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SpaceX Reveals Plans For Full Launch System Re-usability

Soulskill posted about 3 years ago | from the waste-not-want-not dept.

Space 227

FleaPlus writes "During a talk at the National Press Club, SpaceX's Elon Musk revealed the company's plans for making their Falcon 9 rocket fully reusable. A rendering depicts the first stage, upper stage, and Dragon capsule all separately returning to the Earth's surface and making a controlled, rocket-powered landing. During the next few years SpaceX will be testing VTVL (Vertical Takeoff, Vertical Landing) maneuvers and re-usability with their Falcon 9-based 'Grasshopper' testbed, with up to 70 test launches per year. Musk stated that if reuse is successful, it would result in a 100x reduction in their already-low launch costs, a key step toward Musk's long-term aim of lowering the price of a ticket to Mars to $500K."

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Thanks, Space Shuttle (2, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 3 years ago | (#37565792)

I am glad Americans invested in the Space Shuttle programme that gave, among so many other benefits, the basic R&D into reusable space vehicles and launch systems for them, to SpaceX, the rest of the growing private space industry, and to the world in general.

I look forward to SpaceX and its competitors paying the taxes that will repay that investment, even as they make good profits without having had to take the risks or pay the costs of those decades of R&D on their own.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (0)

Rakshasa-sensei (533725) | about 3 years ago | (#37566006)

Exactly how... did a space shuttle from the 80's give 30 years of R&D that matched the money poured into it?

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (3, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 3 years ago | (#37566158)

You do know that the 1980s were 30 years ago, right? In fact, since the Shuttle R&D started in the 1970s (and of course earlier, using prior designs as departure), it's over 30 years. You do realize that all NASA spaceflight is R&D work, right? People at SpaceX surely know that.

How did it match the money poured into it? Even ignoring the tremendous return on investment from NASA budgets [nasa.gov] , anyone honest at SpaceX would tell you the new private industry owes a vast debt to NASA's programmes. That it can repay naturally in taxes from its profitable operations.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

ATestR (1060586) | about 3 years ago | (#37566216)

Return on investment was pretty good for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. The space shuttle... not so much.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (2)

Ihmhi (1206036) | about 3 years ago | (#37567530)

It's not just a government problem here.

Serious R&D can be a money sink, but when you come up with the right thing it can bring in a ton of money - in the long term. That's the problem. Businesses today only give a flying fuck about the next quarter's earnings. Having a loss this quarter to make a huge profit five years down the line is blasphemy in the gospel of modern American business.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566364)

QUIET! The Space Nutters are in force here, this is a religion to them. Computers came from space, the wheel came from space, everything popped into existence in 1957.

Now just read the replies here, I guarantee there will be a Level-III Nutter going on and on about how the SPECIES must get off this rock! Etc.. etc.. etc... Religious delusion for the sci-fi geek.

This 500K$ to Mars thing... Is it so different from "pray this much to get into Heaven"?

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#37566656)

Get yourself an account.

keeping the hu'mans down (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 3 years ago | (#37566932)

come clean, this is really k'breel, speaker for the council, isn't it?

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (2)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about 3 years ago | (#37567336)

This 500K$ to Mars thing... Is it so different from "pray this much to get into Heaven"?

Yes. The cost of getting to Mars is empirically measurable, and the target is to get that cost below a specified level.
That makes them as different as fire and ice.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (5, Insightful)

squidflakes (905524) | about 3 years ago | (#37567346)

You know, I think that if I had to choose, I'd gladly take the Space Nutter religion over it's competitors.

Traditional Religion says that there is a man living in the sky and he sees everything we do.
Space Nutterism put a man in the sky, and has been able to keep them there off and on since the 1970s. Those men were able to see much, and the unmanned cameras we put up along side them have made tremendous contributions to farming, fire fighting, building, and anything else that relies on the weather or accurate maps.

Traditional Religion says that Heaven (and it's equivalents) are beautiful places full of delights and wonders that you'll get to see when you die.
Space Nutterism put cameras on the ground and in space and we now have beautiful, wonderful, delightful pictures of the heavens that anyone can see, just about any time they want.

Traditional Religion says you should live in peace with your fellow man, but you're free to kill them if they disagree on the name of your invisible sky man.
Space Nutterism has pulled together men and women from different nations, religions, and economic classes and caused them all to work together on projects that have made life better for the whole lot of us.

Traditional Religion gives us stories from long ago and states that if you just believe in the invisible sky man hard enough, amazing things could happen to you.
Space Nutterism gives us video, pictures, audio recordings, and the actual artifacts that have been to amazing places and done amazing things.

Traditional Religion says that, through your invisible sky man, all things are possible.
Space Nutterism says that through our own hard work and cleverness, all things are possible.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

tgd (2822) | about 3 years ago | (#37566684)

It didn't, but its sort of trendy to wax poetic about the Space Shuttle these days.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566126)

Errrr, the Shuttle proved that reusability *wasn't* fiscally viable.

Each shuttle launch cost much more than a equivalent disposable rocket launch. The shuttle however enabled types of mission that had never been possible before (recovery etc.).

Shuttle technology needed so much re-test of (every single) ‘reusable’ part, and replacement of non-reusable parts - almost to the point where building a new shuttle each time wouldn't have been much more expensive.

The fact that there was more than one, but two never flew at the same time, is a indicator of the huge cost/time involved in preparing each vehicle.

70 test launches a year is amazing, and shows how the safely re-validation time has been cut to pieces. But it has been 40 years since the Enterprise was concieved (seriously btw - the prototypes/mockup was called 'Enterprise')

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 3 years ago | (#37566224)

R&D is usually valuable mostly for what it rules out. SpaceX doesn't have to learn what not to do, and can concentrate on redoing what worked, and trying what's left as yet untried.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#37566614)

R&D is usually valuable mostly for what it rules out. SpaceX doesn't have to learn what not to do, and can concentrate on redoing what worked, and trying what's left as yet untried.

While I consider risk retirement a useful role for NASA, we shouldn't get delusional here. The Shuttle was designed so that it needed the entire US launch market in order to be competitive, that is, all the military launches and all the commercial launches. After the Challenger accident and the subsequent blamefinding, it became blatantly clear that the Shuttle would never meet that launch frequency goal.

The Shuttle was simply put, too ambitious. It's cost meant that other things weren't done. The US no longer could afford manned missions beyond Earth orbit, it could no longer explore technologies such as solar sails or nuclear propulsion. There's the saying, "It sucked the oxygen out of the room."

I also find it ironic that the grandparent claimed that the Shuttle demonstrated that reusable launch technology was unfeasible. If that were so, then why are there so many reusable vehicles out there. In addition to SpaceX's approach (which I might add doesn't resemble a Shuttle and probably has zero benefit to it from the Shuttle), we have the DoD, Scaled Composites, and XCOR all making (and in the case of the DoD, flying) reusable launch vehicles.

There's only one thing learned from the Shuttle debacle. Namely, don't let NASA build and fly its own launch vehicle. The failure of Constellation should have hammered that point home, but apparently, the political class isn't interested in the lesson plan.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 3 years ago | (#37566874)

No the shuttle was designed so that it needed the entire US military contractor complex. The Shuttle was purpose designed to spend as much tax payer funds as possible.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#37567024)

While that is probably true, it's worth noting that the rationalization for the Shuttle included a 40 launches per year work load, which would have needed the entire launch market of the US to fill.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (2)

slashtivus (1162793) | about 3 years ago | (#37567402)

There's only one thing learned from the Shuttle debacle. Namely, don't let NASA build and fly its own launch vehicle.

The shuttle was a bit of a boondoggle, but you are blaming NASA, when in all honesty it had many congress-critters and Air-force fingers involved in its design and deployment. It's rather disingenuous to place all the decision responsibility solely in the hands of NASA.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 3 years ago | (#37566272)

Not the concept of reusability, just this particular committee designed ass hat when administered by a broken culture.

A private, non-subsidized company will innovate, unlike the monolithic bureaucracy that NASA has become, until they are able to do it, and do it safely. And cheaply too.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (4, Insightful)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 3 years ago | (#37566866)

Just because you are unfamiliar with the real and significant scientific and engineering advances that were part of the shuttle effort, does not mean they do not exist.

You know, I am continually offended and amazed by the amount and quality of the scorn heaped on NASA by slashdot denizens. NASA did what it did, it's easy to look back thirty years and trash talk about how much better you could have done. The real evidence is that no one exceeded or even came close to NASA's accomplishment with the initial shuttles, for many years afterwards.

Noone was keeping private industry from going into space in, say, 1985 or 1992. 1992 was a great year. How many private shuttle flights were there? How many?

If you think the manned space program is too bureaucratic now, well, your government agrees with you, and that's why its taking the steps it is taking. But history is pretty clear that when the shuttles were first designed and built, they were innovations.

It's a political stance, unburdened by facts, that if only the government oppressor, which consumes all resources and innovative ideas, were somehow to be pushed back, Ayn Rand's nephew would show up and build us a wonderful and lucrative train track to Mars. The truth is, we use government as a means to organize ourselves for several tasks we feel everyone should contribute to, be it defense or education or assurance of clean drinking water. NASA did things then, and continues to do things today, for which there is not an immediate payoff but that we feel there is value in doing. Are we always right? Assuredly not. The evidence is clear though that many of the things which NASA did first, others have followed.
   

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 3 years ago | (#37567222)

My my, aren't we defensive?

You will note that I said nothing about scientific or engineering advances that came from that program. You imagined I said that. That speaks more to what is on your mind than what is on mine or anyone else's.

Are you really trying to deny that the Shuttle was designed by committee? For starters, they had no business putting the shuttle on the side of the first stage. It should have been on the top from the start. That simple design change would have saved us a shuttle. Further, the bureaucracy is directly responsible for the other shuttle loss as they forced the launch against the recommendations of their engineers.

NASA was once great. But now it isn't. It's a bureaucratic mess.

Also of note, there were no private shuttle launches because NASA had a government enforced monopoly on space launches. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_spaceflight#American_deregulation [wikipedia.org] After that monopoly was repealed, private spaceflight caught up to the capabilities of government sponsered spaceflight in a mere twenty years (and exceeded their number in just seven). Funny how lovers of the state deride private initiative for being ineffective when those private ventures are quite literally forced at gunpoint to stay out of the industry.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (2)

jnaujok (804613) | about 3 years ago | (#37567734)

Seeing that I looked into what it would take to launch a sub-orbital vehicle in 2000, I can tell you right now there were a lot of barriers to commercial space flight before the X-Prize drove the FAA to loosen regulations.

To launch a sub-orbital sounding rocket in 2000, I would have needed a government approved launch site, would have had to acquire something in the neighborhood of a million dollars of permits from the FAA, then paid to have multiple reentry studies done by "accredited research facilites" (read NASA and JPL) to determine the potential damage of a failed launch on down-field areas, at a cost of no less than $500,000 each. It was required under FAA regulations to carry at least one *billion* (yes, billion) dollars of insurance in case of launch failure, and the rocket would require a complete abort system capable of destroying the craft, which would have to be shown as reliable through no less than three successful static tests resulting in the full destruction of the vehicle.

That's just off the top of my head from what I remember. I went and actually got all the information I could find and it was a stack of requirements near two inches thick. And all I was trying to do was break the altitude record for a "model" rocket. But because I had the potential of breaking 100km of altitude, it was no longer considered a "model" and FAA rules applied to it.

So don't say there were no barriers in 1985 or 1992. That's just not true. No start-up could have afforded all the licensing and regulation overhead required to get their first rocket off the ground. The launch market was a locked-in old boys club between the existing military contractors like Lockheed and Boeing so they could continue to control the lucrative pricing structure. Unless you really think it cost Lockheed 10 times as much to build a rocket than it costs SpaceX?

Another Big Announcement (3, Interesting)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 3 years ago | (#37566422)

SpaceX Reveals Plans For Full Launch System Re-usability

And I'm revealing my plans for world domination with an army of supermodels.

SpaceX might want to do a little less revealing of plans and a little more flying in space. I'm getting tired of hearing about what they're gonna do and would like to hear a little more about what they've done besides send up another roman candle.

Re:Another Big Announcement (2)

Haelyn (321711) | about 3 years ago | (#37567746)

And I'm revealing my plans for world domination with an army of supermodels.

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566226)

I am glad Americans invested in the Space Shuttle programme that gave, among so many other benefits, the basic R&D into reusable space vehicles and launch systems for them

This sounds more like how the Soviet modules landed since the 1960s (vertical) [wikipedia.org] than how the shuttle did it in the 1980s.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#37566390)

Yes, this demonstrates the vast value of government. Throw a few hundred billion in, get a billion dollar rocket out.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (0, Troll)

ShavedOrangutan (1930630) | about 3 years ago | (#37567090)

Surely the government will do better when running our health care.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37567502)

Well you USians have nothing to compare to, so you'll never know.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37567706)

Better then the profit seeking CEOs that run things now. Why should the money I contribute to my healthcare be used to buy new yachts and mansions? I'd rather that money be saved and used down the line when I might really need it. Insurance companies add costs to healthcare just to line their own pockets.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | about 3 years ago | (#37567534)

I suggest that you never use a weather report for the rest of your life, asshole. Where do you think weather satellites come from, Santy Claus? Any moron knows that without the Feds there would be no weather satellites. I guess you're not even at the level of the average moron.

Of course without the benefit of global weather forecasts international shipping by air and sea would be a lot more expensive, so you should also give up anything made outside North American.

And no GPS for you either. So that means no automated tellers, because they all use GPS time signals for synchronizing transactions.

So just get the hell out of here, since you have no regard for all the technology that has been developed by the US government in the 20th and 21st century. Go to Somalia, or the tribal areas in Pakastan/Iraq, or some other shithole were you can experience the glory of living without technology, or courts and law, or electricity, clean water or medical care. Because without state and federal government none of these things exist.

I'm fed up with freeloading asshats like you whining about the government while you expect all the comfort and perks of civilization handed to you for free on a silver platter. If you can't appreciate what you have here then get the fuck out.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

PinchDuck (199974) | about 3 years ago | (#37566496)

For starters, taxes paid aren't allocated to whatever wishing well you think they should go into. Federal taxes go into the general fund, so it's not like NASA's going to be getting a check from SpaceX. Secondly, it's not like SpaceX isn't doing a ton of R&D and taking a lot of risks. Thirdly, I hope that SpaceX has a talented accounting team that allows them to maximize their return on investment, including taking all applicable tax deductions. If you don't like companies taking tax deductions, blame the politicians that create them, not the companies that take them.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

Lifyre (960576) | about 3 years ago | (#37566806)

I think you were missing his point when it came to the taxes. NASA's funding comes from the general fund just like most federal agencies. His point was that the investment into NASA for the space shuttle is or will generate a real return in the form of taxes on SpaceX to the general fund that will repay the original investment. If and when that return will equal or exceed the value of the original investment remains to be seen.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566600)

We'd be on Mars now if it weren't for all the money wasted on the shuttle program.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (4, Interesting)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 3 years ago | (#37567156)

You clearly don't know much about the Space Shuttle.

In terms of reusability, it was an utter and complete failure.

Yes it was "reusable", but it turned out more expensive to launch than one-shot non-reusable systems because its reusability approach was completely hosed. For example, half the tiles needed to be replaced after each launch.

That's why the Space Shuttle has been decommissioned in favor of nonreusable systems.

SpaceX's reuasbility research will use nothing from the shuttle except possibly lessons learned on what NOT to do.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

squidflakes (905524) | about 3 years ago | (#37567194)

Yes, surely corporate CEOs and even private citizens can do the minimal amount of thinking required to see that much of the modern communications infrastructure we take for granted wouldn't have been possible without a functional space program. I am certain that the innovation and materials science that allowed us to get in to space will not be overlooked by anyone, nor will people make the mistake of conflating the sunk costs of basic research with some sort of profit/loss business model that doesn't apply in this situation.

Re:Thanks, Space Shuttle (1)

Sheik Yerbouti (96423) | about 3 years ago | (#37567462)

Falcon 9 does not use any of the Shuttle technology. At least as far as we know. They developed there own engine the Merlin, they are not using the tiles or the solid boosters. So how do you figure this.

Why are you so bothered that the government is not doing this and a private company is are you that myopic in your politics that only the government can do for you? That's really just quite sad.

If the government was doing this it would not be cost effective. It would be years over due and over budget and cost many factors more than what was originally projected to launch as the Space Shuttle did. The Shuttle program was a failure in almost every way. It did not meet it's design goals, launch cost targets, or budget not even close. It was unsafe for human flight. And it's launch costs ate most of NASAs budget for years preventing real research and science from being done.

But never mind that keep your rose coloured glasses on for the Shuttle and the pork based politics that created the abomination that it was.

Flash! Aaaa-aaaaah! (1)

Lemming Mark (849014) | about 3 years ago | (#37565798)

Bizarrely, it's starting to feel like the old Flash Gordon / old cartoon style "rocket ships" are actually the future! I'm not sure I'll ever be able to see them as "retro" and less futuristic-looking than the shuttle, no matter how much more advanced and practical they actually are.

Re:Flash! Aaaa-aaaaah! (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#37566802)

I'm not sure I'll ever be able to see them as "retro" and less futuristic-looking than the shuttle, no matter how much more advanced and practical they actually are.

Doesn't matter. There's a good reason we don't use fancy Italian sports cars to haul our garbage. Function trumps style.

This is one right way to do space. (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about 3 years ago | (#37565802)

Commercially, without massive amounts of money spent on lobbying, and showing you can do it by generating significant results rather than shiny piles of paper that do not fly.

I note in the speech - at around 33 minutes - one telling quote.
(Paraphrasing, as it was yesterday I watched it) "We have 1% of the lobbying power of Boeing and Lockmart. If the decision depends on lobbying power, we're screwed'.

This was about the decision to extend the sole-source monopoly for airforce rockets.
And he notes also that the rationale to do this is to keep the industry alive. Engines for those rockets are built in russia, other parts in switzerland, whereas SpaceX builds all key subsystems themselves in the US.

Re:This is one right way to do space. (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 3 years ago | (#37565862)

Yes, but... if Musk is half as successful as he thinks he will be, the USAF can go take a flying leap, plenty of others will be falling over each other to buy his services.

Re:This is one right way to do space. (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | about 3 years ago | (#37566788)

Unless the .gov regulates him out of existence.

Round Trip? (1)

A10Mechanic (1056868) | about 3 years ago | (#37565812)

500K ? Is that a return-ticket? Or one way?

Re:Round Trip? (1)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | about 3 years ago | (#37565850)

more than likely its a one way ticket for the investors to bankruptcy....

Re:Round Trip? (1)

tgd (2822) | about 3 years ago | (#37566698)

If there's one human being on this planet who can make that claim and have it mean something, its Elon Musk.

Re:Round Trip? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37565864)

Return. But the price excludes airport taxes and fuel surcharge. Price per person sharing. Subject to availability.

Re:Round Trip? (1)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | about 3 years ago | (#37565964)

also its 5 millions dollars per checked bag - no carry on

Re:Round Trip? (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 3 years ago | (#37566586)

Then better buy some clean clothes at the destination airport. Euhm... wait a minute... what destination airport?

Re:Round Trip? (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about 3 years ago | (#37567390)

Then better buy some clean clothes at the destination airport. Euhm... wait a minute... what destination airport?

It's OK, leave the clothes behind. As yet, there are no laws against nudity in space.
A good shave and a powerful laxative will cut the launch weight down a tad more.

Re:Round Trip? (1)

Confusador (1783468) | about 3 years ago | (#37566466)

It was in the context of colonization.

"we should not be afraid to die" (2)

OzPeter (195038) | about 3 years ago | (#37565838)

That was a line from the backing song. Interesting choice.
 
On a different topic. It takes X amount of rocket fuel to move a payload to orbit. It takes Y amount of rocket fuel to soft land the components back to Earth. So can anyone give ball park figures for X and Y that would make sense in the context of delivering people to the ISS? It seems to me that scaling up X to include Y in the payload is a losing game.

Re:"we should not be afraid to die" (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about 3 years ago | (#37565916)

As long as the extra cost from the extra fuel needed plus the cost of the fuel for soft landing the rocket is less than the cost of building a new rocket it's a winning game.

Re:"we should not be afraid to die" (1)

trout007 (975317) | about 3 years ago | (#37565962)

Good question. I don't have an answer but here is something to consider.

On the way up you have to fight air resistance for quite a while.On the way down it works for you. On the way up you aim the pointy end into the wind and on the way down you point the long side into the wind. Then you only need enough fuel to go from terminal velocity to stop.

Re:"we should not be afraid to die" (1)

steelyeyedmissileman (1657583) | about 3 years ago | (#37566252)

You'd also need fuel for course correction. Gas jets do great for orbital maneuvering, but won't help you stick a landing on a relatively small target like a launchpad.

Recovery Systems (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | about 3 years ago | (#37566540)

It's not just the fuel you need to soft land, but all of the other added components (heat shield, landing legs, incremental fuel tank size) to make up a "recovery system" that you need to consider. The fuel is the cheapest part of the formula. Against that incremental recovery system cost you have the savings of recovering the expensive parts of the rocket such as the engines. Since fuel tanks are relatively cheap compared to engines, on a per kg basis, it's worth spending a bit more on larger tanks to get the expensive engines back.

The actual numbers for the recovery systems depends on what stage of the vehicle, and thus what velocity it is returning from. From the video, it seems like the first stage is flying a "blastback" trajectory, meaning it returns to the launch site. Since first stages are not traveling very fast, it does not take that much fuel to do that, and you don't need much in the way of heat shielding. For example the Space Shuttle solid boosters really didn't have heat shielding. Air drag will slow you down some, so fuel used to land is not that much. I can't give any numbers without knowing the stage velocities.

The second stage and payload capsule are going much faster, and so need a substantial heat shield to come back from orbit or near orbit. You pay for carrying that heat shield with more fuel going up, but you still come out ahead if you do it right. The correct question to ask is "how much extra cost is the recovery system for each stage vs how much expensive hardware do I get back and can use again?" When working that question, you should factor in 2-5% loss rate from failures, rather than assuming 100% recovery every time.

Re:"we should not be afraid to die" (2)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 years ago | (#37566574)

Barring aerodynamic effects, it takes as much effort to lift a mass to orbit as to lower it from orbit. (You can consider a launch/landing as a special orbit that intersects the planet's surface.) However, there are certain things to take note of:
  • Booster rockets are almost never empty when they are jettisoned. They will all have extra fuel on board. (You want to make sure the boosters run at least the minimum length of time it takes to get the rocket up.)
  • Boosters will already have small ullage or kick motors to make them fall away properly, so to get them to flip the booster around is not a big deal
  • There are atmospheric effects that you can use to your advantage on the way back down, eg. aerobraking, backgliding, etc.
  • Since the various stages are expending fuel, they don't mass as much on landing as they do on launch, so it doesn't take as much effort to land as it did to take off.

Having said that, though, the extra fuel they need to load on to make the landings possible will cut into their payload delivery capacity. Of course, the payload capacity of a Falcon 9 is far more than what's needed to launch a fully loaded Dragon to the ISS, so they have the margin to play with.

Re:"we should not be afraid to die" (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 years ago | (#37566962)

Hey Slashdot! What happened to my bullets? You indented the list, but the bullets are missing.

Re:"we should not be afraid to die" (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 3 years ago | (#37566708)

No matter what, getting stuff up there is expensive. So I'm surprised they want to bring fuel for a rocket-assisted soft landing, as that's a lot of extra weight to carry, and it directly decreases the payload (and in effect pushes up the cost per kg of payload).

Personally I'd rather go for a shuttle-type rocket plane that can glide back to earth. Or, that failing, parachutes. Of course recovery is harder as you can't guide them so well but it's surely cheaper than a soft landing using rockets when you have a thick atmosphere to help you.

The same for getting up: use wings for the first 15-20 km or so, rockets from there. Launching off an airplane. Much cheaper, energy wise. Or at least use an engine that can breath air while it's still in plentiful supply, though admittedly it sounds hard to design a rocket type engine that can both work on atmospheric air and on pure (liquid) oxygen.

Re:"we should not be afraid to die" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37567332)

Except that the fuel is much cheaper than the hardware. Spend a little more on fuel, spend a lot less on hardware for the next launch. Given SpaceX's record so far, I don't think they'd mis-estimate their costs by over 100x. So unless they're outright lying, I'm happy to be hopeful.

Re:"we should not be afraid to die" (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#37566914)

So can anyone give ball park figures for X and Y that would make sense in the context of delivering people to the ISS?

As I recall, putting stuff into LEO (but perhaps a bit lower than the ISS) was around $30 per kg for kerosene/LOX and $100 per kg for liquid hydrogen and LOX. The rest of the cost is other stuff like the launch vehicle, ground staff, etc.

Yeah, right (1)

Shivetya (243324) | about 3 years ago | (#37565866)

No, I am truly in awe of this idea, if they pull off even a third of it they will roflstomp the national programs. As someone else commented, the music was an interesting choice, it really confers they are high confident of their design and eventuality of success. Frankly, stuff like this is what it will take to inspire the next generation about space because it is so fantastic looking.

Re:Yeah, right (1)

bondsbw (888959) | about 3 years ago | (#37566274)

if they pull off even a third of it they will roflstomp the national programs

Not so sure that getting a third of the way into space will do anything to those national programs.

Re:Yeah, right (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | about 3 years ago | (#37566968)

Don't be silly. NASA could build this. There are no revolutionary concepts here, they go back to a time before we even launched a single rocket into space. But the question is, is it safe and practical? Frankly, I don't see how it could be. High performance rocket engines are not inherently reusable things. And the more fuel you leave on the rocket for controlled re-entry and a powered landing, means a lot less cargo you can take into orbit. SpaceX is wasting their time pursuing this.

Re:Yeah, right (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 years ago | (#37567338)

Don't be silly. NASA could build this.

Given how many development programs they've cancelled since the shuttle, that's debatable.

High performance rocket engines are not inherently reusable things.

That's why reliability is more important than performance if you want a reusable engine.

And the more fuel you leave on the rocket for controlled re-entry and a powered landing, means a lot less cargo you can take into orbit. SpaceX is wasting their time pursuing this.

If halving the payload means you can reuse the stages ten times, then you can launch up to five times as much for the same amount of money. You seem to have fallen into the 'efficiency is everything' mindset which plagued NASA when designing the shuttle and is why it ended up costing so much.

This seems unlikely to work (3, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 3 years ago | (#37565894)

This requires separate landing systems for each stage of the rocket. This is a lot more added mass. And the worst thing to add to a rocket is more mass. Simple reusable systems like parachutes (as were used by the shuttle's solid rocket boosters) are one thing, but full-out rocket powered landing will weigh a lot more, will require a lot of additional fuel, and will add all sorts of technical requirements.

At this point, it doesn't seem that chemical rockets will become that more efficient barring major breakthroughs, like much lighter alloys, or totally new chemical reactions for the fuel. Neither of these seem very likely right now, and the second seems to be much less likely. The first also won't do that much. At this point, I have to be wondering if we should be spending a lot more resources on researching non-rocket methods of going to space. It seems like we may have a bad example of technological lockin since we've put so much work into chemical rockets.

But there are a lot of other methods out there and we should be looking at them. Nuclear rockets are an obvious example, and they can be built without having any serious radioactivity (you use a conventional fission reactor to heat steam). The basic reactor can be suprisingly light- in the 1950s the US and the USSR both experimented with nuclear powered aircraft http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft [wikipedia.org] and reactor technology has improved a lot since then. Another possibility is a space gun. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_gun [wikipedia.org] . They have been successfully used to do suborbital lobs. They are completely reusable. And since they don't require sending most of their own fuel into space they avoid the common problem of needing more fuel to lift fuel (which is why rockets get bigger fast compared to the size of payload). There are more exotic ideas also like launch loops, space elevators, and space fountains but they seem to be much further from practicality at this point. In the case of space elevators, the main technical problem is making enough high quality nanotubes in a supporting resin, and research into that is ongoing because high quality carbon nanotubes will be useful a large number of different much more mundane technologies.

Re:This seems unlikely to work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566008)

The space gun concept is interesting, but what if you could do it with a maglev subway train in a partial vacuum and a 50-mile long track? Would the G-force be under 5 for orbital velocity then? It would still be expensive, but not in the long run.

Re:This seems unlikely to work (1)

EdZ (755139) | about 3 years ago | (#37566042)

Forget nuclear aircraft, the [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NERVA?useskin=monobook]NERVA[/url] engine was pretty well tested (at least one destructive test too).

Re:This seems unlikely to work (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 years ago | (#37566620)

Forget nuclear aircraft, the [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NERVA?useskin=monobook]NERVA[/url] engine was pretty well tested (at least one destructive test too).

Forget nuclear aircraft, the NERVA [wikipedia.org] engine was pretty well tested (at least one destructive test too).

FTFY

Re:This seems unlikely to work (1)

bondsbw (888959) | about 3 years ago | (#37566386)

Space guns are impractical for launching humans to full orbital velocity due to high G-forces and atmospheric drag. However, combined with rockets, a hybrid system could do the trick and reduce onboard fuel. That is essentially the launch system used in aircraft carriers, but on a massive scale.

And I like the idea from the AC, although you still have the fundamental problem of high atmospheric drag at low altitudes. Perhaps we should add a ramp built a few miles upward... :)

Re:This seems unlikely to work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566590)

If we can split cargo and human into two separate stages with the cargo could be pickup in space, it would allow for cheaper launch cost or a longer traveling distance due to extended supplies. Of course this method is much more complex and would either require a docking station (too bad ISS can't fill this roll) or orbital pickup.

Re:This seems unlikely to work (2)

tgd (2822) | about 3 years ago | (#37566724)

If you can cut your payload in half, and in return cut your costs to launch that payload in half, you break even on your launches.

If you cut your payload in half to have recoverable rockets, but you cut the cost of the launch by 90%, you can launch five times as much to orbit for the same price.

Re:Space Guns (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | about 3 years ago | (#37566812)

Take a look at the big island of Hawaii. On the west side you have a nearly constant slope formed by lava flows. You can build a "space gun" there with a barrel d = 20 km long. Assume you want to limit it to a = 3 g's (30 m/s^2) so humans can ride. The muzzle velocity is then sqrt ( 2 * a * d ) = 1100 m/s (Mach 3.6). This is in the range of what rocket first stage boosters do. The rest of the trip uses normal rocket stages.

Now assume what you are launching masses 100 tons (100,000 kg) and has a diameter of 5 meters. The pressure in the barrel then needs to be 153 kPa (22 psi). Gun is not really the right metaphor at those pressures, it's more like overgrown pneumatic tube. With the first stage taken care of, it is reasonable to expect 5% net payload, so you get 5 tons to orbit, which is enough to carry several crew.

Re:Space Guns (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37567148)

First stage usually do Mach 11. Orbital velocity is around Mach 25. Studied millions of times, never found economical.

Re:Space Guns (1)

andycal (127447) | about 3 years ago | (#37567510)

Rail gun instead of cannon
Start way out at sea

Re:This seems unlikely to work (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37567118)

This is in conjunction with their las system (launch escape system) which is already required by agreement between them and nasa for man travel. That means instead of a new system that has to be added, it's merely an extension of one that will already exist so the extra weight won't be quite as bad.

Fuel/weight cost isn't the only aspect to consider. Inspection vs construction cost is another aspect. Also, the rocket must still be recovered due to environmental and security reasons which also adds the aspect of recovery cost. While the launch cost increases, the recovery cost and vehical cost decreases (as they only need to inspect rather then rebuild the first two stages).

Overall, sounds like a great goal if difficult to achieve since this is an extension of a system they already must develop.

No Parachutes? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566034)

Wouldn't it be wise to include parachutes at some stage of the descent, to conserve some fuel?

Re:No Parachutes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566212)

What the hell is a parachute?

Re:No Parachutes? (1)

mark_osmd (812581) | about 3 years ago | (#37566312)

I was thinking the same thing but then you lose the predictability of where the vehicle would land. They want to get back to that particular pad. If you just want to splash in the 50km by 50km box in the ocean, parachutes work well.

Slightly worrying (1, Insightful)

EdZ (755139) | about 3 years ago | (#37566080)

Something else tucked away in there:

Musk also confirmed that the currently scheduled November or December flight of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule to the space station will likely be delayed due to the failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress re-supply ship to the ISS on August 24, 2011.
“It actually will likely result in a delay to our launch to the ISS,” Musk said, “and NASA rightly wants to have the appropriate level of astronauts with the right training when we arrive, so it looks like January for the launch to space station, and that is contingent upon the Russians meeting the schedule they’ve currently stating."

It sounds reasonable, but it also sounds like someone doesn't want SpaceX to have the enormous PR gain of launching a mission to the ISS when everyone else's pants are down.

Re:Slightly worrying (2)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 years ago | (#37566840)

It sounds reasonable, but it also sounds like someone doesn't want SpaceX to have the enormous PR gain of launching a mission to the ISS when everyone else's pants are down.

For the tests, SpaceX needs two astronauts onboard the ISS who are qualified to operate the DEXTRE/Canadarm2 robotic arm. One is on board, and the other was set to launch on a Soyuz around this time. However, the accident has shifted the launch schedules, so the second astronaut won't make it up in time for SpaceX to make their qualification flight this year.

But maybe you're right. Maybe they blew up a Progress re-supply ship and endangered the lives of not only the ISS crew, but all the ground crew at the launch site (not to mention the millions of dollars that a supply schedule slip brings about), just to make SpaceX look bad.

Re:Slightly worrying (0)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#37567000)

If they did so, it may well be good return on investment. Aerospace is a remarkably cutthroat business, the Russians have few legal constraints against this sort of thing, and SpaceX looks to be a very dangerous competitor.

Re:Slightly worrying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37567070)

With the shuttle program shut down there is not enough ISS re-supply capacity to keep the station running. Even with SpaceX, the Russians would still have to operate at full capacity.

Re:Slightly worrying (1)

EdZ (755139) | about 3 years ago | (#37567452)

But maybe you're right. Maybe they blew up a Progress re-supply ship and endangered the lives of not only the ISS crew, but all the ground crew at the launch site (not to mention the millions of dollars that a supply schedule slip brings about), just to make SpaceX look bad.

I'm not sure how you possibly got that idea from my post.
My point was that at the scheduled launch time for COTS2, with Progress being unavailable, SpaceX would have the only resupply vehicle available (the next ESA ATV isn't scheduled for another 6 months). Like with the 'wheel of cheese' on COTS1, I wouldn't have put it past SpaceX to add a large quantity of unofficial resupply material as 'test mass'.

DCX - SSTO (2)

tekrat (242117) | about 3 years ago | (#37566112)

I peripherally worked on the DC-X program which was a single stage to orbit concept vehicle that would have eventually lead to a larger rocket that was considered as a shuttle replacement.

The problem with the DCX was that it had to reserve fuel for the landing. The whole idea was to take off from something no bigger than a heli-pad (no gantry, and just a few people manning launch control) fly, and land back on the heli-pad.

Worked great until you got to the landing part: Two big issues were during landing, thrust would bounce off the tarmac, and end up setting the rocket on fire, the other problem was the landing gear. On one test flight, one leg failed to deploy, the rocket landed, then tipped over and exploded... which essentially killed the project.

The DCX was conceived during Reagen's "Star Wars" project, and built and flown during the Clinton era.

Unless there's been some breakthrough for the Falcon, I believe Musk is going to run into exactly the same issues.

Personally, I believe Rutan is on a better track, following the X-15 and scaling up. That's the only method for full re-useability.

Re:DCX - SSTO (1)

Arlet (29997) | about 3 years ago | (#37566392)

Unless there's been some breakthrough for the Falcon, I believe Musk is going to run into exactly the same issues.

You mean that on one test flight, one leg will fail to deploy, the rocket will land, tip over and explode, and Musk will cancel the project ?

Re:DCX - SSTO (2)

joh (27088) | about 3 years ago | (#37566546)

The DC-X failure happened because they were on a shoestring budget, couldn't afford neither redundancy in the pneumatic lines for leg deployment nor someone checking twice (someone forgot to connect a line before launch)...

What do you think would have happened to the Space Shuttle if they had treated the hardware the same way? *Everything* operated like DC-X would fail. There is no room for amateurs in spaceflight, period.

Re:DCX - SSTO (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | about 3 years ago | (#37567358)

Don't forget DCX was also trying out composite fuel tanks, aerospike engines and new body lift profile and I'm sure lots of other things that I can't remember off the top of my head.
I get the impression it was typical modern NASA, everyone put their latest pet project/ "cool idea" onto the one thing that has funding and then it doesn't work because it's too many new things at once. The whole thing goes up in flames and we're left with the shuttle.
If they just did normal engineering and what they used to do which was 1 test project per technology. But no NASA knows better.
This is why I really have hope for Space-X they're doing one small step at a time.

Why Mars? (1)

Bardwick (696376) | about 3 years ago | (#37566286)

I know it it has some merit, but I would think establishing a perm. moon base would be "what's next". Your only three or four days out, can work out the logistics, effects, communication, etc... See if people really do turn into jellyfish after 6 months in what 1/6 gravity. The only reason I can see for colonizing mars (at this point) is "because". Let's bet on black before we bet on green zero.

Re:Why Mars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566674)

I'd aim for the moon before Mars as well, given the choice, but really, an actual space *station*, floating in near-zero orbit around a gravity anchor, is almost certainly the future of space habitation. That is where we need to thrive, if we are going to move Earth-life from its gravity-bound existence. Isn't that why Momma Nature saw fit to evolve big brains in us?

No wear rockets? (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | about 3 years ago | (#37566300)

/-- So if could reuse it would lead to 100 times reduction in cost.

If they can (launch + re-assemble + launch) * 100 at no additional cost for repairs they need to let the engineers of the world know wtf they are making this rocket out of. I don't know of any substance or design that allows for that much use. These guys probably have private shark tanks with full laser gear so I'm not going to completely discount them. Regardless, the numbers sound way fishy.

Re:No wear rockets? (1)

pavon (30274) | about 3 years ago | (#37566486)

Yeah, even ignoring wear on the rocket, these number would mean that their integration, test, fuel, launch ops and profit only account for less than 1% of the cost of a current launch. There is no way that is correct. Either someone took that number out of context or they are on crack (I'm guessing the former).

Re:No wear rockets? (2)

Thagg (9904) | about 3 years ago | (#37566596)

I was with Musk right up until he said 100x cheaper.

If he had said 2x cheaper, that would have been a revolution, 10x cheaper is substantially beyond believability, but 100x cheaper just means that he's lying, and doesn't care that you know it.

Landing the first stage makes some sense -- it's the biggest part, and it's not going all that fast at burnout, and it's not all that far from the launch pad at that point, either. It's light and has a lot of drag, and should slow down quickly.

The second stage though, is really iffy. It appears that they're going to land it at the end of the first orbit. All the weight of the stage is toward the back -- the engines, and the landing struts. But, they're showing the stage re-entering nose-first -- unless they're carrying a lot of balllast (or a *lot* of fuel) the stage will be unstable for reentry -- and stability during reentry is not something you want to be unsure about! Keeping the cryogenic fuel and oxidizer cold in flight-weight tanks during four of five minutes of reentry is going to be a massive challenge -- and if you're going to do it with ablative surfaces then it's really not all that reusable, is it?

Anyway, I admire the man and the company enormously; and wish him all the best. There are surely things I don't know about the program, but I'll enjoy watching!

Re:No wear rockets? (1)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | about 3 years ago | (#37567792)

don't forget the Millennium Falcon can fly too - I've seen it on the big screen !

you Fa1l It? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37566404)

Be 4n7 fucking

People seem to forget one thing (3, Insightful)

magamiako1 (1026318) | about 3 years ago | (#37566804)

SpaceX has yet to put a person into space, let alone to the ISS, let alone returning safely, let alone a person on the moon.

All of this talk about how "SUPER CHEAP AND AWESOME IT CAN BE WHILE BEING PRIVATIZED" means NOTHING until they show that they can do it safely and repeatedly with a human being.

Re:People seem to forget one thing (1)

joh (27088) | about 3 years ago | (#37566886)

It already IS "super cheap and awesome", really. SpaceX is the first private company to have flown a craft to orbit and return it again. And after Russia, the US and China as nations/states the fourth at all. OK, fifth if you count the subscale demonstrator ESA flew decades ago. And all of this on a budget that wouldn't be enough for NASA or ESA to even build a launchpad, not to speak of a launcher and a capsule (and two launchpads as SpaceX built).

I'm not saying that SpaceX is able to do miracles, but it already did some things that are fucking awesome and cheap, yes.

Re:People seem to forget one thing (1)

magamiako1 (1026318) | about 3 years ago | (#37566972)

Putting a satellite into space is cheaper than putting a human into space. I mean, if you want to go there, nearly anyone could throw a "capsule" up into orbit provided they have enough money--but is that capsule capable of supporting a human being?

And you can't even compare a capsule to the shuttle--a freaking giant flying space-bound airplane that lets you *land it* and return safely.

And in other news, .. (1)

capo_dei_capi (1794030) | about 3 years ago | (#37566854)

Elon Musk has a new startup that sells an experimental weightless fuel.

Powered Landings in Populated Areas (1)

cadeon (977561) | about 3 years ago | (#37566896)

I don't know about you, but I live fairly near the cape- and the last thing I want is half a rocket returning to Florida with... well, anything... not working.

It's rather easy to miss your mark when re-entering. It's even easier to miss your mark when you can't maneuver freely after heating. Things get worse yet still if the booster has a guidance failure or gimpy motor.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of a reusable rocket and I'm excited they are willing to try something so very, very ambitious. But I am certainly beginning to feel a bit of the "Not in my back yard" syndrome.

LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37567032)

LOL

Yeah, right, let me know when this system is working as depicted.

For all the pie-in-the-sky science fiction shown in that CGI they should have at least made all three parts stack themselves on the launch platform ready to be refuelled and relaunched immediately.

Not in our lifetimes.

Geez, what a lot of negative comments (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37567598)

100x reduction is cost to orbit?!? $500k tickets to MARS?!? Plus a (admittedly short) trackrecord of low-cost, successful engineering and reasonably successful launch history thrown in. And no obvious "throw money at us to play around with tech demonstrations" angle.

I want to know they're going to do it as much as the next geek, but they're out there trying to make it work. And have the business sense to not be 100% loony in those cost estimates, even if they're off by an order of magnitude. It basically costs me nothing to give them a resounding

  "Hell, yes! Show me what you can do, SpaceX!"
(and please tell me more about how you plan to do it)

Reusable Falcons (4, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about 3 years ago | (#37567962)

I was there for the talk, and had a little chat with Mr. Musk beforehand. The first thing to note is that he said that the video (which should go on their web page soon) is incomplete and may be vague about certain things, for proprietary reasons. What follows is my reverse engineering.

This is what the Grasshopper [slashdot.org] described previously in Slashdot is all about. Mr. Musk didn't use the word Grasshopper at all, so it must have been some sort of code word, but the tests in Texas will clearly be for Falcon reuse engineering.

Now, it makes no sense to return the first stage to the landing pad (as he said). The first stage is on a ballistic trajectory which (for a launch from Cape Canaveral) would have it impact somewhere far out at sea. It makes no sense at all to have the first stage reverse course and fly back to the Cape, as that would take as much delta-V as the original launch. It would make a lot more sense to land that stage in Ascension Island, Africa or Nova Scotia (depending on the inclination of the orbit). The first stage could then brought back by ship or plane.

The second stage actually goes into orbit, and the plan is to deorbit it one rev later. The trouble with that is the Earth rotates and the Earth will have rotated by ~ 20 degrees of longitude. That (again for a launch from the Cape) puts it over Texas, and it could conveniently land at McGregor, Texas, where SpaceX is doing their Grasshopper tests. So, although they haven't said so, I bet that McGregor will be the second stage landing area, and probably the Dragon landing area as well.

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