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View Diary: UPDATED: Quietly, SpaceX makes a revolutionary launch (67 comments)

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  •  If... (29+ / 0-)

    they get a human rated launch vehicle that has a reusable first stage working we could be looking at the beginning of a true commercialization of Low Earth Orbit.

    •  Even more important (19+ / 0-)

      it means SpaceX could undercut their competitors' launch fees, while increasing their profit margins.

      This could put some other launchers out of business.

      We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

      by Keith Pickering on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 01:46:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Perhaps (9+ / 0-)

        A lot will depend on how many launches they can do per year. There are a lot of satellites that need to go up and at present there is a substantial waiting list so even if SpaceX is radically cheaper the wait time for a launch may mean some payloads will go up on other launch vehicles.

        •  With reusability, their pace can increase (10+ / 0-)

          Not only do they save on the money needed to manufacture a new first stage, they also save on the time needed to do so. Once they learn how to recover, refurbish, and reuse the first stage, they can begin to concentrate more on manufacture of the much smaller second stage. So that should provide enough additional hardware to enable them to not only launch cheaper, but also launch faster.

          We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

          by Keith Pickering on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 02:07:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  reusability is really hard. (7+ / 0-)

            It's a very tough problem.

            And to recover that stage, you need to run the engine stable at very low pwoer

            •  Salt-water Landing Makes It Virtually Impossible (4+ / 0-)

              Salt water is one of the most corrosive elements on the planet.  It tends to consume almost any metal which it can find access to.  Worse, it has a voracious appetite for copper and copper alloys, which must be specially formulated to avoid corrosion.  I won't speak much about iron and iron alloys and sea water, because the the latter loves to munch on the former.  

              To make that first stage reusable after a salt-water landing, SpaceX would have needed a way to seal any and all openings in the structure before it hits the water.  That can be done, but the weight penalty could be pretty substantial.  It's a wonderful concept, but actually pulling it off requires more than just a first-stage engine restart.  The latter might have been done mostly to determine if it could be accomplished before going down the much more rigorous path of materials and structure redesign.  Such a vehicle would no longer be the Falcon but some other bird.

              "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

              by PrahaPartizan on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 05:42:24 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Isn't (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Kevskos, FarWestGirl

                Isn't the ultimate goal to land it on land though?  

              •  Just put it down in a lake! (0+ / 0-)

                matthewborgard.com ~ @MatthewBorgard

                by zegota on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:46:30 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  I believe the current plan (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                eOz, Kevskos, FarWestGirl

                is to move towards a land VTVL, like the DC-X or the Lunar Lander Challenge vehicles.  

                I think the primary purpose is to fishing one out of the sea is to see what sort of damage that results in re-light and the like

              •  The plan is for the 1st stage to fly back... (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                eOz, Kevskos, FarWestGirl

                ...to the launch site.

                That's part of the point of Falcon 9 1.1 - the extra fuel from the stretched fuel tanks can be used to flip the 1st stage to point back home, do enough of a burn using 3 engines to take her back to Cape Canaveral or Vandenberg, and then do a landing with the one center engine on a landing pad there.

                If everything goes right, the Falcon 9 would not touch the ocean.

                •  ??? (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  buddabelly, FarWestGirl

                  Wow. Not saying it isn't so, but the energetics have got to be crazy. The SpaceX web-site says "return to the launch pad for a vertical landing", so you're almost certainly right.

                  Still, by the time the first stage burns out, it's a hundred miles or so downrange and moving very fast. Even though it's substantially lighter than the original stage and payload, the energetics of turning it around and getting it back are unreasonable. And then it would need to be slowed down (again!) and landed.

                  It would be hugely easier to launch with downrange recovery targets, using the atmosphere to slow and orient the rocket, using minimal rocket thrust at higher altitudes to put the stage through altitude-velocity-distance windows, and more thrust at lower altitudes to drop it on the target.

                  That would constrain the launch and recovery sites considerably, however, as the nation's traditional launch sites have been specifically chosen so that descending hardware can fall safely onto unpopulated areas.

                  •  True enough, but (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    jrooth, Wino

                    by that time the stage is almost entirely defueled, so it's very light, especially compared to the amount of thrust the engines can generate. Lack of weight can make up for a lot.

                    We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

                    by Keith Pickering on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 11:53:19 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Not to mention... (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      jrooth, FarWestGirl

                      that at that point, it no longer has the weight a stack of stages sitting on top of it.   ;)

                      Já þýðir já. Nei þýðir nei. Hvað er svona erfitt við það?

                      by Rei on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:16:45 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Even so... (0+ / 0-)

                        It's still going a goodly fraction of orbital velocity, and energy goes up w/ v^2.

                        I did a little more looking, and it's both better and worse than I thought.

                        To allow this, SpaceX had to make the second stage considerably more powerful, and have the first stage contribute somewhat less delta-v to the launch. That's not necessarily bad, as it means that more  propellant can be used more efficiently by the second stage. (Once you're out of the atmosphere, the larger, larger-expansion-nozzle engine is more efficient, and it doesn't matter nearly so much how quickly one burns it.)

                        Secondly, one thing that SpaceX had to change to permit man-rating launches was to avoid the more-vertical, less-horizontal launches of Atlas and some other rockets. This, so that the ballistic trajectory at any point in the launch after a rocket failure can't plummet too quickly into dense atmosphere, where the g-forces would squash people flat. That makes the delta-v problems for the first stage worse, since it increases the downrange velocity, and it can't use the atmosphere for braking downrange motion.

        •  Canadian sat TV (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          OleHippieChick, FarWestGirl

          Was to go up on a Russian rocket. They had issues and Shaw had to wait over 2 years for the Russians to get it up. In other words, they could not go anywhere else to get it up quicker. Must be a three to four year wait currently.

          •  TV satellites (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FarWestGirl

            These usually require insertion into a geo-stationary orbit which is hardly what this achieved.

            Commercial launches of the Soyuz rocket are handled by a joint French-Russian company in the case of launches from Baikonur and Arianespace for launches from Kourou in France.

            The heavy lift Ariane 5 (which has just got a new order for 18); medium lift Soyuz and new light-weight Vega are all launched from the Guiana Space Center (CSG) to take advantage of the slingshot effect from launching near the Equator.

            TV satellites are getting bigger although Ariane 5 can currently launch two of the largest into separate geo-stationary orbits. It is also going to have a role, along with Soyuz, in launching the Galileo constellation of GPS satellites.  

            We will work, we will play, we will laugh, we will live. We will not waste one moment, nor sacrifice one bit of our freedom, because of fear.

            by Lib Dem FoP on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:39:12 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Hardly what was achieved (0+ / 0-)

              Umm, yeah. It was a test. You sound like you know more, but I assume one of the markets they want to tap, and are going to all this trouble to make this rocket is to put satellites in orbit. If your point is it's not powerful enough, they just increased the thrust of their engines, like ten times. Give them some time.

        •  That's one of the things, though (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FarWestGirl

          that SpaceX is most noteworthy for - rapid turnaround times.  For example, have you seen how long it takes them between scrubbed launch attempts and  subsequent launches?  Just amazing, really, compared to pretty much everyone else in the industry.

          I really think they can do this affordably if the landing G forces aren't too much.  

          Also, it's not like they're only going to have one rocket available.  Part of SpaceX's whole strategy is mass-production of parts.  That's part of the reason they have so many engines on their first stage - each one is identical and comes from the same production line.  And their second stages use the same engines, just fewer.  They'll churn out however many rockets they need to meet all of the demand that they can capture.

          Já þýðir já. Nei þýðir nei. Hvað er svona erfitt við það?

          by Rei on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:14:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  No way... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OleHippieChick

        can they put ULA/Boeing out of business; they have a captive market. But they can either keep their prices up and build up reserves for their R&D, or pressure on them and start taking away their business in a big way.

        ULA/Boeing has enough political pull that doing the latter is not risk free. But it should nonetheless be something of a sea change in the world(s) of space launch.

    •  Given the stewardship of the planet that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eOz

      corporations have shown... that's a positive thing?

      Imagine, banner ads in the night sky...

      Obama: self-described Republican; backed up by right-wing policies

      by The Dead Man on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 03:03:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  2 points (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Subterranean, Wino

        1)  Banners in the night sky are outlawed

        2)  Corporations have driven a lot of space policy.  Look at the mess that was the Constellation program

      •  Excellent question (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SneakySnu, semiot, FarWestGirl

        My wife asked me the same thing when I was enthusing about Elon Musk's vision and the real potential for space commercialization soon.  It is an ironic sign of progress that the People will need to be vigilant in the regulation and visibility on what is being done in low-earth orbit (LEO), and beyond.  Peace, privacy and prosperity are constantly in tension.

        Real advances in technology, real progress, are disruptive, by their very nature.  In the cusp of disruption, individual choices by those in a position to make them will shape and deflect the new system which will emerge out of the fragments of the old.

        Elon Musk is a specific case, but competitors will emulate his achievements and methodologies.  He is well aware of that.  After tracking interviews with him (most are on YouTube, including an excellent seminar he gave at a major university) and articles about him, I think he will make choices which lead to a single end:  knowing mankind is in the process of colonizing Mars before he dies.  

        But governments, as he has said often, are his competitors.  He knows the technology and engineering methods and business practices will be adopted by governments and their closely-held contractors.  He takes that into account and aims for a price-point that will transform -- disrupt -- the current status quo.

        But we must be vigilant, always.  LEO will be a commercial platform park quite soon, and lots of things will be launch we will want to understand.  It's a question we will need to ponder often as we reach for Mars.

    •  Low earth orbit (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      buddabelly

      Methinks LEO has already been long been commercialized. I.e. NASA contractors (private companies from the get go) build rocket hardware and put up commercial communications satellites, etc. For example, the Shuttle was built by Rocketdyne, Morton Thiokol, Rockwell, etc.

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