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Falcon 9 Prepares For High Stakes Launch

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the take-us-out-of-the-world dept.

Space 190

happylunarnewyear writes "The first new rocket to be launched from the Cape since 2002 is assembled and upright on Launch Complex 40. Falcon 9 will undergo fueling testing and live firing tests before the launch occurs as soon as next month. The stakes couldn't be higher, either. The much politicized proposal for a change in direction for NASA, which includes scrapping the Constellation program in toto in favor of privatization and a new heavy lift vehicle, veritably rides on this rocket. If the launch goes well, the plan for increased reliance on privatized cargo missions and eventually privatized manned missions will soar with it. However if something goes wrong, those plans will come crashing to Earth along with Falcon 9. Given the stakes, this launch is one of the most important in recent history. From the article, 'President Obama's proposal to shift transport of US astronauts to the space station from government launchers to privatized ones could suffer politically if there's a high-profile problem with the first mission of the Falcon 9, by far the most talked-about newcomer vying for the opportunity.'" Reader FleaPlus contributes related news about NASA's proposed funding for scientific payloads on commercial space flights, which would be a huge boon to researchers.

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Frosty piss (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31244774)

I don't know what this article is about but it sounds kind of boring and this comment sections looks too nice to pass out on.

Hello, world.

Re:Frosty piss (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245126)

Falcon 9 Prepares for High Steaks Launch!
 
Fixed that for ya. Mmmmm, high steaks

MODERATORS!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245130)

Mod Parent Up!

Cape. Which Cape? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31244778)

My first thought was Cape Town in South Africa ("the Cape") and that set me off thinking "how splendid! space exploration from below the equator". If you've read The Outward Urge recently, it would be on your mind too. Uh. Anyway, it's that other ordinary Cape. So nothing to see here, move along, eds please delete etc. etc.

Re:Cape. Which Cape? (3, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#31244836)

"The Cape" is not thought of a South Africa anywhere BUT South Africa any more than Cape Giruardo is thouight of as "The Cape" anywhere but Missouri. However, Cape Canaveral is known as "The Cape" to anyone who follows space exploration.

Re:Cape. Which Cape? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245548)

Cape Canaveral was the original name, and was technically restored. But for those in the space industry, the Cape is, and always will be, Cape Kennedy.

Re:Cape. Which Cape? (3, Informative)

mcd7756 (628070) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246050)

You've got to be kidding. As someone who grew up on Merritt Island and had many friends whose dads worked at the Cape, we did not want it changed to be named after Kennedy.

From the wikipedia [wikipedia.org] article:

Although the name change was approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names of the Interior Department in 1964, it was not popular in Florida, especially in the city of Cape Canaveral, Florida. In 1973 the state passed a law restoring the former 400-year-old name, and the board went along. The Kennedy family issued a letter stating they "understood the decision"; Jacqueline Kennedy also stated if she had known that the Canaveral name had existed for 400 years, she never would have supported changing the name. The NASA center retains the "Kennedy" name.

It would have been more appropriate to have renamed Cape Cod as Cape Kennedy, as that was the Kennedy stomping grounds. There's even a museum [jfkhyannismuseum.org] about Kennedy there. Cape Cod was named in 1602 [wikipedia.org] and Cape Canaveral named in the first half of the 16th century [wikipedia.org] . It was inappropriate for a Texas politician to name a Florida historical site after a Massachusetts politician. Thankfully, in 1973, the mistake was corrected.

Why, Superman's of course! (0, Offtopic)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245418)

How do you think those rockets fly, anyway?

Falcon Punch (2, Funny)

psergiu (67614) | more than 3 years ago | (#31244814)

Sooo... the launch of this Falcon rocket is like a punch in the face to the old Constellation program ?

;-)

Re:Falcon Punch (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#31244988)

I am hopeful but I talked to a friend of mine about the falcon 9.
He is worried about the reliable of the system. I take his worries very seriously because he is an engineer on the Centaur program aka he is a real rocket scientists. He is also a space nut so he is really looking forward to the test launch and is hoping it goes well.

Re:Falcon Punch (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245220)

He's an engineer working as a scientist?

Re:Falcon Punch (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245728)

Maybe he's a scientist working as an engineer... like me. except I do sensors, not rockets.

Re:Falcon Punch (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246736)

I would bet it is more reliable than Delta III was. They have done first and second stage tests already, as well as mechanical tests. They will also be doing a hold down test with the full first stage firing. This is all before they even get to launch the thing.

Compare that to Delta III which had so many solids you could only actually test the thing upon the actual flight. Guess which one should be more reliable...

Re:Falcon Punch (1)

Usually Unlucky (1598523) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247804)

So why did you pick the US rocket with the worst record to compare the falcon 9 to?

Why not the Atlas V or even the Delta II, both have nearly perfect records.

Re:Falcon Punch (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245028)

Sooo... the launch of this Falcon rocket is like a punch in the face to the old Constellation program ?

Not exactly; the Falcon-9 was actually being funded by the old program. The idea was to fund multiple developments, not just one-- the COTS (Space-X and Orbital) to develop new cargo launch vehicles to station, and the Ares to develop exploration vehicles.

Re:Falcon Punch (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245326)

WWWWHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSHHHH....

GP is an elaborate set up for "Falcon Punch", the tagline of a Nintendo video game character (Captain Falcon).

Re:Falcon Punch (3, Funny)

Whalou (721698) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245134)

Too bad they were not ready for launch 10 years ago. They could have called it the Millennium Falcon.

Re:Falcon Punch (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245234)

They could call it the "New Millennium Falcon"

I don't get it... (4, Insightful)

geegel (1587009) | more than 3 years ago | (#31244868)

SpaceX along with Orbital got contracts for delivering cargo to the ISS way before Constellation got canceled and there are plenty of alternatives to send cargo to begin with (Arianne is the first to pop in my mind)

The real hurdle lies in developing human rated space transport beyond LEO which is with an order of magnitude more difficult. It's nice to see SpaceX launch their rocket, but other than that this is a storm in a teacup.

Re:I don't get it... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31244928)

Falcon 9 was supposed to be a stop gap from the time the Shuttle retired till, at least, 2015 when Constellation may have been usable. Now it's all up to SpaceX, Orbital, et al. to do the heavy lifting.

SpaceX is also developing a Dragon Crew module to take astronauts into space, but this year-maybe-they'll be testing the Dragon Cargo module and dock with the ISS. If SpaceX is successful, and the test of Ad Astra's VASIMR engine in 2011-2012 go as planned (probably not) we should see some huge developments in space exploration/science/commercialization.

Re:I don't get it... (4, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245186)

The real hurdle lies in developing human rated space transport beyond LEO which is with an order of magnitude more difficult. It's nice to see SpaceX launch their rocket, but other than that this is a storm in a teacup.

This "storm in a teacup" is about access to space. Falcon 9 has the possibility of greatly reducing the cost of doing anything in space, including activities beyond Earth orbit. Earth to orbit is an ante that everyone has to pay. It drives the overall costs of a mission since typically the launch costs are planned to consumed 10-20% of the total mission no matter what the cost per kg is supposed to be.

For example, supposed missions are planned with 10% of total spending going to launch costs. If launch costs were suddenly halved, it wouldn't do much for missions already being constructed. They would just see a 5% drop in overall mission cost. New missions though could plan on those lower costs. How would they exploit it? By increasing the mass of the craft while reducing its cost per kg. In other words, they don't work as hard to reduce the mass of the spacecraft, saving money in the process. There's other effects. More activities become viable, being justifiable at a lower cost. The launch vehicles will operate more often, allowing both a further substantial reduction in price and better reliability of the launch vehicle.

Re:I don't get it... (2, Insightful)

geegel (1587009) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245512)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the math doesn't add up. SpaceX got awarded a 1.6 billion dollar contract for 12 flights to ISS, that's 133 million bucks per flight. Ariane 5 has a cost of roughly 120 million bucks for flight. Where is the cheaper part?

Re:I don't get it... (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245594)

Does the SpaceX contract include the delivery vehicle? Cause I really doubt that Ariane 5 figure includes an ATV.

Re:I don't get it... (3, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246184)

Not only does it include the delivery vehicle (Dragon); but, the delivery vehicle is a pressurized cargo container that is rated to be safe for humans to enter and certified to autodock with the ISS... or will be once they're done certifying it.

ESA's ATV (the first one was the Jules Verne) is the equivalent. ESA's cost was on the order of 200 million euro, in addition to the Ariane 5 launch vehicle that put it into orbit. Development cost was 1.35 billion euro.

So, yes, SpaceX Falcon9 + Dragon is cheap.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

Alinabi (464689) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246434)

So, yes, SpaceX Falcon9 + Dragon is cheap.

Cheap, fast, safe: pick any two.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246834)

It looks like they're going for Cheap + Safe. As fast as possible.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245610)

The 133 is for everything. And the cargo contract was designed to help get USA private space re-launched.
OTH, The 120 for Ariane is base price. The real launch is about 160-200 million. In the end, EU will fly Ariane and some private space, and America and most likely most of Private Space will fly SpaceX, L-Mart, Boeing, and OSC. Once BA goes up there, I think that will see several launches per month from the American side.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

angelwolf71885 (1181671) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245694)

this is Ariane 5 to SpaceX... cheaper.....no im sorry the answer we were looking for is cost effective... ps Aies was so much cooler and better and could of been mass produced like skittles by partnering with ALL the flight development company's

Re:I don't get it... (1)

twostar (675002) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246020)

I believe the contract includes nonrecurring engineering costs. Basically the engineering time to meet NASA requirements for docking to the station that wouldn't have been there just to launch into orbit. SpaceX's website puts per launch costs at around $45-50 million.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

bughunter (10093) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246948)

The cheaper part is that Musk can afford to take a loss and underbid, because he's got deep pockets. Therefore he can offer a package deal that includes development and testing of a new system. Most major aerospace companies operate on very thin profit margins, and don't have cash reserves like that for R&D.

Musk, on the other hand, has options.

I wish him luck.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247244)

And when you multiple those cost x2 to equate to a low fidelity simulation of the delivery capability of the Shuttle on one flight (one Ariane 5/Falcon 9 flight for less cargo* than the Shuttle can deliver and one Ariane 5/Falcon 9 flight for fewer people)... The question of who is cheaper starts to get really interesting. (Assuming the lower bound of $250 million for a Shuttle flight priced at marginal cost is reasonable.)
 
This is one of the things we discovered when we added up the costs of using Russian Soyuz and Proton boosters as replacements for the Shuttle. The Shuttle seems more expensive because it swallows money in such huge chunks, other boosters sup more daintily but accomplish much less. (In the same way people often don't realize how renting an apartment costs more in the long run than purchasing a house.)
 
The other problem of course is determining exactly how much a Shuttle flight costs - since you can't buy one 'off the shelf' like you can more conventional launches.
 
* The Ariane 5 has a gross cargo capacity roughly equivalent to Shuttle's net capacity, but it's net capacity is significantly less due to the need to provide free flight capability for the delivered payloads.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

bjaustin (1223668) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245462)

True, getting cargo to the ISS isn't a big jump in capability given that the Russians have been doing this for years and last year the Airane launched the ATV which docked with the ISS. It would be beneficial (as well as cheaper) to have the ability to do so domestically for not only keeping tax dollars within the U.S. economy but also from the standpoint of maintaining the U.S. rocket industrial base. However, if this launch goes poorly - and there's a decent chance it will considering the challenges and newness of the vehicle - there will be a good number of politicians from Alabama, Florida, and Texas pointing to the failure as indicative of the challenge being above commercial space companies' capabilities, even though the Atlas and Delta have been flying for decades but had initial setbacks too.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246204)

Actually, I give the chance of success to be quite high. First, they have done the testing of separation, monitoring, nav, etc via Falcon 1. Likewise, they tested Merlin on the Falcon 1. Basically, the 2'nd stage is nothing but a stage 1 of Falcon 1. So, that leaves running the engines in parallel. Well, the folks down in Texas will tell you that SpaceX did a number of tests of that. Never had an issue with it. Then add the fact that NASA, and DOD are all working with SpaceX to make certain that this bird flies right, and I think that it is a pretty safe bet that this one will be right. I do have to say, that I would have preferred more than that just 2 successful falcon 1 launches. But, then again, SpaceX does have other customers who do not want their schedule known. IOW, it is quite possible that there were more launches.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

bjaustin (1223668) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246746)

I simply disagree. There is far more to the Falcon 9 than just ganging together engines and while the Falcon 1 was an important step it had much less energy, mass, and size than the Falcon 9. I also don't believe that they never had an issue in a single Falcon 9 Stage 1 test. They may never have had one that blew itself apart or was otherwise significantly damaged but I have a hard time imagining that they simply added 8 more engines and it ran right from the first test fire. And SpaceX's own track record will tell you that test fires will only tell you so much and some problems will only become apparent when you go off to fly it. I very much hope they succeed in this first flight of the Falcon 9 but I think it is far from a safe bet that they will.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247666)

First, they did not put 9 engines together and simply test it. If you will recall (or simply google), you will find that they started with 3, then 5, then 9. My understanding is that they did have issues. In fact, one guy that I talked to said that even in the test runs, they have had engine fail (apparently, engine out means massive outage to many of the engineers). They have also adjusted various items, things that were not accounted for. HOWEVER, they still run it on the ground for the length multiple times.

Personally, I would be amazed if they had a failure similar to falcon 1-1. However, I would not be surprised to see something minor such as an engine failing part way up. But hey, that is the point of this launch.

Re:I don't get it... (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246826)

Following a string of failed and canceled NASA projects, there is no Shuttle replacement after its retired. Ariane is not a US rocket, and it cannot presently transport crew. Neither can the Japanese H-IIA rocket.

Ha ha! (2, Funny)

Mr Z (6791) | more than 3 years ago | (#31244910)

What about Falcon 7 [spatula-city.org] ?

dilemma (5, Insightful)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 3 years ago | (#31244936)

Given that most rocket systems have a catastrophic launch failure some time during their history, and given that engineers learn from those mistakes to make every subsequent one safer, Falcon has a dilemma. If they are going to suffer a launch failure, is it better to have one on this first launch or a later one? Engineering wise, you want to fail early so you can fix early. But politically and economically, it could be a disaster.

Just a thought.

Re:dilemma (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245128)

The cosmic ballet goes on.

Re:dilemma (4, Informative)

ZankerH (1401751) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245148)

SpaceX has already had their share of "catastrophic launch faliures" with the Falcon 1, which had quite some faliures before they managed to get it right. Falcon 1 now uses the same engines, avionics suite and design philosophy as the Falcon 9. It was basically a test for the bigger rockets, and I'd say they have all the experience and data they need to pull this one off.

Godspeed, SpaceX. They earned this.

Re:dilemma (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246322)

Oh, I think they'll do great. Falcon 1 taught a lot. Falcon 9 is still a different beast with new challenges. I'm curious about the mental state of the guys sending it up. Assuming there's going to be a failure (which may be a false assumption, but history shows a lot of rocket designs fail eventually for whatever reason), when is the gut-feeling optimal time for a failure. Maybe launch 1, maybe not. Probably before they start using a crew module.

Just food for thought.

Re:dilemma (2, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245184)

The alleged dilemma would only arise if there was a decision that makes a failure more likely now and less likely later. In practice I expect they do their damndest to avoid it both now and later, but somewhere there'll be a flaw sooner or later. As for what is best, a baseline that works is clearly better. Yes shit can happen because of a bad tweak or poor QA or external damage but having a design you know it basically working is a helluva lot easier than one that is not.

Re:dilemma (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246230)

Sorry, I didn't mean to say there was a decision on when to blow up or how much effort into making a good rocket. More the moral dilemma of do want any hypothetical failures early or later. I agree: get the best rocket on the pad you can. But even design flaws can take time to have any consequence (Challenger explosion, for example). Others show up on the first launch.

The dilemma isn't on choosing which to have. It's the choice of thinking "Dear God, if it's going to explode someday, let it be today so that we learn of our mistakes early" vs "Dear God, if it's going to explode someday, don't let it explode today so that we stay in business long enough to correct our mistakes."

I just think it's an interesting quandary.

Re:dilemma (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245508)

Keep in mind that SpaceX can learn from launch successes too.

Re:dilemma (2, Insightful)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245590)

For SpaceX I would wager that launch #2 is the best one for them to have a catastrophic failure on with the Falcon 9. If they can get this first launch to its target safely and successfully, then everyone will turn towards Orbital to watch their maiden launch in 2011. That will give SpaceX the breathing room it needs to blow something up, collect data, and rehash the design.

Then again, SpaceX really does have a team of badass, top of the line engineers. If any company can pull off a HLV launch record without some sort of catastrophic cluster, its these guys.

Re:dilemma (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246944)

Most new rocket systems fail on their first launch (e.g. Delta III, Delta IV Heavy, Ariane 5) it is rare that they do not fail on the first launch. SpaceX is doing a lot of testing, but things can still go wrong.

How is this more private than before? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31244946)

How is Space X launching a Falcon 9 under a government contract (that previously included helping with development costs) any different than a Delta or Atlas rocket launch under a government contract?

Re:How is this more private than before? (2, Interesting)

sgage (109086) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245008)

I, too, don't understand the hoopla. What is wrong with Atlas and Delta, both of which are configurable for all sorts of capacities? There they are, they work fine. I don't see how the future of US launch capacity is on the shoulders of Falcon. Surely I'm missing something here?

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245072)

Falcon 9 is much cheaper.

Re:How is this more private than before? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245084)

It's about the cost. Falcon 9 is almost an order of magnitude cheaper than anything else out there. They are also one of the few who have list prices for their launches. I commend them for that.

Re:How is this more private than before? (3, Informative)

ZankerH (1401751) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245172)

Surely you're missing the projected launch costs. SpaceX has the most cost-efficient launcher out there, and they also have had several successful launches with the Falcon 1, which is effectively a smaller version of the 9, sharing the same engines, materials etc. If they succeed with the Falcon 9, this will be nothing short of a revolution in the low earth orbit launch market.

Re:How is this more private than before? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245714)

If they succeed with the Falcon 9, this will be nothing short of a revolution in the low earth orbit launch market.

Oh so if their first launch reaches orbit, they'll make the payload stage do a barrel roll [wikipedia.org] while in orbit? Cool!

Re:How is this more private than before? (4, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245200)

What is wrong with Atlas and Delta, both of which are configurable for all sorts of capacities? ..... Surely I'm missing something here?

Falcons cost about $10M

Delta 4 cost about $140M to $180M. Ariane 5 about the same.

Space shuttle launch costs about $1500M

All lift "about the same amount", but the costs vary by well over two orders of magnitude.

Standard slashdot car analogy, is that as commuter vehicles, both a KIA and a Ferrari will transport roughly one driver and a briefcase, but there is over two orders of magnitude difference in cost.

Re:How is this more private than before? (3, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245628)

Where are you getting that $10M figure from?

SpaceX's site [spacex.com] says $44-49M.

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246300)

Where are you getting that $10M figure from?
SpaceX's site says $44-49M.

My mistake, I was reading about the falcon 1.

Point still stands, its cheap compared to its competitors.

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245670)

Yes and the concern is getting your KIA to do 200mph. Which would you rather be in?

It might be 2 orders of magnitude cheaper, but is it equally safer?

Russian Cosmonaut: "Dey Amerkins 'ave fired a missile at ISS!"
Russian Ground Control: "It is just payload, do not worry!"
Russian Cosmonaut: "ORLY!"

But seriously good luck to them, at that price it opens up all sorts of options, particularly the participation of private industry in areas that used to only be realistically available to large nations.

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247550)

Nobody made significant plants to human-rate an EELV until fairly recently [wikipedia.org] , and those plans are still barely more than a feasibility study. Falcon 9 was intended to carry a crew module from day 1.

Re:How is this more private than before? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31246166)

True, but would you rather be seen cruising to work in a Ferrari, or a Kia?

Re:How is this more private than before? (2, Funny)

Powys (1274816) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246398)

"You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?" -Armageddon

Re:How is this more private than before? (0, Troll)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245098)

How is Space X launching a Falcon 9 under a government contract (that previously included helping with development costs) any different than a Delta or Atlas rocket launch under a government contract?

Here's my interpretation. In the old days, private/public referred to whom owned the company. Now a days its reversed, and public means they own a part of the govt, and private means they're going it alone without owning a part of the govt.

Delta/Atlas is owned by Boeing/Lockheed which are big enough businesses to own a senator or two, maybe a couple reps, so its sort of public.

SpaceX is small enough that I doubt even the local alderman returns their calls, so they're private. In fact its surprising the govt is allowing them to succeed, at least so far, since they aren't getting their "cut".

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245454)

The valid comparison is Falcon 9 to the Shuttle, Ariane 5, and Soyuz. All three are government owned rockets (though Soyuz and Ariane 5 have been commercialized and Ariane 5 might have a private stake). And the idea of putting astronauts up on a commercial launch vehicle is revolutionary.

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246940)

The Falcon 9 isn't very comparable to the Ariane 5. It's got about 2/3s to half the lifting capacity.

Falcon 9 will lift 10 tonnes to LEO or or 4.5 to GTO.

Ariane 5 will lift 16-21 tonnes to LEO or 6-10 to GTO.

The competitive Falcon 9 heavy (which will be one of the (if not the) biggest rockets outside the super-heavy stuff if/when it gets done) is still in development.

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245536)

I believe Delta and Atlas were made to government order. Falcon, however, was not.

More importantly (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245982)

Delta and Atlas were fully funded by the feds. Falcon was mostly funded by Musk. Falcon 9 is 100% new. Delta/Atlas are one offs from many decades ago. BIG difference.

Re:More importantly (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247050)

The Delta IV and Atlas V first stages and engines are essentially new (RS-68, RD-180). Sure the second stage uses the RL-10 Centaur engine, but there is not that much in common between those rockets and their predecessors. Especially Delta IV.

Re:More importantly (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247462)

The RD-180 was developed by Russia in early to mid 80's, while the RS-68 is from early 90's. All pretty old.

Re:How is this more private than before? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245558)

It's more the nature of the contract.

Delta and Atlas were developed using cost plus methods with a high degree of government involvement and oversight in the creation of the vehicle requirements. The EELV's (Delta and Atlas) were government projects in the same way as a new fighter aircraft, or ship is procured.

COTS (the contract SpaceX is operating under) is completely milestone based, you successfully complete X, we pay you Y. If you fail you get nada, zero. SpaceX is more like how the goverment buys tickets for employees on commercial airliners. Falcon X is not a goverment project

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

Somegeek (624100) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245636)

One of the obvious differences that others have mentioned is cost, but the reason is more important. The others were developed under government contract and on huge government budgets. This results in rockets that cost over 100 million USD to launch. SpaceX is a private company developing their own technology primarily using their own money, allowing them to develop vehicles that cost significantly less to launch.

One last thing (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246030)

Falcon 9 was developed with Human Ratings. The others were not. In fact, Falcon 9 may actually be the first LV designed with human launch being the biggest part of it in nearly 40 years.

Re:How is this more private than before? (1)

zerospeaks (1467571) | more than 3 years ago | (#31248226)

Elon Musk has stated the goal is 500 dollars a kg, and is achievable. At that price, slashdot could put something in space.

Yaaawwwwn (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31244960)

Sending corporate junk into orbit makes me sleepy. Wake me up when they start doing interesting stuff again.

Re:Yaaawwwwn (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245082)

They aren't sending it for your benefit.

Re:Yaaawwwwn (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245166)

That doesn't mean that you won't benefit from it. They don't manufacture automobiles for your benefit, either -- they manufacture them to make a profit. But I, for one, am glad they manufacture automobiles.

Latin phrases don't make you sound smart (2, Insightful)

fandingo (1541045) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245076)

The use of "in toto" is in toto-ly stupid. This is not a legal paper, so don't use Latin. "Completely" would have sufficed.

Re:Latin phrases don't make you sound smart (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245096)

Author is a hype-mongering self-absorbed lamer in toto

Re:Latin phrases don't make you sound smart (3, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245368)

Oh is that what that meant?

I thought the summary was saying that the Constellation program had been canceled in Dorothy's little dog. Which makes sense to me; I never saw how a heavy-lift rocket could possibly fit inside a little terrier.

Re:Latin phrases don't make you sound smart (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245864)

The use of "in toto" is in toto-ly stupid. This is not a legal paper, so don't use Latin. "Completely" would have sufficed.

Just FYI, "in toto" does mean "completely" when used in legal documents, but in general writing it retains the original latin meaning "as a whole" as in: NASA scientists are a bright bunch in toto, although Chuck is an idiot and Sue just got the job because her brother is a celebrity.

The first new rocket... (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31245100)

The first new rocket to be launched from the Cape since last years Ares 1-X. There, fixed that for you

Re:The first new rocket... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245208)

Another fix here is that it's the first new orbital launch vehicle since 2002, well, assuming it launches.

Re:The first new rocket... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245782)

Ares 1-X was an SRB with a payload and a few minor mods. IOW, not a new rocket. Falcon 9 is the first truly new rocket that America has had in quite some time.

crashing down? (0, Redundant)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245136)

However if something goes wrong, those plans will come crashing to Earth along with Falcon 9.

What if the rocket gets into the wrong orbit due to some sort of thruster malfunction? Huh? Huh?

Re:crashing down? (1)

geegel (1587009) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245352)

The standard procedure is to abort the mission, by blowing up the rocket. The end result is the same, it will come crashing on Earth.

Re:crashing down? (1)

Somegeek (624100) | more than 3 years ago | (#31248088)

If it's going into orbit, even the wrong one, they do NOT blow it up.

Re:crashing down? (1)

kaiser423 (828989) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245460)

Bad orbits are typically unstable and do come crashing down. It's generally considered a successful launch if the spacecraft can boost itself to a stable orbit and get some work done. The launch people just get dinged some money since that ends up shortening the life of the spacecraft due to using extra fuel to get to a usable orbit.

So if I understand this... (2, Interesting)

FlyByPC (841016) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245176)

...NASA's facility is being used for the launch of a new rocket. If it works well, NASA stands to lose funding. If it doesn't (especially if it fails catastrophically), NASA comes out ahead?

I'm glad I'm not anywhere near the Cape right about now, y'know? Just saying.

Re:So if I understand this... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245862)

Just the opposite. If this works and CONgress approves of Bolden's plan, then NASA will get an increase. If Falcon 9 fails, then NASA and Bolden will have a VERY DIFFICULT time arguing to CONgress to kill Constellation. As it is, the 1999, and 2002 CONgress did a great deal of damage to NASA, but may have helped make the case. the neo-cons of the time forbade NASA to develop transhab or VASIMR. Thankfully, NASA spun those off into separate companies and helped fund one of them. Bigelow and Adastra are now making the case for the new set-up.

Re:So if I understand this... (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246490)

Ironically, Bigelow and Adastra are two of the companies that they're talking about contracting with for this "new", advanced, ground breaking technology.

Re:So if I understand this... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247334)

They are the important ones. BA will give us the private space stations and Mr. B wants to be on the moon. They devote a lot of effort to not just figuring our the station, but how to land and protect these on the moon. Hopefully, they are working with the other companies esp. Blue Origin, L-Mart, and Boeing (all with stakes on landing on the moon).

Re:So if I understand this... (1)

Last_Available_Usern (756093) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246034)

Losing funding for launches doesn't mean you lose funding for everything. Also, they have facilities and expertise that make them valuable to whoever may assume launch functions. If I own an arena, I might stand to make more money just leasing out the venue and providing concessions instead of trying to create the entertainment value as well

Re:So if I understand this... (2, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246452)

Umm... It's an Air Force facility located adjacent to the NASA facility.

He's not in there. (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245592)

Falcon's not in the vehicle! It's all a publicity stunt!

Oh, was TFA on a different Falcon?

If Henry Spencer's still out there... (1)

ArtFart (578813) | more than 3 years ago | (#31245752)

...he may be able to start using his old signature: "There is only one spacefaring nation today, Comrade."

False Hopes. (3, Informative)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246226)

To be clear, while the summary does say that Falcon 9 could launch as early as next month (March 22 to be exact) neither SpaceX, nor NASA have that date reserved as a planned launch date. This Spaceflightnow article [spaceflightnow.com] summarizes both Elon Musk's and the chief launch supervisor's remarks regarding expectations of an early launch date. They discuss the fact that it is very likely that Falcon 9 will not be prepped for launch until April or May this year. If that indeed does prove to be the case, it would not be a slip or a launch date failure, it would be part of the overall Falcon 9 launch plan. Quite frankly, it takes a LOT of groundwork and very precise timing to launch something the size of the Falcon 9 successfully. That said, SpaceX's launch crews want to get in all the practice they can to get the rhythm and motions of a successful launch op down.

To finalize this primary point with a quote from the spaceflightnow article:

"People should not think that the rocket is going to launch on whatever the first countdown day is," Musk said in an interview last month. "They shouldn't think of any day that we have planned as launch day, but it is simply an aspiration for the first day that we will try to do a countdown."

That said, this is, indeed, a very exciting launch for the space industry. The spaceflightnow article has some good techie info on the connections made between the rocket and the transport vehicle, as well as some info regarding the anchoring mechanisms for the rocket when it is hoisted.

Furthermore, I do feel it necessary to point out that this:

However if something goes wrong, those plans will come crashing to Earth along with Falcon 9.

...is a friggin' sensationalist claim that has no place in science reporting, either on a primary site or on a news aggregation site. Should the first Falcon 9 fail, they will learn from it and launch better designs in the future. Orbital still is working on its Taurus rocket. The EELV program (Atlas and Delta) are still pushing strong in the commercial market. If the first Falcon 9 flight fails, it will not be the end all be all of either Obama's current NASA vision, nor America's role in the space program. So please, keep the hyperbole out of the damned summaries guys.

Re:False Hopes. (2, Interesting)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247032)

This can't be said enough. Falcon 9 Flight 1 is in no way a single point failure for the administration's budget proposal. Whether its a success or failure it demonstrates why the new plan is in fact the right way to go.

First, SpaceX has judged that at this point its cheaper to fly the rocket than to suffer from the 'failure is not an option' mentality. Yes, an explosion looks bad, but quite frankly, after a certain point its cheaper to just launch the thing than to waste engineer hours trying to find more failure modes. Thats why you try them out first without people or expensive payloads on board -- the fact that the first shuttle launched was manned showed an incredible amount of hubris as far as I'm concerned. This method of testing makes things cheaper and better in the long run.

Second, even if SpaceX were to completely fall apart (not that they will,) they are not the only hope for US spaceflight, despite what some opponents of the new plan claim. Under the COTS program, Orbital Sciences is also preparing vehicles for ISS resupply. With CCDev, which will be followed with far more money under the new budget, old and new companies, from Boeing and the LM/Boeing hybrid ULA, to Blue Origin and Bigelow will be developing vehicles for manned flight. Falcon 9, Atlas V and Delta IV are all being prepped for use as manned launchers, and Dragon, Dream Chaser, and a cut-down version of Orion are being prepped as manned orbital vehicles. If one doesn't work, it just means more business for the other two.

The whole point of the new proposed way of doing human spaceflight is to create redundancy and encourage efficiency. Don't let those who are afraid of change spread the FUD that is sure to arise from this flight, no matter what happens.

Re:False Hopes. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247468)

If that indeed does prove to be the case, it would not be a slip or a launch date failure, it would be part of the overall Falcon 9 launch plan.

That's pretty Orwellian, or like something out of Dilbert. "We're planning on a launch potentially as early as March or April, but if plans change and launch date slips it won't really be a slip because we'll be right on schedule according to the revised schedule".
 

Furthermore, I do feel it necessary to point out that this:

However if something goes wrong, those plans will come crashing to Earth along with Falcon 9.

...is a friggin' sensationalist claim that has no place in science reporting, either on a primary site or on a news aggregation site.

A bit sensationalist for the overall program, less so for SpaceX and the Falcon 9. SpaceX doesn't have unlimited funding or unqualified political support. A failure could indeed have significant repercussions, a string of failures (as the Falcon I had) could spell the end of SpaceX's NASA contract of not of SpaceX itself.

Re:False Hopes. (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#31248252)

...is a friggin' sensationalist claim that has no place in science reporting, either on a primary site or on a news aggregation site. Should the first Falcon 9 fail, they will learn from it and launch better designs in the future. Orbital still is working on its Taurus rocket. The EELV program (Atlas and Delta) are still pushing strong in the commercial market. If the first Falcon 9 flight fails, it will not be the end all be all of either Obama's current NASA vision, nor America's role in the space program. So please, keep the hyperbole out of the damned summaries guys.

I totally agree. I'm a huge fan of SpaceX and have a lot of hope for them, but even if they suddenly disappeared into the ubiquitous ether the new NASA plan would still be going strong. As you mentioned, there's quite a few other companies getting fixed-price milestone-based funding from NASA to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft for crew. A quick summary:

Launch vehicles:
* SpaceX Falcon 9 (vehicle mentioned in summary): medium development risk, low-cost
* Lockheed/ULA Atlas V: low-risk (development risk, that is), high cost, but still drastically lower cost than Space Shuttle or Constellation (has been operating for a number of years now, with all 20 launches so far successful)
* Boeing/ULA Delta IV Heavy: low-risk, high cost (could potentially lift Orion spacecraft)
* Orbital Taurus II: medium-risk, medium-cost, although probably better suited for cargo than crew

Spacecraft (potentially launched on a variety of different launch vehicles):
* SpaceX Dragon [spacex.com] : capsule is pretty much ready, with a number of test articles, but the development "long pole" is a to-be-developed launch escape system
* Boeing/Bigelow capsule [flightglobal.com] : sometimes termed the "Orion Lite", Bigelow's also interested in this as a way to get to his private space station modules
* Blue Origin [newspacejournal.com] : composite capsule, also designing a novel push-based (instead of the traditional tractor-based) escape system adaptable to other capsules
* Sierra Nevada/SpaceDev Dream Chaser [space.com] : more novel design, using a lifting-body based on the well-tested HL-20 [nasa.gov] ; this sort of design provides a gentler reentry from LEO (and potentially upgrades well to lunar/Lagrangian return); the company has already spent at least $10M of its own funds developing the design and building test articles
* Orbital Cygnus [orbital.com] : optimized for cargo deliveries to ISS, but can potentially be extended to crew

It's also worth noting that Blue Origin, ULA, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada are all being funded on CCDev contracts [spacenews.com] (in addition to a certain amount of private funding, which they're all required to have). With these contracts, they only get the full payment if they meet all of their pre-determined milestones (building test articles, performing tests, etc.) by September of 2010. IMHO, this September is when we'll get a better idea of which companies will be competing for crew/cargo delivery in the future, and

Theme music (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246498)

We will be fine (we will be fine)
Falcon 9* (Falcon 9)
Even though NASA say
"Way out of line" (out of line)
We will be fine (we will be fine)
Falcon 9 (Falcon 9)
Even though NASA say
"Way out of line" (out of line)

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3130681292715811054&hl=en# [google.com]

You're welcome, NASA TV!


*post would make way more sense if del tags were allowed. Harumph!

Cheap, Reliable, Right Now: Pick Any Two (2, Informative)

cmholm (69081) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246808)

Delta and Atlas are reliable because the time/money have been put into anal retentive engineering. The 1950's/60's customer was in enough of a hurry that they were willing to push the schedule with money and man hours. They also realized that pushing the schedule on developing flaming tubes of fuel was a recipe for BOOM!, and gritted their teeth through the mistakes.

Hopefully, SpaceX has learned enough from Falcon 1 that they can minimize the boom factor on Falcon 9, but given the size of their engineering staff (CAD/CAM or no), I wouldn't count on it.

What's really at stake (1)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 3 years ago | (#31246886)

If the Federal government makes a strategic decision based on the outcome of one rocket launch, the only thing it demonstrates is that the Federal government should be cancelled.

To clear up confusion... (1)

zerospeaks (1467571) | more than 3 years ago | (#31247988)

The Falcon 9 launch should be a complete success. It is built on the same tech as the Falcon 1. The Falcon 1 of course is the "staging area" to test the design and iron out kinks before the Falcon 9 launches. Well, they have done that. Now to clear up misunderstandings. The Falcon 9 and dragon from day one has been built to exceed human ratings. Everything about it from top to bottom is rated to carry people. Only one thing left to do. Built an escape system. They have already started designing and plan to be done with it in 2 years. Oh and... get a couple of successful launches. Should be one heck of a show.
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