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SpaceX Awarded First Military Contract

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the somebody-warn-chris-knight dept.

Space 140

An anonymous reader writes "Ars reports that commercial space company SpaceX has gotten its first launch contracts from a military organization. The United States Air Force has hired SpaceX to launch the NASA DSCOVR satellite aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, and several other satellites aboard a Falcon Heavy. (The Heavy isn't finished yet, and SpaceX currently has no place to launch it, but the contract gives them three years to do so.) 'According to the mission requirements, the Falcon Heavy must carry its payload up to an orbit of 720 km and deploy a COSMIC-2 weather- and atmospheric-monitoring satellite, up to six auxiliary payloads (probably microsats), and up to eight P-POD CubeSat deployers. The rocket should then restart and continue all the way up to a 6,000 x 12,000 km orbit and deploy the ballast, more science experiments and more microsats.'"

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First. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218209)

Government Contract..... Maybe the US can change direction

NASA (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218213)

Is there a clear shift of NASA goals now?

Re:NASA (3, Insightful)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218295)

Some engineers at NASA must be very sad right now. SpaceX is doing what they couldn't: More economical space flight" [policymic.com] .

Then again they might've set their sights a little bit further, but still opportunity missed.

Re:NASA (4, Insightful)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218491)

Amazing what you can accomplish when you get Congressional pork-barrel politics out of the way.

We should try that for other failing agencies.
oh dear, did I just say that out loud?

Re:NASA (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218655)

Wait? Privatized organizations are more lean, organized, efficient and responsible than governments? But the brilliant American people just to assure that out health stays in the hands of the government... I've got a bad feeling about this.

Re:NASA (1)

jythie (914043) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218673)

*smirk* have you ever seen inside the big contractors?

Re:NASA (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218785)

public heath care -> try to save money -> goal, make people healthy so they don't need health care
private health care -> try to earn money -> goal, keep people sick so they need health care

Re:NASA (2, Insightful)

englishknnigits (1568303) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219197)

What you actually meant to write:
1) public heath insurance -> try to provide money for campaign contributors -> goal, make people sick so they need health care and are dependent on the government
2) public health care -> try to provide money for campaign contributors -> goal, try to provide the greatest quantity of the most expensive treatments
3) private health insurance -> try to earn money -> goal, pay the least amount for health care (can be through either refusing to cover things, negotiations, and/or keeping clients healthy)
4) private health care -> try to earn money -> goal, try to provide the greatest quantity of the most expensive treatments

1 and 2 are in collusion with each other (bad), 3 and 4 are in opposition to one another (good).

Re:NASA (1)

Johann Lau (1040920) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219687)

LOLNOPE.

Re:NASA (4, Informative)

radtea (464814) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220751)

Re:NASA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219201)

public heath care -> try to save money -> kill you if you cost too much.

captcha:horrors (nice one slashy)

Re:NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219205)

public heath care -> try to save money -> goal, make people healthy so they don't need health care
private health care -> try to earn money -> goal, keep people sick so they need health care

public heath care -> try to save money -> goal, none. government does not care about saving money, nor acquiring it. they answer to no one regarding quality of care. patients suffer.
private health care -> try to earn money -> goal, make people healthy so they don't need health care, but still buy insurance.

Re:NASA (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219299)

I don't think you understand how insurance companies actually make money.

Re:NASA (0)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219803)

public heath care -> try to save money -> goal, make people healthy so they don't need health care
private health care -> try to earn money -> goal, keep people sick so they need health care

If public health care is about making people healthy, then why are they so concerned about providing health care instead? Instead, it's theater. Politicians don't want to be blamed for your favorite relative or nearest friend's death. So public health care provides the drama of taking care. It does help make people healthier for the most part, but that a side effect.

Private health care works pretty much the same except that you have the choice of switching to other health care professionals.

It's all natural conflicts of interest, but with the patient having greater control over their fate with private health care.

Re:NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218807)

I don't know what you're still crying about.

Private health care has been a disaster, consistently going 0 for 4 on your list of, "lean, organized, efficient and responsible".

Re:NASA (1)

tlambert (566799) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219211)

I don't know what you're still crying about.

Private health care has been a disaster, consistently going 0 for 4 on your list of, "lean, organized, efficient and responsible".

Private health care has been very effective.

Private health insurance, on the other hand, truly has been a disaster.

Pay the insurance company for health insurance, to pay your Dr. to pay the insurance company for malpractice insurance, to pay the hospital to pay the insurance company to pay for malpractice and liability insurance, to pay the lab equipment manufacturers to pay the insurance companies for liability insurance.

Private drug companies have also been a disaster.

Develop a cure: get paid once; develop a treatment: get paid over and over again. Microsoft didn't invent the subscription model, Merck , Sandoz, and others did.

Re:NASA (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219425)

Private health insurance would be a better thing if they had to compete.
But, at least in California, out of state insurance ;carriers are forbidden to offer product in California.
Companies that do offer product in California have to offer certain types of coverage regardless of if the insured needs such coverage or even wants to pay for it.

Re:NASA (4, Informative)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219941)

Weird example for you to pick. Health care is the one area where you do have clear examples of the superiority of government run systems. Such as countries with government health care having half the costs per person as US health care. Such as government programs even in the US being more efficient/effective healthcare than rival private systems.

Re:NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42220149)

Now you people are waking up to this? Holy carp Batman.

The government is growing bigger and bigger, and you voted for that.

Good luck, American sheep. You were the ones who might have saved us all. Now you're turning into us instead. Last place on earth with potential to thrive just went *poof*.

Re:NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42221353)

and i suppose you voted against it.
Ever heard of a business wanting to lose money whe insuring someone? Generally grandma dies earlier, that means sooner when under for profit systems. For profit works for a while, until the greed takes over, then like now grandma dies younger. Like in amerika, where grandmas are dying younger each year. Not because the govbmint goes and kills them, but "simon Legree" kills them. So correct your crainial inversion, unplug your nose, and wipe the **** out of your eyes and see the world as it is.

Re:NASA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218725)

Amazing what you can accomplish when you get to cut corners [theregister.co.uk] .

Re:NASA (1)

Baloroth (2370816) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219059)

Amazing what you can accomplish when you get to cut corners [theregister.co.uk] .

I know, it's amazing how NASA's government redundancy made sure they never, ever lost a single rocket or satellite ever, much less a manned mission. I mean, NASA rockets never burst into flames on the launch pads or anything, burning the astronauts inside alive. Oh wait [wikipedia.org] .

Re:NASA (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219343)

Amazing what you can accomplish when you get to cut corners [theregister.co.uk] .

Completing a mission when any other rocket would have aborted to the ocean is cutting corners? How?

Re:NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219587)

Amazing what you can accomplish when you get to cut corners [theregister.co.uk] .

Completing a mission when any other rocket would have aborted to the ocean is cutting corners? How?

This is just not true. SpaceX is far from the only redundant design.

The Saturn V (and i think certain other Saturn or Saturn-related flavors, but not sure) had limited engine-out capabilities that would have worked fine.

To say nothing of the massively redundant N1 (which would doubtless have destroyed itself or been destroyed for safety before the engine-out event had a chance to occur, but if it miraculously avoided other malfunctions, could've handled multiple engines out).

Re:NASA (1)

Teancum (67324) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220053)

The N1 would have been an amazing rocket... if it would have ever flown. There were several attempts to fire the thing though, and the second launch of the N1 is supposedly the largest artificial non-nuclear explosion [wikipedia.org] in the history of mankind. That still doesn't take the cake to what happened in China [youtube.com] where over 500 people were killed when a rocket went off course and landed in a nearby village.

Building rockets is hard, and you are dealing with incredible energies just to get stuff up. Complaining about SpaceX and their record is so minor and insignificant that it is hardly worth even mentioning. The first launch [wikipedia.org] of the Falcon 1 was something stupid on the part of SpaceX, but that company does seem to learn a bit from their mistakes.

Re:NASA (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220161)

That's a fairly loose definition of "any other rocket". A reasonable one would be any other rocket that could have been used. Saturns and N1s haven't launched in over 30 years.

Re:NASA (1)

RMingin (985478) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219447)

So basically, according to YOUR link, the rocket had a problem with one of it's nine engines (did you think they carried nine because it lines up pretty???) and NASA forbade them from performing the second stage transfer burn, due to safety concerns. Where exactly did corners get cut? Engine failures happened ALL THE TIME on NASA's programs, too. It's a fact of life in rocketry, there are lots of moving parts, so you overprovision for redundancy, and cut over if you have to. That article you linked is a very, very negative spin on a normal launch.

Re:NASA (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220013)

Indeed. And the proof of the pudding is to ask who Orbcomm is going to use to launch the rest of their next-gen constellation.

Re:NASA,replaced by companies own by British Lords (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219163)

Once again: we're reminded how Bush sent America's wealth to the U.K., so the Royal family and their corporations can supplant U.S. government institutions. The U.S. idiots must pay the Royal Tax, privatize everything so the American people only own the blood which flows through their veins. WELCOME THE OVERLORDS, NeoCons, and the ilk they bear for this is their land: SLAVE!

Re:NASA (1)

Koreantoast (527520) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219683)

This works under the false assumption that SpaceX doesn't have its own Congressional lobby working for them. This is more a case of Elon Musk and SpaceX heavy lobbying efforts have finally managed to neutralize the lobbyists for established aerospace and defense players. From Day 1 of the company, they've identified key players, cultivated them and their staffs and placed the appropriate bets to ensure support.

SpaceX blasts off literally and politically

Cynically, if there's a lesson to be learned, it's that when you start a new business, you need to grease up Congress from the get go.

Re:NASA (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218585)

Then again they might've set their sights a little bit further, but still opportunity missed.

Prety sure that Opportunity not only hit it's target, but is still operating, long past its design date.

Re:NASA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218761)

Wake me up when a commercial company lands a nuclear power robot on mars using a rocket powered sky crane.

Re:NASA (2, Interesting)

jythie (914043) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218705)

Yeah, it is somewhat easier to do things economic when a government institution has already done decades of legwork for you.

Though yeah, not being sattled down with requirements for who to buy what from does SpaceX, but really it just puts them in the same spot as all the other commercial launch outfits, so they will likely become just as much a part of the problem as all the others.. their newness and geek attention is unlikely to change this.

Re:NASA (2)

router (28432) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219183)

I used to think like that. I have worked for a defense contractor now, and they are wasteful entities. Not as wasteful as government entities, but damn close. Elon did an interview with Wired, it was good. He looked for ways to do things cheaper better faster. In the world of defense contractors, that's very easy pickings. He also put up his own money to start.
I think you would be suprised how cheap a lot of big government purchases could be, if done the same way. We have the examples, SpaceX rockets, Predator drones, Wright Brothers.

The only reason government contractors complain about requirements is they are taking government money to do the DESIGN, PROTOTYPING, and production. If you do it all on your own, you get to do it your way; but if it fails, you get nothing.

andy

Re:NASA (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219281)

SpaceX is not governed by humans of a different nature than NASA, but it is a lot younger. Long-running organizations accrue a bit more red tape in response to every mishap, until eventually they are immobilized. It is very difficult to streamline and organization in-place. Not unlike how code gets crufty and has to be re-written, and old people can get very cautious and meticulous (because they lost their glasses once 25 years ago and don't want that to happen again!) A blank sheet of paper grants a lot of freedom. Granted it will lead to repeating past mistakes as well. It will be a real test for SpaceX, the first time they destroy a payload or kill some people.

Re:NASA (2)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219675)

Yeah, it is somewhat easier to do things economic when a government institution has already done decades of legwork for you.

People keep saying this, and yet they miss their own point... everything SpaceX does was already available to NASA. So... why can't NASA build their own rocket and capsule, SLS/MPCV, for less than $3b per year for more than fifteen years? SpaceX spent less building multiple versions of an entirely new rocket engine, building and flying two entirely new launchers into orbit (~$300m) than NASA spent modifying a single existing shuttle SRB for a stand-alone sub-orbital test launch (Ares-1X, ~$450m).

The annual development budget for Merlin, Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon-cargo would contained entirely with a single minor NASA research program. While a single flagship program, like SLS, ISS or JWST, could fund dozens of parallel programs in the same scale.

Re:NASA (1)

slew (2918) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220307)

While a single flagship program, like SLS, ISS or JWST, could fund dozens of parallel programs in the same scale.

Actually those flagship programs do fund dozens of parallel programs. It's just that those programs aren't directed towards building spacecraft (and many are directed to move money into people's pockets, although some were education and public outreach)...

In fact, just the other day I found out that one of Nasa's prime missions was to

find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering — science, math and engineering.

That stuff doesn't come for free. What is SpaceX doing about that?

Re:NASA (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220493)

In fact, just the other day I found out that one of Nasa's prime missions was to

find a way to reach out to the Muslim world [...]

You mistook my defence of SpaceX as a sign that I'm one of your fellow close-minded rightwing Fox-News-worshipping cretins. When in fact, I despise you all.

Re:NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218323)

You mean other than completely abandoning manned spaceflight?

Re:NASA (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218451)

I'm pretty sure their goal is the still the same:

Do as much as possible with the funds they have, while simultaneously defending themselves from an incompetent legislature who believes it's more important that we spend money on bombing brown people instead of investing in the future of not only our own country, but our very existence as a species.

That aside, hell yes, SpaceX. While I'm not an idiot who believes the "free" market is the answer to everything, commercial enterprises becoming involved in actual spaceflight is perhaps one of the most important things that will occur during my own lifetime. (I'm still bitter, though, because it's 2012 and I should be living on the Moon by now.)

Re:NASA (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218687)

That aside, hell yes, SpaceX. While I'm not an idiot who believes the "free" market is the answer to everything, commercial enterprises becoming involved in actual spaceflight is perhaps one of the most important things that will occur during my own lifetime. (I'm still bitter, though, because it's 2012 and I should be living on the Moon by now.)

Space X isn't breaking any grounds that McDonnell Douglas, Lockhead Martin, Boeing, etc., haven't already done before. Commercial space flight has already existed.

Re:NASA (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218899)

They haven't actually delivered a Falcon 9 launch at the promised price. They don't even have a launch pad for it yet. Also we wont know the actual cost of the program until they start flying regularly enough to where we see failures and the cost and corrections for those failures can be factored into the price. In the long run my bet is that they wont do it for any cheaper than NASA could do it with similar vehicles.

Re:NASA (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219735)

In the long run my bet is that they wont do it for any cheaper than NASA could do it with similar vehicles.

You're already being proven wrong by inches. As to NASA, SpaceX has already shown it can be done while NASA has shown that it isn't even remotely interested in doing cheap space flight. So I'd have to say that while NASA might be able to duplicate SpaceX's prices with the Falcon 9, they haven't and they won't. And i ignore here that NASA isn't allowed any more to launch commercial applications while SpaceX is. That's a big advantage.

Re:NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42220351)

"NASA has shown that it isn't even remotely interested in doing cheap space flight" because the powers at be have decided to privatize that aspect of the process. My point has nothing to do with NASA's desire to commercialize space flight. My point was given X launch vehicle specs who can produce a system to safely deliver hardware to space for Y amount of dollars. You will see no price improvement from commercial space flight companies until A) you see multiple companies doing it regularly and competing for a wide customer base. B) There is surplus payload capacity available on most vehicles entering orbit. As of now the only thing accomplished was subcontracting out for profit something once handled in house by NASA while also basically subsidizing space x to allow them to develop the hardware and techniques on the tax payers dollar.

Re:NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219291)

> Space X isn't breaking any grounds

Cars existed before Mr Ford, but only the rich could afford to buy one. Ford made it cheap enough for average people to buy. And do you think cars were ground breaking invention? Certainly it is just a modification of a horse carriage, which was just a modification of earlier model of itself. Oh and horse carriage was not ground breaking either, there were other transportation methods before it.

Nothing is ground breaking if you count out the small improvements.

New space companies, old-style financing (1)

aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) | about a year and a half ago | (#42221277)

Right. It seems that to stay afloat, thesome of the so-called new space companies still require a healthy infusion of government funds, just like the Defense industry. The company closest to achieving "private" space is probably the group assoicated with Virgin Space since they'll mostly be dealing with rich non-governmental passengers, a.ka. space tourists, rather than NASA or the almighty US military.

Re:NASA (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219257)

Their goals [canadafreepress.com] are clear.

LEO Rapid Transit (2)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218325)

Sounds like a bus route.

Re:LEO Rapid Transit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218371)

Sounds like a bus route.

UPS style

Re:LEO Rapid Transit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218413)

microsats = space litter
didn't we just discuss the problem with too much space junk orbiting the Earth and endangering the ISS?
 

Re:LEO Rapid Transit (1)

bacon.frankfurter (2584789) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218511)

You're close! There was actually a New York City Subway company with a similar name, before all of the various companies were consolidated under the MTA.

The Interborough Rapid Transit [wikipedia.org] (IRT) was the original name for what is now the MTA's Number 7 - Flushing Local/Express [mta.info] line.

Sure. (4, Funny)

mosb1000 (710161) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218353)

According to the mission requirements, the Falcon Heavy must carry its payload up to an orbit of 720 km and deploy a COSMIC-2 weather- and atmospheric-monitoring satellite

I'm sure this is the satellite's true function.

Re:Sure. (1)

Korruptionen (2647747) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218539)

It's armed with warheads to shoot down hurricanes..... uh.. .err.... yeah. Right?

Re:Sure. (1)

skelly33 (891182) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218559)

Yea - I'm sure it has nothing to do with recent weather satellite failures [msn.com] .

Re:Sure. (1)

afidel (530433) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218857)

Yep, and while it might be a civilian asset the military has always had a need for the most accurate weather predictions they can get their hands on.

Re:Sure. (1)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219601)

You test with the unclassified stuff first that is easy to replace.

6000 x 12000 (2)

skelly33 (891182) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218525)

OK rocket scientists or astrophysicists, what does "6,000 x 12,000 km orbit" mean for us lowly Earth-bound folk?

Re:6000 x 12000 (2)

cbhacking (979169) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218581)

Possibly an elliptical orbit, with those representing the closest and furthest distances from Earth? Just a guess; I don't know either.

Re:6000 x 12000 (1)

skelly33 (891182) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218595)

Sounds pretty plausible - thanks for that!

Re:6000 x 12000 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218633)

Not a rocket scientist, but I'm guessing an elliptical orbit with an apogee of 12000km, and a perigee of 6000km.

ground minus 300km (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218975)

I would assume that's an altitude at perigee of 6000km, not the actual perigee.

Re:ground minus 300km (2)

simonbp (412489) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220237)

And you would be right. A "6000x12000 km" orbit is 12000 km from the center of the Earth at closest (since the Earth's radius is about 6000 km), and 18000 km from the center of the Earth at farthest. The energy of the orbit is defined by the average distance, which is 15000 km. The initial orbit is about 6300 km, so it's 2.4 times as energetic as the final, meaning a large burn by the rocket's upper stage to loose that energy and change orbits.

On top of that, the final orbit is also inclined at 45 degrees to the equator, compared to 28 degrees for the intial orbit. That requires another big out-of-plane burn which means more fuel.

Really, this is an orbit that you would only go to if you had big powerful hot rod of a rocket that you wanted to try out...

Re:6000 x 12000 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42218645)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apoapsis

Progressing in space (2)

Urkki (668283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218551)

Is it just me, or does deploying 20 satellites with 1 rocket sound like we're still actually getting somewhere, even when it sometimes feels like space tech progress stopped 30 years ago?

Of course, this is thanks to microelectronic revolution, not thanks to advances of rocketry, but still...

And yeah, I hope even those microsats have means to deorbit... Shouldn't take that much hydrazine (or whatever) to change the orbit to be elliptical enough to get them burn up (or down, as it were).

Re:Progressing in space (4, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218915)

Is it just me, or does deploying 20 satellites with 1 rocket sound like we're still actually getting somewhere, even when it sometimes feels like space tech progress stopped 30 years ago?

Yes, it's just you. I guess you missed the nuclear powered remote control truck on Mars. Or the constellation of satellites that beam a constant signal down to the computer in your pocket with such precision as to be able to tell you where you are within a few feet. Or the pair of satellites flying in perfect tandem, mapping the gravitational pull of the Moon. Oh look...we might have found water ice in Mercury.

But you're right. I guess we haven't done anything in the last 30 years.

Re:Progressing in space (1)

Urkki (668283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219167)

Is it just me, or does deploying 20 satellites with 1 rocket sound like we're still actually getting somewhere, even when it sometimes feels like space tech progress stopped 30 years ago?

Yes, it's just you. I guess you missed the nuclear powered remote control truck on Mars. Or the constellation of satellites that beam a constant signal down to the computer in your pocket with such precision as to be able to tell you where you are within a few feet. Or the pair of satellites flying in perfect tandem, mapping the gravitational pull of the Moon. Oh look...we might have found water ice in Mercury.

But you're right. I guess we haven't done anything in the last 30 years.

Well, we have certainly done stuff, some of which is pretty amazing, like Opportunity still operating. But apart from the bad-ass landing scheme of Curiosity, Mars rovers are not that different from a merger of Lunahod rovers and Viking landers, for example. GPS development started in the '70s. I don't think finding water ice on Mercury is something we couldn't have done with '80s tech already, easily. All this mostly feels like stuff we could have done 30 years ago, we just didn't get around to it until now, and thanks to the tech getting gradually cheaper, we still get to do this stuff even with dwindling science budgets.

The only truly encouraing thing I can think of right now is actually using ion thursters in real missions like Deep Space 1 and Hayabusa. But give me something like high-thrust electric propulsion or nuclear propulsion in an interplanetary probe, then I'll say we're really going somewhere, again. Or to put it another way, give me a sample return mission from the surface of Titan, for example.

Re:Progressing in space (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219755)

Mars rovers are not that different from a merger of Lunahod rovers and Viking landers.

Every part of that sentence is wrong. Unless you include that taking a ship from Europe to North America is not that different than Columbus' crossing.

There are a lot of exciting space technologies being deployed today... at least they are exciting to people interested in such things. To the general public nothing aside from putting people on the moon matters. There is just no way around that opinion, and NASA does not have the budget to put people on moons/other planets currently, so they just continue to do exciting science with the budget they have.

Re:Progressing in space (1)

Urkki (668283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220631)

Oh, I'm not slagging the science done in space (and not just by NASA) at all. Instrument improvements have been amazing for the science. I'm also not so much after putting man on the moon, but being able to, because that means ability to do a whole lot of other things, too.

I mean, just looking at progress from 1950-1980, and then from 1980-2010... I wouldn't be so negative if I believed the "basic" space tech has reached a plateau, but especially in the electric propulsion and miniature nuclear power (not just RTG) areas, I believe there's so much room for improvement, that last 30 years seem like just wasting time.

Re:Progressing in space (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220737)

Well that is probably true, now that we are not putting a significant portion of our GDP into the space race, things have slowed down. The problem is we dont have any better way of getting into space than building a giant disintegrating totem pole and lighting a bunch of explosives under it.

And I suppose things like RTG powering Curiousity are impressive, but hardly revolutionary. It is just an incremental The Voyager probes have been running on RTG power since the 70s.

Re:Progressing in space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219835)

Welcome to the 2010s. DS1 and Hayabusa are done, Dawn is the ion-propelled spacecraft that's buzzing about the asteroid belt breaking records these days.

Note: Buzzing around the freaking asteroid belt. It's orbited Vesta for a few months, then deorbited, and is now on its way to Ceres. Will be first probe ever to orbit two different bodies in deep space (i.e. past the moon), and the spacecraft itself (not the launch vehicle) has already thrust over 7km/s. If that's not remarkable progress from 1982, you're brain-dead.

Re:Progressing in space (1)

Urkki (668283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220269)

Welcome to the 2010s. DS1 and Hayabusa are done, Dawn is the ion-propelled spacecraft that's buzzing about the asteroid belt breaking records these days.

Note: Buzzing around the freaking asteroid belt. It's orbited Vesta for a few months, then deorbited, and is now on its way to Ceres. Will be first probe ever to orbit two different bodies in deep space (i.e. past the moon), and the spacecraft itself (not the launch vehicle) has already thrust over 7km/s. If that's not remarkable progress from 1982, you're brain-dead.

Yeah, I intentionally listed the first ion thruster probes and wrote "...like Deep Space 1...". And I wouldn't call Dawn exactly buzzing, but still, why do you think I don't think it is remarkable? Didn't I spend an entire paragraph saying that flying probes with ion thrusters is the only encouraging thing I could think of? Still, considering that electrostatic ion thrusters have flown already in the 60's SERT 1 mission, this is just getting back on track. The time between SERT 2 and Deep Space 1 is awfully long... I can't help wondering, a bit sadly, where that tech would be if it would have been pushed just a bit more agressively during the decades between...

Re:Progressing in space (1)

Megane (129182) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219843)

give me a sample return mission from the surface of Titan

I'm sure it would be fun trying to make a rocket thruster that can take off from a moon with a hydrocarbon-based atmosphere at cryogenic temperatures. Imagine what it would take just to test that the rocket will work at all!

Re:Progressing in space (1)

robot256 (1635039) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219963)

It's not sexy, but a lot of the technological advancement of NASA missions comes from optics and detector technology. Cameras used in rovers and satellites today have orders of magnitude more pixels than anything they imagined in in the 80's. And it's not just advances in civilian CMOS technology being transferred over: researchers at NASA are constantly improving detectors over the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including infrared, ultraviolet, gamma rays, X-rays, all the time making our science results more and more accurate and insightful. The gravitational mapping of the moon is only possible because the two GRAIL probes use laser interferometry to fly in formation--kilometers apart, but accurate to within micrometers. The number of cameras on each Mars rover doubles or triples with each generation. The James Webb Space Telescope is going to get into orbit and unfold like a freaking transformer robot; and use not one, but 16 mirrors, all flexing separately to autonomously focus a huge image of the cosmos. Sure, it's mostly incremental improvements, but what we're doing today was considered a pipe dream even 10 or 20 years ago.

But you're right--if we took all the money from the Iraq war and threw it at high technology research, we would probably have a moon colony by now. As it is, we have to make all the incremental projects fit within whatever pot scrapings Congress throws at us, so we're slowly accumulating the bits and pieces of tech we'll need to make something truly ambitious a success, if we ever get the money and the mandate to put it together.

Re:Progressing in space (1)

Urkki (668283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220335)

JWST is something to be exited about, definitely... Once it's actually up!

And now that I think of it, Hubble isn't that old tech either, especially considering the repair missions. It's a bit sad we (the humanity, I'm not an American) have currently lost the capability to do the kind of "rescue" repair. Well, probably lost, who knows what the X-37 is actually capable of... (And no, this is not longing to get the space shuttle back).

5 ton ballast? lol (4, Funny)

Rakshasa-sensei (533725) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218783)

"The second, a Falcon Heavy launch, will put up several satellites and a 5 metric ton ballast, in an effort to demonstrate the Falcon 9 Heavy for the Air Force."

Why don't they just say "we're going to launch a 5 ton spy satellite and several decoys", it's not like anyone who follows this doesn't know.

Re:5 ton ballast? lol (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219929)

Well, this may be the first customer launch of the Falcon 9 Heavy. They probably don't want to risk a hundreds-of-million dollar satellite on an unproven vehicle.

Military contract? (1)

3seas (184403) | about a year and a half ago | (#42218839)

My tax dollars at work..... But I want laser cannons that can incinerate a person or bigger.items. And I want it hack able, like military secrets. .

Re:Military contract? (1)

turbidostato (878842) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219449)

Yeah, sure. And I want head-mounted sharks on those lasers!
Oh, wait...

Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219313)

Given how expensive it is to lift anything to space, lifting ballast to space is a sin. Lift another satellite in its place.

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219459)

Assuming it's actually ballast and not a package. Or a test run for a very particular package.

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (1)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219729)

Given how expensive the satellite is it would be foolish to launch it on an unproven platform.

If you really think it is a sin go find a company that wants a 5 ton satellite launched for free, with the possibility of loosing it.

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220073)

If you really think it is a sin go find a company that wants a 5 ton satellite launched for free, with the possibility of loosing it.

If the insurance cost is lower than the launch cost, this is an easy one (unless the payload is very time critical).

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (1)

slew (2918) | about a year and a half ago | (#42221057)

Given how expensive the satellite is it would be foolish to launch it on an unproven platform.

If you really think it is a sin go find a company that wants a 5 ton satellite launched for free, with the possibility of loosing it.

It's not 5-tons, but SpaceX is working with a company (Orbcomm) that apparently is willing to launch a 1/4 ton satellite on an unproven platform. Unfortunatly, their OG2 satellite didn't fare well [spaceflightnow.com] with its recent experience with SpaceX (they are filing a $10M insurance claim for this loss).

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42219817)

Given that for many programs launch cost is not the overall driver..(especially for large satellites)...and that if it is not a part of a constellation thee cost of spares may be high.....lifting ballast to verify the performance of a new rocket before committing an expensive (5mt) satellite to that level of risk may be a reasonable program expense.

OTOH you could try and fill the space with inexpensive satellites that may not otherwise get a ride and are willing to take the risk...but for each element you add you add integration and testing costs as well as risk to the overall mission...so lots of little satellites may not be a good idea either (driving up the cost of the LV test). What you need is a large satellite, preferably cheap with little testing needed, minimal integration cost, low-mission ops support, limited interfaces, and well understood properties....something like ballast.

Note also that these launches are primarily demonstrations to help get SpaceX into the business of launching DoD satellites, that at the same time the DoD committed to a bulk purchase of EELV cores, and you can see why launching ballast may not be a bad idea for the company or the Government.

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (2)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about a year and a half ago | (#42221413)

AMSAT is very experienced in putting together satellites at low cost, and having them integrated successfully. What they need is a ride. The same is true for many universities. Figure out the launch cost for 5 tons. There would be a long line of folks who would want a discount on that.

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (3, Interesting)

Strider- (39683) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220191)

Given how expensive it is to lift anything to space, lifting ballast to space is a sin. Lift another satellite in its place.

Ballast is always a necessity in rocketry. In order for the thing to fly in a straight line, the thrust vector must be aligned with the vehicle's centre of mass. The upshot of this is that if your spacecraft (Rocket and payload) doesn't have the center of mass precisely down the centerline, you need to add ballast weights in order to keep the thing from coming apart. If you look closely of an image of the shuttle at launch, the exhaust from the main engines (not the solids) is on an angle compared to the rest of the vehicle. As the fuel is burned off and the SRBs jettisoned, the center of mass changes, and the engines will gimbal to keep things on course.

On traditional rockets, the same thing is accomplished by adding weights so the whole thing is balanced. Back in the day, the way that most amateur radio satellites got launched was as ballast on a launch with some larger payload. That's getting tougher and tougher in the modern era due to competition for that space, and also, to put it bluntly, it's a lot easier to certify a lump of concrete for flight than it is to certify a satellite built by a bunch of guys you don't necessarily trust, sometimes int heir basement.

Launching a big lump of nothing also makes sense, given that this is really just an all-up test of the launch platform. Are you going to entrust a $500,000,000 payload to an unproven launch vehicle? If they did and it went boom (which tends to happen in rocketry a lot), we'd here no end of their choice of an untested vehicle. If the test passes, then there is more confidence in the subsequent launches being safe enough.

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220523)

Ballast is always a necessity in rocketry.

Maybe I should give you some more context. I work with an organization called AMSAT on leading-edge digital communications technology. We are a non-profit, volunteer organization that has been running the most successful private space program, as hitch-hikers on government and commercial payloads since 1963. We have put up something more than 60 satellites in that time, often working with universities in many nations. We will give you a working satellite in place of that ballast. We've done this for one of the initial test flights of Arianne 5, and for other missions.

There is not any good reason to launch a stupid dead weight into space. There are many university and other projects that will be happy to use that weight.

Re:Lifting Ballast to Space is a Sin! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42220545)

Or how about some raw materials to use for constructing things out there?

And the end begins. (2)

lemur3 (997863) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219405)

I don't know why everyone is all happy and gleeful about this...

Here I was hoping that SpaceX wouldnt become another Lockheed Martin/Northrop Grummen/General Dynamics/ etc.. defense contractor.

In 10.. 20 years will we all be applauding the 'success' of the free market when these guys are just as slimy and nasty as any of the other contractors who will gladly make any weapons system you want ?

Re:And the end begins. (1)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219789)

A customer is a customer.

And when you are a start up you don't remove the biggest customer available to you just because they are the military.

Also, not sure if you noticed, but other countries who also spend money on their military tend to do very not nice things to people and you need a military to stop that so pick a side.

Re:And the end begins. (1)

lemur3 (997863) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219831)

The ends (make profit) justify the means (by catering to the war machine) ?

Re:And the end begins. (1)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219947)

Having a well funded military is a necessity.

There would be a lot more little wars by small violent countries that are otherwise contained because the US sticks its nose where it doesn't belong. Think North Korea.

One more step (1)

hEpen (96597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219433)

... towards there being a viable market for space piracy and thus space pirates.

15 747's (1)

magarity (164372) | about a year and a half ago | (#42219731)

"the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals fifteen Boeing 747 aircraft at full power."

So, I just need to figure out how to mount 60 engines on a 747.

Re:15 747's (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220159)

"Very carefully".

Re:15 747's (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42220167)

How much is that in football fields or Olympic-sized swimming pools?

Re:15 747's (1)

slew (2918) | about a year and a half ago | (#42220765)

"the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals fifteen Boeing 747 aircraft at full power."

So, I just need to figure out how to mount 60 engines on a 747.

That sounds impressive until you realize that a 747 has 4 engines, and the Falcon Heavy takes off with 18 Merlin booster engines (AFAIK the other 9 merlin engines in the first stage core aren't used until the boosters have depleted their fuel).

That means those Merlin engines are less than 4x more powerful than an engine that was first made in 1970 (of course merlin is a rocket engine and can work in a vaccum, not a high-bypass turbo-fan, so it's not really comparable), or say something like the Saturn F1 engine which is more than 10x the Merlin...

Why not have NASA do this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42221053)

Why would the US government (or military) go to a private firm to do this when we have NASA? Why is the government with one hand cutting funds to NASA and then spending vast sums of money on contracts with private enterprises that are new to the industry and don't have nearly as much experience? Oh yeah... republicans.

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