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SpaceX Announces Dragon As First Falcon 9 Payload

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the are-they-saying-it's-mythical-and-spews-fire dept.

Space 83

BJ_Covert_Action writes "SpaceX announced recently that it would be integrating a stripped-down test version of its own Dragon cargo capsule as the payload for its first Falcon 9 test launch. The Falcon 9 rocket is currently scheduled to launch on November 29 of this year if everything goes according to plan. However, Elon Musk admits that launch day will likely slip to sometime early next year. The Falcon 9 is the heavy launch vehicle designed by SpaceX to be used as a cheap, commercial alternative to existing United States launch platforms. Having launched a few successful light missions with the Falcon 1 rocket, SpaceX is going to launch the Falcon 9 as its next milestone in commercializing the space industry. Utilizing its own cargo capsule as the first Falcon 9 payload will effectively give SpaceX double the tests for one launch slot on the Cape Canaveral range. The capsule that will be used is a test version of the full Dragon capsule that encompasses primarily the structure and a few components of the full version. It served originally as a ground test platform for the Dragon design team and now will double as an orbital testbed. If nothing else, the announcement upped the ante in the commercial space market by showing the SpaceX is capable and willing to push the envelope on its development schedules. It should serve as a proper motivator for other commercial competitors such as Orbital Sciences with their Cygnus capsule, which is also under development."

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83 comments

hey guys (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29548593)

I have an awesome movie out. It's called "I Hope they serve beer in hell". You should take all your DnD or LARP friends and watch it. Trust me, it's awesome.

--
Tucker Max
In a world in which The Hangover exists, there's no purpose to this movie whatsoever.

Q: How to always announce a first launch? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29548603)

A: Increment the rocket version number each time.

Space station supply (5, Informative)

amightywind (691887) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548623)

This makes sense. Falcon 9 is uninsurable without a successful launch, so it cannot be used to launch a valuable satellite payload. Furthermore, NASA's space station supply contract is potentially far more lucrative than participating in the competitive market for satellite launch services. Good luck to them. They are going to need it

Re:Space station supply (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29548711)

Why are they going to need good luck? You sound a little pessimistic about their efforts.

Re:Space station supply (4, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548833)

Why are they going to need good luck? You sound a little pessimistic about their efforts.

The first launch of any new rocket is likely to run into unforseen problems which can cause it to fail, particularly when it's been developed quickly on a low budget. SpaceX have some experience now with the earlier Falcon launches, but the odds of a failure are significant... that's just rocket science for you.

Re:Space station supply (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549051)

But I don't think it's that great if their rocket succeeds because of good luck.

Maybe wish them "no bad luck" ;).

Re:Space station supply (2, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549099)

Well, getting into space despite the problems and then fixing them for the next launch is better than not getting into space at all; but, yes, the important element of the first launch of any rocket is to find the problems and fix them.

NASA, for example, had numerous problems on the early Saturn launches which could have lost the launcher and payload (POGO being the most obvious), but redundancy and some good luck saved those flights.

Re:Space station supply (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549477)

But I don't think it's that great if their rocket succeeds because of good luck. Maybe wish them "no bad luck" ;).

Amounts to the same thing. Bad luck can strike anyone, no matter how skilled, so it's good luck to not be struck by bad luck. The rest of your success is due to your own merits and work, but there's still the good luck of avoiding the bad beyond your control.

Re:Space station supply (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549319)

This makes sense. Falcon 9 is uninsurable without a successful launch, so it cannot be used to launch a valuable satellite payload.

Which is irrelevant, it's actually fairly unusual for a booster (even in it's test phase) to not carry a commercial or government payload. This sounds more like, after the debacle the Falcon I has been to date, nobody is willing to risk their payload even for the reduced prices (sometimes even free) that such launches usually charge. This seems especially true given a) the late date the launch schedule has been announced, and b) the late date the payload for the first flight has been announced.
 
 

Furthermore, NASA's space station supply contract is potentially far more lucrative than participating in the competitive market for satellite launch services.

Horseshit. The commercial market is already far larger than NASA's *entire* market, of which the space station contract is only a portion.

Re:Space station supply (1)

edumacator (910819) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549511)

after the debacle the Falcon I has been to date

I admit I haven't kept up with SpaceX completely, but how has Falcon 1 been a debacle? Haven't they had at least two successful launches shortly after completing the rocket design, and running a few tests?

It seems somewhat of an overstatement to say the Falcon 1 was a debacle because they had problems during testing. Tests which were designed to find...well...problems.

Re:Space station supply (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29556259)

There were payloads on some of the earlier Falcon 1 flights that ended up being a sort of embarrassment to SpaceX when the vehicles failed to reach orbit. Most of these payloads were flights to customers who could not have been able to afford a conventional launch, so it was mostly a free ride for what might have been successful but no guarantee on its success. A couple of satellites designed by the U.S. Air Force Academy cadets were on those flights. It was furthermore unfortunate that when the test flight that actually made it into orbit finally happened, nobody else was willing to put up a potential test article, so SpaceX had to make their own that was mostly a solid hunk of aluminum in the size, shape, and weight of a "typical" commercial satellite.

Still, I'd have to agree that the problems on the Falcon 1 were during the test flights, when clearly it was an unproven system. Problems with the Falcon 1 were not manufacturing errors but rather fundamental design errors. A manufacturing error is something where a tolerances from manufacturing would cause a part to fail occasionally, while a design error is something that would never work in the first place. The Falcon 1 has worked out most of the design issues and the manufacturing methods of SpaceX don't seem to be a huge problem.

A payload would require the fairing, too... (1)

ClayJar (126217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549533)

This sounds more like, after the debacle the Falcon I has been to date, nobody is willing to risk their payload even for the reduced prices (sometimes even free) that such launches usually charge.

Actually, the situation is that there are two complementary reasons in play. By using the static test Dragon capsule, they get valuable engineering data about the dynamics of the integrated system that they can use to make any adjustments in advance of the first Dragon COTS launch.

The other factor influencing the decision is that the Falcon 9/Dragon configuration does not use the payload fairing. By using the static test Dragon capsule for the Falcon 9 demo launch, they can extend development of the payload fairing without impacting the demo launch time line.

Not requiring a finalized Falcon 9 payload fairing until flight five gives them significant additional time to optimize the fairing. Acquiring valuable flight test data by using their already-built static test Dragon capsule just makes it the proverbial "win-win" situation.

Re:A payload would require the fairing, too... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29552907)

If a fairing posed particularly difficult design and development problem - you'd have a point.

And what do you know, I *do* have a point. (1)

ClayJar (126217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29557837)

"This gives us the best flight data in advance of our first COTS mission," Musk said. "It also removes the (payload) fairing from the schedule critical path and allows us to spend more time on making the fairing lighter and more reliable."

Source: SpaceX doubles down on inaugural Falcon 9 mission [spaceflightnow.com]

Re:And what do you know, I *do* have a point. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29560359)

Which, given the fact that fairings don't particularly represent a difficult design or development problem [1], indicates that something (major) is wrong at SpaceX. They're putting a good spin on it, but that doesn't change the basic nature.

[1] My mistake, I acted as if you actually knew this rather than just cutting and pasting words you don't understand.

Re:And what do you know, I *do* have a point. (2, Informative)

ClayJar (126217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29566277)

Which, given the fact that fairings don't particularly represent a difficult design or development problem, indicates that something (major) is wrong at SpaceX.

So, you're saying that fairings are, to use the phrase, "not rocket science"? It's certainly true that a fairing design and implementation is not nearly as difficult a nut to crack as designing a new liquid-fueled engine completely from scratch, but fairings and fairing separations aren't something so inherently mundane that they can be ignored.

The aerodynamics are not so trivial you can just say, "Eh, that looks about right..." and be at an energy-optimal solution. Additionally, while it's trivial to overbuild a solution that will protect the payload during ascent, reducing the mass of the fairing system is not so easy. (Like most things in engineering, the first bits are easy, with additional improvements coming with greater and greater effort.) Having additional time to shave off a few more kilograms from the fairing is certainly a net positive.

Now, as for fairing separation incidents, there have not been many, but a quick check does turn up three of note in the last decade or so:

I cannot speak to the failure potential of a new fairing design on a new launch vehicle as compared to existing fairings on well-traveled vehicles, but if I were to go with a "feeling", I would certainly doubt that it is less.

(By the way, your ad hominem song and dance routine was hardly mature. Will you be coming to Geowoodstock next year up in your area? I'm thinking of possibly heading up for the event and some cold water diving next year, and I wouldn't mind betting a batch of my homemade chocolate chip cookies on SpaceX -- perhaps you can bet a family-restaurant-level dinner? I don't drink, so it shouldn't be expensive.)

Re:Space station supply (1)

amightywind (691887) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550791)

You don't know what you are talking about. The Delta IV Heavy was launched with a dummy simulator. LMCO had retired enough risk for the Atlas V with Atlas III that they really didn't need a test flight. Falcon I did carry payloads, though I am not sure a University of Colorado student project really qualifies.

My point that ISS resupply is sole source is valid, and you have said nothing to refute it. One has only to point to the bankrupcy of Sea Launch to see that the commercial market is highly competive, especially with state subsidized competitors like Russia and China.

Re:Space station supply (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29552861)

You don't know what you are talking about. The Delta IV Heavy was launched with a dummy simulator.

That's one flight... There was more than one.
 
 

LMCO had retired enough risk for the Atlas V with Atlas III that they really didn't need a test flight.

That's one booster. There is more than one booster.
 
 

My point that ISS resupply is sole source is valid, and you have said nothing to refute it.

Facts only fail to refute your claims when you ignore them. But then, that seems to be par for your course.

Re:Space station supply (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#29552091)

Debacle? Since when is this (3 failures, then two successes) unusual for a *brand new, non-evolutionary launch stack*? Nobody willing to risk payloads? SpaceX has been flooded with new private launch contracts recently.

What are you talking about?

Re:Space station supply (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29552835)

Debacle? Since when is this (3 failures, then two successes) unusual for a *brand new, non-evolutionary launch stack*?

If the Falcon I was 'non-evolutionary', you'd have a point.

Re:Space station supply (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#29553775)

Okay, what's its direct ancestor?

Re:Space station supply (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29557093)

Any number of other boosters - there's nothing particularly revolutionary or new about it's design, construction, or manufacture.

Re:Space station supply (2, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#29568473)

Bzzt, sorry! If you don't have a direct ancestor, you're not taking an evolutionary approach, and you have to debug full systems integration from scratch. None of their failures would have occurred if it were an evolutionary rocket -- the salt/metal incompatibility failure would have occurred on the parent rocket, the separation kick would have occurred on the parent rocket, and the slosh roll risk would have at least been hinted at by the parent rocket.

there's nothing particularly revolutionary or new about it's design, construction, or manufacture.

Examples: hybrid isogrid/balloon tanks for a "best of both worlds" combination of high payload fraction and ease of handling on the ground; one of the first rockets to use friction-stir welded tanks; an level of automated production unprecedented for orbital rocketry; an almost unreal turnaround time on aborted launches, and the highest performance gas generator cycle engine ever built.

Potential Payload (2, Interesting)

drbuzz0 (1638167) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549709)

My understanding is that they will be launching the Dragon as basically a test item, not a fully capable version of the capsule intended to dock with the space station. The first Falcon-1 launch carried a "mass simulator" - basically a chunk of metal to act as ballast. The reasoning is, as mentioned, it's uninsurable on the first launch and there is a high probability of failure on the first full launch of a new space vehicle.

Still, I can think of one group that would love to send up a ton of cargo, even if they knew it was risky: AMSAT. The ham radio satellite organization. Launch costs tend to limit their potential satellites to being tiny cubesats, which can be hard to fit much capabilities into. Their satellites are built very cheaply compared to other satellite producers and their biggest cost tends to be launching them. They could build one hell of a satellite with the kind of mass that the Falcon-9 could put up there, and given the possibilities, they may very well be willing to accept that there is a large risk it won't even make it. It could be the one realistic opportunity to have any chance of launching a really big payload.

Re:Space station supply (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29556131)

I wouldn't call the SpaceX Falcon 9 as "uninsurable", but it certainly would be a risky move to try and be on the first launch. SpaceX also has a rather poor record on what should be test flights too, where several payloads were lost on the Falcon 1 flight attempts before SpaceX got all of the bugs worked out.

Originally, the targeted payload on this flight was just going to be a dummy payload such as the "RatSat"... basically a hunk of aluminum that would be set up to simulate a "typical" payload for future satellite customers. The idea was that it would be a test of the faring system for the Falcon 9, which is something that the Dragon test isn't going to cover.

In all honesty, the faring separation system on the Falcon 1 has not had any problems and there is little real engineering knowledge to be gained by trying to set up a similar test for the Falcon 9 when it uses roughly identical technologies. Much, much more information can be obtained from a study of the Dragon capsule... something that itself may have to go through several iterations before it is declared flight-worthy.

Really, I think this is a smart move, even if it is trying to kill two birds with one stone. An argument on some of the commercial space blogs is that SpaceX may be trying to bite off more than they can chew with this flight, reminiscent of the original Apollo "all up" tests that were a huge gamble if anything went wrong. It was a foolish move that luckily worked out for NASA when almost all of the original Saturn V sub-systems seemed to work as advertised, but sorting out what exactly caused a problem on a failure would have been very difficult to sort out. Von Braun and his engineering team had plenty of experience and had thousands of previous launches under their belts to build on, however, something that SpaceX doesn't quite have yet in spite of some successful orbital launches.

Still, things are looking good for a successful launch. SpaceX is using a rocket engine that has already been proven to work in spaceflight, as the Merlin engine on the Falcon 9 is identical to the engine used on the Falcon 1. It is a slightly different engineering domain to have nine of these engines working simultaneously and side-by-side, but test firings of those engines have already happened with full flight-duration simulations and no problems have been seen. The parts and pieces have all been tested to about as much as possible without actually putting together everything and actually doing a full launch. The experience from the Falcon 1 launches is also going to help as a number of other components are also either identical or very similar.

While there is some demand for light launches, the "medium launch" market seems to be screaming for a vehicle like the Falcon 9, particularly if SpaceX can maintain the proposed price structure that they have been advertising on their website for a number of years. I, too, wish SpaceX luck on this upcoming launch and hope that it turns out successful. Even if it ends up blowing up on the launch pad after going up only a couple of feet, some real engineering knowledge will be gained from whatever happened... and I doubt something that spectacular is going to happen. NASA had rockets that had that happen, including one that "launched" but came right back down on the pad and shut down, with everybody worrying if the thing would tip over.

There be dragons? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29548633)

I didn't read the article, but wouldn't it make more sense to transport smaller lizards or even some amphibians?
I know dragons are fun and can light your space-cigarettes with their fire-breath, but lets be practical here.
Think, people... THINK!

Re:There be dragons? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548749)

I was thinking they should just send the skin of the dragon [youtube.com] Gunney doesn't test the skin's effectiveness against cosmic rays or other radiation, but the skin should stop the random bit or space debris! All we need is a tailor to make us a set of dragonskin large enough for for the ISS!

Re:There be dragons? (2, Funny)

dangitman (862676) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550681)

Oh, yeah, what are you gonna do? Release the falcons? Or the dragons? Or the falcons with the dragons in their mouth, that shoot dragons at you?

But is it... (3, Funny)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548655)

...an African falcon or a European falcon?

Re:But is it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29549879)

It's African and European!

Sweet! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29548687)

Just don't aim that slug at the ISS...

we need nasa (1)

angelwolf71885 (1181671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548755)

we need Constellation the shuttle is to old and unsafe Jupiter is stupid the shuttle fuel tank CAN'T take the vertical stress of liftoff of something on top of it why thats NOT what it was designed for and we don't have the time for a redesigned to make it work why because Constellation already redesigned it -.- we need the moon and space the USSR is plaining a bold space plain china is plaining a bold space plain the last thing we need is to be behind gee thanks Obama you retard how about spending less on acorn Apollo and what ever other new deal bull your plaining this liberal agenda doesn't fly here in Florida and FUND NASA and EDUCATION you know space and education go hand in hand

NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (4, Interesting)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548771)

I originally wanted to post this here http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/09/25/2328247/NASAs-Space-Plans-Take-Another-Hit [slashdot.org], but an unknown error prevented me from doing so. My commentary is still relevant for this article:

I think that NASA should be stripped down and restructured. All manned missions and support operations with a military application should be converted to their respective military counterparts, the whole thing headed up by Joint Chiefs of Staff. From Wikipedia, "their primary responsibility is to ensure the personnel readiness, policy, planning and training of their respective military services for the combatant commanders to utilize." The President and Secretary of Defense can tap the manned space capability of the respective military branches, and the JCS maintains training, policy and readiness. Oversight for military applications already has a process, which would remain in place.

NASA would be reduced or redesignated from it's current role to that of managing and conducing operations for unmanned space missions such as deep space probes and telescopes, establishing rules, standards and accident reviews for commercial space activities just like the FAA. NASA would also continue to provide tenantship to fixed orbital platforms such as the ISS, in conjunction with other participating nations. Every manned application is auctioned off to civilian corporations that meet specific minimal requirements. NASA would become the space analogy of the FAA, allowing a vacuum to exist allowing other responsible and qualified fair trade entities to step in and compete for the best possible road to commercial space business.

Re:NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548929)

You're forgetting the "Aeronautics" part of NASA. They do an awful lot of in atmosphere research (often in conjunction with the FAA and other agencies such as NOAA.) They have a multi decade history of doing quite a bit of basic, low key, often boring things that could be fobbed off to another governmental agency but would likely just get subsumed in the flotsam of fiefdoms and budgets.

From your original article, the biggest problem isn't NASA, it's the shortsighted, braindead, slimy, backhanded, hypocritical, nonsensical, bat-shit-insane, idiocratic and just plain old corrupt congress.

Re:NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549265)

the biggest problem isn't NASA, it's the shortsighted, braindead, slimy, backhanded, hypocritical, nonsensical, bat-shit-insane, idiocratic and just plain old corrupt congress.

While congress needs to take its fair share of the blame, they don't have the market cornered on shortsighted, braindead, slimy, backhanded, hypocritical, nonsensical, bat-shit-insane, idiocratic and just plain old corrupt behaviour. Let's give NASA its due.
  • We knew long ago that the shuttles were due to be retired. Development of their replacement should have started a decade ago. We should be in the final test phases right now, not in the preliminary design phases.
  • We should be designing a launch vehicle capable of lofting a given crew exploration vehicle, not paring down a CEV to fit a given launch vehicle.
  • We shouldn't be redefining safety protocols just so a particular rocket can receive a passing grade.

I'm sure there are more examples (eg giving the order to gut factories that could produce cheaper, safer, alternative rockets in order to save ARES).

Re:NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550953)

NASA isn't blameless, certainly. But it's hard to create rational programs that span decades and cost billions of dollars when you get your funding jacked around constantly. Not to mention the specific bits of mismanagement that Congress loves to tack on to funding bills.

It's a wonderfully dysfunctional system.

Re:NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549359)

From your original article, the biggest problem isn't NASA, it's the shortsighted, braindead, slimy, backhanded, hypocritical, nonsensical, bat-shit-insane, idiocratic and just plain old corrupt congress.

It's not just Congress - it's the Administration. (Remember NASA is part of the Executive Branch.) It's not NASA's job to have a Vision, it's NASA's job to work within and in support of the policies of the Administration and the Goverment.
 
NASA has floundered for decades because sucessive Administrations haven't provided clear leadership, unambiguous policy, and rational missions (as in Agency mission, not space missions) - and then to make it worse hasn't backed up what little it has provided with political support and capital and funding.

Re:NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (4, Funny)

edumacator (910819) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549525)

braindead, slimy, backhanded, hypocritical, nonsensical, bat-shit-insane, idiocratic and just plain old corrupt congress

Why did you use all those extra words? Just saying congress would have been enough.

Seismic Shift Ahead for NASA & SpaceX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29549947)

NASA is a dinosaur, a sad remnant of last century's dying paradigms. NASA's main reason for being in space is cargo delivery. If space travel was as cheap as land transportation, NASA would be a different type of agency. Unfortunately, space transportation depends on an extremely expensive, dangerous, complicated and primitive technology: rocket propulsion. NASA will never develop a solid business case that includes rocket propulsion as its principal technology. The reason is obvious. Rocket-based transportation is too damn expensive. I'm sorry but the Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle will soon join the buggy whip and the slide rule where they belong, in the Smithsonian.

But do not let the preceding get you down because a new and fabulous era of space travel is about to be born. We are on the verge of a breakthrough in physics that will make almost every current approach to energy production and transportation obsolete. There is clear evidence that we are swimming in an ocean of clean energy, lots and lots of it. A new form of transportation and energy production technology will arrive soon, one based on the realization that we are immersed in an immense lattice of energetic particles. This is a consequence of a reevaluation of our understanding of the causality of motion. Soon, we'll have vehicles that can move at tremendous speeds and negotiate right angle turns without slowing down and without incurring damages due to inertial effects. Floating cities, unlimited clean energy, earth to Mars in hours, New York to Beijing in minutes... That's the future of energy and travel.

My advice to NASA is this; take what you can get for now but prepare yourselves to become a regulatory agency. Otherwise you'll be a mere cargo cult for aging engineers and other assorted baby boomers. Soon, space travel will be so cheap and so safe that your services as a payload delivery organization will no longer be needed. Everybody and their aunt Mary will be in the space and energy business. Sorry SpaceX. You, too, will be a mere footnote in history of space transportation.

The Problem With Motion [blogspot.com]

Re:NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29549993)

From your original article, the biggest problem isn't NASA, it's the shortsighted, braindead, slimy, backhanded, hypocritical, nonsensical, bat-shit-insane, idiocratic and just plain old corrupt congress.

Don't fool yourself, they're both that way.

NASA and Military space (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549087)

I think that NASA should be stripped down and restructured. All manned missions and support operations with a military application should be converted to their respective military counterparts, the whole thing headed up by Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Done!

NASA doesn't do any manned military space. It's the civilian space program.

In fact, there is a military space program, run by the pentagon, and the military space program has a considerably larger budget than NASA does. For some reason, though, it doesn't get the endless armchair quarterbacking that the much smaller NASA programs do. (Possibly because the military space applications don't send humans into space, and don't send probes to other planets, and human spaceflight and planetary exploration are what gets the public excited.)

Satellite Retrieval, DoD Support... (1)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550035)

I would categorically disagree with you, sir.

NASA has been in the manned military business for years. One of the stipulations (aka limitations) that the Pentagon placed on the Space Transportation System program was for the Space Shuttle to have low-earth orbit capability for satellite retrieval. Why would the Pentagon want to retrieve satellites or impose such a directive on the 'civilian' STS program, knowing it would sentence that vehicle to a vehicle lifespan shortening harsher environment with a narrower band of non-military applications? Much of the 80's was dedicated to such a requirement. Tell me what really happened on STS-53 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-53 [wikipedia.org], it was the 10th and final DoD mission, which is still classified.

Part of the promotion, a large chunk, of the STS program was it's civilian applications with a quick-launch turnaround time and projected lower cost due to reusable parts.

Come now, to say that NASA "doesn't do any manned military space" is completely wrong. A federally funded, executive-branch accountable, Congressionally oversighted organization like NASA has been servicing the DoD for years. Since much of it is classified and was presumably piggybacked on overt legitimate scientific missions, the real question in this new age of budgetary accountability becomes, how can we depend on NASA to focus on it's core mission when there is an executive level, military mandated override that may or may not be what the general civilian population wants to foot the bill for?

Is the STS program in it's final days? Thankfully yes. Please don't spread the disinformation that NASA doesn't do military, the DoD kept them gainfully employed for many good years.

US Manned Military Programs... (1)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550121)

Also, please show some references for the US military's own manned space program.

US Air Force Space Command - much of their ballistic mission capability was transferred to AF Global Strike Command. The USAFSC's space mission is defined as:

"Spacelift operations at the East and West Coast launch bases provide services, facilities and range safety control for the conduct of DOD, NASA and commercial launches. Through the command and control of all DOD satellites, satellite operators provide force-multiplying effects -- continuous global coverage, low vulnerability and autonomous operations. Satellites provide essential in-theater secure communications, weather and navigational data for ground, air and fleet operations and threat warning. Ground-based radar and Defense Support Program satellites monitor ballistic missile launches around the world to guard against a surprise missile attack on North America. Space surveillance radars provide vital information on the location of satellites and space debris for the nation and the world." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Force_Space_Command#Space_capabilities [wikipedia.org]

Are you suggesting that the AF has a manned space program? With the exception of former AF pilots that migrated to NASA to fly the shuttle, I'd love to read what you've got.

US Army Space And Missile Command - again, their primary mission is missiles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army_Space_and_Missile_Defense_Command [wikipedia.org]

Does the Navy have a space program?

Please share what you have so I can learn!

Re:US Manned Military Programs... (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29556727)

The Air Force indeed had a manned spaceflight program. Richard Truly [wikipedia.org] was one of those pilots that was a part of the first "class" of astronauts assigned directly to the U.S. Air Force under the Manned Orbiting Laboratory [wikipedia.org] program. That he did end up flying the Space Shuttle and became the administrator of NASA later on is sort of telling of the links between the military and NASA.

This was not some Air Force pilots who migrated over to NASA but a full-fledged military astronaut program and completely independent of NASA. Yes, this program did end up merging into the NASA astronaut corp which I think you, Xin Jing, were referring to above so this is mainly some clarification.

Military participation in NASA has also been a major component of NASA as well, as NASA did inherit several projects from the U.S. military, including the core rocket program that actually came from the U.S. Army as an artillery research program and a competing program from the U.S. Navy. Yes, the U.S. Navy does engage in spaceflight research as well, although the domain of spaceflight activities is now mostly an Air Force function. Most of the naval research involves the launch of missiles from submarines and other ships.

There are still several astronauts who hold a military commission and are still in the NASA astronaut corps. The current NASA administrator, Charles Bolden [wikipedia.org], not only held a military commission with the U.S. Marine Corps, but he also went back to the Marines and continued to serve as a general after he commanded two shuttle missions and was a pilot on two others. His service as a general officer in the Marine Corps is nearly as impressive as his service within NASA. Military pilots are often "assigned" to NASA as a billet and "temporary" service as a more complete part of their military careers.

There have also been several DoD spaceflight missions, including shuttle missions that have included "classified" payloads that are more closed monitored and supervised by the joint-chiefs. A total of nine shuttle missions fit into this category, where all of the astronauts involved were military officers and the civilian astronauts were not involved. This list of shuttle missions [wikipedia.org] includes those military payloads involved.

This said, there are some purely civilian astronauts in NASA as well, including many of the pilots and those who have commanded missions as well. Neil Armstrong was explicitly chosen as the commander of Apollo 11 because he was a civilian pilot (NASA didn't want to have a military officer lead the first manned landing for P.R. purposes).

That was NOT a manned military space (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550469)

That was DOD's. NASA provided the launch vehicle, and the crew, but it is NOT a manned military space. Basically, all they did was retrieve a sat, and they have launched others. They were doing nothing more than simply transporting sats.

OTH, a manned military space system would be the MOL had we launched it in the 60's [wikipedia.org] or one of the many Chinese Manned Space stations system that are scheduled to start launch in 2010. [space.com]

Whoops; Soviets had some (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550491)

USSR did have manned military space systems. In particular, Almaz and all of the early Salyut systems [wikipedia.org] were actually military missions.

Re:Whoops; Soviets had some (1)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550715)

I guess it all comes down to semantics. You say DoD doesn't do manned space missions, I say they do. They pay for them!

If the bill is paid for by DoD, the payload and/or tasking is classified, but the crew and launch vehicle are all NASA, then what is it? It's NASA doing military!! NASA was (at that time) in the best position to execute a manned US space mission. How can you confirm that DoD employed NASA to conduct several missions which had classified segments up to and including satellite retrieval, and say that "NASA doesn't do military".

I for one never believed for one minute that the AF, Army or Navy had trained astronauts on active or reserve duty on standby that were tasked to conduct actual space missions. I believe the DoD generated orders for and secured funding to employ NASA to conduct and accomplish specific military-related tasks.

Correction... (1)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550757)

You say DoD doesn't do manned space missions, I say they do. They pay for them!

My bad, that entire sentence was incorrect. It should have read:

You say NASA doesn't do military manned space missions, I say they do. The DoD pays for them!

Re:Satellite Retrieval, DoD Support... (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29551791)

I would categorically disagree with you, sir. NASA has been in the manned military business for years. One of the stipulations (aka limitations) that the Pentagon placed on the Space Transportation System program was for the Space Shuttle to have low-earth orbit capability for satellite retrieval.

Are you aware that the Air Force withdrew out of the shuttle program over twenty years ago?

You're right that, by congressional mandate, the shuttle was mandated to be a vehicle that would meet requirements to launch both NASA and the Air Force's payloads-- and even then, the Air Force built their own shuttle launch pad at Vandenberg (SLC-6) and had every intention to do their own shuttle launches, with their own dedicated Air-Force crews and their own Air-Force shuttles. As it turned out, though, they pulled out of the program, the program was shut down, and the Vandenberg shuttle launch facility, built at a cost of about ten billion dollars, was never used.

That was over twenty years ago. I was talking about now.

Re:Satellite Retrieval, DoD Support... (1)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29552163)

I also am talking about now. As I indicated elsewhere in this subthread, all of my statements are supported by two specific facts:

1. The STS program, maintained and operated by NASA, was required by the Pentagon to have low-orbit satellite retrieval capability.

2. The DoD employed NASA to conduct classified missions.

One such mission was STS-53 to carry "a classified primary payload for the United States Department of Defense" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-53#Mission_highlights [wikipedia.org].

Another such mission was STS-44, in which "the mission was dedicated to the Department of Defense. The unclassified payload included a Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite and attached Inertial Upper Stage (IUS), deployed on flight day one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-44#Mission_highlights [wikipedia.org]

Yet another such mission was STS-39, which "was a dedicated Department of Defense mission. Unclassified payload included Air Force Program-675 (AFP675); Infrared Background Signature Survey (IBSS) with Critical Ionization Velocity (CIV), Chemical Release Observation (CRO) and Shuttle Pallet Satellite-II (SPAS-II) experiments; and Space Test Payload-1 (STP-1). Classified payload consisted of Multi-Purpose Release Canister (MPEC). Also on board was Radiation Monitoring Equipment III (RME III) and Cloud Logic to Optimize Use of Defense Systems-IA (CLOUDS-I)." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-39#Mission_highlights [wikipedia.org]

In all there are at least 10 such missions where NASA conducted operations on behalf of the DoD. Again, I'm not saying there was or is a detachment of active or reserve military astronauts on standby ready to fly into orbit. However, if the DoD is paying NASA to perform classified operations, then NASA is working for the military and performing military-funded manned space work. It might not be the entire mission (in some cases it was), but it's clear to me that NASA and the DoD have gainfully worked together in the recent past and may be continuing to do so now or in the future.

   

Re:Satellite Retrieval, DoD Support... (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29552785)

I also am talking about now.

We apparently have different ideas of the meaning of the word "now." The most recent of the launches you list was seventeen years ago. That's not what I call "now."

Once again. When congress approved the space shuttle program, they mandated there would be a single launch vehicle, which would be used by both the Air Force and NASA (and, for that matter, for commercial launches.) The Air Force would have their own vehicles, and their own launch site.

After the first few shuttle flights-- but before the Air Force ("blue") shuttles were delivered-- the Air Force announced that they would pull out of this agreement (and actually did so in 1986, after the Challenger disaster). A handful of military satellites that had been designed during this period, and could only be launched by the shuttle, remained to be launched, but the last of these left the pad in 1992.

Re:Satellite Retrieval, DoD Support... (1)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29553393)

Point taken on my selection of STS missions showing DoD involvement with NASA. I believe I underscored that extensively because your initial comment was that "NASA doesn't do military". I may have hit the same nail repeatedly, but I'm hoping we can agree that NASA has a history of doing DoD dirty work.

With that issue clarified, I'd now like to draw your important attention to this:

http://www.space.com/news/050810_dod_launcher.html [space.com]

"WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Defense has signed off on NASA's plan to use major space shuttle components as the basis for separate vehicles that will launch the agency's new crew transport and 100-ton loads of Moon-bound cargo.

The U.S. Space Transportation Policy issued by the White House in January requires NASA to coordinate its future launch vehicle plans with the Pentagon and submit a joint recommendation to the president on the nation's next heavy-lift rocket."

My argument the entire time was a broad stroke of NASA involved in DoD work. I understand that the STS program is nearing termination.

Please read the conclusion of that article;

"The letter further noted that new commercially developed launchers, should they become available, will be allowed to compete for such missions.

NASA and the Pentagon, according to the letter, have agreed to complete a joint cost benefit analysis in the coming months of phasing out Boeing's Delta 2 rocket in favor of the EELV. Although the Air Force has largely moved on to the EELV, the smaller Delta 2 remains NASA's workhorse for launching medium-sized science satellites and interplanetary probes.

Also according to the letter, the Pentagon will consider using NASA's proposed heavy-lift launcher for any future military missions that might require such a powerful rocket. But it is unlikely, the letter says, that the Pentagon would endorse a shuttle-derived vehicle as an EELV back-up "due to the significant risk, reliability, and cost of modifications required to [Defense Department] satellites and infrastructure.""

Okay, so not only is the DoD in bed with NASA, as they have been, but they are drawing plans to use more NASA hardware and infrastructure to do what they do best - put things in orbit and beyond. Given, I spent all of 3 minutes searching Yahoo! with "nasa department of defense space missions", so I could probably generate more current fodder if I needed to. Just trying to bring my definition of "now" in line with yours ;)

My original post, now some 5+ posts back, was an initiative to reposition NASA as an administrator of space operations, both civilian and military, and return military operations to their respective branches. Procedurally it would managed by Joint Chiefs of Staff (and what does the military use for a space vehicle anyway except rockets) with Congressional oversight, and turn civilian space operations over to the highest domestic corporate bidders. NASA keeps it tenantship in manned fixed orbit platforms like the ISS and ueses its decades-long library of experience to mentor and manage the fledgling commercial space industry.

As I speak, I still need clarification on whether or not NASA is still playing space monkey to DoD tasking, because if what I read above (from August 2005) is still valid, it appears that they are.

 

Re:Satellite Retrieval, DoD Support... (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29556655)

Point taken on my selection of STS missions showing DoD involvement with NASA. I believe I underscored that extensively because your initial comment was that "NASA doesn't do military".

I'm sorry, but my comment was a response to your statement that NASA should be reformed by moving military missions to the military. Congratulations. This was done. It was done decades ago.

With that issue clarified, I'd now like to draw your important attention to this:

http://www.space.com/news/050810_dod_launcher.html [space.com]

Let me summarize this for you:

1. The White House mandated that the Department of Defense must coordinate with NASA on new vehicles.
2. The NASA response was that they'll continue to buy expendable launch vehicles from the same launch providers they buy them from now, except if any new providers come up, they may buy from them.
3. The Department of Defense said "the Pentagon will consider using NASA's proposed heavy-lift launcher for any future military missions that might require such a powerful rocket."

That's it: the Pentagon will "consider" using the new launch vehicle.

Real bad idea (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550627)

China currently does this, but it is so that they can hide their budgets from the foreigners. While it allows for a number of things (quick progress), it also prevent systems from being used for mankind's use. Worse, it means that ALL OF THE SYSTEMS are logical targets in a war. OTH, NASA would not be that kind of a target (even though USSR has actually painted a laser on a shuttle's window several times back in the 80's).

As other have pointed out, NASA does a great deal more than just manned space. They do lots of robotics missions, astronautics, etc.

It really makes sense that NASA remains separate from our military.

Military vs civilian as a defense (1)

DragonHawk (21256) | more than 4 years ago | (#29560827)

"Worse, it means that ALL OF THE SYSTEMS are logical targets in a war. OTH, NASA would not be that kind of a target ..."

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is co-located with Kennedy Space Center. CCAFS is still an active military space port facility. Plus, while NASA may be a "civilian" agency, it's still a government agency. If someone decides they need to start taking out US space capabilities, I highly doubt the "civilian" distinction is going to matter to them, even if the attacker was of the fair-minded type. (To say nothing of the type that prefers high-profile civilian targets.)

Just sayin'.

Re:NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29556411)

NASA was established to provide a civilian spaceflight option for the U.S. government. The civilian component was incredibly crucial at the time NASA was established, as all previous experience had been gained through military contracts. It is true that DoD participation and links continued (and still continue) within NASA, but most of what NASA does is unclassified and meets the needs of a civilian spaceflight program.

Take out that civilian aspect of NASA and you lose the heart and soul of what NASA is supposed to be.

That NASA needs to be radically overhauled and have somebody with a huge axe willing to cut out bureaucracies by removing redundant jobs by the thousands may be true, but moving it to the DoD would be a huge mistake. For myself, I wouldn't mind seeing a closer relationship between NASA and the National Science Foundation and other research-oriented parts of the government. Heck, putting NASA into a "Department of Science" might be a pretty good idea, with the NASA administrator as a deputy secretary. It would be useful for NASA issues to be dealt with on a cabinet-level basis.

Re:NASA Restructured As Space-Based FAA. (1)

mark0978 (1052438) | more than 4 years ago | (#29565375)

I think auctioning things off would be a huge mistake. Better to use prizes to encourage competition:

  • First company to land a probe on the moon gets X number of billion dollars.
     
  • First company to send people around the moon and return them safely gets 2X billion dollars.

NASA would have a certain amount of dollars to put up as prizes, and would be in charge of the objectives, just not how they were accomplished.

The prizes could be substantial and would still be less than the $90 billion NASA will squander attempting to build the Ares V Rocket. The current scheme simply pays out money without requiring results. It also stifles competition by awarding the contract to a single player, the company with the best connections or spin gets the contract. The prize method would reward the fittest competitor that could actually deliver. That would encourage many more to attempt to the actual feat. At the end of the prize-winning phrase one company has a huge amount of technology that was paid for by the prize leaving lots to profit from.

The prizes also encourage frugality; people are a lot less likely waste their money than they are the governments'. And since there is a fixed dollar value at the end, there is no incentive to simply run on with contract overruns because we didn't get the job done. Those that play that game go bankrupt in the prize scenario.

Yes, this would require speculation and investment by private industry. But SpaceX has already proven that the job can be done and done efficiently, and it's probably a lot safer than investing in home mortgages for overpriced property was under capable purchasers. Even if you lost this bet, you'd have something to show for it at the end in the form of patents, equipment, and/or capability. Coming in second place would only mean you lost prize, not the farm (mortgages?).

Oh god no! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29548903)

Don't send the dragons to Space! There are enough fires as it is in Space!
Don't send the damn huge demonic creatures that sneeze fires and cough nuclear explosions, that's just cruel NASA, come on... guys...

thx /. for this one! Enjoyed the article and link (1)

herojig (1625143) | more than 4 years ago | (#29548947)

I had no idea SpaceX had some such a long way since 2002. It seems they really have it together and best wishes. The case for a streamlined and slimmed down NASA is almost overwhelming now...look, if my baboos in India can send science to the moon, is seems logical that private companies can do even better. Yea, progress...

Re:thx /. for this one! Enjoyed the article and li (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29549139)

I had no idea SpaceX had some such a long way since 2002. It seems they really have it together and best wishes. The case for a streamlined and slimmed down NASA is almost overwhelming now...

If NASA blew up three rockets in a row, they would be crucified by the press, and (more notably) by congress

look, if my baboos in India can send science to the moon.

NASA has learned, through bitter experience, that cutting the budget and screwing up a mission as badly as Chandrayaan [zopag.com] did leads to a lot of time spent testifying before congressional subcommittees.

(In defense of the Indians, though, it's worth noting that it was their first exploration probe-- they did good, and learned a lot.)

is seems logical that private companies can do even better. Yea, progress...

NASA contracts almost all of their work out to private companies, you know. A few probes are built by NASA labs (JPL in particular), but mostly the spacecraft are bid out to industry, and the launch services are also bid out to industry.

The difference between failure and screwing up (2, Insightful)

voss (52565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549309)

The difference between NASA and spacex is spacex is doing their test launches without taxpayer money. If a rocket fails it fails on their own dime so they better learn something from it...and they do. Thats why launches 4 & 5 worked fine..duh!

It should not bother anyone to have failures BEFORE success, how many times did Edison fail with the light bulb? several thousand. How many years did it take the wright brothers to perfect glider control with three different glider models before they created the first airplane (four). The Apollo 1 fire was an example of a catastrophic failure, however it paved the way for later success.

Now compare that with the challenger and columbia diasters both times NASA knew about the design problem ahead of time and failed to act. Management both times ignored the warnings of the engineers.

When something doesnt succeed its a failure, if you knew it might fail and you didnt do anything about it thats screwing up

Re:The difference between failure and screwing up (2, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29557107)

In fairness here, it should be pointed out that there was some public money that went into the earlier SpaceX test flights for the Falcon 1. Yes, Elon Musk did put up a whole bunch of his own money and it should be pointed out that neither NASA nor the U.S. Department of Defense put up any money in terms of the R&D on the Falcon 1, but there was some DARPA money spent on most of those early launches with SpaceX.

The main difference between what SpaceX is doing and what the other rocket companies like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin have been doing is that SpaceX is offering a vehicle for a more or less fixed price... a sort of "cash and carry" if you want to be a customer. Previous government contracts had been on what is called a "cost plus" contract where all of the R&D costs were included and very little financial incentive was in place to drive down the costs involved.

Essentially, earlier spacecraft development projects had all of the costs paid for by the government, and once the project was completed there was a guaranteed profit at the end (hence the "plus"). Of course that requires an army of accountants to keep track of where every penny goes and leads to bureaucratic bloat on even trying to keep track of where the money is being spent to keep embezzlement from happening on such a project. For example, on each space shuttle booster that is used on the Shuttle program (mind you, not even R&D here, but just production work in this case) has a mountain of paper work that is almost double the weight of the booster itself before it gets shipped to KSC to be attached to the orbiter for the next flight. There are dedicated cargo planes just for shipping this paperwork to Washington D.C. where it gets tossed into warehouses and sits for years afterward. I've had friends who worked for ATK and their only job was just to get signatures on this paperwork.

While SpaceX still has to deal with a mountain of paperwork, some of that can be culled out through employee trust and more conventional business structures that don't come from a government program. That is the huge difference that SpaceX is offering here, and the fact that SpaceX is still just a few hundred employees.

Re:thx /. for this one! Enjoyed the article and li (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549541)

If NASA blew up three rockets in a row, they would be crucified by the press, and (more notably) by congress

Which highlights just how true the OP's point was. Slimming down NASA and moving this sort of thing into the realm of companies like SpaceX avoids the kind of congressional hand-wringing that's inevitable when you have NASA responsible for things, but the hand-wringing is utterly pointless. You don't get to space (and we're not there yet -- we've just stuck our toes in the water so far) by being the kind of people that are phobic of failure. You have to be willing to fail, and fail repeatedly, and keep going, if you're ultimately going to succeed.

Re:thx /. for this one! Enjoyed the article and li (1)

herojig (1625143) | more than 4 years ago | (#29554383)

Exactly what I meant to say - thx. I'm old enough to remember the dream that by 2001 we would be drinking martinis on the way to the moonbase, as promised by A. Clarke. Look where we are now. (Can't even get a free beer on a decrepit 757.) NASA seems to be one of the last Ma Bells. I'm glad they are finding private companies to provide services, in fact, if they did not use SpaceX, where would they be now without a shuttle craft for the next 5-10 years? Kudos to SpaceX for bailing out America.

Re:thx /. for this one! Enjoyed the article and li (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550583)

If NASA blew up three rockets in a row, they would be crucified by the press, and (more notably) by congress
The DOD and NASA blew up MANY more than that in it early days. And like SpaceX, they took some heat for it.

NASA contracts almost all of their work out to private companies, you know. A few probes are built by NASA labs (JPL in particular), but mostly the spacecraft are bid out to industry, and the launch services are also bid out to industry.
But the difference is that NASA tells just a FEW private companies how to do the job. Now, they will simply request a service. BIG difference.

Re:thx /. for this one! Enjoyed the article and li (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29556921)

If NASA blew up three rockets in a row, they would be crucified by the press, and (more notably) by congress

NASA blew up many, many more than three rockets in a row. Heck, they even blew up rockets on the launch pad... live and on nationally broadcast television. One rocket even blew up about a month before Alan Shepard made his first Mercury flight.

Was NASA crucified by the press and congress? Absolutely. Jokes were made about the ineptitude of NASA on the night-time comedy shows like the Tonight Show and other variety programming. Making rockets is a tough business and even seemingly small things can make a significant difference when you are at such razor thin margins of getting things to happen.

Criticizing a private company trying to accomplish the same thing is very disingenuous here and lacking a significant historical perspective on spacecraft of any kind. Also, only one Falcon 1 rocket "blew up" in the sense you are implying here as well, and that wasn't really a blow up either unlike some NASA rockets that did literally blow up like a bomb and have nothing remaining other than some randomly scattered pieces of metal. That Falcon 1 launch had some parts that exhibited some galvanic corrosion [wikipedia.org] due to is exposure to the surf of Omelek Island [wikipedia.org] where it was launched. Selecting different metals for the fasteners did the trick to fix that problem... or do you think SpaceX is going to make that same mistake on the Falcon 9?

Re:thx /. for this one! Enjoyed the article and li (1)

Morty (32057) | more than 4 years ago | (#29581573)

NASA contracts almost all of their work out to private companies, you know. A few probes are built by NASA labs (JPL in particular), but mostly the spacecraft are bid out to industry, and the launch services are also bid out to industry.

And a step further: JPL itself is staffed 100% by contractors. It's an FFRDC -- Federally Funded Research and Development Center. See the JPL welcome page [nasa.gov] and look for "FFRDC".

VC and spaceX (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29549853)

If I were a VC like Paul Allen or the Google boys, I would be contacting SpaceX and offering to fund the escape tower. Get it started so that come the end of 2011, human flights can start. Also contact Bigelow Aerospace and help get them building. With relatively little money, private space systems can really be profitable. In fact, I would bet that for less than what Allen put into Charter Cable, he can help get this started, be a part of it, and then GET OUT.

Re:VC and spaceX (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29557155)

SpaceX does seem to have plenty of venture capital, so I do think that this particular angle is being investigated. Due to the successful launches of the Falcon 1, SpaceX has been able to get most of the money it needs for day to day operations, although the government contracts also seem to be helping out quite a bit. Being guaranteed nearly $2 billion in revenue with signed contracts is certainly a huge carrot to dangle in front of potential investors on any project or company.

I think the main issue now with SpaceX is trying to decide on their negotiating position when receiving that kind of money and not giving away the store when getting some of that kind of investment. Most people with substantial amounts of venture capital like to be in charge and in control of the companies they invest into.

cluck cluck cluck (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29549919)

PR guy wants to send Elon Musk up on first flight but he chickened out.

aiming too low (1)

edxwelch (600979) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550501)

It says it has a maximum of 29,610 kg LEO capability - which would make it higher than any other rocket and half the launch cost of Ariane, so why don't they go to town with this and put everyone else out of business?

Re:aiming too low (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29550677)

First, it is falcon 9 HEAVY that has the ~30K kg. The falcon 9 has under 12K KG depending on what press release you read.

Ideally, the feds will not allow one company to put others out of business. We need MULTIPLES of these to compete against each others. I would not mind paying a bit for ULA's private entry for at least a flight every 2 years or so. Once they lower their price to the same as SpaceX or lower, then give them the majority. Basically, we need more flights and more competition.

Re:aiming too low (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29557261)

The Ariane is hardly made by a private company, so I highly doubt they would go "out of business" regardless of the price of the Falcon 9.

Still, SpaceX is going to be putting a huge amount of pressure on companies like ULA. From what I've read and heard, Boeing may be trying to break into the commercial spaceflight business with something more along the lines of what SpaceX is doing but using its own engineering experience and financial strength. Certainly there will be some competitors against SpaceX if they prove a business model that works at a lower launch cost like they are proposing.

Other launch companies also seem to be in the wings as well, possibly even giving SpaceX a run for their money if they prove to be successful. Time will tell if the business model that SpaceX is using will be successful, but the progress they have made so far seems to be successful and even profitable. Keep in mind that SpaceX has a business plan to go to Mars, which was one of the reasons why Elon Musk got the company going in the first place. As to if he will get his greenhouse on Mars is another story, but I'd like to see that happening.

Show confidence (1)

physburn (1095481) | more than 4 years ago | (#29551673)

Its quite a bit of extra money lost from the test capsule if the Falcon 9 blows up or fails. So it show a lot of confidence in there rocket to had the capsule to the test launch. They've only got a year or so, before SpaceX is supposed to be supplying the ISS. They can't afford many failures. I wish then the best of luck.

---

Space Craft [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

I do not think that is what this is about (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29552525)

I suspect that more than confidence that this is about he is at the end of what he can spend. My guess is that if falcon 9 is successful, he will follow up with the next one within 3-4 months. I believe that with falcon 9's launch, he gets some good money from NASA, but it is on the first real launch of dragon that he makes LOADS of money. I would also guess that if falcon-9/dragon is successful on this trip, then congress/NASA will throw money at him for COTs-D.

Re:I do not think that is what this is about (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29557339)

NASA has been involved with the development of the Falcon 9 at many of the stages, and there have been numerous design reviews that have happened as well... as per the COTS contracts.

In terms of the financial situation of Elon Musk, I should point out that Tesla Motors has been sucking him dry recently, and only his direct intervention seemed to turn that company around from a financial point of view. This has also caused SpaceX to be somewhat anemic and stretching Mr. Musk out in a number of other ways that has hurt the spaceflight aspect of his portfolio. SolarCity [wikipedia.org], on the other hand, has been doing quite well and helping him in terms of financial stability, but I'd have to agree that a whole lot is riding on the launch of the Falcon 9.

More than a couple of huge failures (aka literally blowing up on the launch pad after ignition) might sink the company, but I don't see something that drastic happening. This vehicle has been tested far too much, although almost anything could happen I suppose.

Re: (1)

clint999 (1277046) | more than 4 years ago | (#29553097)

I would categorically disagree with you, sir. NASA has been in the manned military business for years. One of the stipulations (aka limitations) that the Pentagon placed on the Space Transportation System program was for the Space Shuttle to have low-earth orbit capability for satellite retrieval.
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