Friday, April 18, 2014

Congrats to Spacex

News reports today (Friday 4-18-2014) show (1) successful launch of Falcon-9R,  (2) successful injection of Dragon onto orbit,  targeted for rendezvous with ISS Sunday,  and (3) data received from 1st stage of Falcon-9R for 8 seconds after (after !!!!) landing in the Atlantic.

Congrats to Spacex!!!  Very,  very,  very well done!!!


Update 4-27-2014:  news in the last few days indicates two things:  (1) Spacex is suing the US government to break the government-mandated monopoly held by ULA in the military payload launch business,  and (2) it appears more and more likely that Spacex will build its private launch facility in far south Texas.  Both are very good news indeed.

Update 5-15-14:  In recent days we have seen a court-ordered stay forbidding the purchase of RD-180 engines from Russia for ULA's Atlas-5,  followed by a vacating of that very stay,  based on government agency testimony.

Testimony that buying those engines from a company run by an individual under sanction,  does not violate said sanction!  "Curioser and curioser," said Alice.

And,  we have seen that same Russian company,  via its sanctioned executive,  say that it will not sell any more RD-180 engines to the US for purposes of military launch,  nor will it provide product support for those already sold.

Now,  ULA has engines in inventory to support the next block of military launches using Atlas-5,  but will get no product support from Russia anymore.  This is the block of launches that Spacex was denied access to competing for (provoking the lawsuit).

Does it not seem stupid in the extreme to depend on rocket engines from what is now a hostile power,  for our military space launches?  Does anybody else get that impression?

Please comment!!


Update 8-7-14:  News releases indicate that Spacex has decided to build their all-commercial launch facility in South Texas.  That is wonderful news.  From there,  there's plenty of dry-land options available to recover and re-use first stages from Falcon-9 and Falcon-Heavy (same article,  just 3 at a time).  Prospects for dry-land recovery are not so good for any of the Atlantic coast launch locations.  Re-usability issues must have figured into that location decision.

A few weeks earlier,  Musk revealed Dragon version 2,  the manned capsule.  It's quite spacious inside.  The all-propulsive pinpoint landing without using parachutes is very,  very intriguing.  No one has offered hard numbers,  but the heat shield is good enough for a free-return from Mars,  which is far beyond what is required to return from the moon.  Thus,  that capsule could be re-flown dozens,  perhaps a hundred,  times from Earth orbit before needing heat shield replacement.  Musk really is quite serious about re-usability.


  1. Any wild guesses on how much they will actually be able to reduce the cost of a F9 Launch once they achieve full fly back?

    1. They'd like to reduce costs by a factor of 10 to 100. The technologies to do this are still quite immature, so they'll be lucky to reduce cost by a factor of 2 anytime "soon". But, even that would be astounding.
      -- GW

    2. Ok, so from 60 mil to 30 mil per falcon 9 launch you think is doable. Not bad or unrealistic. It would certainly be enough to further shake up the launch industry which is already struggling to reduce costs to keep up. The part that has me most concerned is flight rate. Musk's entire business plan is predicated around a high flight rate and right now, that seems very elusive. He has the backlog, but getting them off the ground has been slow going. The bottleneck seems to be at the launch site. I heard somewhere that there is a 30 minimum between launches on the same pad but I'm not sure if or why that would be. I would think they could build a second hanger so that they could begin integrating the next payload while waiting for the launch of the current one or build a hanger large enough for 2. Any first hand knowledge you can share about what the hold up is most likely to be?

    3. I'm no insider, so I don't know anything firsthand. From what I have read, the inability to ramp up flight rates has more to do with production rates at the factory than it does with prep time at Canaveral.

      At least some of that would be government rules, facilities, and equipment limitations, if not nearly all of it. That problem is why they want to build a private launch facility, perhaps in south Texas.


  2. RE: Update 5-15-14: Here is my off the cuff prediction. I think in the long run, the russian's will realize they have more to loose than we do and continue to sell us engines but it will be too late, the damage is done. Congress will likely force the development of US engines for US rockets regardless of the astronomical costs. This will play right into Space X's hands and will increase their access to the lucrative military launches, giving Elon the funds he needs to continue development of larger and cheaper rockets. Russia will double down, cuz that's what bully's do, and they will basically initiate a second space race, albeit far less than the first one. They will again over extend themselves financially, with plans for a moon base, etc, but this time, instead of looking to the US, they will look to China. China and Russia will have dramatically increased space cooperation and will be in direct competition with the US which will force the US to increase it's space operations as well. With Russian know how and experience and Chinese money, the two will put enormous pressure on the US. Not sure how it will play out at that point, but that is the road I think we're headed down. A part of me is glad for the excuse to get back in space that it would create, but then It could lead to global conflict.

    In the short term, I think the ban on russian engines is mostly political rhetoric and will amount to nothing and the engines will keep coming. Not that I think we should be relying on russian engines. I also think we need to forget about reverse engineering the RD 180 and just go all out to develop a truely american engine. Maybe it's time to go steal some new German scientists. :)

    So I say put a rush on commercial crew, put a rush on a new engine for atlas V, and prevent Orbital from buying russian engines as well. Then make immediate plans to launch a replacement module when the Russians back out of ISS in 2020. In mean time, have the CIA do whatever it can to sour the relationship between russia and china to forstall cooperation between them, and at the same time increase cooperation with the remaining ISS partners to solidify their support.