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There has never been a science fiction movie or TV show explaining the one overwhelming obstacle we face today to a spacefaring future: The impractical economics of having to build an entirely new rocket for every single flight.  And basically the aerospace industry is happy to leave that minor technical detail generally unknown, because the way the government contracts rocket flights, their absolute profit actually increases the more expensive their rocket flights are - so for decades Big Aerospace and the big institutional purchasers of space launches (primarily the Air Force and intelligence agencies) have been in a perverse, corrupt arms race to deliver minimum value at maximum cost to taxpayers.  SpaceX has spent the last decade challenging both, and rather successfully - which is why its CEO (and also the guy behind Tesla Motors) Elon Musk doesn't have a lot of friends in politics compared to his competitors.  

Watch the video below: It's not a simulation.  It's a rocket the height of a high-rise apartment building, and they've flown it six times in a year to increasing altitudes without (as far as I know) a single dime of direct public funding, a guarantee of return by any institution, or even revenue-generating operations as of yet - it's simply Elon Musk and SpaceX's far-sighted investment in overcoming the reason we're not already all zooming around in space, and it's working:

I've blogged about previous, humbler flights of the Grasshopper, so if you aren't familiar with the subject, you can get caught up here with other videos and photos:

Merry SpaceXmas!  SpaceX Test Launches 10-Story Grasshopper 12 Stories High - Lands Vertically

Woo-hoo!  Awesome SpaceX Grasshopper Hover-Slam Launch Doubles Previous Height (w/Video)

It's basically a one-tank, one-engine version of the first stage of the commercial rocket they currently fly to space - simplified so that they can tweak and evolve things for ever better economics, manufacturability, and reliability.  And what they've already learned hasn't gone to waste: They've been testing some of the resulting new technologies on full-up nine-engine test stands lately, disturbing the peace for miles around with some of the most powerful rocket engines ever built:

They've been having a lot of healthy failure in the testing process too, burning through components and causing all sorts of aborts, but that's the beauty of an organization with tons of money, zero investor pressure (because Elon Musk has tight ownership and control), and absolute zero-sum commitment to achieving a spacefaring future for humanity: Failures on the ground can only be good - they just fix it until it works before the ultimate flight.  What they're specifically preparing for is a flight currently scheduled for September where they fly the Falcon 9 v. 1.1, which is a much more powerful, efficient, and upgraded version of their current spaceflight hardware, and will also be used to do some initial flight testing of reusable components on the first stage.  Specifically, they're going to try to reignite it after stage separation so that it hits the water more softly, allowing them to recover it.

The goal isn't to recover intact stages from the water and reuse them, but to perfect the process of relighting after stage separation so that ultimately they can stick extendable landing legs on the thing and just land it right back on the launch pad.  Here is a first-stage telescoping landing leg undergoing initial development:

Falcon 9 R Landing Leg

A number of additional milestones will be undertaken by the September flight in addition to the first flight of the 1.1:

1.  Inauguration of the SpaceX launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The website for Vandenberg says the launch range is closed to the public, so unless you can get press credentials you wouldn't be able to see the launch up close, but you might be able to see something from a distance.

2.  First flight of a SpaceX payload fairing.  Up until now all of their launches have been to deliver the Dragon space capsule along with piggyback payloads, but the upcoming flight would be the first purely commercial satellite launch for SpaceX, and thus the first use of the fairing - a kind of shell that splits in half in space to expose the payload.  Dragon flights have a different type of shell: The Dragon slips out backwards and launches off to the side.  This is the new satellite fairing during a test:

You can see the engineering involved in the test based on the cables attached to the fairing halves at strategic points, simulating the weightless environment.  They actually had a problem with the setup when they found out it wasn't adequately simulating what it was supposed to, but that was only a temporary hiccup that they were able to fix relatively simply, according to reports.

3.  As mentioned, the first-stage relight test after stage separation.  They've said they expect that test to fail and not be able to recover anything the first time around, so it's mostly a "let's try it and see what happens" sort of thing.  Isn't it refreshing to have a large organization with an attitude like that?

At some point after the 1.1 launch, either late this year or early next (probably the latter), they intend to strap three 1.1 first stages together and inaugurate the Falcon Heavy: Which is designed to be the third most powerful rocket in history after Saturn V and Energia - the Soviet rocket that was supposed to launch their copy of the Space Shuttle, and only flew twice.  Falcon Heavy is, if sporadic reports are to be understood, to be the launch vehicle for what SpaceX refers to as MCT: The Mars Colonial Transport.  I'm not joking.  They're not being cute with that.  It's called the Mars Colonial Transport, its purpose is what it sounds like, and they've said they intend to build it.  There are a lot of steps between here and there, but damn.

Another expected milestone this year is the unveiling of Dragon 2, which SpaceX has said would look radically different from the current Dragon, have its own landing rockets, and be designed almost from scratch because they were being conservative with the original Dragon by hewing closely to 1960s heritage technology and strategies.  Dragon 2 would be the crewed version of Dragon competing for astronaut transport contracts to the International Space Station, and would also be used for independent commercial flights both crewed and uncrewed.  They still have to do pad abort tests and launch abort tests before they have a first launch, but they've already completed some initial review milestones toward designing their testing program toward a target launch in 2015.

The managers of the European Ariane rocket have been concerned about the commercial impact of the rise of SpaceX on their business, and they've initiated planning changes that - for a bureaucracy of their size and international scope - is something akin to desperate scrambling.  This is a major change of pace given that the only other major US rocket launch company, United Launch Alliance, has no business whatsoever from overseas and is basically sustained entirely by monopoly contracts from the US government.  It's been fun watching the dinosaurs slowly realize that there's an asteroid approaching and its name is SpaceX.  It'll only get more fun as time goes on.

If you're not excited about this, consult a thyroid specialist immediately - it may be a symptom of a more serious condition.

8:42 PM PT: I've probably shown this before, but this is the 9-engine test stand seen in two of the above videos, either just as the engines are being ignited or just as they're cutting off:

Falcon 9-R Test Stand

Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 2:21 AM PT: The inaugural 1.1 flight and opening of the Vandenberg launch site is scheduled for September 5th, and reportedly they've already completed the core technology development and are now flight-qualifying the specific stages they've built for the launch.  Since it's such a drastic versioning, and the launch site itself is a brand new facility they just built at Vandenberg AFB, delays have already occurred (it was originally supposed to have launched last month) and are very likely to occur again - but it's more than worth the wait.

Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 3:25 AM PT: The thing about SpaceX that makes it so promising beyond what it's already done and in the process of doing is that its work force is so young.  You just don't see that if you look at NASA mission control, or Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, etc.  You don't even see it so much at the entrepreneurial space companies, because they mostly poached from NASA.  SpaceX, however, stole its talent from Silicon Valley.

Originally posted to Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 06:51 PM PDT.

Also republished by Kossack Air Force.

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Comment Preferences

    •  The software is a major reason they're able (13+ / 0-)

      to cut costs so massively already.  That's what we didn't get back in the First Space Age - that the precisions required just aren't very well suited to dumb hardware and seat-of-the-pants human piloting, as awesome as the fighter-jock astronauts were at their jobs.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:18:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  True, but... (3+ / 0-)

        to be fair, the last actual development that NASA did on launch vehicles was the shuttle and it's associated technologies, all from the 1970s. They just didn't have the computer technology for the kind of hardware and software that runs the Grasshopper, nor could they have had it. That was the result of the subsequent four decades of computer development.

        Don't get me wrong; I agree that NASA got diverted from their 60s and 70s dynamism and has lost the innovative edge in things like launch vehicles (though not in other areas, like exploration vehicles, where they've been doing some fantastic work, especially the folks at JPL) but we need to be fair about the things that they could have done and the things that couldn't be done until other technologies developed to a sufficiently sophisticated level.

        Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu The Art of War

        by Stwriley on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:26:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't blame NASA for anything. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          prfb, Stwriley, Larsstephens

          They operate at the whims of a totally corrupt and venal Congress, and it was that fact that foisted the Shuttle on them rather than evolving from Apollo, and that which left their human spaceflight program wandering in the wilderness for decades even up to today (except for what they're doing with SpaceX).

          Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:42:56 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  This stuff is "Piss-your-pants" exciting.... (10+ / 0-)

    It's really gratifying to see that these people are absolutely NOT FUCKING AROUND....

    I wonder if Tesla Motors current troubles with RWNJ states has any connection to this story? I wonder if there are ULA-connected businesses in NC and TX that stand to lose $$$ because Elon Musk and his Rocket Nerds are gettin' REAL fucken uppity....

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:08:01 PM PDT

  •  Just watched the first vid... (6+ / 0-)

    ...Hexacopter?  Like little 4-blade r/c "drone"?
    I wondered what deranged lunatic would pilot a helicopter somewhere near that rocket....

    I'm amazed that they can land that thing vertically.  All sorts of questions immediately come to mind.

    The whole vehicle seems to me to have no inherent stability, therefore it must have a very sensitive device that measures the attitude and location of the vehicle very, very accurately, combined with a controlling device that first interprets the data coming from the sensing device, determines which control inputs are needed to respond to the vehicle's motions, and does so in an incredibly short period of time.

    I presume that the "window" the vehicle needs to stay within, in order to remain within the control authority of the attitude rockets, is quite narrow, and the amount of time available to interpret what's going on, decide what to do about it, then execute a response, is also quite small.  

    It's easy in our "modern" world to look at this, shrug, and go "Big deal, man it's a rocket, they launch 'em alla time"...That would be ignorant and foolish.  This whole this is an order of magnitude of increase in difficulty. Watch a few YouTube vids of German guys destroying V-2's one after another and you begin to realize how hard it is to control these things AT ALL, much less making them hover like a helicopter!

    Another issue that concerns me is the control of the exhaust plume from the rocket.  A look at the Shuttle launch pads reveals a very elaborate system to keep the SSME's and strap-on boosters from wrecking the base of the launch pads and harming the Shuttle itself from below as it launches, I wonder how Musk's Rocket Nerds dealt with that part of the problem...My first thought is that it's related to the fact that makes this whole thing possible, that the nearly-empty booster takes a heckuva lot less thrust to be levitated than the thrust required to lift the payload and the original fuel load....Still....

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:35:26 PM PDT

    •  You can hear a buzzing in the background (7+ / 0-)

      later in the video, so it's definitely some sort of drone copter.  Don't know if the "hexa" refers to the number of blades or if there are six separate rotors suspending the camera.

      Actually rockets are more stable than people think as long as they aren't too skinny or too small.  Moment of inertia delays responses the bigger a rocket is.  Also, it may seem unstable because it seems to be "resting" on its plume, but actually that's called the pendulum rocket fallacy.  A rocket is no more and no less stable "standing" on its exhaust than if it were "hanging" from several angled rockets at the top.

      Still, it is a huge achievement because this is way more stable than other rockets have been.  SpaceX is an amazing software and component company apart from being a rocket company.

      I had similar thoughts about controlling the plume.  I notice a lot of smoke rising up along the sides of the fuel tank.  I think the key lies in the shape if the exhaust - you'll notice that it kind of splays outward rather than coming to a point like you normally see.  That must be deliberate.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:42:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Getting back to those V-2 disaster vids... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        palantir, Troubadour, blueyedace2

        ....a very common failure type in those old films is one where the thrust direction seems to have not been aligned with the C/G of the whole vehicle, they swing in an arc and the rocket makes a big "C"-shaped flight path before it arrives in "Smoking-HolesVille"....

        "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

        by leftykook on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:52:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, there were big problems with (5+ / 0-)

          subtleties like vibration control, aerodynamic pressure (it was at the same time as early supersonics research), etc.  Little differences in air pressure on one side of a rocket would create a net torque and turn it in mid-air.  Or the fuel would slosh around in the tanks and create a torque.  

          I can't even imagine how resistant to frustration someone would have to be to be a rocket engineer.  It seems like it would be the same as being a computer programmer if the laws of physics were your operating system and bugs manifested as catastrophic explosions.

          Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

          by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:19:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  As I recall... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Troubadour, KenBee, Otteray Scribe

          Those were the steering vane failures, which took a lot of rockets to get right.

          The vanes were small airfoil shaped rudders directly in the exhaust stream from the nozzle, and their movements were what "steered" the rocket on its trajectory. I believe Von Braun and company had to come up with a feedback mechanism that didn't over do the controlling/correcting movements.

          And yeah, I know tarantulas don't really act like that at all, so no snarking, this is the internet damnit!

          by itzadryheat on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:20:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes. The V-2 was steered by gyroscopically (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Troubadour, blueyedace2

            controlled vanes. The vanes were extensions of the four tail fins. They were hard pressed graphite, which would withstand the heat and pressures in the rocket exhaust long enough to get the thing up to speed and trajectory.  If any of the electromechanical parts was having a bad day, the thing would wander off course. However, our own early experiences with rocket testing did not fare much better.

            This is interesting. The Rutan team are geniuses who think outside the box, much like Kelly Johnson did at the Lockheed Skunk Works.

            Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

            by Otteray Scribe on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:26:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Rutan et al aren't involved in SpaceX. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Otteray Scribe, blueyedace2

              They're with Virgin Galactic and Stratolaunch, the former of which is increasingly starting to look like a PR con by Sir Richard Branson/Scamson, and the latter appears to have limited market prospects.  But the "feather" mechanism on SpaceShipTwo to control reentry is an engineering achievement.

              Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

              by Troubadour on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:46:34 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I knew that Rutan and Paul Allen were (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                associated with Elon Musk and Space X on some projects. Thought this was one of them. I have not paid much attention to the rocketry side the past couple of years. I am an airplane guy, so have missed a lot of the politics and intrigue.

                Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

                by Otteray Scribe on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:12:19 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Paul Allen was originally working with SpaceX (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Otteray Scribe

                  to design the orbital stage for the Stratolaunch air-launched system, but SpaceX dropped out due to market conflicts and limited prospects for the system so they went with Orbital Sciences.  And Allen worked with Rutan on SpaceShipOne, but as far as I know, there have never been collaborations between Rutan and SpaceX.  Wouldn't call it "intrigue" exactly: Stratolaunch always seemed like kind of a marginal proposition that was only exciting while SpaceX was just one of many entrepreneurial companies.  Now that they're THE company and succeeding wildly at reducing launch costs, the air-launch concept is starting to seem moot.

                  Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

                  by Troubadour on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:20:57 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

    •  The Apollo Lunar Module hovered like a helicopter (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Farugia, Troubadour, sviscusi, KenBee

      in 1969 so what we are seeing here isn't totally absolutely new.

      •  To be fair, the LEM was the size of (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        a VW bus and was designed to be used once.  In 1/6 gravity.  In vacuum.  And cost a gajillion dollars to develop, before being abandoned.  Grasshopper is the size of a large grain silo, has flown and landed six times on Earth, sometimes in heavy wind, and is changing rocketry.

        Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

        by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:47:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  and the computing power probably as much as your (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour, leftykook, polecat

        camera and the weight of several suitcases and with huge weighty power short, a tremendous feat of engineering at the time...this was the time of punch cards and magnetic tape.

        Given the technological challenges it was a freakin miracle.

        This current design is great yet doesn't impress me in the leap forward sort of way that the developments of the 50's, 60, 70's did with the lack of knowledge and materials, the lack of computing ability...I almost say of course we should be able to do all this , but that speaks really more to the societal losses we have seen caused by the politics of war mongering and corrupted visions instead of the FINALLY back on track vision and forward thinking exhibited by SpaceX.
            This is to celebrate because it represents what we should have been doing and where we could have been going for quite a while now, and thank dog for Elon Musk and his abilities to get this done.

        So this is a bittersweet thing of much sadness and much beauty for me....and I wasn't the only one whose life path and involvement with the breaking new discoveries in technology and science in the late 60's was disrupted and sidetracked by the VN war, the draft, the politics, and Ronald Reagan and Crook Nixon...

        We are an insane people, thank dog some are still functioning and hail to that.

        Thank Troub, very cool, keep this going please.

        This machine kills Fascists.

        by KenBee on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 11:00:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Very well said. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          This should have been happening in the '80s instead of the Shuttle, but a late start is still a start, and they're moving a lot faster dollar-for-dollar than Apollo.  It was a miracle, but a miracle built on unlimited political commitment that undermined future progress as soon as that commitment became finite.  It's like that guy who had the cool car and all the girls in high school, and now works at the bowling alley because he couldn't imagine anything beyond his life as a teenager.  

          But I think SpaceX is a new beginning, not an epilogue indictment - they're training hundreds of top-shelf people who each may have the potential to push this paradigm even further than what they're doing right now.  And there's no way to know except after the fact whether one or several of them will exceed their teacher.  That's what's shattering about this company - they're future-oriented.  They know what went before and they don't care.  There's no trace of cargo cultism in what they're doing like there is in so many of the other entrepreneurial space companies.  They'll take or leave the past as they find convenient, always prodding for ways forward from the present state of knowledge and technology.  

          Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:14:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Your camera has VASTLY more computing power (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KenBee, Troubadour

          than the LEM.  Or the Command Module for that matter.

          A Vic-20 had more power than the computers they were using back then.  A Sinclair ZX-81 had more power than what they were using.

          Just so you know the scale involved.

          Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
          I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
          —Spike Milligan

          by polecat on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:10:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  exhaust plume (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour, semiot, polecat

      The engine can't actually throttle its thrust low enough to let a nearly-empty Grasshopper hover, in the video it's carrying many, many tons of ballast to bring the thrust-to-weight ratio close enough to one to let it do that.

      The final product has to land with a much higher T/W ratio, which means a long free-fall with some thruster steering, and then right before it hits the ground it does maybe a 7-8 second burn to slow down almost to zero just as the legs touch the ground.  It's not going to hover or descend slowly like this, it's just going to be speck-WHOOSH-ground.

      So although the test legs in the video are practically on fire about 45 seconds in, it's not a problem because in actual flight conditions the legs are only going to have a few seconds of exposure to the plume.

      As for the Shuttle, one SRB is about 20 times the thrust of that Grasshopper engine, so it's a different league. And secondly, solid rockets have a lot of crap in their exhaust, like hypersonic droplets of molten aluminum. Even at equivalent thrust liquid engine exhaust isn't as harsh.

  •  Thanks. Much more like your usual stuff. (9+ / 0-)

    Happily tipped and rec'd.

    'If you want to be a hero, well just follow me.' - J. Lennon

    by Clive all hat no horse Rodeo on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:44:49 PM PDT

  •  This concept has been around since the 60's (7+ / 0-)

    McDonnell Douglas built the DC-X and DC-XA as testbeds in the early ninety's. It is a high risk strategy from a payload standpoint, but maybe SpaceX will be the one to crack it:

    Then there's Blue Origin's New Shepard:

    •  The fact that DC-X was killed off because (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, Drewid, sviscusi, Alumbrados, KenBee

      of a landing leg malfunction was one of the uglier and more brazen examples of the corruption of our nation's post-Apollo space priorities.  There's simply no "bidness" incentive for a reusable system in the midst of Lockheed et al making money hand over fist charging through the roof for expendable rockets.  The DC-X was a little too awesome, a little too promising.  Went out the window at the first excuse.

      It lost its original DoD backing almost certainly because of the (still largely symbolic) threat it presented to the mother lode of contracts, the Air Force bulk-buys of launches.  Any hint that alternatives even existed wasn't to be tolerated - they don't even really tolerate it now with SpaceX physically demonstrating their superiority.  They're having to launch medieval sieges of the procurement office to get a small percentage of future launch contracts while offering a fraction of the price.  

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:06:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have nothing of intelligence to add (5+ / 0-)

    but my SO hears something about space or NASA or planets or rockets and becomes as one with the rockets.

    i never saw him so happy as when we went to KSC in Florida. or when he would watch a rocket launch into the sky.

    so i am going to email him this diary so he can read it at work tomorrow.

    darn. work. holiday over. rats.

    Christin knows how to hang on and bite with her sharp nasty hateful teeth..then says what a good girl am I! Love me I like animals and Obama..she's just pure evil. Shaharazade 7.5.13

    by Christin on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:48:12 PM PDT

  •  The only 'plus' I can see from this is the ability (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, Troubadour, sviscusi

    To land in tight spaces, instead of needing a runway. All that fuel it needs to carry to re-entry and land replaces a lot of payload - I still think the 'parasitic' system (like the Rutan design) is more sensible and efficient. This is definitely cool to look at, but seems inefficient.

    "Use the Force, Harry!" - Gandalf

    by Fordmandalay on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:58:15 PM PDT

    •  The argument that Elon Musk poses (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Drewid, sviscusi, polecat

      is that even though you cut the payload by a certain fraction, you also cut the cost by a factor of a hundred while increasing safety and reliablility by an even larger margin.  And even the decline in payload is only circumstantial because you can just build bigger rockets and still sustain them economically due to much greater demand at the lower price.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:23:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think that the weight of the "spent" first stage (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      might be very small compared to its weight with a full load of propellant and a payload.

      The "burn" required to land the nearly-empty first-stage might be very small compared to the launch firings....

      I wonder how much residual fuel is in the current booster when it finishes its launch burn-I'd bet it's a surprising amount, I bet they don't let the booster run til it flames out, I bet that they calculate how much speed change they need to perform the mission and intentionally shut it down after a specific number of seconds rather than let it herky-jerk to completely empty...

      I've wondered if they couldn't figger out a way to soft-land the engines alone, since they are the complicated part, maybe some sort of explosive-bolt affair that separates the engine package from the fuel tanks and deploys a parachute....

      "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

      by leftykook on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:40:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  They have compromised some payload (0+ / 0-)

        to keep more fuel at stage separation for the 1.1.  The cost/benefit is off the charts if they succeed, so there's no reason not to let go of a few million per flight for the possibility of cutting the ultimate cost of orbital spaceflight to 1% of where it is.

        Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

        by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:52:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Earth has too much gravity. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, sviscusi

    Why not just work on reducing g by a factor of two before spending all this money?

    •  You can reduce effective gravity a bit (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Drewid, sviscusi

      by launching from the equator in the direction of planetary rotation, but the economics actually aren't that compelling.  And like most awesome technology, I think we'll only realize antigravity when we've already proven we don't need it - humans were all over the world long before we knew what the world was.  And we'll be doing a lot of space travel before we really know what the hell we're doing.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:26:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Reminds me of a D&D joke where someone buys (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        a cart that can hold 1,000 lbs and then buys 2,000 lbs of canaries to put in it thinking that he can keep half of them flying at all times.

        /would hate to clean that cart.

        Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
        I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
        —Spike Milligan

        by polecat on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:14:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Nice diary, Troub, great update! n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JoanMar, Troubadour

    And yeah, I know tarantulas don't really act like that at all, so no snarking, this is the internet damnit!

    by itzadryheat on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:21:31 PM PDT

  •  I wonder how many times a day the Chinese (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    try to hack into Space-X to get the plans for all this.

    •  SpaceX is one of the few companies (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sviscusi, kalmoth, KenBee, Lawrence

      that bothers to protect itself from China.  They don't even patent most of what they develop, because China just uses patents as instruction manuals.  Musk had a great quote, to the effect that the where the primary competition is national governments, "the enforceability of patents is questionable."  The Chinese will just have to steal the blueprints the old fashioned way.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:56:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I wouldn't put it past them (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It seems to have been a winning strategy for them so far.

        Often just knowing that something can be done is half the battle.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:58:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  As long as SpaceX never stands still (0+ / 0-)

          they're in no danger of being overtaken by institutional space programs, even if they were thoroughly infiltrated.  We forget how insanely bureaucratic China is, and how much inertia is involved in its programs.  It's mostly, I think, to just avoid giving the Chinese government any sort of start because they tend to pursue things forever once they get going - which is actually a good thing for the species as a whole (since it means they're committed to space), but problematic given our own society's short-term thinking.  

          Still, I don't think they'll even be institutionally aware of SpaceX until it topples ULA and Arianespace, and the moment they started to change course to deal with SpaceX, their actions would be seen miles away and years ahead.  There'd be all sorts of grinding bureaucratic gears resisting or failing to properly implement the necessary changes.  Meanwhile, SpaceX could respond with agility.  Not much short of China doing its own version of the Apollo crash program would really challenge that as long as the company keeps moving forward at its own pace.  It'll only start to wind down when Musk takes it public (no announced plans to do so anytime soon, fortunately) and has to start appeasing investors with shorter and shorter-term results.

          Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:23:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Wow the relanding was awesome. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  After viewing the recent Russian mishap... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, KenBee

    This is rather encouraging. One big advantage SpaceX has is that they do so much in house. If there's a problem with something, the people responsible are right on hand to deal with it.

    NASA's approach of multiple contractors over multiple states back when they were really in the space business may have made sense politically (got to get enough votes in Congress to have any kind of budget), but it was an engineering nightmare.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:30:22 PM PDT

    •  Rapid feedback. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, kalmoth, KenBee

      They're undergoing the subcontractor-model equivalent of several decades of focused evolution every year.  Their unmanned systems went from zero to post-Gemini in two years from first Falcon 9 launch.  The 1.1 when it launches, either in September or later if delayed, will be the most advanced rocket in history.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 09:04:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually, the DCX was going this route... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, KenBee, Simplify

    ...back in the 90's. But the Clinton Administration apparently thought it would "save too much money" (That quote is snark on my part) and went with Lockheed's X-33 instead, which didn't stand much of a chance and I always hated it because of the required infrastructure. I know they were supposedly trying to, "Push the limits," but apparently Al Gore never got the K.I.S.S. memo.

    The only plus I ever found in the X-33 was the linear Aerospike engine. Now, put a standard Aerospike engine in one of these Grasshoppers and now you're talking!

    I'm glad to see private contractors using great ideas that were thrown away in the corporate world. At least the USAF is finally working on a return/reusable flying booster.

    WTG SpaceX, at least someone isn't relying solely on everything that was already done fifty years ago. Also, thanks to SpaceX for remembering that development means building it and flying it, not spending millions on research to get a paper written saying, "Yeah, we could probably do this."

    Regulated capital serves the people, unregulated capital serves itself.

    by Alumbrados on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 09:37:41 PM PDT

  •  That's how rockets were imagined to land (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, KenBee, eOz

    in all the Scifi movies when I was a kid (the '50s) -- e.g. Destination Moon.

    It's only taken 60 years to develop the technology needed to do it... quite typical of the gap between science fiction future history and technological reality. Heinlein et al. were certain back then that humanity would be out to the stars by the early 21st century.

    •  Science fiction both over- and underestimates. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      maybeeso in michigan, Lawrence

      Most people who grew up without ubiquitous computing and networking tell me if anyone had suggested we'd have it by now, they would have thought it was pie-in-the-sky nonsense.  People just extrapolate current trends.  They usually can't see inflection points.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 09:57:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  if you showed me a 32gb usb drive 15 years ago (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour, Lawrence

        i'd poop myself and fall unconscious.

        My first HDD was a 400mb Western Digital. Thing was the size of a brick, but heavier.

        "See? I'm not a racist! I have a black friend!"

        by TheHalfrican on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:10:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I learned computers on a DOS IBM 25 years ago. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Lawrence, rimstalker, JoanMar, kalmoth

          It loaded from a big floppy disk with like 15 kilobytes on it.  This font blew my mind:


          I loved printing things in it on my dot matrix printer.  Five-year-olds are easily amused.

          But it never impressed me as technology much later than that because I grew up reading space science fiction and watching TNG.  Now I can't even be bothered with texting, let alone mobile apps.  I've had people my own age act like I showed up in a horse and buggy because I actually called them instead of texting.  

          Now I've gone full circle - I'm so unimpressed with the state of technology I've lost touch with it.  All these stupid gadgets and apps.  Bullshit artists chasing the cheap dime.  But I saw real tech when it arrived - Tesla and SpaceX.

          Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:40:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Great Update, Troubadour, Thanks!! n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, JoanMar

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 12:33:02 AM PDT

  •  Elon Musk is one of the few people whom I can (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, JoanMar, eOz

    take seriously when they talk about trips to Mars.

    This tech looks like it might be very useful when landing on Mars....

    Fascinating stuff, thus:

    Tipped and recced.

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:08:35 AM PDT

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