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Second SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Now Being Assembled

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the sweet-musk-of-success dept.

Space 65

FleaPlus writes "Six weeks after the first launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, the first stage of the second rocket has finished production/testing, and has arrived at Cape Canaveral for a launch as early as September, depending on the pace of a methodical review of the Dragon capsule systems and minor rocket modifications/fixes being made based on data from the inaugural launch. The rocket will launch the first operational unmanned Dragon cargo/crew spacecraft into orbit, where it will perform tests and then reenter off the California coast. CEO/CTO Elon Musk made the intriguing remark that Dragon's heat shield is strong enough to enable a return not only from Earth orbit, but also lunar orbit or Mars velocities as well."

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First post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32936108)

FALCON PUNCH!

Re:First post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32936174)

Yeah? Wow! Let me Wonder Some MORE! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32936252)

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

is it done yet? no?

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Hush-a-by baby
On the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
Down tumbles baby
Cradle and all

Stories today (4, Insightful)

instagib (879544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936288)

I see 6 great aircraft & space related stories on /. at the moment, but the single Apple story has way more comments than all these combined. Go figure ...

Re:Stories today (3, Funny)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936424)

I see 6 great aircraft & space related stories on /. at the moment, but the single Apple story has way more comments than all these combined

I suppose this means it's safe to hold the SpaceX Falcon 9 with your left hand?

Re:Stories today (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937992)

Nah. Just means that they fitted the bumpers before selling it.

Meanwhile, back in the Senate . . . (4, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936292)

Because they cannot control what SpaceX does, or where it spends its money, Senators are throwing temper tantrums, screaming hysterically and jumping up and down like their assess were on fire. Live from the Senate:

"Dirty, dirty, dirty! I want spending for my state! Bad, bad, bad! Darn, darn, darn!"

Senate staffers hope to placate them with a large supply of Happy Meals. Unfortunately, when they do calm down, they will immediately consider legislation that will put SpaceX under their thumb.

I'm sure NASA could do some really amazing stuff . . . if it wasn't for those meddling kids in the Senate . . .

Re:Meanwhile, back in the Senate . . . (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936402)

Don't you mean "Dirty, dirty, dirty commies and socialist plans for space!"?

PS. But seriously, they still have quite a bit of control - aren't rockets a munitions, etc., with restrictions on cooperation with overseas companies? That's where large part of launch contracts, to sustain an inexpensive launcher, would come from. Or they might just go with Soyuz rocket or Zenit, in the same price league already.

Re:Meanwhile, back in the Senate . . . (4, Interesting)

Loadmaster (720754) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936924)

You forgot where they chant, "The government can do nothing right. The government can do nothing better than private industry." Then turnaround and declare, "Only NASA can build rockets. The private industry sucks balls on space."

I will never understand, other than pork and earmarks, why some in Congress see SpaceX as bad. I, for one, am really excited by the possibilities opened if SpaceX can wrest some control of space away from the government for private industry. The government has put up the ISS which is great, because it shows us what can be done in space and why. But Bigelow aerospace is already building inflatable habitation modules and has contracted SpaceX to take them to space. Private industry is ready to open up earth's orbit.

Re:Meanwhile, back in the Senate . . . (1)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938200)

You're surprised that you are seeing through GOP bullshit? "Government cant do anything right" == "Get rid of social programs and get rid of business regulations." They will also continue to beg for more pork because it brings in money. This party represents the business owning class, little else.

I love how the "liberal" party is the one finally trying to privatize space while the GOP is whining about the antiquated shuttle system.

Not quite (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937228)

It was just 15 ppl of which ALL benefited from the pork/jobs bill that it was. The good news is that the rest of the Senate has to vote on it. Now is the time for all good Americans to write their Senators/Congressman and push back against this white elephant bill.

Re:Meanwhile, back in the Senate . . . (1)

shnull (1359843) | more than 4 years ago | (#32941532)

and i thought my little shitty country had the worst of it , seems like kindergarten mentality in the senate is more common than i thought. It's a sad fact how these people keep bickering for years over stuff that doesn't even relate to what they should be doing or to the promises they got elected for. Global warming? Global warning is in order.

Not to get too optimistic (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936316)

Next launch after this one was apparently outright rescheduled [spacex.com] to 2011; first one had its share of delays, we'll see how the 2nd goes.

That said, I wouldn't be really surprised if they manage their first cargo sortie to ISS in 2011.

Re:Not to get too optimistic (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937296)

Supposedly due to money. SpaceX IS getting tight on money, so they are spreading out the tests. If Bill Gates/Warren Buffet, or even George Soros really want to help America, now would be the time to invest money in spacex, perhaps just by buying future launches and paying the money for it NOW.

reusability (2, Interesting)

strack (1051390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936328)

heres hoping they can recover the first stage this time. i mean, if they cant have a reusable first stage, the only new thing spacex would be doing to reduce costs is assembly line manufacturing of rocket engines, and the ability to have a engine fail on the first stage and still complete the mission. while those are neccessary and excellent steps to take, my bet is being able to fish 9 barely used rocket engines and avionics system out of the sea, hose it down, pop another upper stage on it, and launch it a week later, will be the largest factor in reducing costs. the shuttle fucked it up, it was only reusable in the way a drag racer is reusable, with a complete overhaul between uses. but the merlin engines on the falcon 9 have been shown to be infinitely more reusable and reliable.

Re:reusability (4, Insightful)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936452)

They don't only reduce costs in assembly and manufacturing. Their whole corporate culture is, AFAIK, built on achieving understandable goals and working towards the end result, not towards placating external or internal politicians. All of their costs are lower, across the board -- sometimes by as much by an order of magnitude. That includes R&D, facility management, you name it. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure their employee morale beats any government bureaucracy hands-down, and also should be beating that of other government contractors.

SpaceX's immediate future may be mostly funded from government checks. Yet their long-term future in absence of another brilliant startup is pretty much destined to be global market takeover for launch services. That's my opinion at this point. On one hand I wish they went public sometime, on another hand part of their success is their independence...

Re:reusability (3, Interesting)

trout007 (975317) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936518)

I saw a great interview with Musk and he said the way he cuts costs is by building everything they can't buy off the shelf. This is directly opposite to what most major defense contractors do. The reason is simple. If it's off the shelf you can buy it because the development costs were already paid for and there is an existing market. If there isn't a off the shelf product available you may as well design and build it yourself to cut out the middleman. This isn't rocket science it's rocket engineering. Elon isn't breaking any scientific ground with the Falcon which is why it's so cheap. He learned the lessons of the past and spent his money trying to make it cheap.

Re:reusability (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937260)

Actually, my understanding is that there were plenty of other items that they could have bought COTS wise. The problem was that many of the suppliers were used to selling to L-Mart/Boeing and had high prices. So, they brought those in-house as well.

Re:reusability (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32942154)

One of the reasons why SpaceX isn't "breaking any scientific ground" is also because getting into orbit isn't exactly something new to accomplish either. It should be a solved engineering problem, similar to trying to figure out how to span a large distance (under 1 km) with a bridge. That doesn't necessarily make it cheap by itself, but you can build a structure or examine designs that have been used in the past and see what works and what doesn't. It also means that you don't have to repeat the same mistakes of the past all over again.

Elon Musk has also been pushing hard for vertical integration within his company as a means to control product quality and cost. If his company make the part, Mr. Musk doesn't have to worry about losing a supplier or having the cost of that part start to soar if they become the only customer for that part.

Still, as you are saying here, if there is a common part that can be purchased "off the shelf" from a general industrial supply catalog or supplier, SpaceX is tending to use a part like that and intends to incorporate such items into its design. Under a cost-plus contract there is a disincentive on the part the government contractors to buy such parts unless it is an absolutely ordinary thing like a bolt or rivet.

Re:reusability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33076576)

If SpaceX ever goes public, then they'll cease being an innovator and become a bloated organization like Boeing and Lockmart. SpaceX has achieved what it has because of one man, Elon Musk. What he says goes and it's his dreams that power the company, not a countless horde of stockholders who's only concern is increasing next quarter's profits to the nth degree.

For the future of Humanity Mr. Musk, don't ever take SpaceX public. Doing so will only spell the end for your efforts.

Re:reusability (3, Interesting)

trout007 (975317) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936504)

You are missing a very important reason for recovering the stage. It is a great for engineering to see what the engines/ect look like after a flight. You can get a lot of data on a test stand but nothing beats flight testing.

Re:reusability (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936652)

but the merlin engines on the falcon 9 have been shown to be infinitely more reusable and reliable

Hate to be pedantic, but does that mean we'll still be using the same engine when the universe implodes ? Infinite is a very long time after all ...

Re:reusability (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936950)

Infinity times 0 is still 0. The space shuttles engine is reusable 0 times without a complete and total dis-assembly and rebuild.

It can be infinitely more reusable and still not be reusable.

Re:reusability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32937202)

Infinity times 0 is still 0.

Actually, multiplication is not defined for infinity (as infinity is not a number).

Re:reusability (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937292)

Just because it requires a total disassembly and rebuild doesn't mean it isn't reusable. A rocket engine is not something you want to have fail.

Re:reusability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32940576)

Politicians can't afford to have rockets blowing up in the sky... However, for private enterprise it's just a matter of risk management. (How much risk they are willing to take and doing only the necessary safety precautions to turn over a profit and maintain PR)

Re:reusability (3, Informative)

glitchvern (468940) | more than 4 years ago | (#32940896)

The space shuttles engine is reusable 0 times without a complete and total dis-assembly and rebuild.

This hasn't been true in a long time. It was true for the first major version of the Space Shuttle Main Engine, but they are on at least the fifth major version of the SSME now. They are taken off the orbiter for inspection every two flights now and taken off for rebuild every four flights. An SSME costs about 75 million to build. A delta IV rocket engine, which is made by the same company and is roughly comparable to an SSME, costs about 25 million. I've never been able to figure out the maintenance cost on an SSME. The SSME has a very excellent safety record. One of the reasons for this is because being reusable they can test the hell out of it. It is one of the best rocket engines ever. The shuttle taken as a whole may not be very good, but most of the parts are fantastic, and the SSME is definately a fantastic part and an example of one of the things they got right with a reusable vehicle. The shuttle is the first and only reusable launch vehicle ever built and we have learned many things on how not to design a reusable launch vehicle. The shuttle is a sample size of one and should not be taken to mean reusable launch vehicles are inherently bad, expensive, or impossible to build.

Re:reusability (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32942202)

I've never understood why NASA has abandoned the shuttle concept completely and instead went back to the Apollo architecture. Certainly there could have been an incremental improvement of the concept (perhaps reducing/separating the cargo section or other "tweak") and eliminating some of the compromises made in the 1970's to make it the one and only vehicle for everything, but there is some value to the concept of what there is to the Shuttle, and having 100+ flights as a record is something most launch systems would love to have. It may have its problems, but it certainly has been a workhorse. I hope in time somebody builds a true successor to the Shuttle.

Ares I, if it is ever built, is really only a successor to the SRB.... a part of the Shuttle design that perhaps could even be abandoned in a future rev.

Sweet (5, Insightful)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936344)

I think that SpaceX are really in business of making affordable LEO deliveries. Their low costs are an indication of what we should really be expecting from corporations. Many people have raised the non-issue of lack of bureaucracy somehow making their efforts less safe. That is quite laughable -- NASA's illogical bureaucracy for its own sake (papers and presentations without real content) and internal isolation are some of the factors pointed out by Feynman as contributing to a culture that's set up for failure.

Just think of the bills you'd be getting had Elon Musk founded a major hospital and medical center somewhere. I'm pretty sure some procedures would cost about as much as some people are paying in "copays".

Re:Sweet (1, Troll)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32936740)

Many people have raised the non-issue of lack of bureaucracy somehow making their efforts less safe.

Given the trends so far (though granting that even by the abysmal standards of rocket science there is only a small sample) - I wouldn't exactly be praising SpaceX as paragons of safety just yet.
 
 

I think that SpaceX are really in business of making affordable LEO deliveries.

And Pets.com [wikipedia.org] was really in the business of selling fifty pound bag of dog food over the internet back before they collapsed as part of the dot bomb. "Really being in the business" of something doesn't equate to being successful at that business. Right now SpaceX is burning through venture capital and government contract money - they're a long, long, way from being profitable.

Re:Sweet (1)

Luke has no name (1423139) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937188)

Government contract money in the space industry IS long term profit.

Re:Sweet (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937488)

Well, that's true... But it's not the route to cheap commercial spaceflight as a government contractor has limited incentive to lower costs - especially once he's got lock in.

Re:Sweet (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938410)

If SpaceX was a gov contactor similar to Boeing/L-Mart/Ratheon, I would agree with you. OTH, Musk is pushing for PRIVATE space and using the federal contracts as a spring board (similar to how he used F1 to springboard to the F9).

Re:Sweet (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32943276)

If SpaceX was a gov contactor similar to Boeing/L-Mart/Ratheon, I would agree with you. OTH, Musk is pushing for PRIVATE space and using the federal contracts as a spring board (similar to how he used F1 to springboard to the F9).

If he had used government contracts, as opposed to goverment grants and loans, for the F1... you'd have a point.
 
The market is also radically different in that there actually is a private market for the Tesla, and there isn't for the Dragon and may or may not be in the reasonably near term. (Modulo Bigelow getting his act together.) He can push all he wants - but it's dollars that make the difference, not 'pushing'.

Re:Sweet (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 4 years ago | (#32941656)

How so? If the government says "we will pay $100 million for a LEO payload launch", and you can do it for $90 million, you make $10 million profit. If you can do it for $80 million, you make $20 million profit.

Sounds like an incentive to lower costs to me. Exactly the same incentive as there is to lower costs in all other business, too.

Re:Sweet (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32943328)

You forgot about the part where lowering costs actually costs money - if it costs $80 million to reduce your costs $10 million (which is in the ballpark), then there is little to no incentive to reduce costs because you'll likely never recoup your investment. (Likely never because of the uncertainty of government contracting and the low flight rate.)

Even in the commercial world, where there is a great deal of pressure to reduce costs via competition, the same calculations take place. Prices only drop when then potential profit exceeds the investment.

Even so Musk will have a very hard time reducing his prices any great deal - he's already picked all the low hanging fruit.

Re:Sweet (2, Informative)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937192)

Paragons of safety - certainly not.

There are some good reasons why they are potentially safer than some ohter designs though.

For example, the fact that the engines are runup and develop full thrust while the vehicle is still tied down, and can be shut down if they do not perform to spec removes a large slice of hazard.

Re:Sweet (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937472)

There are some good reasons why they are potentially safer than some ohter designs though. For example, the fact that the engines are runup and develop full thrust while the vehicle is still tied down, and can be shut down if they do not perform to spec removes a large slice of hazard.

Applying best practices widely in use on other vehicles for decades makes them 'safer'?

Re:Sweet (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#32942672)

Citation please. Since you know about this stuff apparently more than I do, how about a list of currently used commercial launchers, with some indication of how much launches/year they see, and a yes/no for a hold-down?

Re:Sweet (0, Redundant)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937504)

It's interesting how the truth gets moderated as trolling.

Re:Sweet (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#32942690)

SpaceX has been profitable for a couple of years now. Where did you get your data from?!

Re:Sweet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32937142)

Safety in bureaucracy???

NASA only built and launched 5 shuttles, 2 of them have exploded so far. Doing some basic math, that is a 40% FAILURE rate.

Re:Sweet (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32942368)

The problems in medicine in regards to spiraling costs getting out of control have to do with the fact medical patients are no longer the customers (from the perspective of the doctors and hospital administration). That instead is the health insurance companies, which are increasingly consolidating or even becoming a part of the government in various forms, so you have less competition due to fewer potential customers that will demand anything different. Market principles that keep costs down simply don't work any more when monopolies take over, and it doesn't matter if that is a monopoly on supply or demand.

What is frustrating to many pundits who poke at SpaceX is that they presume the same situation exists for orbital rocketry, where the only customer (supposedly) is government contracts. The American spaceflight industry is currently built around that model, and the price structures are set at levels where only the government is going to be involved. SpaceX is placing a huge bet that the market for customers other than the government is going to be huge, if only they can get the price down low enough.

For myself, I would say that the jury is still out on that point. Oh, there is no doubt that if you can really get the price of launches down real low that some sort of market will kick in that hasn't been previously tapped into. The question being raised is if there are going to be enough new customers that a company like SpaceX can make up the difference with volume production of their vehicles.

For example, if a company sells a rocket for $300 million each, but only flies about ten of them each year (to give an example). The question is if that company drops the price (through reduced costs in building the rocket and perhaps other approaches) to be $30 million each, can that company find enough customers to fly over a hundred missions? That is presuming that the rockets are produced for free (no capital costs involved at all) and it is pure profit.

So far, all SpaceX has been able to get in terms of increased customers is only a dozen or so more missions that otherwise wouldn't have been launched at the higher cost. I'm not convinced that those few additional customers makes up the difference in terms of allowing SpaceX to do anything other than to break into the market and supplant one of the existing launcher companies.... with an eventual rise in prices again after time by SpaceX once the market as re-established equilibrium with this new entrant.

If instead SpaceX is able to drum up a whole bunch more business, such as that example I gave with the $30 million rocket that has a thousand customers per year instead of merely ten, there may be something to whatever it is that SpaceX is doing. If that market for potential customers can get into the millions of flights with a $3 million rocket, there certainly would be further incentives to drive the cost down even more.

That is called price elasticity, and something most businesses are hoping for. There was some skepticism in the computer industry back in the 1950's and 1960's that such economies could happen, with one commentator famously suggesting that the world-wide market for computers was precisely five. With the market for microprocessors now being made (and sold) by the billions, those kind of economies of scale and market forces to drive down costs have made computers with incredible computing power and capabilities also very cheap. You can name other devices where this has also happened, so it isn't isolated to just computers. The question is if such a situation can happen in rocketry.

Several thoughts (3, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937196)

Once the dragon is flying cargo AND has flown living samples UP and DOWN, it seems to me that we should send a dragon up as a lifeboat. The reason is that 3 of the sleeping quarters are on the other side of the station. As such, it makes sense to have one lifeboat on the US/Western side. Lose the middle, or even the entire russian side, and you still have an ability to get ppl to safety.

If Musk gets this flying in Sept, then it should be possible to push back against that recent jobs fair bill being pushed by the Senate panel, that masquerades as a NASA bill. In fact, BA, OSC, etc should be pushing hard for getting Bolden/Obama's plan moving fast. One idea is to offer up X-Prizes to really push commercial space. These should start high and descend in value over time.

For example, offer up a 1 billion X-Prize for a Tug/Fuel Depot that delivers in 2013. Then have it drop by .25B yearly after that. Give requirements for docking (such as using CBM).

Another useful one would be for human launches. Offer up 5 guaranteed human launches in 2013; followed by one less each year. The idea being is that the first craft will have more launches then those that arrive to the scene later. Why do it that way? To encourage groups like SpaceX to get funding, or for Boeing/L-Mart to invest their own money and build out human rated systems QUICKLY.

Finally, it will costs a great deal of money for NASA to get to the moon. So, why not offer up an X-Prize of 10B to put a base there. It would run until 2016, and then decrease by 1B each year.

Now, why do these and in this fashion? To get private space moving QUICKLY. In particular, this would encourage ppl like Gates, Allen, etc to chase these prizes. The sooner that you develop, the larger the pay-out. Require that the work be in America, or amongst those nations that also contribute to the X-Prize (it allows the possibility for UK, EU, Canada, Australia, Japan, etc to jump in as well).

Re:Several thoughts (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937484)

Re "Lifeboat Dragon", see the first two "back up" slides here:

http://www.spacex.com/20090617_Elon_Musk_Augustine_Commission.pdf [spacex.com]

There was also some blog discussion of delivering a lifeboat Dragon [flightglobal.com] in the Shuttle cargo bay. But since then, the Shuttle life has shortened and SpaceX's schedule has stretched to the point where that's probably impossible.

Finally, it will costs a great deal of money for NASA to get to the moon. So, why not offer up an X-Prize

Finally, screw the moon. The moon is a trap.

Re:Several thoughts (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938224)

First, if the dragon is launched via falcon as a cargo mission and working, then there is no issue with sending one up as a lifeboat. In fact, it is actually MUCH cheaper to do it this way, then via the shuttle.

If we spend only 10 billion on getting a base on the moon, with LOADS of commercial backing, I would say that was a GREAT DEAL.

Re:Several thoughts (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938322)

I'm not saying the idea of a Dragon in the shuttle bay makes any sense at all: personally it baffles me too. But the idea is out there.

Re:Several thoughts (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32937818)

One idea is to offer up X-Prizes to really push commercial space. These should start high and descend in value over time.

Why have it decrease over time? I see you're trying to accelerate commercial space development by decreasing it, but it's not like it costs anything if no one can or wants to accomplish it.

Jerry Pourelle has long advocated X-Prizes for various commercial space developments, for example (offering prizes for second and third place helps ensure that competitors don't stop development once there's a clear winner):

LUNAR BASE: under $20 billion

To the first American company to put not fewer than 31 Americans on the Moon and keep them there continuously for a period of three years and one day, $10 billion. To the second American company to meet that condition, $5 billion. To the third, $3 billion.

Note that it is highly likely but not certain that in establishing the Moon Base one or more companies would develop low cost ways to access orbit. To be sure of that, though:

ACCESS TO ORBIT: under $10 billion

To the first American company to put three humans in orbit and return them safely to Earth 18 times in one year using the same spacecraft (90% of the entire system other than fuel to be identical; multiple stages allowed but each stage must be recoverable; the 90% applies to the system as a whole), $5 billion dollars. "Put in orbit" is defined as completing three orbits of the Earth. For the second American company to do so, $3 billion. To the third, $1 billion.

SPACE SOLAR POWER: under $20 billion

To the first American company to deliver to Earth continuously for one year at least 250 Megawatts of electric power deliverable to the standard power grid, $10 billion. To the second, $5 billion. To the third, $2 billion.

Re:Several thoughts (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938230)

The decrease encourages the money ppl to get into the game early rather than later. If do not decrease it, then the money have ZERO incentives to get in early. In fact, they have every incentive to not add money. The reason is they will hope that somebody like Musk will do it and be stretched too thin. Then they swoope it up for a fraction.

Re:Several thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32938628)

The decrease encourages the money ppl to get into the game early rather than later.If do not decrease it, then the money have ZERO incentives to get in early.

Really? Zero incentive?

Musk is trying to do it with no X-Prize. You imply that if the US offers an X-Prize there is less incentive?

In fact, they have every incentive to not add money. The reason is they will hope that somebody like Musk will do it and be stretched too thin. Then they swoope it up for a fraction.

Irregardless of your sometimes accurate opinion of Vulture Capitalists, the flip side is that there is also competition between money people. Only one can back the winner, which is an incentive to get in and support a promising company early, before they get in financial trouble and are snapped up by a competitor.

I'll go further than that and say "So What?" Let's say your worst scenario happens; the US offers an X-Prize for lower cost access of LEO, someone starts a promising company to win the prize, they run into financial difficulty and a Vulture Capitalist swoops in to buy the company and wins the prize! So what? Yes, it sounds grossly unfair, but at the end of the day we have lower cost access to LEO!

Even if they patent their technology, once one company shows it can be done, it's not a big step for another company to accomplish the same thing, patents or not. It's doing it the first time that's the problem.

Re:Several thoughts (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#32940614)

To the first American company to put not fewer than 31 Americans on the Moon and keep them there continuously for a period of three years and one day

What the hell do you *do* on the Moon for 3 years, besides get cancer and have your equipment get abraded to shreds by the lunar dust?

Re:Several thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32940730)

What the hell do you *do* on the Moon for 3 years, besides get cancer and have your equipment get abraded to shreds by the lunar dust?

Win 10 billion dollars?

Seriously, if you're smart enough to get to the moon in the first place, you should be smart enough to figure out what to do there. Tourism, for a start, radio and optical astronomy, mining and refining raw materials to build a solar power station in geosync orbit and win another 10 billion dollars (it's a lot easier to send material from the moon into geosync orbit than from the earth).

I should mention that Dr. Pournelle isn't fixed on these exact critera (after all, he's not funding it). 10, 20, 30 Americans; 1, 2 or 3 years, but enough people and long enough to prove the capability of establishing a permanent base.

Re:Several thoughts (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32942674)

The sad thing is that Jerry Pournelle was able to convince Newt Gingrich to try and offer some of these spaceflight prizes while Gingrich was still the Speaker of the House. Unfortunately due to a case of horrible historic timing, this happened about a little bit before the scandal came out that eventually drove Mr. Gingrich from office. After hearing about that, I've always wondered in a "what if" alternate history timeline what might have been had that happened and the Republican's didn't throw Gingrich under the bus.

Of course the dissent between the "blue bloods" and the "Reaganites" is still going on within the ranks of the Republican Party. That feud keeps shooting the Republicans in the foot each time they get anywhere near some sort of political power.

In spite of the trappings, George W. Bush was a blue blood and Newt Gingrich was (and still is I guess) one of the "Reganites".

Re:Several thoughts (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32939558)

What's the point of prizes with hard deadlines like that? We've done it before with very mixed results. For example, the Cheap Access to Space prize (which paid $250,000 for an amateur group to put a rocket up to 100 km) didn't pay out. A key part of the problem was that the US government refused to issue launch approvals for most CATS contestants in the half year or so prior to the expiration of the prize. If they had added a few years to the prize (or got rid of the deadline altogether), then we'd probably have a claimant by now. The Google Lunar prize seems to me to be another prize with a fairly unrealistic deadline.

Even if a team can make the deadline, there may be universal obstacles, such as a sudden change in government interpretation of regulations, that prevent the prize from being won. Some of those risks are lessened by your tapered award approach (in the CATS example, it's likely the government regulation could have been worked around over a few years, so someone probably could have gotten most of the award).

Second, a prize with a deadline means you have a game theory problem. If you reissue the prizes that haven't been met, then you effectively have a permanent prize with some uncertainty (of later nonrenewal) tossed in. But the prize usually has a value that doesn't diminish with time. For example, the lunar base still is valuable even if they can't make it by your prize deadline. What happens if they call your bluff and treat the prize like a permanent affair?

My take is that any prize with even a small chance of success (such as the Google Lunar prize) still has value. But I'd put up either permanent prizes or prizes that at deadline will pay out to someone (eg, a prize for the best progress to a goal).

Re:Several thoughts (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32940298)

The reason for the decreasing amount is that it PUSHES the money ppl to jump into the game as fast as possible and get there. It also pushes the various players to form teams to things off the ground quickly. And by starting it higher than the costs of the RD, then it means that everybody has a VERY large incentive to get it done. Now, as to the denied access, well, CATS was ran by the Space Foundation. Now, we are talking about the Feds doing the prize. There is a bit of a difference here.

Re:Several thoughts (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32943088)

While I get the reasoning you are suggesting here for reducing the prize over time (which inflation does on its own anyway, so a fixed prize essentially does the same thing), I'm not convinced that this is necessarily something good for scientific research to have some sort of time-limited option on a prize.

The Kremer prize [wikipedia.org] is an example of something that has at least been partially claimed that took nearly twenty years and some basic materials science advancement in order for it to happen. That kind of basic research is something that simply can't be anticipated. Some prizes have taken even longer before they have been awarded.

Mind you, I like the idea of prizes and it is something that should be done more for advancement of technology. It is also a way to get "more bang for your buck" if you are of a philanthropic mood and want to encourage the development of something. Likely the worst possible place to throw money is at a research university, at least in terms of actual research conducted for the money spent. More often than not it is being done by grad students at slave wages if the university official aren't being honest about its cost or saying it is cost effective.

Re:Several thoughts (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32943168)

So, you are comparing a science advancement prize to a simple exploration prize? We have already been to the moon. We have had 50 years of science and engineering associated with space.
The two prizes are VERY different items and concepts. As such, it makes TOTAL sense to have an advancement prize be at a set amount. But building of fuel depot/tugs, private space stations, or even a moon base is NOT new science. It is simple engineering. That is why you want it these to DECREASE with time. It forces the money guys to jump in and fund it.

Re:Several thoughts (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32945476)

Neither the orbital fuel depots, private space stations, nor a moon base has ever been built, so I would dare say that all of that is indeed new science and engineering. I would dare say that the comparison between the Kremer prize and something like the Ansari X-Prize is a very apt comparison.

As far as getting to the Moon and building a base there, I have huge doubts that any such prize could be privately funded, and the notion of public funding for such an endeavor has not ever been done on that scale. Would I appreciate the effort to do that? Absolutely!

I just don't think that such prizes are really all that different, and if you want something done sooner, you should simply offer a contract to somebody who already makes related hardware. That won't necessarily be cheaper, but it at least would get done. We know we can get things done if you write a blank check and follow the motto "waste anything but time".

If you want the money guys to jump into the effort, it is important to offer a 2nd, 3rd, and perhaps even a 4th place "consolation prize" so that somebody making a business investment into a company knows that there is at least some money that can be obtained even if somehow they don't make it first. The issue that an investor wants to have is predictability that there will be some return on their investment, which secondary prizes could offer.

I think if you are insisting on having prizes decrease over time, you add "Go Fever" to the effort where safety is cut simply to get the extra money before the deadline expires. That isn't healthy, especially in space. It was NASA's concern over launching now instead of later (due to funding issues) that was part of the problem with the Challenger blowing up. The Shuttle managers were trying to show they were "efficient" so they could get more money or that future flights wouldn't get cut.

re the first Falcon 9 flight... (2, Interesting)

ridgecritter (934252) | more than 4 years ago | (#32937632)

Has there been any commentary or explanation from SpaceX about the increasing roll rate that showed in the on-board video towards the end of that video? I've looked, haven't found any. Just curious.

Re:re the first Falcon 9 flight... (2, Insightful)

mostly_functional (1803306) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938286)

You didn't look very hard then, its in TFA. My very first slashdot post and you're making say RTFA. Shame on you *grins*. Quoted from TFA:

A few minutes later, the second stage began a dramatic spin as the rocket reached space. The roll was captured in views from an on-board camera.

"The roll on the second stage was also a non-fatal situation. We think the actuator may have overheated due to radiative heating from the nozzle," Musk said. "This is speculative, but we can trace the problem down to the roll actuator itself."

More insulation will be added around the actuator to prevent the same problem on the next launch.

Re:re the first Falcon 9 flight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32939500)

you must be new here.

Never read the article, and only skim the summary if you must.

Got me fair & square... (1)

ridgecritter (934252) | more than 4 years ago | (#32939772)

Don't know how I missed it. It was even more than one sentence in TFA. Mea culpa or chupa capybara, or something....

Re:re the first Falcon 9 flight... (1)

Ironlenny (1181971) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938504)

I don't have a source, but I seem to remember them say that the roll was unexpected, and that they'd be investigating the cause.

Near-term circumlunar mission? (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938148)

> CEO/CTO Elon Musk made the intriguing remark that Dragon's heat shield is strong enough to enable a return not only from Earth orbit, but also lunar orbit or Mars velocities as well."

I wonder if, assuming all goes well with their orbital crewed flights, SpaceX would be able to perform a near-term circumlunar mission with Dragon (i.e. the sort of mission Apollo 8 performed). A few years ago a company sought to do something similar with the Russian Soyuz (whose launcher is similar in capability to the Falcon 9), where a Soyuz capsule at the ISS would dock with a separately-launched logistics/propulsion module to boost it on a circumlunar trip and then return to Earth.

The company's estimates for the circumlunar trip was on the order of a few hundred million dollars, and they apparently had at least one tentative customer (who I'm guessing they lost after the economic downturn). SpaceX could quite conceivably offer something similar, launching their Dragon to the ISS and then using another Falcon 9 to launch the Raptor hydrogen/oxygen upper stage they have under development, or perhaps the ULA's Centaur upper stage. I'm sure there's at least one wealthy space enthusiast out there who'd pay the needed amount to become the first person to go around the Moon since the Apollo missions.

Dragon as a lunar vehicle. (1)

Criton (605617) | more than 4 years ago | (#32938208)

I suspected Dragon was capable of lunar returns due to Spacex's choice of PICA which has been used on the highest speed Earth reentries such as Stardust. Being able to handle a Mars return is a real surprise. Lunar reentry BTW supposedly was why Spacedev went from the X34 shape to the HL20 on their vehicle so the new space companies have been thinking about beyond earth orbit for some time.
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