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World's Most Powerful Rocket Ready In 2012, SpaceX Says

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-love-that-name dept.

NASA 251

Velcroman1 writes "Elon Musk, the millionaire founder of private space company Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX for short) said the long-planned Falcon Heavy vehicle would be ready for lift off at the end of 2012. The rocket, which he called the most powerful in the world, would be capable of taking men to the International Space Station, dropping vehicles and astronauts on the moon — and maybe even cruising to Mars and back."

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Leave it Fox.. (2, Interesting)

Necron69 (35644) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722388)

What an amazingly inaccurate summary. The rocket will be left to fall back into the ocean/atmosphere, while it has enough cargo capacity (2X that of the space shuttle to LEO) to launch something that could, conceivably, go to Mars and back.

Personally, I'm expecting Bigelow to be the first customer.

Necron69

Re:Leave it Fox.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722452)

Yeah, that's amazingly innaccurate.
 
[/rolling of eyes]
 
While it is inaccurate it's a ton more accurate than most of the lemmings who foam at the mouth anytime Fox is mentioned under any circustances.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (4, Informative)

usul294 (1163169) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722472)

I don't see how it's Fox's fault, all TFA said was that Elon Musk said the craft could be used to complete the Mars mission. Summary was way off from reality, but the article seemed to be done without hyperbole or bias.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (3, Funny)

517714 (762276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722572)

Title: "World's Most Powerful Rocket Ready in 2012, SpaceX Says"

Last Sentence: ""First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014,” Musk said."

Apparently their reporters have a very short attention span.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (3, Informative)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722618)

That is the first launch from Canaveral.

The first launch will be from Vandenburg, which he stated would likely be in early 2013.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (0)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722732)

Early 2013 is still not "ready in 2012" IMO.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (4, Informative)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722790)

He stated that the rocket will be ready i.e. ready to launch by the end of 2012.

But the actual launch would probably be in 2013 depending on final regulatory hurdles plus any final technical issues encountered with the pad integration.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (1)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723306)

I always assume the launch of a new rocket will be delayed by a year and a day. 2012-Q4 stated == 2014-Q1 actual. That was pretty close for the Falcon 2 (2008-Q4 v 2010-Q2), and looks like it will be close for the Taurus 2 (2011-Q2 v (currently) 2012-Q1). Of course, government projects are another ball of wax, Ares I was what, 4 years behind schedule?

Re:Leave it Fox.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35723362)

The article says the rocket will be assembled at Vandenberg, it says nothing of a launch from there.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722628)

There is a difference between when it will be ready to launch and when it will actually be launched. Its not like they are going to get the thing done, turn around a week later, load up the astronauts, and take it for a test drive.

I know Fox bashing is fun, but lets just think about how long these sort of projects take.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (3, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722638)

Apparently you didn't read the article.

The rocket will be ready by late 2012 from Vandenberg (which is California), Canaveral (which is Florida) launches by late 2013.

Re:Leave it Fox.. (2)

RM6f9 (825298) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722644)

Rocket may be ready well in advance of available launch schedule dates/permits/etc..., - ?

Re:Leave it Fox.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722904)

"That's more than a fully loaded Boeing 737 -- with passengers and fuel" and even luggage, Musk said.

And the real money's in the baggage fees.

"maybe" cruising to mars? (5, Funny)

tulcod (1056476) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722420)

How can one not know whether his/her rocket is capable of making it to Mars? Are we talking superpositions here or what?

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (5, Funny)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722454)

Maybe part of his team is using metric, and another part is using imperial?

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722702)

Mod parent +1: Ironic.

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (5, Funny)

killkillkill (884238) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723278)

To be fair, that error actually got NASA closer to Mars.

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (3, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722506)

How can one not know whether his/her rocket is capable of making it to Mars? Are we talking superpositions here or what?

No, we're talking about reality. In reality, unlike in theory, it takes a lot more to get a rocket to Mars than engineering and sufficient power and fuel. It takes massive funding, political will, and the sustained support of both for several years. There's no engineering equation you can use to calculate if you'll make it to Mars -- the equation will only tell you whether you can do the easy part...

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (4, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722780)

No, we're talking about reality. In reality, unlike in theory, it takes a lot more to get a rocket to Mars than engineering and sufficient power and fuel. It takes massive funding, political will, and the sustained support of both for several years. There's no engineering equation you can use to calculate if you'll make it to Mars -- the equation will only tell you whether you can do the easy part...

Actually, SpaceX's first demo launch of the Falcon Heavy in 2013 doesn't have a customer and they're self-funding it, so if they want to they can send it to pretty much anywhere in the inner solar system that they want. Heck, Elon Musk could even get part of his team to assemble his old Mars Oasis [spaceref.com] greenhouse project and try to land it on Mars if he wanted. Since it's self-funded, it's purely an engineering problem (perhaps with some PR thrown in for good measure).

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (0)

smelch (1988698) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723148)

Oh yes, if he can fund a test launch, he can surely fund a trip to mars to set up a greenhouse. That makes total sense.

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (2)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723072)

No, we're talking about reality. In reality, unlike in theory,

Right there you just lost many a slashdot reader. I'll say no more else their heads may explode.

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (4, Insightful)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722526)

Because it depends on the engineering of what goes on top of it. The Falcon Heavy wouldn't actually go to Mars, it just has the heft to potentially launch a vehicle that could go there and back again in one shot.

However, since no such vehicles exist or are far enough along in planning to have really believable numbers for mass and capabilities, its hard to say for sure.

Add in that uncertainties in practical engineering for the launch vehicles certainly exist and its a very reasonable statement.

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722850)

"Maybe" you're willing to buy the extra fuel necessary.
"Maybe" you're willing to soak up several extra rads every day without adding extra shielding
"Maybe" another vessel would be better suited.

The space shuttle could cruise on to mars, but it would need an extra fuel source hooked up on orbit, and the radiation in interplanetary space would kill the occupants, but probably not before starvation or madness did.

Re:"maybe" cruising to mars? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723166)

Well, you can think your rocket is capable, but you can't know until you arrive.

But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (5, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722434)

Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V. Yes I know they say this will cheaper but still I expected us to be much farther along than we are.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722466)

So then where are your rocket designs doing it better than them? Oh yeah, you're just some turd.

His designs are in NASA archives at Marshall SFC (4, Informative)

alispguru (72689) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722660)

Urban legends aside, NASA did not throw the plans for the Saturn V [wikipedia.org] away.

Falcon Heavy is cool, but it's still a factor of two away from the LEO capacity of a Saturn V.

Re:His designs are in NASA archives at Marshall SF (2)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722736)

It actually makes it somewhat easier to get to the moon though, since 2 launches of the Falcon Heavy (what you need to get enough mass for a moon landing) are going to be cheaper than one Saturn V.

You could launch the capsule with one launch and the EDS/lander with a second one, then rendezvous in orbit.

So did NASA start that "myth"? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722774)

Urban legends aside, NASA did not throw the plans for the Saturn V away.

Then they just SAID they couldn't find them any more when private space industry startups tried to get them when NASA was designing the shuttle and Congress was wondering why they couldn't continue to do launches with the proven technology rather than having to fund all this new stuff, including new big engines?

(I heard that "urban myth" from one of the players in private launches at the time.)

Please enlighten us with the details, if you have them.

Re:So did NASA start that "myth"? (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723070)

Then they just SAID they couldn't find them any more when private space industry startups tried to get them when NASA was designing the shuttle and Congress was wondering why they couldn't continue to do launches with the proven technology rather than having to fund all this new stuff, including new big engines?

I'm sure the Ford corporation still has the plans for the Model T, which doesn't mean it would be better to continue using that proven technology.

The Saturn V was simply too big for commercial launches. The not so big launchers today launch two commercial satellites at a time. Having a bigger launcher would mean bigger logistics problems: how do you coordinate the construction of several satellites so that all of them are ready to launch at the same time?

If there existed a need for a bigger launcher than the Saturn V there would be no problem in designing one, and it would probably be cheaper after adjustment for inflation.

Re:So did NASA start that "myth"? (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723128)

which doesn't mean it would be better to continue using that proven technology.

Exactly. And that ignores the fact that material science and electronics have come a long, long way since the 1960s. What can be created to provide the same functionality can now be built for a fraction of the size of weight of what was required during the 1960s. The reason satellites are not getting much, much smaller and lighter is because they are being packed full of ever increasing functionality, including more fuel and more orbital time.

The simple fact is, unless we are going back to the moon or plan a trip to mars, we simply don't require the lift capability provided by the Saturn V. And when we do, its likely we can make due to multiple, cheaper, smaller rockets.

Re:His designs are in NASA archives at Marshall SF (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722876)

Urban legends aside, NASA did not throw the plans for the Saturn V [CC] away.

Revisions to urban legends aside, most of the expertise to easily leverage the Saturn V designs have long since left NASA and/or died. And what those plans fail to account for, Saturn V was designed in such a way where it was common for revisions to be made on the actual product and designs were changed later. As a result, its acknowledged, a modern Saturn V is very likely to differ from the original Saturn Vs which previously flew. Specifically because modern fixes to the elements which are unknowingly broken in the those designs are very likely to find different solutions given different sets of constraints and minds.

So technically, yes, we have plans for something called a Saturn V. And yet, we have MOST of the plans for what actually flew.

Re:His designs are in NASA archives at Marshall SF (4, Insightful)

Burdell (228580) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723092)

Yep. My father worked on every Saturn (guidance and control, especially the LVDC on the IU) except SA-1 (and then Shuttle, X-33, and now Ares). He retired from civil service a few years ago and now works part-time for a contractor, but if Congress/Obama can't get a budget passed and Dad goes home for a while due to a shutdown, he might not go back. There aren't many others left around from that era.

Even if you had the knowledge and the people, you wouldn't build another Saturn V anyway. You couldn't rebuild the same computers, so you'd update the computers and programs, at which point you might as well upgrade the engines, which leads to changes in the structure (since you have to build new dies and jigs anyway), etc. The test a few weeks ago at Marshall showed that the consensus for structural strength (that even SpaceX and such have used) was off by about a factor of 2 (the rocket structure was about twice as strong, and thus as heavy, as it needed to be).

Even the second run of Saturn V vehicles (if they had been built) would have been different, with upgraded engines (the J-2X was developed during the Apollo program, and then pulled out for Ares I), similar to the changes the Space Shuttle underwent during its 30 year run.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (3, Insightful)

avgjoe62 (558860) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722536)

I'm glad someone else noticed this. The Saturn V had a payload capacity of 260,000 pounds and peak thrust of at least 7,500,000 pounds. They may be saying that this is the biggest thrust and payload among operational rockets, but I'd still like to see the ratio of (thrust/payload)/cost. That is where I'd really like to see improvement.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (2, Informative)

digitalnoise615 (1145903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722630)

I'm glad someone else noticed this. The Saturn V had a payload capacity of 260,000 pounds and peak thrust of at least 7,500,000 pounds. They may be saying that this is the biggest thrust and payload among operational rockets, but I'd still like to see the ratio of (thrust/payload)/cost. That is where I'd really like to see improvement.

Estimated to be around $1,000/ton to orbit. Nothing comes close at this point to that figure, and it's all down-hill from there once it's reached. The Saturn V was/is a beautiful machine - but it was rather inefficient.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (4, Informative)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722670)

$1000/lb not $1000/ton.

But yes this is MUCH cheaper than the Saturn V, Shuttle, or anything else really.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

sarahbau (692647) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722916)

I thought that seemed off by a few orders of magnitude. lol. $1,000 a ton would be pretty good for shipping freight on a truck.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35723094)

Estimated to be around $1,000/ton to orbit.

Hey, for a dollar a kilo I have some stuff that I might want to send to orbit. Musky flying dildos FTW!

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722634)

I think the Saturn V program took a sensible "quit while we're ahead" termination. They were awesome rockets, and probably more than a little bit lucky that they didn't pull a Challenger.

In other words: expense wasn't the only issue where 1960's boosters could have used some improvement.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (2)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722674)

"Musk also claimed the Falcon Heavy would cost a third per flight than the Delta IV rocket, and sets a new world record for the cost per pound to orbit of around about a thousand dollars." Not an apples to apples comparison, but if he's claiming a new record, then it is pretty impressive. Any direct comparisons to the Saturn V would also need to take into account inflation, as the 1965 dollar was about six times as valuable as today's dollar. Ah, Wiki says: " In 1969, the cost of a Saturn V including launch was US $ 185 million (inflation adjusted US$ 1.11 billion in 2011)." Yikes.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

Eponymous Coward (6097) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722784)

I don't think you can use standard inflation rates for high tech equipment. Consider how much you could accomplish with $1000 of computer time in 1969 with what $1000 of computer time will get you today.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722948)

Does anyone even still sell computer time?

-jcr

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (3, Insightful)

mdielmann (514750) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722996)

Even Amazon does, nowadays. What do you think a virtual server is?

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

imgumbydamnit (730663) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723214)

Now it's called cloud computing.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723344)

Do they charge for time, or storage and bandwidth? I can't remember how long it's been since I've seen a bill that stated CPU time.

-jcr

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (3, Informative)

edremy (36408) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723068)

You're making the mistake of assuming that all high tech equipment improves at the same rate as microprocessors.

The basic physics of rocket engines hasn't changed much at all, and can't given the limitations of the chemical fuels they use.

  • The F-1 engine on the first stage of the Saturn 5 had a specific impulse of 263 seconds, burning kerosene and LOX
  • The Merlin 1C engine on the first stage of the Falcon 9 has a specific impulse of 304 seconds, burning kerosene and LOX
  • The Space Shuttle main engine? 363 seconds, but it uses hydrogen and LOX

That's not a lot of improvement in 40 years. Sure, there are some materials improvements and better, lighter avionics, but that doesn't buy you the massive improvement you see in other high tech areas

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

Eponymous Coward (6097) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723154)

I'm not assuming anything. I was just saying you can't assume that the Saturn V would cost 6x today what it cost in 1969. In fact, one of the main points of the article is that we should now be able to get stuff into orbit for about $1,000 / lb. I don't have Saturn V number, but I bet it was more than $170 / lb in 1969. So, while the physics haven't changed, the economics certainly have. I'm guessing a respectable chunk of that decline is related to advances in hardware and software.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35723156)

Thank you. You just basically crushed all the Space Nuttery out there in one fell swoop. As if a CPU is providing lift, or software can move objects. We're not only at peak oil, but peak thrust, peak materials and peak engineering. Space is over, folks. Hopping around Low Earth Orbit, taking pictures, and sending RC toys is all we can do.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722884)

I don't think you get to claim a record until your rocket gets off the pad and delivers payload to orbit.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722988)

The Saturn V had a payload capacity of 260,000 pounds and peak thrust of at least 7,500,000 pounds

And it cost 682 000 000 pounds per launch.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722610)

Why? We're much better at orbital assembly now so we don't need the giant, all-the-eggs-in-one-basket rocket anymore. Cheap is MUCH more impressive.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722612)

Why do you need something bigger than a Saturn V? Who's to say, smaller vehicles with on-orbit refueling aren't a better approach?

We're at a point now where we really are making real progress. We're moving past the command-and-control approach to exploration taken in Apollo (and proven to fail without extremely high funding levels by the post-Apollo era) and getting to a place where we can do interesting things with sustainable budgets.

The great thing about this concept is that it is not a one-off design. Even if there is only a demand for one of these every three to five years, the fact that it is mostly built from Falcon 9 parts (for which there is a proven market) means that it can be available to be built-to-order without much extra overhead. This is where the big advances in space exploration need to come from right now, not advances in technology, but advances in business and manufacturing practices. We're good at building efficient rockets at this point, but we're not good at keeping them on-time and on-budget.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722840)

The great thing about this concept is that it is not a one-off design. Even if there is only a demand for one of these every three to five years, the fact that it is mostly built from Falcon 9 parts (for which there is a proven market) means that it can be available to be built-to-order without much extra overhead.

There would be significant overhead for that low a flight right.

Musk stated in the announcement that to meet the $1000/lb figure it would have to launch at least 4 times per year.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723242)

GP is still right about saving overhead that's shared with the F9, as opposed to building something like the Ares V that you have to support in it's entirety. You've hit on my pet peeve about SpaceX, though, which is that they quote things based on what they are capable of, not what there's a market for.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722636)

Unlike Saturn V, the Falcon Heavy
1) doesn't require a gargantuan centralized government programme (Apollo)
2) doesn't require 500k workers at 4% of GDP (SpaceX's employee tally runs in the lower 1000s)

Saturn V got canceled for the wrong reasons, because it blew everything away at the time. Blame politics for its demise. This is a triumph for spaceflight, enabled by private enterprise.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

timster (32400) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722640)

If the price listed on the SpaceX website ($125M) is accurate, "we" are making progress, if by "we" you mean the people who actually work on this stuff rather than posting on Slashdot. Saturn V launches cost in the hundreds of millions each, in 1970 dollars.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723004)

If the price listed on the SpaceX website ($125M) is accurate, "we" are making progress, if by "we" you mean the people who actually work on this stuff rather than posting on Slashdot. Saturn V launches cost in the hundreds of millions each, in 1970 dollars.

Someone above calculated the Saturn V launch costs, adjusted for inflation, is roughly $1.1 billion per launch. Even if the $125M per launch number is off by a factor of two, that means they can still launch four rockets for everyone one Saturn V. That provides for what, a 4x-8x improvement in efficiency? So yes, that's a big step forward, even if it takes multiple rockets to achieve what previously could be done with a single Saturn V launch.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723212)

In 1969 we expected Pan Am to be flying passengers to the moon. In 1975 they where talking about O'Neil colonies at L5 with 10,000 people living in them and also at that time they where talking about 100 shuttle launches a year...
Sorry but we are so far behind what was expected when I was a child that it is just depressing.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722718)

I'm all for powerful machines, but the Saturn V expended an incredible amount of fuel to lift the first few feet of it's launch. Didn't anyone take intro to physics?

A few moderately sized rockets working together (staging in orbit etc) is much more fuel efficient and cost efficient overall than a gigantic (awesome) rocket.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722758)

>Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V.

It has been said any proposal to develop a Saturn V class vehicle (heavy lift of 100 tons or more) is a non-starter. Reasons are development costs would so expensive Congress will never approve such a program. And if they did, there would be no money left for spacecraft development. Dennis Wingo has presented this argument many times on nasawatch.com and I agree. For many decades ***nothing*** has come about except proposals and artwork.

Even for Saturn V, they stopped production (back when we had lotsa $$$ to spend) because it was unsustainable. When Ares V was proposed, it hit with a thud because it was a big expensive one-shot use for simply flying to the moon while we still debate as why.

But.... this Falcon looks really interesting (it's big but not too big) and I like the schedule because I will not be dead of old age when it finally flies.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722868)

It has been said any proposal to develop a Saturn V class vehicle (heavy lift of 100 tons or more) is a non-starter. Reasons are development costs would so expensive Congress will never approve such a program.

Congress passed a bill last year that says NASA must build a new rocket titled the Space Launch System with a payload evolvable to 130 tons (Saturn V class), so this statement is not correct.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (3, Informative)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722912)

And then they promptly refused to fund it.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

RockClimbingFool (692426) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723316)

Congress loves to pass authorization bills. They don't enjoy passing the corresponding appropriation bills.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722830)

Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V. Yes I know they say this will cheaper but still I expected us to be much farther along than we are.

Why? The Space Shuttle sucked the oxygen out of the room for large rocket development and Griffin, the previous NASA administrator, followed up with an incompetent, underfunded attempt. As I see it, 53 metric tons to LEO at SpaceX prices is a far better deal than making some ludicrously expensive Saturn V class rocket.

Keep in mind also that SpaceX's designs scale quite nicely to Saturn V class level. I'd rather give them the chance to prove themselves with smaller rockets first than get pouty because SpaceX doesn't meet somebody's overblown expectations.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722900)

Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V. Yes I know they say this will cheaper but still I expected us to be much farther along than we are.

You don't even need to aim that high. They're gunning for the Delta IV Heavy, which is said to manage a payload of roughly 13,500 lbs into GSO.
They want to reach more than twice of that. Let's assume 30,000 lbs.
That would still place them well below the 44,000 lbs the over 20 years old Energiya could handle (even if you don't update the blueprints). And that's only the regular one. Imagine what the planned monster with twice as many boosters could've achieved!

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723286)

I agree but the the hype they are using ticks me off. If they had just said that they where going to launch their largest rocket ever or even the Falcon 9 Heavy. I am more anti hype then anti Space X. I actually think this is really very cool but I want my nuclear powered Orion class shuttle with Pan Am markings! It is 2011 and I have been lied too.

Can't compare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35723250)

The Saturn V was funded involuntarily (by government). At the time, there was nobody willing to fund such a project out of their own pockets -- otherwise it would have happened. Government made it happen only because government had the power to force everyone else to pay out of their own pockets, particularly those who would never have chosen for themselves to support it.

The SpaceX program, by contrast, is funded through voluntary means (if you ignore the government contracts). We have finally reached an era where space travel/exploration is ready for voluntary investment. But government space programs did have a half-century head start, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that we cannot compare the private space industry with the public space industry until the private space industry has reached maturity.

Re:But smaller then the Saturn V from the 1960s (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723336)

Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V.

That'll probably be never - and that's a good thing. Big heavy payloads costs in the billions-to-tens-of-billions range, which means that they are hard to get funded, which means we end up spending more billions keeping the heavy lifter on standby for the once-in-a-blue-moon heavy payload. Smaller rockets are cheaper to design, build, and operate* - and since they'll fly more often those costs and their fixed [annual] costs can be amortized over more flights. Smaller rockets are also more flexible because you can either launch them singly, or launch your cargoes in sections for on-orbit assembly.
 

Yes I know they say this will cheaper but still I expected us to be much farther along than we are.

There are other ways of making progress than simply increasing the size of your penile substitute. This whole attitude of "if it isn't Big and Very Bold has held making real progress back for decades.
 
* With the caveat that cost scales only weakly with size and very strongly with complexity. This is why Pegasus is so much more expensive than other launchers in it's weight class. Like the Shuttle, it's flexibility and abilities come at a heavy price.

"SpaceX" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722490)

"Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX for short)"

Later to be renamed Weyland Yutani (WY for short)

What does that remind me of... (1)

Lead Butthead (321013) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722502)

the Soviet N1? [wikimedia.org]

Re:What does that remind me of... (1)

digitalnoise615 (1145903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722604)

the Soviet N1? [wikimedia.org]

Except that the N1 never reached orbit (read your own article if you don't believe me).

Space-X has already launched, orbited, and successfully recovered a payload. For a private company using almost all private dollars, that's a significant achievement and I don't doubt that the Falcon Heavy will succeed.

Re:What does that remind me of... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722742)

SpaceX only uses 9 of the same engines per booster, the N1 had 30 in the first stage, 8 in the second stage, 4 of a different type in the third stage, 1 of another type in the fourth stage and 1 of yet another type in the fifth stage.

So SpaceX has 27 Merlin IC total in the first stage and a Merlin IC Vacuum in the second stage.
N1 had 38 NK-15s, 4 NK-21s, 1 NK-19 and 1 RD-58 total.

Every N1 launch test failed, while SpaceX is 2/5 with Falcon 1 and 2/2 with Falcon 9

hopefully all the chosen ones will leave at once (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722568)

it's a very small crowd, so that's not a problem? almost nobody on this planet cares where they go, as long as it's far away forever. could their big rocket be ready any sooner? the real 'aliens' may have other plans for them, seeing as they were the ones who originally suggested that we not hurt/kill each other.

which just makes the increasingly popular/populated genuine native americans for president campaign become just that much more appropriate/relevant/timely.

Something smells fishy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722654)

Elon Musk? Is that really his name? Sounds more like the name of a perfume.

Details from press conference (4, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722678)

The Fox article is a little sparse on info, so for the curious, there was some pretty good liveblogging (live-foruming?) of the press conference here [nasaspaceflight.com] . You can see official details (and a neat video) on SpaceX's site here [spacex.com] .

Looking through the forum and the website, here's a summary of all the most interesting stuff:

  • Falcon 9 (F9) able to lift much more than estimated with engine upgrades, Falcon Heavy (FH) estimates upgraded
  • FH: 3 nine-engine cores attached to each other
    paying development costs internally, strong commercial + gov customer interest
  • FH will arrive at Vandenberg pad in 2012, launch in early 2013
  • testing upgraded engines now at McGregor facility
  • estimating 117K lbs (53mt) to orbit for FH, possibly >120K lbs
  • double payload of Shuttle and Delta IV Heavy
  • launching from Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral
  • once in full operation expecting ~10 F9 flights a year, ~10 FH flights a year
  • increasing rate of engine production to 400 each year (currently 50/year)
  • FH price sets new world record at $1000/lb
  • first rocket in history to feature propellant crossfeed, allowing for earlier separation of emptied side boosters (== much more efficiency)
  • multi-engine-out capability for more reliability
  • meets published NASA human rating standards, not sure yet about "unpublished" standards
  • lower cost than current EELVs could save DOD alone $1.7B-$2.2B each year
  • could do Mars sample return mission in a single flight
  • payload to Mars 1/4 LEO payload, so 30K lbs to Mars
  • could go to Moon or NEO with only 2 launches
  • could do lunar flyby with a single launch of Dragon capsule
  • in response to Q&A, mentioned follow-up design capable of >150mt (Saturn V was 119mt)

As an aside, it'll be quite fascinating to see what impact this has on the heavy-lift debate currently going on in Congress. For those unfamiliar with it, Congress is currently trying to pressure NASA to spend several billion dollars of its funding over several years into building a 70mt rocket from shuttle-legacy components/infrastructure. It's now looking like SpaceX will build a rocket with nearly the same capability using its own funding, which will be ready to launch several years before the Congress-mandated rocket. Hmm.

Re:Details from press conference (1)

Terwin (412356) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722914)

As an aside, it'll be quite fascinating to see what impact this has on the heavy-lift debate currently going on in Congress. For those unfamiliar with it, Congress is currently trying to pressure NASA to spend several billion dollars of its funding over several years into building a 70mt rocket from shuttle-legacy components/infrastructure. It's now looking like SpaceX will build a rocket with nearly the same capability using its own funding, which will be ready to launch several years before the Congress-mandated rocket. Hmm.

That project is about jobs in some congress-critters district.
If this is seen as a threat to those jobs then the congress-critter will probably change the criteria just enough so that this is not suitable.
Hopefully the fact that it is privately funded will prevent having this project interfered with as one method of making it unsuitable.

Re:Details from press conference (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723136)

Hopefully the fact that it is privately funded will prevent having this project interfered with as one method of making it unsuitable.

Well, there are those mysterious "unpublished standards"...

Unpublished Standard #1: Components must be built by companies that contribute to politicians on the committee to decide the standards.

Re:Details from press conference (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723108)

meets published NASA human rating standards, not sure yet about "unpublished" standards

Because there are known knowns and there are known unknowns... :^D

New To Space Vehicles (1)

jaysunn (1987940) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722734)

Hello I have read the site page for falcon heavy on the spacex site. I am a bit confused as to how they can take men / women to ISS and safely return them. I understand the entering of space and docking. However I do not see a craft that can renter safely and land somewhere on earth. Please enlighten me.

Re:New To Space Vehicles (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722792)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_(spacecraft)

The dragon capsule:
  - Can hold humans
  - propel itself in LEO
  - Dock with IIS
  - Return to Earth, parachuting into ocean like the Apollo missions did

Re:New To Space Vehicles (0)

_$hackerekcah$_ (2034470) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722838)

Here [freeblogspot.org] a good explanation for you

Re:New To Space Vehicles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35722920)

Grow up.

Re:New To Space Vehicles (3, Informative)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722890)

What you're looking for is not a capability of the Falcon Heavy, but their Dragon spacecraft which launches on the Falcon 9. They recovered it from orbit in December, so I'll let them show it to you: Specs [spacex.com] , Mission update [spacex.com] . Short version is that it's your basic capsule design with water landing, they're hoping to have the next version be a rocket landing on ground, using the abort motors.

Re:New To Space Vehicles (1)

jaysunn (1987940) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723082)

That was an awesome video. I am hooked!!!! Thanks to all the replies.

A game changer, if they can get it to work. (3, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722782)

This is about half a Saturn V class rocket in terms of payload. Development costs are likely to be remarkably low, around a few billion dollars (Elon Musk has claimed $2 billion before to develop a Saturn V class rocket which would be larger than the SpaceX Heavy). What is interesting is that they seem intent on developing the vehicle using the current Merlin engines rather than than a new F-1 class engine (the rocket engines used on the Saturn 5, five on the first stage and one on the second stage). A cluster of 27 engines (!) will power the first stage. This technique of small rocket clusters is known to have caused trouble [wikipedia.org] for the Soviets when they tried it (four launch failures in a row). With modern technology, the odds are probably better, both because an engine failure that is about to wipe out some of its neighbors can be detected and a shutdown attempted. Second, control systems are much more sophisticated. One can design a system with random engine outs (that is, engines that aren't firing for some reason) that can still fly. We'll see if that's good enough.

The interesting thing from a development perspective is that this means a good portion of the testing is already done since the Merlin engines have been successfully flown on four flights (two Falcon I and two Falcon 9). They already claim that they are the top manufacturer of rocket engines by number (though I don't know if they are by total thrust). They also have some success firing Merlin engines in clusters and on the successful Falcon 9 flights. They'll probably have to make a more sophisticated avionics and control system, plumbing/pumping to supply the much larger engine cluster, and the vehicle frame, but I suspect that they won't have to do much more than that. My guess is that the 27 engine cluster and its plumbing will be fairly tricky as will the control system (which has to be able to handle several engine outs), but the rest won't be.

Now compare it to the Shuttle derived Space Launch System (SLS) that Congress wants NASA to research. For one or two years of funding of the SLS (and incidentally, about the same amount of funding just to maintain the current Shuttles!), SpaceX probably can develop the SpaceX Heavy. It doesn't have quite the capability that the SLS would have (at least on paper!), payload is a bit over 50 metric tons to LEO (low Earth orbit) while even a minimal SLS design is required to be able to carry 70 metric tons (at least as NASA read the Congressional directive) to LEO) Yesterday, there was gnashing of teeth because the last Space Shuttle was coming up with a possible end to the US's space program in the works. Now we have a rocket that not only would be vastly cheaper, but capable of carrying far more payload than the Shuttle. This may be our chance to get our space program back on track from when it derailed in the 70s.

Re:A game changer, if they can get it to work. (1)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722950)

With modern technology, the odds are probably better, both because an engine failure that is about to wipe out some of its neighbors can be detected and a shutdown attempted. Second, control systems are much more sophisticated. One can design a system with random engine outs (that is, engines that aren't firing for some reason) that can still fly. We'll see if that's good enough.

There's another important reason their odds are much better. They do extensive test firings of all the engines. With those soviet rockets, the first time the engines were lit was when the vehicle was on the pad attempting to launch.

My guess is that the 27 engine cluster and its plumbing will be fairly tricky

It will be because they are doing propellant crossfeed (this leaves the core stage nearly full when the boosters separate, significantly increasing performance). That is complex and has not been done before.

Re:A game changer, if they can get it to work. (1)

Behrooz (302401) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722992)

I don't think it's reasonable to compare the difficulty controlling clusters of independent rockets using Soviet tech from the 1960s with modern materials science and computerized engineering.

They're spending a metric assload of their own money. That's likely to produce a much more reasonable assessment of capabilities and failure modes than centralized planning in the framework of a mega-bureaucracy. We'll see how it goes, until proven otherwise I expect some pretty impressive advances.

Re:A game changer, if they can get it to work. (1)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723010)

They've been planning the 3 core configuration for a while, and their already flying the 1 core design, so I don't think the complexity of multiple engines will be a problem. The news today is 1) the upgraded engines and 2) the propellant crossfeed, which combine to double their projected capability. They've hinted at a Merlin 2 (F1 class) that could replace all 9 Merlin 1s on the Falcon 9, and provide a Saturn V class Falcon X with a cluster of 5, but there is no realistic timeframe for it yet, whereas FH could believably be ready in 2013. (They've also hinted at a 3 core Falcon X Heavy, which would be insane, but since there's not a market for it I don't think it will happen.)

Re:A game changer, if they can get it to work. (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723042)

I forgot to mention that even if we completely ignore NASA, and frankly it's not that significant, it still remains that a private US business has gone from nothing in 2002 to proposing building a rocket with a considerable fraction of which is already flight proven and twice as much payload as anything else flying today. That's pretty good for less than ten years!

A single US company is blowing by everyone. As Musk said, if he can get the flight rates he wants for the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy, then he'll be making more engines (again by number) than the rest of the world combined.

I think this will be a game changer not just for US space flight, but for humanity in general. The economics of doing stuff in space will change radically, IF SpaceX can show this works.

Re:A game changer, if they can get it to work. (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723062)

SpaceX is working on other engines. The Merlin 2 would be capable of around 1.7 million pounds of thrust (the Saturn V F-1 was capable of 1.5 million pounds of thrust), reducing the number of engines used per vehicle, especially for the Falcon 9 Heavy and the Falcon X/XX series of SHLLVs.

Re:A game changer, if they can get it to work. (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723120)

The point is that the Falcon Heavy doesn't require successful development of the Merlin 2.

Vaguely remember... (1)

WonderingAround (2007742) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722788)

Someone that was on the Colbert Report the other night, claiming to be a ``historian`` of the American space program, was saying something like Space X could build everything needed to launch a rocket into space for the same price NASA spends on building just a launch tower, but NASA also needed $12 billion and a decade to make a pen that worked in 0 gravity... and the Russians just used a pencil, classic.

Re:Vaguely remember... (1)

Loadmaster (720754) | more than 3 years ago | (#35722944)

12B, come on, claim a bigger number if you want to repeat false tales. It was 13 Trillion dollars and Zillion!

http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp [snopes.com]

NASA tower = SpaceX rocket price might be real. SpaceX doesn't have to waste money on contractors and designs forced on them by Congress in an attempt to appease their district. Congress still trying NASA to use SSRBs and spend billions for political gain, classic.

Re:Vaguely remember... (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723006)

That historian doesn't know his history, then. The "space pen" was independently developed by a private firm and was later sold to NASA at around what you'd pay picking up one at an office supply store. The Russians did reportedly use pencils for a while, but found that graphite dust caused potential electrical problems, and switched to the space pen.

Re:Vaguely remember... (5, Informative)

IICV (652597) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723036)

...but NASA also needed $12 billion and a decade to make a pen that worked in 0 gravity... and the Russians just used a pencil, classic.

There's pretty much nothing true in that statement besides the claim that "the Russians just used pencils" - NASA did too, until after Fisher developed the space pen [wikipedia.org] (without government funding) and asked NASA to try it. In fact, after NASA adopted the space pen, so did the Russians.

And there's problems with using pencils in space - wood pencils are flammable, and the graphite in mechanical pencils can snap off more easily and damage vulnerable equipment (it's conducive, after all) or the astronauts themselves, if they accidentally inhale it.

Re:Vaguely remember... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35723178)

Urban legend. [snopes.com] NASA didn't develop the space pen, and initially they used pencils too.

Re:Vaguely remember... (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723272)

The space pen thing is an urban legend, but the launch tower comparison is real:

http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20100607 [spacex.com]

The NASA COTS program has demonstrated the power of what can be accomplished when you combine private sector responsiveness and ingenuity with the guidance, support and insight of the US government. For less than the cost of the Ares I mobile service tower, SpaceX has developed all the flight hardware for the Falcon 9 orbital rocket, Dragon spacecraft, as well as three launch sites.

Rockets. (1)

hackus (159037) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723202)

Can't we do anything besides rockets?

Been doing the rocket thing for like thousands of years.

I think it is time for something a little less clunky and more elegant.

Rockets suck.

-Hack

2012? (1)

DocZayus (1046358) | more than 3 years ago | (#35723244)

Let's just hope it's before December 21st, or no one will get to see it happen.

Sounds like the Millenium Falcon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35723332)

Just like in Star Wars, the SpaceX rocket defies physics and makes rocket noise in the depths of space (1:08 in the video). Maybe the biggest breakthrough yet!

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