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Intelsat Signs Launch Contract With SpaceX

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the just-a-few-more-decades-now dept.

NASA 167

New submitter jamstar7 writes "Following the success of the Falcon9/Dragon resupply test to the ISS comes the following announcement: 'Intelsat, the world's leading provider of satellite services, and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the world's fastest growing space launch company, announced the first commercial contract for the Falcon Heavy rocket. "SpaceX is very proud to have the confidence of Intelsat, a leader in the satellite communication services industry," said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer. "The Falcon Heavy has more than twice the power of the next largest rocket in the world. With this new vehicle, SpaceX launch systems now cover the entire spectrum of the launch needs for commercial, civil and national security customers."' As of yet, the Falcon Heavy hasn't flown, but all the parts have been tested. Essentially an upgunned Falcon 9 with additional boosters, the Heavy has lift capability second only to the Saturn 5. On top of the four Falcon Heavy launches planned for the U.S. Air Force this year, the Intelsat contract represents the true dawn of the commercial space age."

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Good (5, Informative)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153313)

I am quite happy with the commercialization of space flight. I've always thought that the national space agencies were on the wrong path for decades. They always seem to aim for increased security and safety. I think spaceflight has gone over the top: the costs of increased safety are just not worth it. Commercial enterprises are excellent at making a proper risk assessment: certain risks are simply acceptable. This attitude is likely to reduce costs, which is what we need.

Obviously, NASA or ESA can still ask SpaceX to launch a couple of thousand tons of material into orbit, to assemble a Mars rocket and lander in orbit. :-)

When launching from Earth becomes easy, the next step can be considered.

Re:Good (1, Insightful)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153405)

I agree about the safety point. Exploration isn't about safety. When Columbus set out to find a trade route to India he knew some motherfuckers would die on the way over. But he went anyway because he knew there would be some major dubloons in it for him if he made it. Of course it helped that he was backed by a gold-hungry monarchy and not a democracy that would rather vote for free cheese and tax breaks. But I digress.

Re:Good (2)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153479)

I agree about the safety point. Exploration isn't about safety. When Columbus set out to find a trade route to India he knew some motherfuckers would die on the way over. But he went anyway because he knew there would be some major dubloons in it for him if he made it. Of course it helped that he was backed by a gold-hungry monarchy and not a democracy that would rather vote for free cheese and tax breaks. But I digress.

If governments thought that there was money to be made in space (mining, harvesting, conquering and pillaging, etc) they'd be putting anyone they could into vehicles that were 'good enough' and sending them out to bring back the bounty. In Columbus' day (and for hundred of years after) people's lives weren't worth much. People were even were at risk of being attacked by waring armies or marauders or even their own king's men on a daily basis. Sadly this remains true in some parts of the world.

Re:Good (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154153)

In Columbus' day (and for hundred of years after) people's lives weren't worth much.

And today, each human resource has an estimated lifetime value of about $9.1 million. They still belong to the state, but at least they have figured out their value now.

Re:Good (2)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153845)

No, you don't digress at all. You describe a perfect example of the results of a risk assessment, and also why the results of modern governmental risk assessments are different. An investment is all about risks.

The trip Columbus took was ultimately to find a cheaper way to India. The fact that he found a new world was merely a coincidence, and actually meant a failure of the original mission. The investors that financed Columbus' trip were in it to make more money.

In the old days, government attitudes had swung perhaps to the other side: they completely ignored risks and were quite reckless at times. Good for exploration, bad for the health of people.

It might be interesting to add that a large portion of the explorations was (co-)funded by companies. The East India Company (both the Dutch and the English one) were companies, and were not owned by the crown or government.

Re:Good (1)

Like2Byte (542992) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154509)

The trip Columbus took was ultimately to find a cheaper way to India. The fact that he found a new world was merely a coincidence, and actually meant a failure of the original mission.

Really? You're saying Columbus failed? Knowing what we know today about the shape of the world - which peoples of his time most certainly did not - can you really sit there and say he failed? He never had a chance! When someone is set up to fail, whether the participants know it or not, can you call it a failure? IMHO, I think not. Tragedy, maybe, but not failure - especially when so much more was learned about the world and set about events that altered the lives of damn near half the planet.

The investors that financed Columbus' trip were in it to make more money.

In the old days, government attitudes had swung perhaps to the other side: they completely ignored risks and were quite reckless at times. Good for exploration, bad for the health of people.

It might be interesting to add that a large portion of the explorations was (co-)funded by companies. The East India Company (both the Dutch and the English one) were companies, and were not owned by the crown or government.

It's also interesting that Spain offered Columbus 10% of any trade proceeds he gained from his trip. He was never paid.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154655)

Really? You're saying Columbus failed?

Reading Comprehension... get some.

Knowing what we know today about the shape of the world - which peoples of his time most certainly did not - can you really sit there and say he failed?

So, what you're trying to say, is that he really thought it was not round, and yet decided to sail WEST to get to India?
Look, it was well known that the planet was round long before Columbus was even born. It was thought to be smaller in diameter, which is why they thought the Americas were actually India at first.

Re:Good (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154505)

I agree about the safety point. Exploration isn't about safety.

SpaceX isn't about exploration, it's a commercial enterprise. NASA and the ESA are the explorers. As such, I'm sure SpaxeX is going to make their rockets as safe as possible, to aviod lawsuits if nothing else.

Columbus set out to find a trade route to India he knew some motherfuckers would die on the way over. But he went anyway because he knew there would be some major dubloons in it for him if he made it.

It's sad that some members of society haven't evolved at all in five hundred years. In columbus' day you could be executed for poaching. They burned people at the stake, used the rack and other methods of torture for punishing criminals, and you would go back to those "good old days"? I'm sure there are still places on Earth still so primitive that you would fit right in. Sierra Leone, maybe.

Risking lives unnecessarily is both barbaric and juvenile.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154671)

SpaceX's clearly stated goal is pretty much exploration: "To make life multi-planetary". I don't think too many people believe Musk when he says this. But I think he is serious, and his goal is to make enough money in commercial ventures to reach this goal -- or to somehow commercialize Mars colonization.

Boy, this IS starting to sound a lot like Columbus.

Re:Good (4, Interesting)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153429)

Putting on my strategic management hat I was a little worried when I first heard this news. I should explain:
In most engineering you have a core group of engineers. Put too many on one project and progress gets slower not faster. Likewise there are only so many good engineers around, adding poor engineers to a group slows the group down disproportionally.
So the way to be successful is often to have the smallest team you can get away with working on one goal. Even having auxiliary teams that take the technology you develop and apply it to new applications slows the core team down because they need to provide support to the auxiliary teams. No amount of money or clever management or good people can really change this.
So I was really worried about this particular step of the commercialisation of space because if they get distracted into competing with the entrenched players then they could lose the goal of getting cheap manned presence in space. If they are busy servicing commercial customers will this take their eye off the goal of manned space flight and orbital facilities?
But then I guess that this commercial offering will keep them honest, accountable and above all visible to their costs so that others have to keep up. That and developing heavy lift is part of the end goal.
That said I'm a little concerned that on Earth heavy lift is a relatively small part of the transport market. There are very few trucks on the road that carry more than 40 Ton, so why do we need so much spacecraft development focussed on >40Ton.
I guess the answer to this is that most of the stuff on earth that is >40 Ton of the road is construction equipment and we certaily need a lot fo that in space...

Re:Good (5, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153485)

So I was really worried about this particular step of the commercialisation of space because if they get distracted into competing with the entrenched players then they could lose the goal of getting cheap manned presence in space. If they are busy servicing commercial customers will this take their eye off the goal of manned space flight and orbital facilities?

That's not their goal. So you don't have worry about them losing it. And we should be expecting more from these "entrenched players". Some competition will help there. Finally, servicing commercial customers sounds to me a more worthy goal and not at all one incompatible with the others. After all, humans and habitats are payloads that a commercial customer might want launched.

There are very few trucks on the road that carry more than 40 Ton, so why do we need so much spacecraft development focussed on >40Ton.

OTOH, there are very few trains or cargo ships that don't carry at least hundreds of tons of payload. And supertankers can go to hundreds of thousands of tons of payload.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153651)

The 40 ton limit is a legal one. Modern trucks can easily pull five times that amount and do in Australia - home of the dreaded truck train. Even in the US there are oversized loads. There are some things that the smallest piece is well in excess of 40 tons.

Re:Good (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154167)

The 40 ton limit is a legal one.

The main issue is that the damage to the road varies proportional to the fourth power of the weight of the vehicle; limiting the weight means you don't need to mend the road nearly so often.

Re:Good (2)

Prof.Phreak (584152) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153871)

OTOH, there are very few trains or cargo ships that don't carry at least hundreds of tons of payload. And supertankers can go to hundreds of thousands of tons of payload.

You've cracked it... we need a rocket train!

Re:Good (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154467)

Because it's much less risky to get it all up there in one piece than to do space assembly. For now, at least. Even simple "assembly" tasks such as orbital rendezvous and docking require utmost care. Doing actual assembly as in humans or robots bolting things together is way harder.

Re:Good (2, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153441)

I've always thought that the national space agencies were on the wrong path for decades. They always seem to aim for increased security and safety. I think spaceflight has gone over the top: the costs of increased safety are just not worth it. Commercial enterprises are excellent at making a proper risk assessment: certain risks are simply acceptable. This attitude is likely to reduce costs, which is what we need.

If you're going to send people into space then reducing risks is your primary objective. Astronauts spend years in training and are a very specialized group. If you play it lose with their lives you're not going to have many 'volunteers', and the time between missions will always be increasing.

Since the shuttle was the primary means for getting people into space and delivering goods to the space station safety had to be paramount. Doing it with unmanned rockets reduces all the costs associated to the delivery. If one (or more) SpaceX rockets explodes on its way to the space station the costs of security and safety will not seem excessive.

Re:Good (5, Interesting)

slippyblade (962288) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153535)

If you play it lose with their lives you're not going to have many 'volunteers', and the time between missions will always be increasing

I'd have to go out on a limb here and say... no. Even if their was a 25% failure rate (which is obscene and not within the realm of feasibility) I guarantee that you'd have volunteers lined up to man the missions. Would they be as "highly qualified" as a NASA astronaut or Russian cosmonaut? No. But do they really need to be? The commercialization of space will do the same thing that it has done to every other sector and lower the skill requirements to accomplish tasks. Hell - if things go right they'll be lining colonists up at the gate in the next few decades - and I'll be in line even if I only had a 75% chance of surviving.

Re:Good (2)

El Torico (732160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153817)

Even if their was a 25% failure rate (which is obscene and not within the realm of feasibility) I guarantee that you'd have volunteers lined up to man the missions.

Would you be willing to take a commercial air flight if the failure rate was 25%? 15%? 5%? How many pilots would fly with those failure rates? How many companies would send expensive cargoes with those failure rates?

Hell - if things go right they'll be lining colonists up at the gate in the next few decades - and I'll be in line even if I only had a 75% chance of surviving.

Yes, they'll have a lot of volunteers, but how many of those volunteers will have the necessary physical capabilities and specialized skills? Those that do will be too valuable to risk unnecessarily. Besides, where can we put a colony? There simply isn't anyplace that compelling.

Re:Good (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153965)

es, they'll have a lot of volunteers, but how many of those volunteers will have the necessary physical capabilities and specialized skills?

Then let the market set the rate. If I can get a job at SpaceX Asteroid mining Co that has a 95% survival rate but pays about twice as much as a similar mining job on Earth, or one that has a 50% survival rate at Joe Bloggs Space mining co but pays 20x the ammount because of the money they saved on the rocket by cutting corners then let Joe Bloggs see if he can get anyone to work for him. If not he needs to increase his pay or improve his rocket.
i agree when the Government is putting people in orbit they should be on the safe side, but as long as the risks are made clear up front why not let people offer risky chances as long as it's made clear they're risky?

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154299)

Clearly you have neglected your economics 101. Joe Bloggs Space Mining Co. would have absolutely no reason to volunteer any information that would damage its profit motive. It would leverage its information asymmetry to pay as little as possible. Lies make a lot more money. More likely they would pay a prevailing wage (or as close to it as they had to fill their ranks) and litigate/settle any wrongful death suits. People are cheap to pay for if they die, much more expensive if they are only maimed. One of the benefits of space ventures is that the human capital would die instead of simply being injured. Luckily with space travel the jurisdiction for any such suit would be very difficult to establish as well.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154377)

Ahhh...the KBR truck driver in Iraq approach. It's definitely a valid way of getting employees, but the problem is with the "made clear up front" part. A lot of drivers were unpleasantly surprised (to put it mildly) when they found out the trucks were completely unarmored, didn't have bulletproof glass, and the military escorts would drive off during an attack (yes that did happen, several times).

Re:Good (2)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154293)

Don't be silly, commercial airflight and space flight have nothing in common.

Would I board a jet knowing that there was a 25% chance of death? fuck no.

Would I board a manned mission that was worthwhile (ie. moon base, mars base) knowing there was a 25% change of death? fuck yes, you'd have to have the odds upwards of 75% before I'd even bat an eye. The potential benefit to humanity as a whole is well worth the sacrifice.

FYI I'm 6"4, in excellent physical shape with no medical conditions that would preclude space flight and I'm lots smart enough to learn any skills needed as long as they're not flat out acrobatics or some such.

Re:Good (1)

drerwk (695572) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154455)

Would you be willing to take a commercial air flight if the failure rate was 25%? 15%? 5%? How many pilots would fly with those failure rates? How many companies would send expensive cargoes with those failure rates?

Would I pay to take a 1/20 risk of death for no benefit other than getting from one place to another? No. Would I take a 1/20 risk for a sufficient reward, sure.

Read about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klondike_Gold_Rush [wikipedia.org]
About 100,000 people went, 30,000 to 40,000 arrived, 15,000 to 20,000 became prospectors, and no more than 4,000 became rich. The article estimates that it cost about $1,000 to attempt to reach the Klondike, which for 100,000 people represents more money than was extracted in gold in the years of the rush.

Re:Good (1)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154747)

Would you be willing to take a commercial air flight if the failure rate was 25%? 15%? 5%?

Fortunately, our ancestors were a bit braver than you, or I'd be typing this from a tree or a cave in Africa.

Put it in perspective. (5, Interesting)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153729)

The death rate of climbing Mt Everest is 1.3%. And that is just climbing a mountain. How much cooler is going into space? 10X?

Now at this point in my life where my family is depending on me 1.3% is too high. But when kids are older and I can be more selfish 5% doesn't sound that bad. Like everything else it's a personal decision.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_death_rate_on_mt._Everest [answers.com]

Re:Put it in perspective. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154145)

Don't forget, the death rate of climbing K2 is much higher, and people still climb that mountain too. 302 have reached K2's summit, at least 80 have died trying to.

K2 wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]

Re:Put it in perspective. (1)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154335)

Don't forget those of us who don't have, and don't plan to have kids.

Re:Put it in perspective. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154387)

How much cooler is going into space? 10X?

Depends on if you're facing the Sun or are generating any heat yourself. It can be 10x+ hotter in space.

That's the thing about a vacuum, it's the perfect insulator.

Re:Good (1)

strack (1051390) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153813)

if one or more spacex rockets explodes on its way to the space station, the launch escape system will kick in and save the crews life. wheres the space shuttles launch escape system? nowhere! you know why? its because the space shuttle sucks. and now its dead. and now spacex will achieve what the shuttle could for a fraction of the cost. and more safely. or better yet, it will achieve much more than the shuttle could ever do, for the same budget. and do things that should have been started 30 years ago.

Re:Good (1, Informative)

amstrad (60839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154425)

You're an idiot.

First, launch escape systems only work if activated prior to an explosion. It won't save the lives of astronauts after the fact, the abort has to be done prior to the catastrophic event.

Second, of course the the Space Shuttle had Launch abort system. It had "Abort to Landing Site", "Transoceanic Abort Landing", "Abort Once Around", and "Abort to Orbit". Only Abort to Orbit was used in the program (STS-51-F):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_abort_modes [wikipedia.org]

Additionally, there was equipment and flight software for crew inflight bailout:

http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/reference/shutref/escape/inflight.html [nasa.gov]

This was not available during powered flight.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153509)

Commercial space markets are unforgiving of risk, because there is a reasonable amount of competition in the international launch market. The chance of losing your incredibly expensive payload is a factor in the price that customers are not going to ignore. Established companies like Arianespace can point to a proven launch success record, and so any newcomer like SpaceX is going to have to do a lot to demonstrate that their vehicles are equally reliable. SpaceX are still at a point where a few failed launches and lost payloads could kill the company.

Re:Good (2)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154019)

The chance of losing your incredibly expensive payload is a factor in the price that customers are not going to ignore

That's why a major part of the cost of launching a satellite is insuring it. If the money you save by a cheaper rocket is less than the cost of the larger insurance premium you have won.
And if rockets were cheaper you would be less risk averse when it came to satellite design and be willing to design a much cheaper satellite.
So It's not a simple set of equations but put it this way: we don't design terrestrial domestic satellite dishes to be nine nines reliable because we can cheaply replace with a new one. In orbit satellites however have to be massively overengineered mostly because of the cost of sticking a new one up there. If launch were cheaper you could have both increased in orbit and on the ground redundancy.

Re:Good (5, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153553)

From what I've heard, there's no trade off between reliability and cost. The cheaper vehicles will probably be the more reliable ones as well, due to learning effects from increased launch frequency.

What I think was going on with NASA was overengineering parts for a ride with over a 1% loss rate. One can spend a lot of money making a nearly perfect part or process more nearly perfect. But if the overall system is unreliable and remains unchanged despite the improvement, then that expenditure is effectively wasted.

Re:Good (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154667)

From what I've heard, there's no trade off between reliability and cost. The cheaper vehicles will probably be the more reliable ones as well, due to learning effects from increased launch frequency.

That's the theory. (Along with it's handmaiden, "simpler is safer than more complex".)
 
To date however, there's no evidence that either is true. The Russian Soyuz family of launchers (and the R7 family they're derived from) are cheap, relatively simple, and the oldest and most flown design in the world - but their reliability is hardly distinguishable from that of the Space Shuttle or any other booster.

Re:Good (4, Insightful)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153631)

"Commercial enterprises are excellent at making a proper risk assessment" - like assessing the risk of a loan or mortgage defaulting, for example?

SpaceX is doing well, but lets please drop this ideological bullshit about markets being some magic diving mechanism. They aren't - they are a clumsy metaphor for the random noise generated by transactions. Not magic.

Re:Good (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153855)

Random noise? That's the sound of the "Great River" of the Continuum. Your lobes are probably too underdeveloped to hear it.

Re:Good (2)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154021)

like assessing the risk of a loan or mortgage defaulting, for example?

- of-course.

The risk of defaulting on mortgages and other types of loans is absolutely negligible if there is a government guarantee behind the loan and also if the mortgage is given with free money printed by the Fed.

Re:Good (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154063)

Mr. Toohey would be proud.

Re:Good (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154165)

I don't see any mention of markets or magic in his post. And the other two parties to the loan and mortgage debacle, private citizens and the government, didn't do much better (what, they didn't know anything?). Given that the government and citizens got raped in the bailout while banks have made huge profits would seem to indicate they did a fantastic job of assessing their risks.

Re:Good (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154285)

"Commercial enterprises are excellent at making a proper risk assessment" - like assessing the risk of a loan or mortgage defaulting, for example?

They got the bonuses and someone bailed them out. Sounds to me like they got the right outcome whether or not the risk assessment was "proper".

SpaceX is doing well, but lets please drop this ideological bullshit about markets being some magic diving mechanism. They aren't - they are a clumsy metaphor for the random noise generated by transactions. Not magic.

Clumsy ideological bullshit that works, mind you. If you want to regulate it, or replace it with a state enterprise, you should, as in the mortgage example you gave, be mindful of unintended consequences. What you consider "proper risk assessment" may not be what you are rewarding those parties for.

Re:Good (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153683)

This is almost funny. Private companies have provided excellent examples of how they absolutely suck at risk management on multiple occasions, and yet you still think it's the government that's bad at it. Look at the whole financial crisis mess, the latest losses at JP Morgan (directly risk management based), or in fact the shuttle Challenger, which was allowed to launch on the advice (in fact, the insistence) of the private company that built the failed booster which destroyed it. In that last instance, NASA was doing EXACTLY what you advocate--pretty much abandoning their own risk management in favor of a private firm with somewhat predictable resuilts.

Truthfully, everybody sucks at risk management. IT people especially know this. How many times do we get ignored when trying to point out what might go wrong with a given project. It's not that risk management is an unknown discipline. It's not that one couldn't actually take a whack at it and maybe get some parts right. It's just that, even when taking risks, most of the time disasters don't happen and management, never the biggest brains to begin with, tend to take that as reinforcement of the notion that everything is just fine. (see the Challenger disaster again, because that was NASA's flaw in that particular debacle)

The problem isn't government agencies per se, but what people expect of them, which is absolute perfection at rock bottom prices. Government work has a high probability of things going very bad for you when something unfortunate happens, and a very low probability of rewards for people who do a superior job. That's because the public tends to look on rewarding good performers as a waste of money, but they always look for somebody to blame when something goes wrong.

So with NASA, when any little thing goes wrong, you get the overwhelming mandate to DO SOMETHING whenever anything bad occurs, and a very, very defensive attitude twoards designing and training. Training is easy--since Congress constantly underfunds the agency, and since the idiot public constantly and grossly overestimates what percentage of the federal budget goes to NASA, you have lots of time for training because you have no money for actual missions.

If you think that NASA does't know proper risk management, think again. If you think they don't know how to reduce costs, think two or three times again. It's just that they have to put up with an uneducated public on the one hand, and Congresscritters trying to spread their work out across the entire country and to favored contractors and such, essentially using them as a corporate giveaway. Then we blame NASA for the results, thus proving the "uneducated public" part of this equation.

Just wait until something really does go wrong with a flight crew on one of these private missions. I'll bet you anything that you don't get the corporate-media-fueled outcry that NASA has had to put up with, which once again will reinforce the wrong lesson.

One more thing: private space companies get their risk management and a lot of their basic engineering for free, because NASA did it for them. That's been the idea all along. SpaceX at least has some class about it. I wish everyone else did too.

Re:Good (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154133)

Individual companies suck as risk management. I'd have to agree on this one. Here is the problem for government vs. private enterprise though:

An organization, any organization (government, private enterprise, even a non-profit group) can have some brilliant leadership which does some amazing things, go to unique places, or achieve some remarkable accomplishments. Occasionally you will even find some organizations which can even produce a series of amazing results one after another.

The problem with a government agency is when that organization no longer is being productive, and has a group of people who don't know what they are doing or lacks the leadership for them to continue beyond their current status quo. With a government agency, about the only thing which will get rid of that organization is something so dramatic that often people will die, such as armed revolution, civil insurrection, or having the agency do something so horrible that it simply can't be tolerated and it is finally shut down. Generally speaking, government agencies simply don't get shut down. They have a constituency in place that protects them, and attempting to kill any organization of government bureaucrats is often an exercise in futility. We only have one government, so either it works or we all fail as a society.

On the other hand with private organizations, they simply must be responsive to the market or they perish. A for-profit company must continue to earn money or they go bankrupt. If they keep screwing up, if they are so paranoid about risk that they refuse to take any sort of risk, they simply start to lose markets. That is precisely what SpaceX is doing, where they are a new start-up which is willing to take risks and do some things which are different from their competitors who were so risk averse that they refused to do some of the things that SpaceX has been doing.

For non-profit organizations, their options are even more dramatic. If they start to seriously screw up, their donation stream comes to an end and the organization eventually is disbanded. Non-profit groups also go bankrupt through mismanagement, corruption, and failing to innovate. The fact that the focus of the organization may be for profit or for some other motivating factor is irrelevant.

The one distinction about non-profit groups though is where their source of funding comes from. If their donations are primarily from private donors and individuals, they will be much more responsive to the needs of those individuals. On the other hand if they get most of their money from a government, they are essentially a government agency in all but name only and suffer from the same problems of all government agencies: eternal life and ossification of ideas. Sometimes a legislative body will cut funding to these groups, but usually not. Just think about how often Head Start agencies become a poster child of insensitive legislators (members of congress, state legislators, and even city council members) when their funding is cut. Merely suggesting that you will cut a supposedly popular program is enough to get you defeated.

BTW, this is also what has been happening with spaceflight in America too. Instead of "non-profit" groups, you have a bunch of companies who for decades have been riding almost exclusively on government funding to the point that they might as well be government agencies in their own right. Many of these companies have offices right next door to the congressional office buildings where in some cases they simply put their staff members directly into the staff of members of congress for the express purpose of making sure their company is strongly considered when the next round of funding happens. Essentially there is no way for these companies to go bankrupt or even for other companies to enter the market as it all becomes government services.

In all of this, there are several people who have leveled criticism at SpaceX as a company for even trying to pursue government contracts such as the NASA COTS program and the CCDev program. Their legitimate fear is that SpaceX will get corrupted with government money and turn into one of these bloated companies who is so concerned about preserving their cash flow from the government that they won't really be working with private individuals wanting to go into space. For me, I think the jury is still out on this issue as SpaceX still has as a majority of its customers private individuals and private groups wanting space launch services such as Intelsat... the reason for this discussion in the first place. If the government contracts are a sideline and not their main bread and butter, SpaceX might be able to simply refuse to perform certain actions demanded by bureaucrats which end up hurting the rest of their customer base.

Re:Good (2)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153751)

I am a true believer in free markets. But you are making a mistake assuming a particular commercial enterprise is going to be successful at making a risk assessment. The reason a free market is superior is because it uses the power of natural selection. Those individual companies that have been successful to their customers and owners to date will survive. Those that fail for whatever reason will die. The thing with risk assessment is there is no test you can do ahead of time to prove something will be successful. Reality is the final judge and it's a bitch.

this! Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153959)

yes! if they were allowed to die. The business cycle has been overridden by gvmt lately...

pure capitalism is painful and ugly and has all sorts of undesirable side effects -- but it wins!

Re:Good (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153835)

That is why you need to have a proper balance between commercial enterprise and government.

Governments are structured to make sure nothing goes wrong, any time something goes wrong in the government there is hell to pay.
Commercial Enterprise are structured to take risks, when something goes right they are rewarded.

I disagree with the statement that "Commercial enterprises are excellent at making proper risk assessments". Commercial Enterprise left to its own devices will have the product safe enough so they would make a profit off their flights. But if there was a big problem or mistake they will write it off take the financial hit and may only do the bare minimum to prevent it from happening again.

But as you stated the Government was too concerned about safety and that prevented them from innovating. Thus we were stuck for 3 decades of the same space fleet. As the cold war cooled down, the US government stopped being innovative and went back to being a safety net, that it normally would prefer to be. So without commercial enterprise NASA would just slowly die off, until an other country became really strong in space travel.

I see the new role in NASA is moving away from making craft and launching men into space and more towards "Space Police" who will regulate the commercial enterprise to make sure they are doing things safe enough and being a good citizen in space.

Re:Good (1)

hemo_jr (1122113) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154025)

Since the Space Shuttle was first implemented, several successor systems were proposed that were considered significantly safer (notably the X-30 and x-33 VentureStar). But all were scrapped. One reason that was given, new technology just on the horizon would be even safer. The end result was that the U.S. government did not implement any of these inherently safer projects, but rather kept patching the inherently less safe shuttle program.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154093)

Erm, what do you think Boeing, Lockheed, Martin Marietta are? It's been commercial for decades. This is just another company among many, except this one is headed by a publicity hound megalomaniac.

Re:Good (3, Informative)

El Torico (732160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154473)

Isn't that the best kind of maniac? Seriously, it takes someone of Herculean audacity to break into an entrenched market. SpaceX doesn't have hundreds of retired, formerly high-ranking military officers and former civilian employees of NASA to provide contacts, business intelligence, and influence. They may have lobbyists and "influence" over politicians, but definitely not to the same degree as the names you mentioned.

Re:Good (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154441)

I think that you're entirely wrong in your assumption that SpaceX is somehow cutting corners safety-wise. They are not. Commercial bureaucracies, like those of the members of the Space Launch Alliance, are simply very inefficient at what they do. SpaceX does no more and no less than they'd do, safety wise, but is much better at it. They use engineers with same training, employ the same standardized part qualification and testing processes, etc.

I'd posit that bureaucratic long-drawn processes have to decrease safety due to inherent limitations of the human executors of the process. Over time, people forget. It's very hard to keep the details of the project in your head if meaningful progress is repeatedly stalled by paper pushing.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154693)

Commercial enterprises are excellent at making a profit-minded risk assessment

FTFY

Not saying seeking profits is bad, but it's just one way to assessing risk.

A doctor, for example, would (hopefully) assess risk with their patient's health in mind over profits.

Re:Good (1)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154701)

They always seem to aim for increased security and safety

The first time SpaceX kills a crew of astronauts, you'll be amazed at how NASA-style "security uber Alles" paralysis comes flooding back. There will be another lost decade of wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth, just as if another Shuttle had been lost.

Humans are ultimately pussies. No other way to spin it.

first (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153315)

first YES

Why does this story have the NASA logo (0)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153317)

Why does this story have the NASA logo
Maybe the Govt will sell NASA to Spacex

Re:Why does this story have the NASA logo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153407)

Sell? Who the hell would buy an organisation that is losing $17.8 Billion per year? They'd have better luck giving Elon Musk the General Motors clusterfuck we bought.

Re:Why does this story have the NASA logo (2, Insightful)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153743)

SpaceX has loads of NASA people and technology, and couldn't exist except as a NASA contractor backed by NASA.

Re:Why does this story have the NASA logo (4, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154271)

SpaceX has loads of NASA people and technology, and couldn't exist except as a NASA contractor backed by NASA.

SpaceX has a great many former NASA employees and has studied some of the data that NASA contractors have produced at taxpayer expense (which data is available to anybody who wants it, including China, Russia, India, and anybody else in the world). I suppose you could argue that SpaceX is using Velcro, Tang, and Space Pens.... please don't get me started on "NASA technology" as I can go off on what kind of joke that really is.

It should also be noted that the Falcon 9 and the Dragon capsule that SpaceX has developed was started independently without a government contract and SpaceX is not dependent upon government funds to get either of those products produced by SpaceX completed. That NASA was handing out money under various programs and SpaceX decided to bring a bucket to catch that money only shows SpaceX has some people who are intelligent and perhaps are a bunch of money grubbers. They may even take that as a compliment, and is a good thing if you want to remain a for-profit company.

SpaceX can survive without NASA, but could NASA survive without SpaceX?

Re:Why does this story have the NASA logo (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154213)

Why does this story have the NASA logo?
Maybe the Govt will sell NASA to Spacex

I think this is a very valid question and deserves to be asked.

I would have to say the proper answer is the presumption that NASA is "America's space program", therefore anything having to do with spaceflight obviously must have something to do with NASA.

The real truth here is that neither Intelsat, nor SpaceX in this particular contract have anything at all to do with NASA, any more than FedEx signing a contract with Wal-Mart for parcel shipments between stores would involve NASA either... or NASA would have the same degree of involvement (I am being completely serious here too!) I suppose NASA research went into the airplane designs that FedEx is using, so it might be somewhat relevant.

If there is any federal government agency that has a legitimate role in this contract at all, it would be the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Spaceflight. That is the regulatory agency involved and will need to issue launch licenses for this contract to function. The question should then be asked: Does Slashdot have an FAA-AST logo to replace the NASA meatball?

"All tested" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153329)

Except this mission will go higher and faster than any before... Still sounds quite risky to me...

(SpaceX has never sent anything beyond Low Earth Orbit before - and to get to geostationary orbit you need a load more fuel...)

Re:"All tested" (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153505)

and to get to geostationary orbit you need a load more fuel...

We've never added fuel to a rocket before! This is really going to increase the risk!

There's always some risk with doing new things. But SpaceX has demonstrated that they can do new things successfully.

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compete with govt? why, those (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153379)

filthy one percenters!

This is the exciting bit. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153385)

Launching a two stage rocket to orbit is not exciting. Being able to build a tin can with a propulsion module is not exciting. I congratulate SpaceX for having done it, but it's not a major step forward in space technology.

Heavy lift vehicles are a big deal though. They change the nature of the game when you have them available. They really are exciting. Finding a way to commercially support their existence is the real exciting bit.

In a sense, it is something like the idea behind OTRAG - build big rockets out of smaller ones, so that you can commercially support huge lift capacity based on a market for smaller more regular launches.

Re:This is the exciting bit. (3, Interesting)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153451)

Launching a two stage rocket to orbit is not exciting. Being able to build a tin can with a propulsion module is not exciting. I congratulate SpaceX for having done it, but it's not a major step forward in space technology.

It's pretty damn exciting if you are the company doing it. Just because most people take these things for granted doesn't mean we should dismiss the level of SpaceX's accomplishment. Hell, launching a new car company is pretty drab to most, but it is still a technological feat and is beyond the ability of most people who have ever lived (or ever will).

Re:This is the exciting bit. (4, Insightful)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153551)

"not a major step forward in space technology"

This is both true, and completely false.

It's of course true, because little about SpaceX's designs are explicitly 'high tech'.
They do not use metallic thermal protection, linear aerospikes, conformal tanks, ...

However - it's false because it assumes those things are useful at a given stage in technology.

As an example, trying to bring in turbocharged engines into mass production at Ford in 1910 would have been a great leap forward in terms of technology - but likely an utter failure due to cost and lack of reliability.
Things that are not exciting in terms of technology can if well-implemented enormously boost whole areas of the economy.
The interstate network was an example of this, as was the invention of containerised transport.

The use of cross-feed is new.
No launcher yet has used this concept of feeding from the edge boosters to the middle, so the middle boosters tanks remain full until the outside ones seperate.

This has significant advantages over having either the middle stage light on the pad, and deplete its fuel, or light in mid-air once seperation is over - losing the thrust and increasing gravity losses.

It also has significant (in principle) cost and compatibility advantages.
If you can use most of the same parts for a Falcon 9, or a falcon heavy launch that both reduces your production cost, lowers inventory, and allows you perhaps to much more easily develop global reusability.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grasshopper_(rocket)#Grasshopper [wikipedia.org] is the prototype vehicle for stage 1 of falcon 9 (and if falcon heavy stages are identical...) which will if successful allow the first stage(s) to be recovered and reflown.

Again - this isn't technically interesting.
There are no new technologies in this.

But to use the old quote 'Quantity has a quality all of its own.'.

Re:This is the exciting bit. (1)

buback (144189) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154557)

I think the pintile injector they are using, while not "new," is still exciting. This is old technology that hasn't been used much for first stage engines, in the US at least.

The pintile injector probably allowed such a safe and rapid shutdown during the first launch attempt.

more than twice the power of next largest rocket (4, Informative)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153399)

The statement "The Falcon Heavy has more than twice the power of the next largest rocket in the world" is true but somewhat misleading. Both the USA [wikipedia.org] and Russia [wikipedia.org] have had rockets in the past with more than twice the power that the "Falcon Heavy" will.

Also, since this is in development, maybe the comparison should include other systems in development. Russia has a rocket with similar capabilities as the Falcon Heavy [wikipedia.org] scheduled for launch at the same time, and China has a system under development" [wikipedia.org] which has a lower low-earth orbit capability but similar lifting capability to geostationary orbit that is scheduled to launch a year later.

Re:more than twice the power of next largest rocke (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153469)

I think the chinese one will be completed once the others have been completed and they have had time to "Evulate" their designs lol

Re:more than twice the power of next largest rocke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153593)

they have had time to "Evulate" their designs

Did you mean: Evulgate [greengonzo.com]

Ah, "they" referring to US and Russia, makes sense now. At first I thought you meant to say when the Chinese have had time to evaluate the others' designs, but instead I have learned a new word today.

Re:more than twice the power of next largest rocke (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153793)

The statement "The Falcon Heavy has more than twice the power of the next largest rocket in the world" is true but somewhat misleading. Both the USA and Russia have had rockets in the past with more than twice the power that the "Falcon Heavy" will.

A Saturn V sitting on the lawn of Johnson Space Center doesn't count, neither do Shuttle orbiters on display at various museums.

Re:more than twice the power of next largest rocke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154123)

By that logic, the falcon heavy doesn't count either, it doesn't even exist yet. Unless you are claiming that pictures on a screen have more thrust than an actual physical rocket?

Re:more than twice the power of next largest rocke (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154393)

Unless you are claiming that pictures on a screen have more thrust than an actual physical rocket?

LOL. Powerpoint rockets always have more thrust.

Re:more than twice the power of next largest rocke (2)

afidel (530433) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153821)

25k and 40k kg to LEO are a bit far short of the 53k kg of Falcon 9 heavy. Also I hope they get a bunch of launch contracts for Falcon 9 so they can fund the $1B they need for Merlin 2, it will be the first engine to produce more thrust than the F1 from the Saturn 5.

Re:more than twice the power of next largest rocke (2)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154177)

Space-X has a new engine in the design phase that will have 1.7 millon lbs of thrust. The Merlin-2 engine will be more powerfull than the Saturn-V's F1 engine was. The Falcon-X heavy will use 3 of these engines per core, or 1.5 times the lift of the Saturn-V. The Falcon-XX heavy would use 6 of these engines per core, for a total of 18 engines. It would have over THREE times the lift of the Saturn-V rocket! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_%28rocket_family%29#Merlin_2_and_super-heavy_lift_concepts

Unpublished Launches? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153401)

Four Falcon Heavy launches for the Air Force? This year? It's not on the launch manifest and quite frankly, I do not see the FH taking off for her first test flight before either very late 2012 or early 2013, so how can the Air Force launch 4 of them?

Re:Unpublished Launches? (2)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153503)

Unpublished Launches?

In my day those were called secret launches. They all turned out to be weather satellites so none of us were worried.

Don't be surprised if some of the 'tests' actually launch something for the military. It's not like they have to be worried that someone is going to see what they're doing up there.

Re:Unpublished Launches? (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153791)

They were. And it appears that SpaceX has a large number of launches. Many more than what they claim, and a great deal more than what the critics claim. 4 FH launches for spaceX is going to be pretty exciting.

I have to wonder, if USAF will now back SpaceX building FXX?

Re:Unpublished Launches? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154449)

In order to build the Falcon XX, SpaceX will need to finish development of the Merlin 2 engine. The goal is to replace the current 9-engine cluster of the Falcon 9 with a single engine, then build a cluster of those babies for the the Falcon XX.

Then again, I would need to worry about what the USAF needs for sending the mass equivalent of a fully loaded 747 (passengers and cargo included) into low-Earth orbit. If they need to replace the ISS with a USAF station (re-energizing the MOL program) sent up in a single launch, I suppose there might be a point to the whole endeavor. That is one massive rocket doing some really serious work, and I'm not sure there is a market for something like that at the moment even for a major effort returning to the Moon.

The Steve Jobs of rocketry? (1)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153439)

My attention was caught by the following description in the summary:

Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer

I don't remember reading anything about Elon Musk having trained as a rocket engineer, although his Wikipedia page mentions a degree in physics. Maybe that's enough to start a career blasting things up into orbit, much as Robert Goddard, Werner von Braun and the other rocket pioneers had no choice but to be self-taught. That or Musk's expertise is in designing rockets that look "cool".

Re:The Steve Jobs of rocketry? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153501)

Who needs training? Hands up all those who have their own rocket lauching company? "Musk raises his hand , me and you keep our hands down" He does not need to have formal training , he has the money and the will , and the guts to learn from his mistakes, so sod formal traning!

Re:The Steve Jobs of rocketry? (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153519)

It's part of his job title, I think a public statement about what Musk thinks is important. And the "Chief" label indicates that it's probably mostly a management position.

But I never understood the emphasis on credentials. Having a particular degree doesn't make you a good rocket builder. Launching rockets that work is a much more credible indicator of your capabilities. Musk and his amazing team have achieved that bit.

Re:The Steve Jobs of rocketry? (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153989)

But I never understood the emphasis on credentials. Having a particular degree doesn't make you a good rocket builder. Launching rockets that work is a much more credible indicator of your capabilities. Musk and his amazing team have achieved that bit.

Often, the importance of credentials is that you've had formal training. Formal training doesn't tend to give you great new ideas. It doesn't give you vision. It won't make you a genius. It may not even increase your capabilities. But it does wonders, (assuming you studied) to make sure you don't fuck up some mundane detail that has been well understood by the community for some time.

As an example, any idiot can build a lamp that works. But having some formal training can teach you why you hook up the hot to one terminal, and the neutral to the other, despite the fact that it appears to work good both ways.

Re:The Steve Jobs of rocketry? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154515)

Going out and hiring the best aerospace engineers on the planet and having them teach you how to build spacecraft by working with them to actually build some stuff is an excellent kind of classroom. I'm sure Elon Musk has learned quite a bit over this past decade since he came up with that crazy idea to send a terrarium to Mars and couldn't find anybody to help him out.

I hate to imagine what would have happened had somebody at Boeing simply said to Elon, "we can put that terrarium on Mars for $1 billion.... sign here with this contract". I suppose that would be good alternate timeline fiction, as because Boeing executives simply laughed in his face saying it couldn't be done at any price he decided to build a rocket company that would at least provide the opportunity for would be entrepreneurs to go into space if they had the money.

Now a lot depends on ESA (5, Interesting)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153557)

This might sound strange, but guys like Intelsat avoid building satellites that can only be launched by one kind of rocket if in any way possible. Most geostationary satellites today cluster around 6 tons. This is the limit for the Russian Proton rocket (launched from Baikonur), the Ukranian/Russian/American SeaLaunch (using a Zenit rocket) and was the limit of the Ariane5 GS (which has been upgraded to the Ariane 5 ECA with about 10t. But ESA has a hard time finding customers for passenger satellites in the 2-3t range to make launches worthwhile.)

What does that have to do with SpaceX and the Falcon Heavy? Well, ESA is about to decide whether to develop a new smaller rocket - the Ariane 6 ( capable of lifting 3-8t to GTO) - or improve the Ariane 5 to the point that it can deliver about 12t to GTO. (With the idea of launching two of the popular 6t satellites at a time, which would instandly make the rocket much more economical)

In the latter case, SpaceX will have a much easier time to find heavy satellites for its rocket. Having a competitor is actually important in this business. You don't commit on the order of a billion dollars in building a satellite, just to find out that your only way to launch it is no longer available or recently had an accident (e.g. SeaLaunch or failures of the maiden flights of Ariane 5 GS and Ariane 5 ECA that also failed) and you have to wait several years to get another launch opportunity.

If ESA goes for the Ariane 6, SpaceX will most likely have to resort to launching several satellites at a time and compete with all the other guys that are also capable of launching "smaller" satellites. Which is bad for SpaceX and the industry in general. At the same time, ESA will find out that the old Ariane 5 will suddenly be in much larger demand for 8-10t satellites (as will be Falcon Heavy).

Lets hope they are reasonable ... or somebody comes up with something roughly similar to the Falcon Heavy.

Re:Now a lot depends on ESA (1)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153645)

Perhaps Arianespace will have an uncharacteristic attack of good sense, and build Skylon instead of just another Ariane rocket? (the company designing it have no intention of building it themselves; they are looking for someone like Arianespace to do it for them)

Re:Now a lot depends on ESA (3, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153749)

Well, just to point out, the delta IV-H already takes 13 tonnes to GEO. As such, FH, along with DIV-H, will likely double the size of sats to 10-12 T.
And Astrium is working on the 5ME,Though, SLOWLY is the word. I did notice that earlier this year, the ESA coughed up another 100M euros for it. However, Astrium/ESA suffers the same issues as old space: lots of money to accomplish anything. IOW, 100M Eu is more of a study than actual work being done.

Regardless, I think that the new norm will become 10-12T for sats. And with FH charging about 1/3 of Delta and 1/2 of China, Russia or ESA, I suspect that the prime launch system will become FH.

Re:Now a lot depends on ESA (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153789)

The list wasn't complete. And there really is no point even thinking about the Delta IV Heavy when it comes to commercial launches because of the cost. ($400mio or is it more already? It's at least twice as expensive as an Ariane 5. And that's not counting any of the money paid to the ULA just to keep the Delta IV available for military launches or its development cost.)

Re:Now a lot depends on ESA (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154661)

The funny thing about SpaceX is that their rockets seem to be ever increasing in size. SpaceX still technically has their Falcon 1 in their product catalog and will sell one to you if you absolutely insist, but almost every time they seem to be dealing with customers and responding to the market demand, the size of their rockets seem to continue to get larger.

SpaceX started with the Falcon 5, which grew into the Falcon 9 by adding four more engines and a much larger payload faring. Now SpaceX just announced a new "version 1.1" of the Falcon 9 which will have an even larger fuselage (requiring more work on their Cape Canaveral launch pad to rebuild their launch tower and assembly complex) and will carry larger payloads into orbit. Add into that concept vehicles like the Falcon XX, which is something not even in Arianespace's dreams (a vehicle with twice the lift capacity of the Saturn V), and you start to wonder just who SpaceX is talking to in terms of payload sizes.

The funny thing about the small launcher market is that there are a whole bunch of companies coming up that are likely going to fill that niche very quickly. Armadillo Aerospace is already doing sub-orbital launches past the Kármán line, as is Blue Origin and soon "The Spaceship Company" as well. I can think of a few other companies who are in a position that they could start lofting up small sats at prices which would make SpaceX look expensive. If ESA decides to compete with those emerging launch providers, I think they will find their competition intense as an understatement.

Re:Now a lot depends on ESA (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154749)

What would change about ESA to make it at all cost-competitive with SpaceX?

awesome (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153623)

The means that SpaceX will use to lower their price is to have enough launches that their fixed overhead becomes a minor issue. Right now, launches have a high fixed costs due to too few launches. SpaceX's plan is that FH launches once every 2 months and that F9 launches monthly or even twice a month. That allows them to drop not just the launch pad, but also their launch crew (who are typically on a salary, not hourly), as well as manufacturing costs.

To take this a step further, SpaceX intends to have 8 launches next year, and 12-14 in 2014. That allows them to have their QA under control as well. With this high of a rate, SpaceX will likely not need a back-up for the FH WRT launching sats. OTOH, if we are to go to the moon, we really need two or more systems of similar sizes. Or simply constrain the loads to the smaller of the LVs.

Four lanches in 2012? (1)

Amiralul (1164423) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153869)

"On top of the four Falcon Heavy launches planned for the U.S. Air Force this year (...)"
Uhm, what? Falcon Heavy's first flight is scheduled for 2013 and it will be a test flight, I doubt it will carry any commercial cargo. Maybe the planning for the US Air Forces launches was done this year, that can be true, but I'm certain that no Falcon Heavy will lift-off in 2012.

Re:Four lanches in 2012? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154723)

I'd have to agree with you on this issue. The official SpaceX manifest [spacex.com] doesn't suggest anything about USAF launches at all (that may be legitimate in terms of trying to keep official secrets, but it isn't listed there). There are technically scheduled four more Falcon 9 launches for this year, with OrbComm claiming to be the next customer stepping up to the bat even before NASA gets another run to the ISS with another Dragon spaceship.

It wouldn't surprise me to see a Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg though. That would be amazing by itself. Such a launch also couldn't happen unnoticed.

27 Engines?! (2)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154061)

Am I mistaken or will the Falcon Heavy have 27(!) engines going at liftoff? (3 x the nine engines of a Falcon 9).

I guess they really have the control systems for such a large number of engines licked (in a previous thread I noted that back in the 60s the Russian Moon super-rocket N-1 had 30 engines. It failed, repeatedly.)

So are large numbers of small rockets preferable, efficiency wise, to a few large ones (think the five F-1s of the Saturn V first stage). Or they cheaper in aggregate? Or are they more reliable? (less superhigh pressures in the turbines, I dunno). Or if they fail is there the simple fact of more redundancy (I read that if any one of the Falcon 9s engines conked out it could still make it to orbit. Except right at lift off).

Or did Space-X just not have the funds to develop a really big engine (In which case couldn't they have licensed the design for the F-1 or J-1 from NASA?). Not knocking them, it's still an INCREDIBLE achievement, just wondering.

To quote an Airforce General: "A new plane doesn't make possible a new engine, a new engine makes possible a new plane.". So it's great to see an (obviously) flight worthy new rocket engine!

Re:27 Engines?! (1)

tekrat (242117) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154383)

My guess is that they are using their existing engines, just more of them. That's more cost-effective, since you don't have to develop a whole new engine as you scale up.

Of course, this means more moving parts, therefore, more to go wrong at launch time -- but again, if one engine fails out of 27, no big deal.

If I recall -- Apollo 13 had an engine fail in the second stage and they considered aborting, but managed to slip into orbit. A failure in one of the first stage F-1's would have been disasterous because that immediately kills 1/5th of your thrust (plus you're now carrying more dead weight).

The Russians have always used many smaller engines, and usually it works pretty well. The N-1 failed for a number of reasons, the primary one being that Korolyev wasn't involved (I believe he had passed away by that point).

Re:27 Engines?! (2)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154451)

Ideally one big motor is the way to go. But their are reasons for using more than one. The Falcon 9 has an engine out capability so having on of the motors fail is not game over. Also they did it for production reasons. They use the same motor with some minnor modifications for both the first and second stage which saves money. You have one production line for both motors and one stock of most of the parts for the motors.
The Falcon 9 is interesting because it is not the most "efficient' design but the most cost effective. They could replace the steel tanks with LiAl allow and save a good amount of weight, replace the second stage with a LH/LOX burning second stage, or even replace the first stage with a liquid CH4 first stage with a large single motor.
The Flacon is built more like a DC-3 than say the Hughes H-1.

Re:27 Engines?! (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154459)

It's cheaper to have smaller engines, when done right. First, they only need one type of engine. Most rockets use a different kind of engine for each stage. Those engines are build painstakingly by hand. ESA needs a Vulcain 2 engine every two months. Even steps that could be automated are simply not worth the investment at that rate.

If you build 10 or 28 engines per rocket, launching on the order of 10 rockets or more per year, you'll need another engine every day or every other day of the week. That's when investing in specialized equipment actually starts to make sense and will improve the quality, while reducing the overhead of quality assurance (once the production line has been properly set up, which will take a while to do).

Of course, at some point this will go the other way. Build your engines too small and they will be too heavy and reliability starts to become a major issue - as it was in the 1960/70ies. But given enough time (this is not a race to the moon!), reliabiliy should be no problem. Falcon 9 launched 3 times already without any engine troubles in-flight.

Re:27 Engines?! (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154751)

So are large numbers of small rockets preferable, efficiency wise, to a few large ones (think the five F-1s of the Saturn V first stage). Or they cheaper in aggregate? Or are they more reliable?

In general, smaller numbers of larger engines are the preferred choice. It's more reliable, and cheaper to design and manufacture. (All that extra plumbing and thrust structure runs up the cost and weight.)
 

Or did Space-X just not have the funds to develop a really big engine (In which case couldn't they have licensed the design for the F-1 or J-1 from NASA?).

No, they didn't have the funds or the time or the experience to develop a larger engine, so they made lemons out of lemonade.
 
The F-1 would have required extensive re-desgn to be manufactured with modern methods and materials, and is a very expensive and complex design. The J-2 is a LOX/LH2 engine, and on top of also requiring an expensive re-design and requalification program (same as the F-1), would have had considerably increased operational costs.

Slashdot, get a SpaceX icon (5, Insightful)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154065)

so you don't have to use the NASA icon for every SpaceX story.... of which there's gonna be many in the future

Morning in America (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154125)

... the Intelsat contract represents the true dawn of the commercial space age.

That's right, folks, it's Morning in America!

Re:Morning in America (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154725)

That's right, folks, it's Morning in America!

Well, they do have a Marshall Islands test site to avoid harassement by the EPA.

Hey, it worked! (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154501)

Hey, it worked! Okay, so what's the price difference in their rockets vs traditional US airline companies? What? Everyone is hopping on board now that it didn't blow up or crash into the space station and I do hate air travel, lol.
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