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SpaceX and Iridium Sign $492M Launch Contract

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the bringing-home-the-bacon dept.

Businesses 96

FleaPlus writes "Following up on the successful first launch of their Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX has signed a $492M deal for launching several dozen satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation, the biggest commercial launch deal ever (teleconference notes). This is a needed boost for the US launch industry, which has dwindled to a fraction of the international market due to problematic ITAR arms regulations and high costs. SpaceX's next launch is scheduled for later this summer, carrying the first full version of the Dragon reusable capsule, which will run tests in orbit and then splash down off the California coast."

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96 comments

employer monitoring saves innocent souls (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32600996)

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"I think the bottom line is, what kind of a world do you want to leave for your children," Andrew Smith, a professor in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences, said in a telephone interview. "How impoverished we would be if we lost 25 percent of the world's mammals," said Smith, one of more than 100 co-authors of the report. "Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live," added Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN director general. "We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives."--

"The wealth of the universe is for me. Every thing is explicable and practical for me .... I am defeated all the time; yet to victory I am born." --emerson

no need to confuse 'religion' with being a spiritual being. our soul purpose here is to care for one another. failing that, we're simply passing through (excess baggage) being distracted/consumed by the guaranteed to fail illusionary trappings of man'kind'. & recently (about 10,000 years ago) it was determined that hoarding & excess by a few, resulted in negative consequences for all.

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"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." )one does not need to agree whois in charge to grasp the notion that there may be some assistance available to us(

boeing, boeing, gone.

Re:employer monitoring saves innocent souls (-1, Offtopic)

Yaos (804128) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601086)

What the hell are you talking about?

Re:employer monitoring saves innocent souls (0, Offtopic)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601486)

Hi, you must be new to the internet. One of our rules here is "don't feed the trolls".

Re:employer monitoring saves innocent souls (0, Offtopic)

sv_libertarian (1317837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602168)

But... but... they make funny noises sometimes when you give them something.

READ THIS!!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601510)

which will run tests in orbit and then splashdown off the California coast

No matter how much you want it to be such, SPLASHDOWN IS NOT A VERB.

Noun: splashdown
Verb: splash down

Very similar to the setup construct--

Noun: setup
Verb: set up


If you are submitting an article, please get stuff straight. If your summary is a simple copy-paste because you are trying to be first and get your name on the front page, STOP IT. And before you pretend to be some literary scholar and tell me that English is a living language, let me just state that Slashdot (as well as other news outlets) is not the place to make such a move to create words on a whim.

MOD PARENT UP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601548)

Maybe if we could get kdawson or soulskill to repeat (?) 7th grade English, they would know these mistakes and actually be editors...

Re:MOD PARENT UP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601570)

Lol ain't that the truth! Mod this ac up too!!

mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601624)

Dont know if youre serious but this is worth seeing

Mod Parent Up (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601666)

Nice grammar nazi, NICE

MPU -=[Mod][Parent][Up]=- MPU (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601674)

Read creative title.

(m)od (p)arent (u)p (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601990)

Hey mods! Mod parent up!

MoD PaReNt Up (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32602000)

mod par'nt uhhhhhppp

TOTAL NONSENSE (0, Offtopic)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602400)

And before you pretend to be some literary scholar and tell me that English is a living language,

While it is true that Slashdot is not the place for living languages, it is the place for abominations to nature. How are we ever going to get "splashdowned", if we don't support this noble work?

Re:READ THIS!!!!! (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 4 years ago | (#32603382)

SPLASHDOWN IS NOT A VERB.

It begs the question: whose the one that put these guy's in charge?

Re:READ THIS!!!!! (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604488)

Well, it is a living language.

And all words have been used first somewhere.

Most people accept splashdown as a verb. Live with it.

Re:READ THIS!!!!! (0, Offtopic)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605210)

Nice, the old ad populum logical fallacy. Would you like to cite your reference on where you found out that most people accept splashdown as a verb, or would you rather toss my salad instead?

Re:READ THIS!!!!! (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607000)

Nice, the old ad populum logical fallacy. Would you like to cite your reference on where you found out that most people accept splashdown as a verb, or would you rather toss my salad instead?

I doubt he could find a cite for that specific verb, but there's no need. One need only demonstrate that most people accept verbing nouns. I can't provide a cite for that, either, but I know from experience it's true for nearly everyone I know. I would venture to say, at this point, one is not a competent speaker of the English language is you cannot comprehend sentences with verbed nouns, as the practice quite widespread.

Re:READ THIS!!!!! (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607360)

Well, I guess I can do a trivial Google search. I found a couple of [wikipedia.org] articles on wikipedia [wikipedia.org] where it's been used as a verb without the editors fixing it, space.com [space.com] seems happy to use the verb in their 2.25pm update, and I have a PDF of a letter from a guy who appears to know what he's talking about [nasa.gov] .

A google search for "will splashdown" gives a lot more hits. Even "Splashdowned" gives a few.

Re:READ THIS!!!!! (0, Troll)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612294)

Dear moron,

Your "analysis" sucks. Posting a mere slew of search results to show that people use the noun as a verb really doesn't get us anywhere. Don't argue with me unless you have better than an eighth grade education, effectively.

Re:READ THIS!!!!! (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 4 years ago | (#32614640)

Hey,I was just pointing out that it's widely accepted in various circles. Language is defined by usage. I've demonstrated splashdown is widely used as a verb.

You got any evidence that I'm wrong. I mean it's all well and good to dismiss my arguments. They're pretty weak. However, I'll take a weak argument over the none whatsoever that you've presented so far. And I'll advise you that insults just make you look stupid - at least to 50% of the people still paying attention to this thread.

Re:READ THIS!!!!! (0, Troll)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 4 years ago | (#32606224)

Hey mods, lick my balls for modding this down. The notion that you can't comprehend something does NOT give you a valid reason to mod it down.

But just go ahead and mod *this* post down (troll) after sucking my balls (after licking them, of course). I figure, why not waste two or three more modpoints while I'm at it. Oh, and please have a bad day, fartknocker.

MOD PARENT UP!!! (0, Offtopic)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608784)

You know you want to!!! ;)

Good (4, Insightful)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601054)

We need private space industry to really start hummin' and making more deals like this. The only way we are going to make space travel actually doable and useful within our lifetimes (or maybe even our kid's lifetimes) is if the private industry really ramps things up.

Considering how far things have come in just the last decade (hell, even just the last five years) I have high hopes.

Re:Good (5, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601072)

Boeing, Lockheed and other private companies already handle deals like these regularly - SpaceX is just a new entrant into the market.

Re:Good (0)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601416)

Yeah, they may handle deals like this for the DoD, but the existing market players cost so much to launch this deal would have cost Iridium more than twice as much.

I'm guessing it would have been cost prohibitive to launch with Boeing/Lockheed at about $10,000 a kilo to LEO, SpaceX is charging $10,000 a kilo to GEO, which is where Iridium needs their sattelites.

So no, the biggest commercial deal ever, (about 1/3 the size of the SpaceX NASA contract) is the sign that the market for low cost entry to space is there.

If this works for Iridium, I can see the Satellite TV folks getting in line, if they ever want their Digital channel lineups to be anywhere near as diverse as Cable/FIOS, then they need to put up higher capacity sata.

Also there's Galileo, the European competiting GPS variant not dependent on US DoD Sats. They might have to use a Euro launch capability for prestige, jobs reasons, but if they're serious about Austerity in Europe, lowest cost should win the day.

Its also worth noting that the value of the Iridium contract is worth more than has ever been invested in SpaceX from its startup to today. Add that to the NASA contract and I think it was quite worth the money.

Now they need just 1 more low cost launch company to keep them competitive.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601490)

SpaceX is charging $10,000 a kilo to GEO, which is where Iridium needs their sattelites.

Not at all, the iridium network is all in LEO.

The satellites communicate with each other, so your call is routed through them until it gets to the sat closest to an earth base station.

Re:Good (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601856)

Ok, I did do a Google search to be sure and some article said they wer ein GEO.

SpaceX Falcon 9 costs to LEO are $3,500 per kilo. So still a 3 to 1 cost savings.

Re:Good (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601964)

Unless Iridiums technology plans have changed, their satellites are designed for LEO and not GEO, which is why they have so many of them.

When it comes to cost, you have to enter the market at below the market rates if you are to carve yourself a niche - Boeing, Lockheed and others have an established success rate, while SpaceX does not. Its typically difficult to insure a satellite, so Iridium have to take the chance that SpaceX can give them a good launch success rate, when they can go to Boeing et al for an established launcher (although still not guaranteed, but having a proven track record is better than not in these things). The trade off to that chance is a supremely low cost to the launches, which will essentially create a track record for SpaceX (or not).

I wish SpaceX all the best, but I don't see anything here to get excited about - they haven't launched them yet.

Re:Good (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602204)

Nope, no plans have changed, as I posted elsewhere I did a quick google search on Iridium and GEO and got a hit so I kept on writing my post with GEO costs, still SpaceX LEO costs are dirt cheap too.

SpaceX does have a track record with the Falcon 1, its not so great, but each time they got over their engineering challenges and the next launch was better than the last. the Falcon 9 launch was flawless except for the momentary loss of video as they crossed the horizon.

If you read TFA, Musk says they have 30 launches booked right now, only half of which are Government, less than 10 of the commercial ones are Iridium. That's enough when completed to give them a track record, and hopefully shorten their turnaround times, and increase reuseability. If they do that they should be able to lower cost, all of those things lower the barrier to entry for space based ventures.

That's what I'm excited about. After PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, I tend to bet with Musk these days.

Re:Good (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608474)

What is really exciting is that Bigelow still has yet to make a major move with SpaceX. They are busy trying to "second source" a vehicle with Boeing (understandable.... Robert Bigelow doesn't want to be hung out to dry by Elon Musk and SpaceX) and are also generally trying to see a broad and robust launcher industry, but it is possible that they may go ahead and sign another contract with SpaceX in the not too distant future.

The real exciting stuff that is going to happen will be with Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures (with the Armadillo Aerospace joint-venture). That is going to get the bottom feeders some serious experience with spaceflight launch experience and provide some testing environments for equipment and prototypes that until now simply haven't even been possible. The "build a little, test a little" approach that has worked out so well for the computer and electronics industry may finally be applied to spaceflight.... a long time coming if you ask me.

It still is a little steep in price to spend about $250 k for a flight into the upper atmosphere for an engineering test, but that is a heck of a lot cheaper than the $500 million "test" of the "Ares I-X" rocket that did so little for so much money. Just imagine the engineering tests that could have been performed on over 2000 sub-orbital launches to explore the performance envelopes of various components for a future spacecraft.

Iridium is also on a knife edge of profitability at the moment, and this deal is actually a good one for Iridium as well as SpaceX. If SpaceX is successful, Iridium will have its constellation for significantly improved performance for a fraction of the cost of the original constellation.... and this time the money isn't being exported to China either. Yes, at least part of the original Iridium constellation was put up on Chinese rockets.

Dang, it is good to see China get underbid by an American company due to an army of under-employed workers and cheaper manufacturing costs :)

Re:Good (1)

anOminousCow (905486) | about 4 years ago | (#32678824)

so Iridium have to take the chance that SpaceX can give them a good launch success rate, when they can go to Boeing et al for an established launcher (although still not guaranteed, but having a proven track record is better than not in these things).

Except that ULA (Boeing, Lockheed Martin) wouldn't really be in the running to launch for Iridium even without SpaceX because of cost. Iridium would likely go with a launch on Russian rockets. Inexpensive AND Proven (even moreso than the American launchers).

Also, from what I understand, SpaceX offers a kind of insurance for their launches. With a 10% premium, they'll provide a re-launch if the initial launch fails. Of course that still wouldn't replace the payload if that were to be destroyed on the initial launch attempt. But Iridium has ordered 'extra' satellites from Thales on expectation that not all launches will be successful.

You're right though in noting that SpaceX really doesn't have much track record. I'm guessing that Iridium could back out of the deal if SpaceX's track record for the NASA COTS launches is not good.

Re:Good (1, Informative)

dylan_- (1661) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601446)

Boeing, Lockheed and other private companies already handle deals like these regularly

Do they? I thought they got deals to build satellites, not launch them. Got a link?

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601588)

http://www.lockheedmartin.com/ssc/commercial_launch_services/index.html

Re:Good (1)

solarlux (610904) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601596)

They keep losing money at it, which is why Boeing and Lockheed merged their launch divisions into a joint venture several years ago (United Launch Alliance [ulalaunch.com] ). Even the joint venture is still laying people off. It will be interesting to see if can SpaceX maintain a low cost profile (i.e. how much money is Elon pumping in behind the scenes??) while obtaining successful outcomes. "Faster, better, cheaper" seems to have a poor track record when it comes to space. The Atlas program has completed some 80+ successful launches in a row. High reliability comes at a cost.

Re:Good (2, Insightful)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602236)

As of June 3 this year only $350-400M has been invested into SpaceX total, less than just this one contract. Less than 1/4 their current NASA contract. They have 30 launches booked right now, lets see how many days they can go without an accident.

Re:Good (2, Informative)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601678)

Boeing has Delta IV. Lockheed has Atlas V. These are satellite launchers. They do not do many commercial launches since Proton is cheaper and Ariane 5 does not have ITAR limitations either.

Re:Good (3, Informative)

Ana10g (966013) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601796)

Here's three:

Rockets first:

Next, Launch Capabilities:

I don't know if LM or Boeing still provide launch services outside of the scope of ULA.

Re:Good (4, Insightful)

Sheik Yerbouti (96423) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602918)

The difference with SpaceX, supposedly, is that they are much less expensive than the incumbents. Their stated goal is to reduce costs by a factor of 10. Which if they achieve their goal is significant. Boeing, LM and ATK are competing with the Russian Soyuz and ESA Ariane for launch contracts and losing badly because of high costs and ITAR restrictions. So SpaceX is very important to US commercial launch. Perhaps the new competition will encourage Boeing, LM and ATK to figure out how to reduce their costs or lose the market entirely.

Some of the ways SpaceX reduce costs are using in house designs and production for everything. So they are no beholden to subcontractor cost overruns and communications issues. Another way they keep costs down is the designs themselves which are based on well proven ideas that should prove reliable and inexpensive to build and maintain (comparatively speaking).

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32603318)

I've seen Elon Musk speak, outlining why his approach is better. Among his reasons are what you've stated, and simplicity. The Merlin engine runs on Kerosine, and uses far fewer parts than previous engine designs. Add to that a ton of telemetry, and a focus on keeping weight down, and you get a great reduction in costs.

Re:Good (1)

anOminousCow (905486) | about 4 years ago | (#32677332)

Boeing is basically an engineering firm and contractor these days. Most of the actual work in building a Boeing product is done by other companys.

Re:Good (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608542)

"We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid." --Benjamin Franklin

Updated: Like dude, ever heard of Google?

Re:Good (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601690)

They're not just a new entrant. With their significantly reduced launch costs they are a game changer. The Falcon 9 has the big guys sweating bullets and the Falcon 1 has the little guys doing the same.

Re:Good (2, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#32603066)

Once they have proven their launcher with a valid success rate, then their launch costs are valid - until then, they are just a newcomer touting cheaper rates on an unproven platform. They may fail on the next 10 launches, and spend a lot more money finding out what the issues are.

Re:Good (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608570)

Funny that you say that. What defines "proven" and how many launches does that take?

I don't see SpaceX failing on their next 10 launches, although they may indeed lose a vehicle in the next 10 along the way. The ESA has lost Ariane vehicles after several successful launches too, as has RKK Energia with the Soyuz and Progress vehicles, so yeah you may have a point here.

What makes statements like the one here ("once they have proven their launcher with a valid success rate") is that it is a moving goalpost that can never be achieved. I'll admit that a single datapoint is not enough information to base a valid statistical measure, but it is useful if grouped with other launches and compared with track records of other vehicles. Overall, SpaceX is now 3 for 3 with a 50% success rate for achieving the target orbit, which is certainly some additional statistical datapoints to compare and review in terms of reliability and if the company "has the right stuff" to work with.

For some additional comparisons and datapoints, there have now been 15 Merlin engines that have been used in actual spaceflight operations, and various criteria that can be applied to each individual rocket motor for statistical controls and comparison. Is that enough of a statistical universe for some real number crunching in terms of reliability figures? That number is going to be well north of 100 engines within a couple of years, and if the current manifest holds out there will also be more than 30 launches (assuming nobody backs out of the current manifest). Hopefully by the time that manifest is finished this line of argument will be dead.

There have been some performance issues, even with this last launch, to consider that the Merlin engines may not have performed at 100% of engineering expectations in spite of a successful launch. That is certainly going to be something for the engineers involved to tweak and try to improve performance and hopefully be able to provide increased reliability in the future. This is something that is generally true for almost all rockets, and it should be pointed out that not all rockets always have to be 100% perfect to achieve mission goals.

Re:Good (1)

anOminousCow (905486) | about 4 years ago | (#32677390)

What defines proven... According To Elan Musk, The first three or four launches he considers beta testing, even if some are launched with an actual payload.

Re:Good (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 4 years ago | (#32696530)

{{Citation Requested}}

Seriously, this is simply trying to be critical of somebody because of their success. More to the point, why is it a problem if an actual payload is on a test flight. This was done by NASA and others on early test flights... unless they had money to burn and were on a cost-plus contract where money was not an object.

In the case of SpaceX, the people buying the slots knew full well that the hardware was not considered "proven" or flight worthy when they signed up for a flight.

Besides, you really didn't answer the question here other than to give a snarky remark that proves you don't know the answer.

Re:Good (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#32603566)

No, actually, Lockheed and Boeing exclusively offer launch services through ULA now, and ULA exclusively deals with DoD payloads.

As the article points out, commercial launches in the US have dwindled to nothing, largely due to ITAR restrictions -- its difficult to tell a customer how to interface with the LV when you have to ensure that only US citizens can see the documentation. Only because SpaceX is relatively inexpensive is it worth the hassle. The commercial launch business in the US is all but dead (Orbital does some too), so this is a big deal for the US industry as a whole and not just for the particular company.

Ultimately, this just shows that ITAR reforms need to be passed -- security theater isn't worth the decimation of US high-tech industries. SpaceX will suffer the same fate when foreign companies reduce costs to their levels.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605460)

Total BS. ITAR has little to do with the costs. What ITAR does is LIMIT information to those that will not spread. We have PLENTY of ppl in other countries that can and do launch via US mechanism. In fact, it is just as difficult launching on Arianne as on the US launchers. The problem for US launches is that L-Mart and Boeing were charging top dollar, and nobody wanted to use them. Hell, even Orbital charges about the same for their pegasus that SpaceX charges for Falcon 9 (with 10x the capacity). Period. Arianne was winning private launches because they are something like 1/4 cheaper than the US launches. NOW, SpaceX is MUCH MUCH cheaper than all of them. In fact, at this minute, they are the cheapest going. The problem is that China manipulates their money (out and out tied to the dollar), and dump. My guess is that right now, China is dropping their price below SpaceX. HOPEFULLY, western govs. will block any and all western launches from there if China does that (and they will; that is how China works).

Lockheed and Boeing (1)

anOminousCow (905486) | about 4 years ago | (#32677784)

They are now United Launch Alliance, for their rockets.

They're priced too expensive for commercial customers. Nearly all of their launches are for the U.S. Government. Commercial launches generally use Russian or Ukranian rockets. From what I've read, there have been about 5 launches with Russian rockets to every 1 launch of an american rocket over the course of the last several decades.

The U.S. govt started the EELV program to upgrade the American rockets in about 1995. The American rockets had fallen behind the Russian in terms of launch success rates and reliability. The Delta IV and the Atlas V are results of this program. They appear to be much more reliable than the rockets they replaced. The Atlas V does though use the RD-180, a Russian made engine on the first stage, much to the dismay of some government officials.

Some in the U.S. complain that after the retirement of the Space Shuttle later this year, the U.S. will not have the capability to launch a manned spacecraft. But when launching using the Russian Soyuz, it's hard to beat their launch costs. I mean, U.S. consumers buy foreign made products all the time because they're cheaper. What's the deal with just buying cheaper, foreing launch services?

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601224)

Uh, why? Space is still gonna be empty. Too much sci-fi as a kid, perhaps?

Re:Good (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602142)

Uh, why? Space is still gonna be empty.

Space won't be empty with an Iridium constellation there. Problem solved!

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32602444)

Awesome! Who needs air, water, food, gravity? It's for losers! I'm a SPACE NUTTER and I demand UNLIMITED SPACE!

Those life extension freaks who want more time are mentally ill! *I'M* normal!

Re:Good (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32603204)

Awesome! Who needs air, water, food, gravity? It's for losers!

You need air, water, food, gravity? Bring it with you! Problem solved!

I'm a SPACE NUTTER and I demand UNLIMITED SPACE!

Unfortunately, I still have to share that UNLIMITED SPACE with you. How about you kill yourself? Problem solved!

Those life extension freaks who want more time are mentally ill! *I'M* normal!

Why be a SPACE NUTTER xor a LIFE EXTENSION FREAK when you can be both? Problem solved!

Re:Good (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602956)

Your right! This being the second Iridium constellation, there will be alot of stuff up there. Let's hope there isn't going to be another one of these collisions! [wikipedia.org]

Re:Good (1)

sv_libertarian (1317837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602186)

Given as NASA has become about useless for anything all of a sudden... proof we can't let government take the lead in something as important as space flight.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605088)

NASA seems to be very good at finding extra solar planets... [slashdot.org]

First launch (1)

thijsh (910751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601060)

and I hope all goes well. This is a significant step in the history of humankind as a space-faring species, a little corporate step sideways...

Re:First launch (1)

aliddell (1716018) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601504)

A step forward is a step forward. Hell, you might not like it, but Hitler made our first step.

Re:First launch (1)

thijsh (910751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602324)

Like I said, historic significance... no reason to Godwin all over yourself. ;)

Re:First launch (1)

aliddell (1716018) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602854)

Yeah, sorry, I fail it.

"We will pay your price" the joy of DoD (3, Insightful)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601170)

A transcript of an Australian doco on the US space business "The High Frontier"
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2005/s1358430.htm [abc.net.au]
The contracts to help the DoD show real growth for some with connections. Some interesting numbers and private sector deals with the US DoD are listed.

Re:"We will pay your price" the joy of DoD (4, Funny)

omni123 (1622083) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601292)

SIR RICHARD BRANSON: Three years from now we'll be sending paying passengers into space. We'll be sending them - you know, our spaceships will be launching every day.

Maybe he was a little early with his estimation... (link is 5 years old)

Re:"We will pay your price" the joy of DoD (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601568)

Yes the old numbers of "$100,000,000" a year, buying and selling airtime on communication satellites, building the 22 Earth stations for DoD at six locations, 10 to beyond 20? % of the consumer or customer base might be the US gov, shutter control by buying all public data collected over a region of the planet at any price.
All older facts, but it does point to very healthy aspects of the US space industry.
Hidden and well connected :)

reusability potential (2, Interesting)

strack (1051390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601424)

the thing im really excited about is if spacex can get to the point where reusing the first stage merely involves fishing it out of the atlantic after it parachutes down, putting it back on the launch pad, and fuelling it back up. these engines are designed more for reliability, and have proven that through testing through multiple duty cycles. unlike the space shuttle main engines, which require a teardown and rebuild after every flight. we could see the first ever prospect of real reusability, more a car than a dragster in terms of parts wear. especially considering the first stage can complete its mission even with a engine failure at any point during its flight.

Re:reusability potential (1)

Vectormatic (1759674) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601636)

especially considering the first stage can complete its mission even with a engine failure at any point during its flight.

Please explain this to me, in my mind, if the first stage conks out halfway through its use-cycle, how is that not a problem? I might be missing something, but how is losing a significant portion of your delta-v not a problem?

Re:reusability potential (2, Informative)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601702)

It has nine engines in the first stage (and another similar engine in the second stage, to save on research and production costs)
      Losing one engine is no longer a reason to detonate the rocket.

Re:reusability potential (1)

Vectormatic (1759674) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602014)

Ah i see, so basically the first stage can run on 8 engines without having to compromise on the flight-path?

Interesting, although i would think that it all engines are made equal, and starting out with a first stage with all new engines, that once one fails, others will also be very close to their usefull life..

Anyway, good to read this, i hope SpaceX does really well

Re:reusability potential (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#32603684)

Well, it compromises the flight path a little. You have to burn longer and hotter, and probably decrease the lifetime of the other engines a bit. However, you get to the same orbit, which is what really matters.

Also, what causes an engine failure isn't that it wears out, but is usually a failure to ignite or some other 'gremlin.' This is the same capability that Saturn V had, and they made use of that capability (it was in the Apollo 13 movie, if you remember).

Re:reusability potential (1)

anOminousCow (905486) | about 4 years ago | (#32678086)

The falcon 9 can actually lose 2 engines and make it to orbit ok. But the Saturn V could also make orbit if one of the big F1 engines failed, so long as it didn't fail too early.

Re:reusability potential (2, Interesting)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601974)

Interestingly enough, the shuttle engines COULD be reused without teardowns between each flight if the controls apparatus had been designed differently.

If you go to the MIT OpenCourseware site and look for the Aerospace Engineering classes lectures on the shuttle, the shuttle was designed before CAD, and if the wiring had been included to test the engines, they could put the whole shuttle in the test harness to test fire the engines.

There is a lot they would do differently if they were trying to redesign the shuttle today, this makes me hopeful for whatever follows the X-37.

Re:reusability potential (2, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605998)

the thing im really excited about is if spacex can get to the point where reusing the first stage merely involves fishing it out of the atlantic after it parachutes down, putting it back on the launch pad, and fuelling it back up.

I was really impressed by this bit of the teleconference notes linked in the summary, which shows just how dedicated Elon Musk is about reusability:

http://www.transterrestrial.com/?p=27574 [transterrestrial.com]

I asked him if they knew yet why the first stage didn't survive entry, or if they would have to wait for another flight to get better data (because they didn't get the microwave imaging data they wanted). He said that they still didn't know, and might not figure it out until they try again. I followed up, asking if he could conceive of a time that they might just give up on it, and pull the recovery systems out to give them more payload. I was surprised at the vehemence of his answer (paraphrasing): "We will never give up! Never! Reusability is one of the most important goals. If we become the biggest launch company in the world, making money hand over fist, but we're still not reusable, I will consider us to have failed." I told him that I was very gratified to hear that, because I like reusability.

What about junk? (5, Insightful)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#32601436)

This is a needed boost for the US launch industry

With a boost of commercial launches, won't there also be a boost of space junk when these orbiting things are decommissionned 15 years from now? How does that increase collision risks, like the 2009 Iridium/Kosmos collision [wikipedia.org] ?

Maybe it's time for thinking about mandatory destruction of satellites at the end of their useful life, instead of trying to make money out of launching things only...

Re:What about junk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32601668)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_Syndrome#Avoidance_and_reduction

Re:What about junk? (3, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602084)

Maybe it's time for thinking about mandatory destruction of satellites at the end of their useful life

Already done. Everything up there aside from a few nuclear powered Soviet satellites has a plan for coming down (such as stuff in LEO which can reenter Earth's atmosphere without much difficulty) or getting boosted to a more remote orbit (such as stuff in geostationary orbit).

Re:What about junk? (0)

sv_libertarian (1317837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602218)

And what about all those top secret cold war weapons platforms with incredible weapons? What is going to happen to them? I tried buying the control codes from a drunken retired Russian general once, but all I got was the password to his favorite porno sight. Waste of a perfectly good bottle of vodka too...

Re:What about junk? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602318)

All taken care of. Nobody will know that stuff exists anymore so nobody can be blamed when something falls down and causes World War III.

Re:What about junk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32607702)

And what about all those top secret cold war weapons platforms with incredible weapons? What is going to happen to them?

Duh, we just send a team of geriatric astronauts led by Clint Eastwood up in a shuttle to turn them off and fire them into space.

Re:What about junk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32602194)

Most satellites are designed to destroy themselves. They can be commanded to or if communication is broken between the satellite and the ground, after 2 or 3 days the satellite will turn its solar panels away from the sun, glide back towards Earth and (hopefully) completely burn up in the atmosphere. Assuming there is not a malfunction or a collision, you won't have additional orbiting debris.

Re:What about junk? (1)

LBt1st (709520) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602222)

The same way we always have. We track each one and if something's out of line we move it. Sure we get an occasional dead satellite but I'm pretty sure in 15 years it'll be trivial to deorbit or destroy those.

Re:What about junk? (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602244)

Maybe it's time for thinking about mandatory destruction of satellites at the end of their useful life, instead of trying to make money out of launching things only...

There's low-orbit sats and geosync sats and a whole range of orbits in between. There's different amounts of propellant involved for moving one versus another. Is it safer to try to deorbit the old sats or push them up into graveyard orbits? Is there any chance of the graveyard orbits filling up or is that crazy talk?

The shuttle tested a power tether device that drags through the planet's magnetic field. Draw power from the tether and the orbit drops, add power in and the orbit boosts. Maybe something like this could be useful for deorbiting old sats.

Re:What about junk? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602316)

Maybe it's time for thinking about mandatory destruction of satellites at the end of their useful life, instead of trying to make money out of launching things only...

Well, the big problem with your plan is that you're over a decade too late to propose/implement it. Debris reduction (I.E. minimizing the amount of stuff jettisoned) has been the standard since the 90's, as has been the requirement for satellite operators to place them in a parking orbit or deorbit them at end of life.

Re:What about junk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32602488)

I'm more worried as the number of cheaper launchers goes up, the number of problems that happen goes up too. The debris from improper launched satellites and malfunctioning equipment will also go up, and has the potential to destroy many other things in orbit. Who pays for malfunctions that essentially destroys large areas of the sky due to malfunctioning machines?

The FCC Mandates this already (2, Informative)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602558)

The FCC calls for all US-registered spacecraft to be disposed of at the end of its useful life [highbeam.com] . This means either decay into the atmosphere within a specific amount of time (25 years, I think) or placement into a "disposal" orbit. For geosynchronous spacecraft, that disposal orbit is one slightly higher, getting it out of the way of operational spacecraft.

Re:The FCC Mandates this already (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32611828)

What in the blazes is the FCC doing by regulating that sort of mess? The FAA, yeah, I could see them having regulatory oversight over spacecraft design and requirements for deorbiting put into mission requirements, but the FCC? That is about as silly as NOAA requiring private citizens to register when they want to take a picture of the Earth from space.

I knew space law was rather mucked up, but this is borderline insanity.

Re:The FCC Mandates this already (1)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 4 years ago | (#32616746)

Likely the FCC because the vast majority of commercial spacecraft are communications spacecraft. That means the FCC already regulates power/frequency allocation for ground and inter-spacecraft communication for those spacecraft.

Re:The FCC Mandates this already (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32617312)

It certainly seems within mission scope to regulate broadcast frequencies and to regulate equipment that may interfere with others who are trying to broadcast on those frequencies (such as how the FCC has regulatory authority over computer manufacturing equipment). Even there, however, the scope of their activity is strictly to make sure that such equipment minimizes such interference to within "reasonable" technical parameters.

This sounds more like there was a regulatory void, and because the FAA simply refused to move for awhile on the topic, the FCC took the ball and moved in. The problem here is that the FCC is regulating what is by definition a navigation issue, and that is where I'm scratching my head about the issue. With the U.S. Air Force monitoring and tracking orbital debris, I'm sure this is a multi-agency issue anyway, but it still seems weird for the FCC to take the lead here on this issue.

BTW, I don't think that the dominance of communications spacecraft is going to last all that much longer in space either, but that is a separate issue.

Re:What about junk? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604020)

Maybe it's time for thinking about mandatory destruction of satellites at the end of their useful life, instead of trying to make money out of launching things only...

      And since you are the one proposing this, I recommend the satellites de-orbit and land on your house.

I don't think so. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32602184)

Did Jesus go to outer space?

No.

We don't need to either. If earth was good enough for jesus it ought to be good enough for us.

Re:I don't think so. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32602354)

Did Jesus go to outer space?
No.
We don't need to either. If earth was good enough for jesus it ought to be good enough for us.

Hey.. not fair...
I wanna meet some sexy vulcans babes!
(did I just put vulcans and babes in the same sentence?)

Iridium, commercial? (1, Troll)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#32602676)

Calling Iridium a "commercial launch" is a bit of a stretch. Iridium failed as a commercial venture and the company that runs it now appears to be a transparent pawn of the DoD.

Re:Iridium, commercial? (2, Informative)

'Aikanaka (581446) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605412)

You're full of shit. If that were true the DoD wouldn't have to sign multi-million dollar contracts with Iridium for upkeep and airtime. See http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=2769 [defense.gov] , http://www.spacedaily.com/news/iridium-03a.html [spacedaily.com] , http://investor.iridium.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=412313 [iridium.com] , http://www.defense.gov/contracts/contract.aspx?contractid=3235 [defense.gov] , etc.

Re:Iridium, commercial? (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607120)

I would venture they operate little differently than any other DoD contractor such as Boeing, Lockheed, etc.. DoD is perfectly happy paying whatever their contractors ask so long as the wrong politician doesn't catch wind of it. It would be quite difficult to find any competitively bid DoD contract that doesn't have significant and excessive cost overruns.

Re:Iridium, commercial? (1)

'Aikanaka (581446) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609428)

You're full of shit too.

Take a look at Iridium's 10-Q filing [businessweek.com] where they state that one of the challenges and uncertainties is related to their "ability to maintain ... relationship with U.S. government customers, particularly the DoD."

There is an entire paragraph devoted to their Government Services Revenues:

"Government services revenue increased by 3.0% to $19.0 million for the three months ended March 31, 2010 from $18.5 million for the three months ended March 31, 2009, due to voice subscriber growth and growth related to Netted Iridium introduced in late 2009 and an increase in M2M data revenue driven primarily by subscriber growth. The voice average revenue per unit, or ARPU, decreased slightly by $1 to $151 for the three months ended March 31, 2010 due to an increase in billable subscribers on lower tiered pricing plans. We expect total government revenue to be slightly lower in 2010 as compared to 2009 as engineering and support services contract work is expected to decrease in 2010 as work curtails. Also, future growth in voice and M2M data subscribers and revenue may be negatively affected by changes in U.S. defense spending, the current administration’s plans to reduce troops and a corresponding decrease in usage under our agreements with the U.S. government. This is revenue accounts for a majority of our government services revenue and is subject to annual renewals."

Iridium is not a commercial success (1)

default luser (529332) | more than 4 years ago | (#32615034)

I already answered this question in a previous thread, so I will repost it here:

Yeah, funny how it gets a lot easier to run the business when Motorola assumes the 5 billion of debt and sells it to you for $25 million. The success of Iridium Satellite LLC is subsidized by the ashes of the original company.

Proper management made the difference after the sale removed the debt, but even if the company had been properly managed from the beginning, it still would have folded. Even 300k subscribers is not going to pay off that 5 billion monster, not when they're only netting about 14 million a year [iridium.com] (when they turn a profit, which they did not for 2010).

I wish them well milking what they can from their cheap windfall. But I laugh at the thought that they might build another multi-billion dollar constellation based off such a pitiful business plan. Yes, their subscribers are GROWING, but only because they can offer such insanely cheap rates without having to pay-off the painful debt.

As soon as they invest in their own new constellation, they will either have to conjure millions of new customers out of thin air, or they will have to raise prices (this will send customers running, so I'm going to go with option one). But since the DoD contracts are already pretty saturated (seriously, does the military need a contract for more than 20k users?), the customer growth would have to come from the commercial or consumer sector. Either way, they are doomed in this approach, and once again, investors are going to be forced to eat the losses and once-again subsidize a "successful" network.

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