 8/4/08, Rating: -1
RE: Leave it to the pros
By JasonMick (blog) on 8/4/2008 2:30:36 PM , Rating: 4
I disagree. Without letting private business experience a mixture of successes and failures in the space industry on their own two feet we're never going to get off this rock. Human behavior is heavily guided by profit/capitalism and thus free enterprise is the way to go with space travel.

Startups will pay for cutting corners and learn not to. Its all business. Theres no more reason the government should take over Nvidia for producing defective laptop chips than it should regulate here due to a failed launch.

In fact, anyone who has ever dealt with NASA knows that certain parts of it are extremely efficient, while others waste a lot of money and are sloppy and inefficient. I don't think having NASA regulation would in the long term improve the quality of the private space program, all other issues aside even.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By FITCamaro on 8/4/2008 2:36:32 PM , Rating: 5
I want to touch on both sides.

While I fully support private industry getting involved with space launches, this should show just how difficult it is to have a space program and the risks involve. NASA is constantly criticized for any failure or mistake without people realizing these difficulties and risks. People just need to realize mistakes will happen regardless of the money spent and space flight is risky. Manned or unmanned.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Nik00117 on 8/4/08, Rating: 0
RE: Leave it to the pros
By PeanutR on 8/5/2008 5:27:30 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Startups will pay for cutting corners and learn not to. Its all business.
Or learn which corners can be cut, meaning cheaper/higher frequency launches and thus more chances to learn other lessons that will benefit spacefaring later on (hopefully :P)


RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/4/2008 2:37:04 PM , Rating: 4
As I recall, Gemini/Apollo had several notable failures of its own. Let's not even get started on the Space Shuttle, which failed utterly to meet its most significant design goals of lowering launch costs and mission complexity.

More importantly, a failure of a government launch costs taxpayers millions or even billions...a failure of a private launch costs us nothing.

Ultimately, private enterprise can and will enter space...and they'll do so with designs that are significantly cheaper and more robust than anything a government bureaucracy ever dreamed of.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By UNCjigga on 8/4/2008 2:47:35 PM , Rating: 3
Well, the article seems to indicate that this rocket WAS carrying payloads for NASA, so it looks like the taxpayer will still eat the cost of the lost gear.

Why NASA would want to put a publicly-funded payload on an unproven satellite is beyond me--but I suppose these were fairly low-budget projects (hence the cheap launch vehicle).


RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/4/2008 3:07:04 PM , Rating: 4
The payloads are insured; NASA will get their money back for the launch failure.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Calin on 8/5/2008 2:34:05 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe because NASA lacked launch capabilities for two very small satellites? As of right now, I don't think NASA has the capability to launch small payloads in Low Earth Orbit - or maybe they have, but their launches are already booked.
Or maybe because launching with the competition (Europe or Russia or China) is considered worse than risking payloads on (as of yet) unproven technology...


RE: Leave it to the pros
By afkrotch on 8/5/2008 1:59:12 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
More importantly, a failure of a government launch costs taxpayers millions or even billions...a failure of a private launch costs us nothing.


There's always a possibility that we can lose something. Actually plenty of possibilities. If there's a few telecommunications satellites on the rocket and it explodes in the air. Maybe whatever company those satellites belong to up their rates to make up for the loss.

Maybe it's a space ride launch. A few hundred ppl die. The company loses billions of dollars from the disaster and goes bankrupt. This starts affecting stock prices and the US economy goes into a small slump. The dollar value drops, while prices for goods increase.

I'm just making crap up, but hey...could be possible.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By foolsgambit11 on 8/4/2008 2:44:26 PM , Rating: 2
It certainly puts the achievements of NASA in a new light to see private enterprise falter more than 'bloated, inefficient government bureaucracy' did nearly 50 years ago. But that doesn't mean that NASA should necessarily be involved. Maximizing efficiency is not the government's strong suit, and bringing economy to launches is a much needed improvement. Private enterprise, in addition to the current intergovernmental competition for customers, could certainly help bring the cost per pound to put things in orbit down.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/4/2008 3:14:56 PM , Rating: 3
> "It certainly puts the achievements of NASA in a new light to see private enterprise falter more than 'bloated, inefficient government bureaucracy' "

NASA wasn't bloated and inefficient 50 years ago; it's the NASA of today we're referring to when we use those terms.

Also, I'd like to point out a single SpaceX launch runs from $36M for an LEO launch up to $57M for a geosychronous launch....those figures include the company's insurance costs and profit margin The Space Shuttle- which can only reach LEO- costs in the range of $1.3 billion per launch.

Admittedly not an apples-to-apples comparison as the Shuttle is manned, but it gives you some idea of the relative difference in cost structures between the two programs.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Darkskypoet on 8/4/08, Rating: 0
RE: Leave it to the pros
By Darkskypoet on 8/4/08, Rating: 0
RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 12:11:11 AM , Rating: 2
> "Soyuz (7200/kg to LEO, $45M per launch) has been launched 714 times "

If you're going to quote a random blog, you should at least quote an accurate one. First of all, the term "Soyuz" denotes an entire family of launch systems, with LEO payloads ranging from 2.5 to 8 tons. The commercial launches of the Soyuz-ST variant cost at least $50M, and can only boost 4500 kg to LEO:

http://www.space-travel.com/reports/Soyuz_Booster_...

Furthermore, working out the true total cost of a Soyuz launch is essentially impossible, as the R&D costs are already amortized in, and were done by the Soviet government in a time where cost accounting wasn't done. The figures here are simply "incremental" costs of using an already established launch platform.

> "Also, Nasa says $450 million per launch on average,"

Again, that's an incremental cost. The total cost is simple to calculate -- just take the total expenditures on the entire Shuttle program, and divide by the number of launches. That gives the $1.3B figure.

Furthermore, when comparing figures to a private launch, one must remember that public launch costs don't include a profit margin.

> "Nasa was far more efficient years ago, because space flight was a war with the Soviets... "

Nasa was far more efficient, because it was a young department with a real goal...and without an entrenched bureaucracy that builds up over time in any government department.

> "But in reality, as every government program can be described in terms of a % of GDP... (cough, that was funny to read)"

Quite obviously, the statement intended to suggest a substantial percentage of GDP. Apollo at its height was consuming 4% of the total federal budget. Compared to that, the funding a company like SpaceX receives is incomparably insignificant.

> "Especially considering they are using a jack of all trades shuttle for ISS construction ..."

The problem is that "jack of all trade" shuttle, which never came close to meeting its original design goals, and is regularly launched for no reason at all but to justify its own existence. Take a look at the list of Shuttle missions some time...does another launch to "study the effects of microgravity on the human body" really justify the program or the expense?


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Lifted on 8/5/2008 1:49:21 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Take a look at the list of Shuttle missions some time...does another launch to "study the effects of microgravity on the human body" really justify the program or the expense?


Do you not think it's likely that those are top secret missions to launch/return/repair DOD satellites?


RE: Leave it to the pros
By afkrotch on 8/5/2008 2:10:49 AM , Rating: 2
It's cheaper to launch a new satellite on a Delta, then to return/repair an already launched satellite. Also with advancing technologies, why bother keeping an old model satellite around?

Much rather have that new fancy spy satellite that can look at the split ends on your nose hairs than the old model that could only see your face. ;P


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Darkskypoet on 8/5/2008 7:41:54 AM , Rating: 2
You must have missed the other links for the Soyuz Projects.... And yes it refers to an entire class of launch platforms that has evolved over time.

However, and here is the important part. No customer cares how much it costs the Russians to develop... They care about the price they will be charged... And that ranges from around $45 Million and up. The Soyuz 2 which is a specific platform can boost far more then 4500kg to LEO, especially from Kourou, hell it can do more then that from Baikonur.

http://www.russianspaceweb.com/soyuz2_lv.html

(Not quite just any blog, check the author out before you attempt to divert attention and straw man.)

Funny... $50 million you quote includes 2 middlemen at least, and an initial limited contract to offset the cost of launch facilities. (I read that article too) Further, we have the issue of SpaceX not actually placing any payload in any form of Orbit. Once they actually launch something successfully, then we can compare, right now we have ambitious goals, a launch site, debris, and a website. Woohoo.

I actually take issue with your idea that some how the total cost per launch of any space platform is determined by the program cost / launches. We should then in reality take every single project that has to do with space propulsion that occurred before and during shuttle development, that had some part of its findings, work, etc utilized to build, operate, repair, or modify the shuttle; and then divide it by the cost of all launches for each type of craft used in such a matter.

I mean really, the shuttle ( a really great corporate welfare vehicle in the grand scheme of things) wasn't designed, built, etc in a technological vacuum. Considering all of the building blocks required to get there, it would be prudent to calculate absolutely every dollar that went into any project that contributed to find a true cost.

The fact that many of these costs can also be factored into the ability for any private firm right now to go and build a simplistic space grade kerosene and O2 rocket shouldn't really be ignored either, when calculating its true cost. It's achievable in the private sector only because military / government went there first.

quote:
Furthermore, working out the true total cost of a Soyuz launch is essentially impossible, as the R&D costs are already amortized in, and were done by the Soviet government in a time where cost accounting wasn't done. The figures here are simply "incremental" costs of using an already established launch platform.


Umm. Cost accounting was done, however I doubt we are privy to the figures. Also, at this stage in space flight, much like above with the 'true' cost of any shuttle launch; the true cost of any space lifting platform based on a long history of successes, failures, pioneering basic science, designing everything from the ground up, and past projects attempted, etc is impossible. You can't simply take a project and divide it by launches for these space agencies. It doesn't give you the true cost of diddly squat. You would have to calculate all the costs for all foundational and basic science research as well, and everything else leading up to the success of a project.

However, since we don't have the figures to begin to do that for most vehicles, and much I am sure of the American vehicles would be classified (Military apps count too), the true cost is some number that is far larger, and far harder to calculate then any estimate you've spit out yet.

quote:
Nasa was far more efficient, because it was a young department with a real goal...and without an entrenched bureaucracy that builds up over time in any government department.


Umm... Truly inspirational... really, bravo. But, oversight in government departments, the fish bowl mentality of government work, and the endless corporate welfare has done more to screw with the efficiency of NASA, then most other things... Especially the corporate welfare part.

quote:
Compared to that, the funding a company like SpaceX receives is incomparably insignificant.


So now we're comparing a series of moon missions, and the advancement of science in every darn field known to man vs. not launching a crappy 500kg object into LEO orbit 3 times in a row, and building a snazzy website... Hmm.. Apt comparison, really. (psst. they wouldn't have been able to do so without a decent chunk of the NASA spending in the first place.)

quote:
The problem is that "jack of all trade" shuttle, which never came close to meeting its original design goals, and is regularly launched for no reason at all but to justify its own existence. Take a look at the list of Shuttle missions some time...does another launch to "study the effects of microgravity on the human body" really justify the program or the expense?


Yes, to the first part... As I mentioned it'll soak 1/4 of their budget in 2009, and its replacement will soak at least another 1/4 (development costs). Who benefits from that? Initially it was the trio of private corps sucking the governments teat. Now, some of them, and some NASA employees. Considering it was supposed to launch far more often then it has, the cost per launch is highly inflated. But still higher then what it could be if using a few more specifically designed vehicles.

No to the second part, the military uses the shuttle as well, especially since plans were scrapped for them to have their own. I believe another poster states this as well. Further, as most shuttle costs are sunk, flying 6 times instead of 5 is not really more expensive at all. In fact, as those costs are, say it with me "sunk", it's probably more efficient to make use of it until it is scrapped, then to have fewer launches cost almost as much.

Bottom Line:

Your idea of total cost is incorrect. We don't have the numbers to get a total cost of any thing coming out of these space programs today. As you aptly stated about Soyuz, its development costs go waaaay back. (Not pre-accounting I assure you, that was kind of dumb) Much the same as any project now coming out of NASA is based on all of the stuff that came before it, and as such a true cost is quite a lot higher, and less germane to this discussion then you would have us believe.

The Shuttle was built utilizing new and existing tech, organizational brain trusts, acquired and learned skills, etc. These parts of any modern project come from past projects. A TRUE cost is them the sum total of all of the contributing science, tech, and the funding vehicles (other projects) required to create, and keep this 'stuff' alive.

As such Marginal costs, or in your usage incremental costs, are far more accurate to use as all other costs are sunk. So, we are back to your initial comparison which was bunk. The shuttle does not represent a vehicle that would be used by any firm to simply boost a mass to LEO.

Compare other vehicles used on a regular basis to do this, Soyuz variants, H2, Ariane, etc; using marginal costs, or market prices for a useful, and apt comparison.

Finally, until they launch 1 thing successfully... It doesn't matter how little they'll charge to destroy my payload.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 9:26:51 AM , Rating: 2
> "No customer cares how much it costs the Russians to develop... They care about the price they will be charged"

Exactly. And when a private firm only five years old is already cost-competitive with the Russians at the end of a 50-year program, using a design essentially obtained for free from the Soviet military program, that speaks wonders for the innovations of private enterprise.

> We should then in reality take every single project that has to do with space propulsion that occurred before and during shuttle development"

Now you're just being silly. Should we include a line item line item in the calculation for Isaac Newton's efforts at determining the laws of motion? Utter nonsense.

But leaving out obvious costs like the design costs specifically for the shuttle itself is equally silly. We've spent $150 billion on the shuttle program, and it's had 115 launches. That's $1.3 billion per mission. End of story.

> "Umm. Cost accounting was done, however I doubt we are privy to the figures"

Correct cost accounting was *not* done for major Soviet military projects. In fact, such accounting was essentially impossible, due to the command nature of the Soviet economy. Ask any economist or defense analyst specializing in Soviet-era information.

> "So now we're comparing a series of moon missions...vs. not launching a crappy 500kg object into LEO orbit 3 times in a row, and building a snazzy website... Hmm.. Apt comparison, really"

Oops, in 1963, when NASA was as old as SpaceX is now, they hadn't launched a series of moon missions; they'd done nothing but launch a man into LEO for a day. Admittedly more than SpaceX has accomplished sure...but then NASA had not only several percent of the federal budget to work with, but the accumulated decades of knowledge from the best minds of the US (and German) military missile programs.

And yet you're still missing the point. No one is trying to compare the achievements, the glory, or the relative difficulty of the two programs. We're simply pointing out that, once private enterprise matures a bit more, it will be able to operate at a far lower cost structure than a government bureacracy. That's it.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Darkskypoet on 8/5/2008 1:45:14 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Exactly. And when a private firm only five years old is already cost-competitive with the Russians


BUT THAT'S JUST IT!!! They are not cost competitive, as no launch of Falcon 9 has occurred, and no successful launch of Falcon 1 with a payload has either. Cost competitive means they are successful at doing so, until this point, they are simply advertising a service they have not, and so far can not, delivered. I can do that too, as can you.

Hell, considering that all the really expensive work has been done for SpaceX by other Space Agencies, they too virtually received a free design. (Again, you have to compare their limited R&D cost considering public domain knowledge, vs what NASA had to overcome. Any GOVERNMENT agency starting today would have a massively cheaper time of it then NASA in the 60's. China for a fraction of the investment of either the U.S or Soviet Union will put many of these private firms to shame.

quote:
But leaving out obvious costs like the design costs specifically for the shuttle itself is equally silly. We've spent $150 billion on the shuttle program, and it's had 115 launches. That's $1.3 billion per mission. End of story.


I disagree, that's not a 'true cost' of anything. Furthermore, source much? You're getting these figures from where?

Oh wait, but your incorrect again ... It's actually 123 launches, and counting...
http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/missi...
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/shuttleoperati...

I think I've even found the article your quoting from...
http://www.space.com/news/shuttle_cost_050211.html

But they get the launch count wrong too. Funny that.

quote:
Correct cost accounting was *not* done for major Soviet military projects. In fact, such accounting was essentially impossible, due to the command nature of the Soviet economy. Ask any economist or defense analyst specializing in Soviet-era information.


Yeah I can see your point there, it's still possible to account for labour, resources, and capital inputs in the form of hours and goods, and then to construct a cost structure for the equivalents in other economies, but I can see your point there.

quote:
Oops, in 1963, when NASA was as old as SpaceX is now, they hadn't launched a series of moon missions; they'd done nothing but launch a man into LEO for a day. Admittedly more than SpaceX has accomplished sure...


But Masher, I am simply responding to your response from before:

quote:
Quite obviously, the statement intended to suggest a substantial percentage of GDP. Apollo at its height was consuming 4% of the total federal budget. Compared to that, the funding a company like SpaceX receives is incomparably insignificant.


"The total cost of the Apollo Program was $25 billion, spent between 1962 and 1972. The program is generally agreed to have been the supreme technological achievement of a millennium now drawing to a close, a unifying experience for the human race, and the beginning of
humanity's expansion into the universe."
http://www.ccsn.nevada.edu/planetarium/apollo.html
(Dollar figures in in 1969 dollars)

In 2000, $25,000,000,000.00 from 1969 is worth:
$117,398,418,325.61 using the Consumer Price Index
$95,591,327,954.73 using the GDP deflator
$117,611,598,862.37 using the value of consumer bundle
$120,454,633,238.84 using the unskilled wage
$178,911,879,761.17 using the nominal GDP per capita
$249,263,660,369.69 using the relative share of GDP

US GDP of 1969 (2000 dollars): $3765.4 Billion
http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/Macroeconomics/

Masher come on.. get your facts straight!

So lets say we use $200 Billion for total cost of Apollo Program in 2000 Dollars Hmm.. The ENTIRE Apollo Program cost 5% of just 1969's US GDP. Not quite 4% of GDP /yr as you are rambling on about... to be generous we could say 0.05% of GDP/yr over its course. But still that's how many successful launches? Of how many space craft? Including moon missions for that price. Sure, in 1963 not much yet... 1972, after the spending you allege to occur each year, "during the height of the Apollo program"... NASA's not quite 0 for 3.

EDIT:

You refer to 4% of Federal Budget (My bad)

Federal spending 1969: $183.64 billion

In 2000, $183,640,000,000.00 from 1969 is worth:

$862,361,821,652.58 using the Consumer Price Index
$702,175,658,624.25 using the GDP deflator
$863,927,760,603.44 using the value of consumer bundle
$884,811,553,919.21 using the unskilled wage
$1,314,215,103,973.65 using the nominal GDP per capita
$1,830,991,143,611.62 using the relative share of GDP

Lets use 1,100 Billion for Federal Spending.
$150-200 Billion Cost of Apollo ENTIRE / 10

15-20 Billion/yr (2000 dollars)

15/1,100 = 1.36% of Federal Budget
20/1,100 = 1.82% of Federal Budget

Granted, still a lot of money. However in no way comparable to SpaceX what so ever. The comparison you make is completely ludicrous.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Darkskypoet on 8/5/2008 1:45:31 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
And yet you're still missing the point. No one is trying to compare the achievements, the glory, or the relative difficulty of the two programs.


Yes in fact you are. You are trying to compare the cost structure of doing something first, with doing something after all the 'heavy lifting' has been done. You compare NASA during early Apollo with SpaceX now. That's doing it!
You compare an overly complex shuttle program with a yet to be successfully launched Falcon 9. That's Doing it.

quote:
We're simply pointing out that, once private enterprise matures a bit more, it will be able to operate at a far lower cost structure than a government bureacracy. That's it.


See, and that is just it... Private enterprise gets to go in after the major spending, risk, etc has already occurred (or when completely underwritten by government). Massive risk with little pay off but pride and scientific achievement is a Market Failure situation. Even though Nasa had the predominantly German research to utilize, it still had to do far more work then SpaceX will ever have to do. Real expensive, risky, unprofitable work. Work that has also enriched private corporations all across the United States immensely.

NASA budgets helped to build McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc. W/o those massive expenditures, private space firms would be in their infancy in the U.S, and the global firms would be kicking their as*es.

Private firms also have entrenched bureaucracies, especially those that are protected by gravy train contracts like those handed out ad nauseum by the U.S Government. Most of Nasa's spending indeed went to these private firms. The problem is that NASA doesn't get the patent income that should be derived from their spending, they are forced to tender contracts to an oligopoly that has no fear of being throttled for collusion, as long as everyone gets a chunk. They are also forced to build low quantities, and never realize economies of scale.

If NASA was able to accept foreign bids, and build massive quantities of devices instead of essentially giving that business away to the private firms it essentially enriched; NASA would be in a much different situation then today, and though not in the black, would certainly be deriving a hell of a lot more income from all its efforts then it does today.

Private firms are more efficient in this case, because they can get away with a lot more then an entity like NASA can, but in many cases (Especially the very large aerospace firms) are as inefficient, they are just able to profit more from government handouts, then the government departments / agencies can.

Small firms and start ups, are far more nimble then both large Private and Public enterprise. However, they tend to be unable to mount enough capital to do really big, really hard things. SpaceX is having problems boosting 500kg to LEO, never mind a Falcon 9 launch, or a Falcon 9 heavy. Size is a detriment to efficiency... Private, or Public. Yet lack of size is a detriment to doing really large scale projects. Small payload launches are dropping down in complexity / difficulty /logistical requirements to where small start ups are going to be able to start doing them, this is occurring. However, they are not more efficient at this then the larger companies, yet. They also don't have millions of shareholders that will f***ing lynch them if the fail as spectacularly as SpaceX has.

SpaceX's launches are going for that cheap, because if they were within a stones throw of Boeing, Arianne (sp?), or other larger firms (public or private), no one would risk their payload with them.

I don't know if you really know whether or not SpaceX actually could be making a profit on these first few launches, I seriously doubt they are. Perhaps on cost averaging after a few years consisting of many, many successful launches, they might start too. But I bet they are losing money on each launch (even if successful) and won't break even until their marginal costs drop via production increases in engines, and other components. Which means that their pricing for such an early stage is artificially low, and they are relying on debt financing, or long term investors to foot the initial losses. This of course is SOP, but bottom line is they have to get something into space for cash before they are a competitor to anyone.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 2:24:31 PM , Rating: 2
> "They are not cost competitive, as no launch of Falcon 9 has occurred, and no successful launch of Falcon 1 with a payload has either..."

Are you willing to bet that none will? I'm willing to wager any sum you wish up to $1000 of my own money that SpaceX will succeed with Falcon 1 in two years time or less. How about it?

> " they too virtually received a free design"

Err, no. Falcon deviates in several ways from any previous launch platform. Arianespace's launches of Soyuz, on the other hand, are using a perfect clone of the old Soviet design.

> "I disagree, that's not a 'true cost' of anything"

Total costs / total missions = cost per mission. Nothing could possible be simpler. That's standard cost accounting, used by every major government and corporate body in the world.

> "Oh wait, but your incorrect again ... It's actually 123 launches, and counting...But they get the launch count wrong too."

Now you're just being childish again. The costs and launch count I quoted was current as of the end of 2006. The figures are not "wrong".



RE: Leave it to the pros
By Darkskypoet on 8/5/2008 3:54:56 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Are you willing to bet that none will? I'm willing to wager any sum you wish up to $1000 of my own money that SpaceX will succeed


Ok.. So they'll be cost competitive in a couple years then? Oh wait, for Falcon 1... No what about Falcon 9? Falcon 9 competes with Soyuz variants in use, Falcon 1 does not. What time frame for falcon 9?

I am not betting on anything. You stated they ARE cost competitive. Which they ARE NOT. In a few years time? Maybe, but in a few years time will Arianespace, having to compete in an already crowded market, shave costs? Yes. Considerably? Who knows... The Russian Space program, and resultant vehicles, are still well behind where they should of been, had it not been for the lost decade. They too will become cheaper, and offer heavier payload capacity.

So will Falcon 9 be Cost Competitive whenever they can actually use it to generate revenue? Maybe. We don't know.

quote:
Err, no. Falcon deviates in several ways from any previous launch platform. Arianespace's launches of Soyuz, on the other hand, are using a perfect clone of the old Soviet design.


Arianespace buys versions of the Soyuz platform from the Russians, as such they act as a middle man / front company (in a good way). Arianespace is in no way using a perfect clone of anything old. They buy / are supplied CURRENT Soyuz 2-1-a and 2-1-b launch platforms.

Really... Please look this crap up!

Falcon may deviate some, however again the majority of the work has been done for them.

"The pintle style injector at the heart of Merlin was first used in the Apollo Moon program for the lunar module landing engine, one of the most critical phases of the mission."

"The SpaceX nine engine architecture is an improved version of the architecture employed by the Saturn V and Saturn I rockets of the Apollo Program"

"BNI designed and manufactured the Merlin Turbopump for the SpaceX Falcon Launch Vehicle. The Merlin Engine produces more than 100,000 pounds of thrust at sea level and the turbopump is the lightest in its thrust class. Barber-Nichols used its experience gained on the Fastrac and Bantam projects to rapidly develop the Merlin Turbopump."

(Both Bantam and Fastrac were for NASA projects.)

You seriously must not get just how much of the ability for any small firm to build a rocket rests on the fact that these parts / technologies are now commoditized.

quote:
Total costs / total missions = cost per mission. Nothing could possible be simpler. That's standard cost accounting, used by every major government and corporate body in the world.


I still disagree that you are factoring anythings total cost in here. The equation is fine, but we fundamentally disagree on the nature of these projects total costs. That's ok too.

quote:
Now you're just being childish again. The costs and launch count I quoted was current as of the end of 2006. The figures are not "wrong".


Again? ok.. So you spout figures off without sources, they are incorrect as of the time you post them, you don't specify anything about current as of this date, or anything of that nature. Perhaps that is somewhat important to disclose...

However, yes. The figures are wrong, if not accurate, nor marked as only accurate up to x date. Besides, the amount you site for shuttle costs includes equipment not at all necessary for the lifting missions which was your original comparison. As we already agree that the comparison was ludicrous when you made it, it hardly matters now that you stacked the figures in your favour... Does it? Besides, we've also already agreed that the shuttle was a hugely expensive project, and a drain on Nasa's budget. However, I think perhaps we can agree that as a technical achievement, its still pretty f***ing neat, and not at all comparable in anyway shape or form with Falcon launch vehicles.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 4:24:14 PM , Rating: 2
> "I still disagree that you are factoring anythings total cost in here. The equation is fine, but we fundamentally disagree on the nature of these projects total costs."

Disagree all you want; the figures are from NASA's own official budget requests.

> "Again? ok.. So you spout figures off without sources..."

Here you go:

http://www.space.com/news/shuttle_cost_050211.html

> "...are incorrect as of the time you post them."

Again, you're being rather childish here. Any program which has ongoing costs will have its values continually changing. The figures I gave were correct through the end of 2006.

Feel free to toss in the 2007 and 6 months of 2008 data....the per-mission cost isn't going to change appreciably. This is all just a smokescreen for you to avoid addressing the real point here, which is the space shuttle has been a extraordinarily costly boondoggle that never lived up to its original design goals.

> " Arianespace is in no way using a perfect clone of anything old. They buy / are supplied CURRENT Soyuz "

You misunderstand my statement Arianespace is using a clone of the Soyuz launch system, which is based on a decades-old Soviet ICBM design. They aren't modifying the design in any way.

SpaceX, on the other hand, is developing new rocket, fairings, and even engine/nozzle designs. They're springboarding off existing knowledge, yes, but they're adding substantially to it.

> "I am not betting on anything"

Doesn't sound like you have a lot of faith in your position.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Darkskypoet on 8/5/2008 5:25:15 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Disagree all you want; the figures are from NASA's own official budget requests.


Actually this is not in any way what relevant to the discussion of any projects total costs. The shuttle project could not have occurred for its cost without Apollo, which in turn is not really happening without other space projects, etc.

The idea of 'Total Cost' is a philosophical difference of opinion, I don't dispute NASA's figures on what is line item attributed to the shuttle program. Get over it.

quote:
Here you go: http://www.space.com/news/shuttle_cost_050211.html


Yeah, I know... I actually supplied your source a few posts higher. As well, in my last post I also stated that we could agree the shuttle was exceptionally expensive. However, it also does what no other space craft can do. sometimes that's expensive. Necessary? Probably not. Pretty f***ing cool? Yeah, yeah it is.

quote:
You misunderstand my statement Arianespace is using a clone of the Soyuz launch system, which is based on a decades-old Soviet ICBM design. They aren't modifying the design in any way.


No.. actually I do not... They are buying said platform from the creators of said platform. Further it is based on a decades old ICBM design in much the same way that a current Ford Sedan is based on the Model T.

The Soyuz platform to be used by Arianespace is the latest edition of the Soyuz platform which easily differs from many of the older variants in as much as the SpaceX falcon differs from many of its forerunners. Hell most of the design is based off of modified parts funded by NASA. Yes Merlin is 'new', but is based off Apollo parts and other previously built and utilized components.

Clone implies that Ariennespace is building a copy of the Russian Soyuz, it is not a clone when its the actual product, still built by the original manufacturers. Albeit under a different name, in the post soviet Russian space apparatus.

quote:
> "I am not betting on anything" Doesn't sound like you have a lot of faith in your position.


Wow... Just wow... That's all you can come back with? Masher you went from stating so bluntly that SpaceX is cost competitive to this tripe? Obviously they are not cost competitive, and haven't delivered a single payload period.

Why would I bet you anything based on them becoming cost competitive within 2 years, when your claim was them being cost competitive now?

A Falcon 9 is supposed to launch with a paying customer's payload sometime in Q4 2008 / Q1 2009. Considering they haven't gotten a Falcon 1 into LEO with a payload, how confident do you think that customer is that their payload will make it?

You say maybe up to 2 years for Falcon 1, what bout Falcon 9? 6 months enough time? And if it blows to pieces, while the other private firms continue to launch with a much higher success rate, what then? How many more failures before they lose even more customers? How much higher do you think their insurance costs are now? We both know insurance isn't charity Masher.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 6:14:47 PM , Rating: 1
> "The idea of 'Total Cost' is a philosophical difference of opinion"

Shuck and jive all you want: when you spend $150 billion to pay for 113 launches, the per-launch cost is roughly $1.3B.

> "No.. actually I do not... They are buying said platform from the creators of said platform. "

You're still trying to claim some sort of parity between what Ariane has done -- which is buy a completed launch system from someone else -- to SpaceX, who has designed their own rocket, using both existing and new technology. The two cases aren't comparable, plain and simple.

> "A Falcon 9 is supposed to launch with a paying customer's payload sometime in Q4 2008 / Q1 2009...how confident do you think that customer is that their payload will make it?"

It doesn't matter. If they don't make the deadline, the customer will be reimbursed costs plus damages. SpaceX is still selling a service that is cost-competitive with other launch services.

> "How much higher do you think their insurance costs are now? We both know insurance isn't charity Masher"

What does this have to do with anything? SpaceX is bearing those costs. Until and unless they begin to raise their rates beyond those of other launch services, the issue of how much they pay for insurance is moot.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Darkskypoet on 8/5/2008 6:49:53 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Shuck and jive all you want: when you spend $150 billion to pay for 113 launches, the per-launch cost is roughly $1.3B.


Yes, for launches, launch pads, robotics, airframes, manufacturing facilities, all related technology, etc, etc, etc. Something to ponder here, as this technology gets reused, spun off, sold, etc do we then get to start reducing the cost per launch? Or do you simply close it off and disregard future benefits outside the realm of 'just x launches'?? I am curious, as they got far more then 'just x launches' for their money. (And for the 4th or 5th time, yes it was a lot of f***ing money. Most going to fund domestic private aerospace firms.)

quote:
You're still trying to claim some sort of parity between what Ariane has done -- which is buy a completed launch system from someone else -- to SpaceX, who has designed their own rocket, using both existing and new technology. The two cases aren't comparable, plain and simple.


No I am not. In fact I started talking about Soyuz, you started talking about Arianespace. Arianespace is a consortium and as such is much more like the massive American firms in nature, then a small start up like SpaceX.

I am comparing a suitable competitor to SpaceX's lifting platform... One that works. At least in my comparison of Falcon 9 and Soyuz 2 launch platforms, they are both privately for hire, and more comparable then NASA, SpaceX, the shuttle or Falcon anything. Besides, again, Soyuz 2 works, falcon 1 and 9 do not as of yet. I also mentioned the Delta platform, another competitor to Falcon 9, however you seem to like strategically ignoring things like that I've noticed.

quote:
It doesn't matter. If they don't make the deadline, the customer will be reimbursed costs plus damages. SpaceX is still selling a service that is cost-competitive with other launch services.


No they aren't as they have been unable to provide the service even once. Sorry, but its not a cost competitive offering of a service until they actually provide said service. Heck, even if they succeeded once, I'd totally grant you that it was a cost competitive offering. But they haven't, so its merely somewhat false advertising at this point. They have no proof that they can successfully deliver a payload as of yet. You know this as well as I do. Will they one day? Sure as long as people keep up with the huge 'investments'.

quote:
What does this have to do with anything? SpaceX is bearing those costs. Until and unless they begin to raise their rates beyond those of other launch services, the issue of how much they pay for insurance is moot.


It isn't moot, because it directly impacts their bottom line, which with a private firm completely impacts their ability to operate, eventually fulfill launch contracts, and survive. Also, just curious as I don't feel like digging for it, but do you have source that indicates who pays for payload insurance? Or is it just SOP that once safely delivered to SpaceX their insurance takes over? I mean its not as if launches aren't exceptionally risky. Further, is it even insured for full value? or does SpaceX cover a fairly large portion of the cost of payload if things go bad? I am sure it makes a car insurance deductible look tiny.

Even worse then rising insurance costs, is the inability to find a firm that will underwrite the endeavour, this would be a far greater concern, and is a definite possibility if they don't enjoy regular successes soon.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Ringold on 8/4/2008 3:32:57 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not sure why the OP would make it sound as though all private space enterprises have the quality of a Ford Pinto. This is a single "NewSpace" company. There are quite a few others without the history of problems.

While these guys have had rockets blowing up, Scaled Composites has been doing work that NASA never could've done with so little money. Biggelow has successfully placed two or three inflatable space station test modules in to orbit; the only thing really stopping them from throwing together a space station is the lack of a cheap ship to shuttle passengers to and fro. There's another firm that does launches at sea, and I think they've had success. tSpace tries to do anything NASA will let them, but they're part of the old-guard and thus may not get any attention. (Another huge mark against government involvement, favoritism)

I agree with your post in full asides from that, though. These guys will collectively force NASA to ignore LEO and lunar transit, and focus instead on things they still can't profitable do -- forget a man tripped to Mars, how about figuring out a survivable trip to Jupiter?

Oh, and I don't mean to dump on these guys, I think they'll fix their problems eventually. Well... that or they'll cease to exist.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 12:08:22 AM , Rating: 2
Scaled Composites are doing suborbital flights that achieve less than 10% of minimum orbital velocity. They have to scale up by several orders of magnitude in order to make orbit, which means multi-stage liquid fueled rocket - which means money money money. Bigelow is simply paying Russians to use converted R-36 ICBMs that have been in service since 1967. Sea Launch uses Zenit rockets - last remnant of USSR's Energia-Buran program from early 80s. These private companies aren't doing anything that hasn't been done 40-50 years ago by governmental agencies, although they're pretty good at making it appear as if they're doing something, I'll give you that... on other hand, nobody is trying to build, say, a launch loop - something that would completely trivialize getting out of gravity well, and allow true space exploration and colonization.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By masher2 (blog) on 8/5/2008 12:47:55 AM , Rating: 2
> "These private companies aren't doing anything that hasn't been done 40-50 years ago "

I don't recall anyone launching inflateable space habitats 40 years ago. I don't recall anyone using lightweight composites or ablatively-cooled carbon-fiber exhaust bells 40 years ago. I don't recall craft capable of autonomous docking 40 years ago, or launch platforms capable of surviving the failure of an engine during launch. I don't recall anyone having auto-GPS alignment during orbital insertion. I don't recall anyone powering a spacecraft off rubber and laughing gas before.

These companies are innovating tremendously, especially given their tight budgets. Considering most of these firms are only 5-10 years old, the amount of progress they've made is astounding. Look at where NASA was in 1963, 5 years after its inception.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 1:08:17 AM , Rating: 2
Uh, in 1963, 5 years after NASA was create, it has been a year since NASA put a man in orbit (Feb.20 1962, Mercury-Atlas 6). The "rubber and laughing gas" rocket made less than 10% of the needed progress to get there.

As for "autonomous docking", well duh, there have been several small advances made in microelectronics in the last 50 years. They don't have much to do with private space launch though... and GPS network was launched by Atlas and Delta rockets.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By afkrotch on 8/5/2008 2:29:44 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
These companies are innovating tremendously, especially given their tight budgets. Considering most of these firms are only 5-10 years old, the amount of progress they've made is astounding. Look at where NASA was in 1963, 5 years after its inception.


There's quite a big difference between having to search and gain knowledge on how to get to space, than someone already doing it and taking the next step (which they aren't doing) or making minor innovations within the field.

It's quite obvious that it'd take less money now for R&D than it did 50 years ago. The knowledge is already there. Computers are much faster. We also have major advances in metals, composites, etc.

Looking at it, none of these companies are making anything new. Just retrofitting Soviet-era rockets. Sounds like the original Delta rocket.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Ringold on 8/5/2008 5:15:23 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
. They have to scale up by several orders of magnitude in order to make orbit, which means multi-stage liquid fueled rocket - which means money money money.


I guess you haven't been keeping up. The White Knight Two is specifically designed to be able to launch smaller payloads in to orbit from altitude, avoiding a lot of the "money money money" of huge multi-staged liquid or solid fueled rockets. That, along with the suborbital craft. It's still an impressive technical achievement, and one that was done with very little money.

quote:
Bigelow is simply paying Russians to use converted R-36 ICBMs that have been in service since 1967.


And the Chevy Volt is just using 4 wheels, that have been in service since.. god knows when. The impressive part, which you completely skipped, is the habitable space station part -- again, with a tiny fraction of the coin spent on the ISS.

quote:
These private companies aren't doing anything that hasn't been done 40-50 years ago by governmental agencies, although they're pretty good at making it appear as if they're doing something, I'll give you that...


Please identify the low-cost inflatable space station modules put up in orbit 40-50 years ago, thanks.

While the technology they're using admittedly isn't ground-breaking, neither was anything in the Blackberry, which improved productivity of business executives. Nothing in the laptop is revolutionary, which makes computing mobile. These firms are taking basic technology or ideas that already existed (Bigelow bought the basic inflatable module tech from NASA, if I recall) and making it useful. That's what capitalism and free market, competitive entities do.

The performance compared to NASA I think is still stark. We did exactly what Orion is supposed to do in the 70s, and yet it's taking over a decade to design and who knows how many billions before it has its maiden flight? Do you find that somehow impressive?


RE: Leave it to the pros
By Gholam on 8/5/2008 7:01:40 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I guess you haven't been keeping up. The White Knight Two is specifically designed to be able to launch smaller payloads in to orbit from altitude, avoiding a lot of the "money money money" of huge multi-staged liquid or solid fueled rockets. That, along with the suborbital craft. It's still an impressive technical achievement, and one that was done with very little money.


Its primary payload, SpaceShipTwo, won't fly above 110km - even less than SpaceShipOne - and no faster than 4200 km/h - that's a long, LONG way away from orbit. North American X-15 has done that in 1959 - air launch from B-52, accelerate to suborbital altitude and hypersonic speed (up to M=6.72, considerably faster than SpaceShipOne or Two), then land. Pegasus rockets are used to launch small satellites from a bog standard Lockheed L-1011 since 1990.

As for space stations, I find the whole notion of manned spaceflight on chemical rockets absurd - but Skylab flew in 1973.


RE: Leave it to the pros
By PKmjolnir on 8/5/2008 1:50:37 PM , Rating: 1
Yes, leave it to the pros... Oh wait, they are the fing pros! They make a living of failing to reach orbit.

And they are failing by a quite small marginal, all of their rockets have been airborne during failure. Only their first attempt failed prior to separation, the other two have failed due to issues with the separation, and none of them in a too spectacular(sudden explosion) manner.

Give a few more tries and we'll have yet another realiable path to orbit, that doesn't go trough a goverment agency.


"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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