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Lockheed, SpaceX Trade Barbs

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the can't-we-all-just-get-along dept.

Space 215

Lockheed Martin and Boeing have been getting all government launch contracts for the past six years. That is, until SpaceX demonstrated they could reach the International Space Station successfully this year. Asked about the new competition brought by SpaceX, Lockheed CEO Robert Stevens made light of the younger company's success. "I’m hugely pleased with 66 in a row from [the Boeing-Lockheed alliance], and I don’t know the record of SpaceX yet," he said. "Two in a row?" When he was asked about the skyrocketing price of launching his sky rockets, he said, "You can thrift on cost. You can take cost out of a rocket. But I will guarantee you, in my experience, when you start pulling a lot of costs out of a rocket, your quality and your probability of success in delivering a payload to orbit diminishes." SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was blunt about the source of the price difference between the companies: "The fundamental reason SpaceX’s rockets are lower cost and more powerful is that our technology is significantly more advanced than that of the Lockheed-Boeing rockets, which were designed last century." The Delta IV and Atlas V rockets of Lockheed-Boeing average about $464 million per launch, while SpaceX's Falcon 9 launches for $54 million. Its upcoming Falcon Heavy will go up for $80-125 million.

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Progress! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394023)

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
- some baldie

I was raped. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394045)

My bootyhole got fucked.

Re:Progress! (5, Insightful)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about a year ago | (#42394071)

SpaceX is blowing the competition away. Even the Chinese have said they can't match SpaceX's prices. ULA will continue building Deltas and Atlases for a while yet, but once their current launch manifests are cleared, they'll have a tough time selling any more. Their only hope of survival is if SpaceX can't ramp up production fast enough to devour the entire market. In the meantime, other "NewSpace" vendors are getting into the game, making life even tougher for the "legacy" crowd. I just wonder how long it will take before SLS gets canceled.

Re:Progress! (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42394183)

Their only hope of survival is ...

... market segmentation between commercial and dotmil.

In ye olden days: "Hmm we've got experience building cost is no object ICBMs, and there's a budding, although small and price sensitive commercial market... lets hit it while we can". Worked OK until real commercial competitors arrived.

They can go back to the glory days of ICBM building with the proper congressional bribes. Maybe ICBM launched drone strikes or whatever. They'll never sink as long as .mil is around.

If you demand a bad slashdot car analogy, if no one is building commuter cars, the guys who make Abrams tanks can make fat stacks of cash until Toyota arrives and kicks them out of the market... that doesn't mean the market for tanks is permanently gone or being given to Toyota. Just means the tank company is going back to building tanks, instead of econoboxes or tropical fish aquaria or monitor mounting arms or WTF they temporarily diversified into.

Now if spacex is all a scam to bootstrap into the lucrative ICBM market, then, at that time, we'll have the epic business battle of the century.

If you want another really bad analogy, I'm not sure whos on which side but its like trying to pick a fight between a 4 star restaurant and a fast food hovel. Technically you can stuff your piehole at either facility, but in practice its unlikely either will succeed in putting the other out of business.

Re:Progress! (5, Interesting)

benjfowler (239527) | about a year ago | (#42394211)

SpaceX would need to have solids, which they've quite deliberately eschewed. As it is, they're thoroughly optimized for space launch, not storable rockets that can be launched at zero notice.

Re:Progress! (4, Interesting)

smpoole7 (1467717) | about a year ago | (#42394321)

> SpaceX would need to have solids, which they've quite deliberately eschewed.

ULA's Common Booster Core (CBC) is liquid-fueled only. Solids are indeed more storable for the long term, but if you need to vary the thrust for different orbital profiles and payloads, liquid is the only way to go.

I don't know that SpaceX is even interested in the ICBM market. Elon Musk is a space head who just wants to see people in the stars, and his company is a way to achieve his boyhood dream while making it pay for itself.

What I want to know is when someone is going to take on the jetliner market. Maybe a SpaceX-like company could come along and eat into that market a swell. Then Airbus will join Boeing and the others in complaining and sweating. :)

Hybrid (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394485)

Solid+Liquid can be the best way to go performance-wise, although there's that cost penalty from heterogeneity.

Re:Hybrid (2)

jamstar7 (694492) | about a year ago | (#42395925)

Solid+Liquid can be the best way to go performance-wise, although there's that cost penalty from heterogeneity.

The problem with solid fuel rockets is, you can't turn it off and back on once you light it. With the proper engineering, you can with a liquid fueled rocket.

Re:Progress! (2)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about a year ago | (#42394897)

Fundamentally what SpaceX seems to do is produce their systems in an integrated environment and not worry about a lot of the things the traditional players do. No clean rooms, production designed to scale, things like that. They use a startup mentality and ...more theatrical lighting truss than I would have thought practical. They buy things that make sense now with an eye to the future, but they don't keep idle capacity around.

Unfortunately, the jetliner parallel would need to eschew FAA certification. I am sure the regulatory burden could be simplified, but I am a little uncomfortable with airplanes having 20% less (safety) margin.

Re:Progress! (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42395157)

Really?
You would not drop in cost comparable to what we see in the summary for that risk?

I would in a heartbeat. I fly fairly often, and when I do it tends to be over one of the worlds large oceans or the other one. If I could get there for $200 instead of $2000 I would consider giving up some safety margin for that. The odds of dying in a plane crash are so low they are not even a thought I have.

Your odds of dying in car crash per year, over a lifetime or per mile are hundreds of times more likely, yet no one suggests paying 10 times more for a slightly safer car.

Citation:
http://traveltips.usatoday.com/air-travel-safer-car-travel-1581.html [usatoday.com]

Re:Progress! (4, Informative)

Smallpond (221300) | about a year ago | (#42395551)

According to a federal report [nhtsa.gov] , you are paying $839 and adding 125 pounds for a much safer car than you had 25 years ago, so yes. People are willing to pay more for safety.

I don't think ULA prices being 10X have anything to do with more safety, I think its mostly more overhead and lack of competition.

Re:Progress! (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42395645)

So we are paying about a 6% premium on the cheapest cars for safety. That seems pretty acceptable to me. I think I would accept that level of cost for safety.

I am not saying people are not willing to pay for safety, I am suggesting people are not willing to pay 10X for a very small increase in safety. If the cheapest cars were suddenly $150k instead of $15k, people would feel differently.

Re:Progress! (2, Interesting)

Jafafa Hots (580169) | about a year ago | (#42395557)

How many people do sharks kill every year?
How many people does excess dietary fat kill every year?

Which of the two are people more afraid of?

People are nonsensical beings.

Re:Progress! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395661)

Scare factor, I'd guess. And it might have something to do with who's in control of the vehicle, even if it's just psychological. I mean, auto accidents often don't even make the news. We all just know that 115+ people are going to die every day from accidents.

But If a plane crashed and 100 people died, it'd be on every channel, all day. It makes no sense.

Re:Progress! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395725)

RARELY are mechanical failures catastrophic in vehicle crashes. I would guess a very large % (90%+) is driver/human error. You can put a mechanically safe car on the road for cheap, but let a drunk, or worse, a teenager and their friends in it and its nothing more than a cash cage.

Re:Progress! (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42395817)

You left out the elderly.

So far no teenagers have driven into a restaurant killed a waitress and made a child an orphan. The old bat then tried to drive off. She is only losing her license. If a teenager did that they would be going to prison. In my part of the state there have been 3 similar accidents in recent months.

Re:Progress! (1)

VoiceOfSanity (716713) | about a year ago | (#42395899)

Fundamentally what SpaceX seems to do is produce their systems in an integrated environment and not worry about a lot of the things the traditional players do. No clean rooms, production designed to scale, things like that. They use a startup mentality and ...more theatrical lighting truss than I would have thought practical. They buy things that make sense now with an eye to the future, but they don't keep idle capacity around.

The Russian Soyuz rocket is very much similar in this respect. Consider them the assembly line version of the rocket industry, almost literally thrown together in a factory and hauled out to launch whatever they need launched. Considering that they've launched over 700 Soyuz-U rockets with only 19 failures, that's a 97% success rate since 1973. Yes, the Atlas series has a better record, but much fewer launches. As for the Delta, it's slightly lower at 95% success rate, again with fewer launches than the Soyuz.

Re:Progress! (1)

rvw14 (733613) | about a year ago | (#42395113)

What I want to know is when someone is going to take on the jetliner market. Maybe a SpaceX-like company could come along and eat into that market a swell. Then Airbus will join Boeing and the others in complaining and sweating. :)

I would venture to guess that the safety requirements for an airliner are much higher than an unmanned rocket. If a SpaceX rocket has an issue, there is money lost, but they will be able to analyze the problem and get it right the next time. If a startup builds a jet that goes down due to a design or mechanical flaw, the loss of life and subsequent lawsuits will put it out of business.

Re:Progress! (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42395263)

I disagree with your last point. Both Boeing and Airbus have had such events occur. Such events will occur at some rate no matter how much money is spent. At some point diminishing returns makes it entirely pointless to continue with such spending.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Airliner_accidents_and_incidents_caused_by_design_or_manufacturing_errors [wikipedia.org]

Re:Progress! (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#42395607)

I think benjfowler is pointing out the fact that for ICBMs you really want the storage flexibility of solid fuel boosters. You can argue all you want about the pros and cons of solids in a non military application but for bombs you want to be able to create Armageddon at the drop of the hat.

Re:Progress! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394327)

What projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars are launched with zero notice/planning?

Re:Progress! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394537)

World War 3 (which is what this was discussing)

ICBMs carrying nuclear warheads have to be able to launch within minutes of the order.

Re:Progress! (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year ago | (#42394665)

Everything launched during war time. You think they plan out patriot missile launches?

Re:Progress! (3, Insightful)

benjfowler (239527) | about a year ago | (#42394245)

It's hilarious when the guys from China Great Wall Industry are accusing Musk of lying and cooking his figures....

too early to tell (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394619)

Where as it is true that administrative cost are much lower for spacex, they have only 2 launch under their belt. So their reliability is unknown. It could be that once the product sacex matured enough to have 50-100 launch, there is indeed a lower reliability overall for spaceX.

Re:too early to tell (2)

steviesteveo12 (2755637) | about a year ago | (#42394677)

Thank you for repeating your point from the article, Lockheed CEO Robert Stevens.

Re:too early to tell (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about a year ago | (#42394739)

It won't even take that long. Just one failure on the next few launches, dropping a $100M+ commercial satellite, and SpaceX could be toast in that market. For ISS resupply, they might survive a low but non-zero failure rate. The assumption there is that, as long as they can get a replacement launch up before consumable levels become critical, the replacement cost of the payload would be more like pocket change.

Re:too early to tell (1)

crakbone (860662) | about a year ago | (#42394863)

Not exactly, It currently costs 454 million to launch a satellite with the Big Guys. Space-ex is 54 million. You could lose two or three of those satellites and still be a competitor with the big guys.

Re:too early to tell (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42394927)

I think they insure those launches. If you can save $400 million per launch having to launch two $100M satellites to get one in orbit is fine. You still come out $200 Million to the good.

Re:too early to tell (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about a year ago | (#42395177)

Insurance companies aren't in the business of losing money. Increase premium costs too much if you go with SpaceX and nobody will use them. And turn-around time to replace a lost satellite also means loss of income and opportunity.

Re:too early to tell (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42395321)

Insurances premiums still would not exceed the cost of launch and cargo. Which means insurance will not more than double launch cost. Which is still not half what the competitors want. You can insure for that as well, either with additional insurance or just build two of everything and sell any leftover units. Still cheaper than the other provider. At some point cost savings of this magnitude change the market that much.

If launch + cargo cost $150million, then you can take three attempts and still break even. Which means if you can get the job done in two attempts, you do it that way every time.

Re:Progress! (0)

PeeAitchPee (712652) | about a year ago | (#42394919)

I just wonder how long it will take before SLS gets canceled.

Don't underestimate the clout of the Congress Critters bought and paid for by Lockheed and Boeing . . . it's all about "job creation" (meaning funneling those sweet, sweet Federal dollars into their districts), ya know.

Re:Progress! (1)

CryptoJones (565561) | about a year ago | (#42395671)

+1 for this. When I worked at JSC, Sen. KBH (Named removed) was on the VIP list for NASA. How many European vacations did we give her? The answer may never be known.

Re:Progress! (1)

TwezerFace (2788771) | about a year ago | (#42394277)

I am sure they are savoring the moment...they must be good for them to anger Lockheed.

Re:Progress! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395583)

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then you IPO, then you win, then they fight you, then you go bankrupt, and then they buy your assets out of bankruptcy.

In a blockbuster deal ... (3, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#42394041)

Lockheed traded Barb Williams to SpaceX in return Barb McIntosh and a sum of $3 million. No word yet on what that will do for their chances of winning the Goddard Trophy, the long-time rocketry championship, but the expectation is that this will allow Lockheed to unload an unfavorable contract while making SpaceX more competitive in the playoffs.

Winner (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394141)

You, sir, have won the internets!

Government goes with lowest cost (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394051)

Robert Stevens should well be aware of that by now.

Re:Government goes with lowest cost (5, Funny)

cheesybagel (670288) | about a year ago | (#42394553)

Nah, the government goes with the lowest bidder. Cost is something that is totally irrelevant.

Re:Government goes with lowest cost (2)

Thagg (9904) | about a year ago | (#42394841)

And for the last 40 years Lockheed has been the world leader in jacking up costs once their "low bid" has been accepted. Now don't get me wrong, their work on the P-38, U2, SR-71 and F117 is the best of the best, but the F22 and F35 debacles are the biggest financial crimes against america ever.

Re:Government goes with lowest cost (1)

Smallpond (221300) | about a year ago | (#42395753)

Worse than the Osprey?

Re:Government goes with lowest cost (1)

crakbone (860662) | about a year ago | (#42394881)

I would say the they go with the biggest lobby.

Re:Government goes with lowest cost (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394595)

Your observation is both inaccurate, and inane. Government has enough laws, opposing laws, loopholes, exceptions, and waivers for all the above, that they can do whatever the hell they want to do. I actually wrote a few minor contracts while in the Navy. No - there are guidelines that actually exclude the lowest bidder. But, before you even consider high bids and low bids, you have to ensure that the potential contractor complies with dozens of regulations. That's just for a trivial, little contract for supplies, or local services. Only after you get past all the bullshit regulations, can you examine the actual costs to decide which gives the most bang for the buck. Even then, sometimes the lowest cost doesn't give you what you really need. The rat bastard may have shown you one product, but his warehouse and trucks are loaded with something of lesser quality. Yes, it's happened, many times. It even happened to me, once. Ever after, when I had anything to do with purchases, I went to the warehouse to visually inspect what the contractor intended to sell to us.

 

Re:Government goes with lowest cost (1)

Golddess (1361003) | about a year ago | (#42394883)

Not always. I read some guidelines related to government projects (though I do not think it was for the Federal government. I think it was for county or state), and they explicitly stated that the bottom few bids were to be thrown out, as a means of encouraging the companies bidding to not cut corners in an attempt to get the lowest bid.

Re:Government goes with lowest cost (3, Insightful)

yesterdaystomorrow (1766850) | about a year ago | (#42395327)

Not really. NASA generally goes with what appears most "credible" to them within the cost cap. The most important factor in credibility is matching their detailed estimates of costs, created using "parametric" methods. These methods take historical costs into account and then allow for inflation. Imagine estimating the cost of a computer by scaling from an IBM 709, assuming every performance enhancement costs money, and multiplying by inflation. Then, you refuse to try anything cheaper, because it's "risky".

The result? The bidder must propose not only a high price, but must justify that price based on costs. You must demonstrate the ability to put together and manage very inefficient processes. It usually doesn't even help to have done similar jobs efficiently: the cost "experts" don't find actual experience in conflict with their databases to be "credible". Their databases are full of previous examples of projects approved and planned with the same methodology, so the reasoning is almost perfectly circular.

Historically, nobody has been able to develop an orbital launch vehicle without government subsidy, so this credibility problem has been an impenetrable barrier to exploiting real high tech methods, where deflation, not inflation is normal. But Musk has deep enough pockets, and a talent for PR that has made it impossible to dismiss the success of Falcon as an aberration.

Oldspace got fat and lazy (5, Interesting)

benjfowler (239527) | about a year ago | (#42394061)

Musk, is essentially running a massive experiment to see what costs can be squeezed out of building and operating launch systems. Much of it has to do with using off the shelf technology (as opposed to the proverbial gold-plated screws...), and flattening his supply chain.

Obviously, it's working, as the old guard are getting butthurt that they're uncompetitive after growing fat and lazy off government space and defence contracts.

Gotta love free markets when they work well.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (5, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year ago | (#42394121)

Also, Lockheed is a very big, very old company with layers of bereaucracy. The bigger the organization, the more bureaucracy is needed, and the more expensive their wares become. Spaxe-X is still young and lean.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (1, Interesting)

benjfowler (239527) | about a year ago | (#42394223)

... and very, very deep supply chains. Like the contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you have sub-sub-sub-contractors six to ten levels deep, each taking their cut, you're not going to be cost-effective.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (4, Insightful)

smpoole7 (1467717) | about a year ago | (#42394355)

> bureaucracy

This, this and this again.

I guess the day will come (I suspect that it'll be long after Musk has assumed room temp) when SpaceX is a giant, ossified fossil that can't adapt to changing markets. It seems to be inevitable.

My brother is the business guru in our family, and one of his favorite stories involves pizza chains. There's a TON of profit in pizza. Ergo, big chains like Pizza Hut were able to build these fancy restaurants with beautiful decor ... and then along came discounters like Little Caesars to eat away at their market share.

Smaller, leaner retailers like Dollar General are giving Wal Mart a run for the money nowadays, too.

Call the Economic Circle of Life. You're born, you go through a rapid growth phase, then you become hidebound and eventually just fade away.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (2)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year ago | (#42394647)

"I guess the day will come (I suspect that it'll be long after Musk has assumed room temp) when SpaceX is a giant, ossified fossil that can't adapt to changing markets. It seems to be inevitable."

No guessing involved. In fact, several Sci-Fi authors predicted as much, decades ago. When we mud-dwellers finally get our fingers out of our asses, and build a colony, that will be almost the end of our innovation and contribution to space exploration. We'll see migration to the colony, just as fast and massive as the colony can possibly support, then all future innovation will spring from the colony itself.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395077)

Good historical version of this was what happened after the British lost control of their western colonies in the 1700s. Those colonies eventually rose to be the dominant technological, financial and political power in the world. When you try to control the brains of your innovators, they eventually innovate themselves a new home and leave, taking all that potential innovation with them.

All of this has happened before and will happen again. It's how we survived falling out of the trees 60,000 years ago.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (4, Insightful)

dj245 (732906) | about a year ago | (#42394363)

Also, Lockheed is a very big, very old company with layers of bereaucracy. The bigger the organization, the more bureaucracy is needed, and the more expensive their wares become. Spaxe-X is still young and lean.

Not only that, but their engineering processes are terrible. I had the misfortune of working with them on the replacement for the Alvin submarine [wikipedia.org] . Instead of looking for things which could be purchased off the shelf, they seemed to go out of their way to design completely new parts and write completely new software when an ideally-suited commercial package would have been more functional than the programming garbage they produced. Maybe this is coming from higher up to inflate costs and chargeback to the customer. I certainly found it ridiculous though.

A couple years ago I had to obtain a TWIC [wikipedia.org] card. When I went to the office to have my biometrics done, all the equipment was branded "Lockheed". And none of it worked right, turning what should have been a 5 minute trip into a 1 hour ordeal. There was about 10 different devices on the clerk's desk, when 3 should have sufficed (scanner, fingerprint reader, camera). There are dozens of companies which make secure badging and identifying products. Lockheed's pile of garbage probably cost 100x as much and isn't as good.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (2)

gorzek (647352) | about a year ago | (#42395507)

What you described sounds like a case of "not invented here." Large companies with a lot of inertia are notorious for this. "Nothing produced at any other company could possibly be as good, so let's just make everything ourselves, regardless of whether it's related to our core competency."

Smaller companies and startups can't really afford to roll everything themselves, so they will look for off-the-shelf solutions as much as possible.

Incidentally, this is how startups in the software industry smash the old players. Looks like that's what's going on in the space industry, too, assuming others can follow SpaceX's example.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (0)

deathguppie (768263) | about a year ago | (#42394401)

Lockheed, is also very much in bed with the government. SpaceX may have a future with NASA on the budget end of the spectrum but don't expect any of the "cost is no limit" military projects to head their way. The Air force will test the waters with SpaceX just so that they can say they tried and it didn't work, thereby justifying all the money they've spent with Lockheed. It's not a matter of money, it's a matter of whose money, is going where. And you kinda have to wonder how much of the money that Lockheed gets for a launch goes right back into the pockets of the polititians that keep them alive.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (2)

cheesybagel (670288) | about a year ago | (#42394587)

You would be surprised with the military. The fact is they already did try to launch some payloads with SpaceX back when they only had Falcon 1 and no proven track record. Back then it was mostly small research satellites. However the launches failed and they stopped buying vehicles until, well, now basically.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394663)

You sir, just described the Military-Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned about when he left office. I would also add the Space industry as part of that. It is a jobs program.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (4, Insightful)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about a year ago | (#42394993)

The difference between many military grade (and grades within the us armed services) and consumer grade is the testing and validation done to make sure it works the first time. A composites supplier told me that if they produced 100 products, two would test to Air Force specs, 10 to Navy specs, 30 to Army specs, and the rest (save 2-3 units found to be defective) would be suitable for other customers. (Branches and exact numbers may be off, but orders of magnitude are right.)

If you need to make the 100 to get two that are up to spec, you are going to have higher costs. Hopefully not 50x cost, but in a well managed system it is at least 3x. The problem comes when everybody makes their specification higher than what they actually need, or when only the people with the highest spec are buying.

SpaceX's opportunity is in offering the value customer a better product designed and tested to meet their needs.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (2)

CryptoJones (565561) | about a year ago | (#42395565)

Composites are a bad example. There is too much variation in the resin/curing process and the inane tolerances are imported from metal manufacturing years.

what a dickhead (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395173)

66 in a row was once 2 in a row, 64 launchs ago. guess he forgot. been nice knowing you.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394125)

..Gotta love free markets when they work well.

Until the day, that is, when they deem your product vital to the nation, then it's a case of hello 'miracle metal'..

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (1)

jsepeta (412566) | about a year ago | (#42394389)

Miracle Metal? Why sir, that would be "unobtanium".

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394695)

I thought he was referring to "Rearden Metal."

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394161)

This is true, but have you seen the Falcon Heavy... it has 27 (twenty seven) engines where something can go wrong. If SpaceX's hardware is as good as they say and modularity quality kicks in, perhaps the risk all even out relative to a 'simpler' fewer engine design.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394291)

Maybe... on the flip side, 27 very standard engines with a high reliability can outdo 5 with 'decent' reliability. And it is designed so it can handle itself with the loss of an engine or two (to offset the increased number = more chance of failure of one). Think about it, one Formula-1 engine has massive horsepower, but if it dies, the vehicle is dead in the water. 3 Toyota engines might match the horsepower... but the loss of any one won't 'stop the car dead'. With properly designed redundancy, 27 might actually be better than 5.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42394217)

There's a pretty good argument that the core difference between spacex and the defense contractors is spacex is giving up hope, at a very basic level, of selling ICBMs to dotmil. Once they give up on the dotmil market, certain engineering opportunities open, certain bureaucratic opportunities open... Otherwise the existing ICBM mfgr would simply copy spacex. Why not reduce your costs, increase your profits... if you can...

Example: Flattening your supply chain is a project killer if a congressman has an election-campaign-donating-middleman located in his district.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#42394323)

There's a pretty good argument that the core difference between spacex and the defense contractors is spacex is giving up hope, at a very basic level, of selling ICBMs to dotmil.

I disagree. The US hasn't made any new missiles since the Peacekeeper. That's about twenty years of no selling of ICBMs. Lockheed doesn't even have a rocket at the moment (the Atlas V is operated by ULA, which Lockheed is a part owner of).

My take is that Lockheed's niche here is launch services. If you want your payload in space, at some point, you're going to have to put it on a rocket. That's a very specialized task. And the period from launch through to successful deployment in the right trajectory remains one of the riskiest parts of a mission.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#42395539)

"Launch services" is certainly a niche for which a very fat profit can be extracted. Forget all that other expensive stuff that takes actual engineering and building something. That's risky. Just let us push the Big Red Button. And if something goes 'boom!' we just blame the subcontractors.

SpaceX has flattened the business model, taking on the responsibility for design, construction and launch. That allows them to do the systems analysis and eliminate redundancies that they won't need to do the launch job.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | about a year ago | (#42394635)

This has nothing to do with ICBMs. Those are solid rockets which SpaceX has stated they have no interest in developing. The prime vendors for such military rockets using solid propellant would be ATK Thiokol or Aerojet.

Re:Oldspace got fat and lazy (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394345)

SpaceX will be able to run circles around the large prime contractors because they reward their employees for what they get done instead of how many employees they manage. Old space would rather promote a guy who got nothing accomplished with a team of thirty than someone who did amazing work with a team of five. When you reward bloat, you get high cost defended by people who are clueless that things could be any other way.

cost? (1, Funny)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year ago | (#42394109)

He doesn't seem to know the difference between "cost" and profit. He keeps using the word cost but I'm not sure he actually knows what it means. Well boo hoo and let me get out the world's smallest violin now that they have to compete on price in their former monopoly market.

IMHO (3, Funny)

CryptoJones (565561) | about a year ago | (#42394213)

I, for one, welcome our new SpaceX overlords.

CMMI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42394295)

I can be blunt about the cost difference as well: SpaceX has an unfair advantage on price. SpaceX is not an accredited CMMI organization. Therefore, the quality is lower and so is their cost.

Re:CMMI (3, Insightful)

CryptoJones (565561) | about a year ago | (#42394315)

You can not accurately say that just because an organization is not accredited by X body that its quality is lower.

Re:CMMI (2)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#42395403)

You can if you are Carnegie Mellon University and you are not getting your cut of the accreditation business.

Re:CMMI (1)

A10Mechanic (1056868) | about a year ago | (#42394371)

How is an advantage on price "unfair"? Build a better mousetrap, for a lower cost, and people will buy it. Also, please enlighten us on the correlation between CMMI accred and quality. Perhaps they have a lower price specifically because they don't play by those types of rules in their organization...

Re:CMMI (1)

jsepeta (412566) | about a year ago | (#42394405)

unless the parent company (USA) uses its representatives (Congresscritters) to protect all those layers of bureaucracy (and funding) -- resulting in appointing managers at NASA who force contracts to Lockheed/Boeing to keep safe all those jobs (for contractors).

Re:CMMI (3, Insightful)

hsmith (818216) | about a year ago | (#42394579)

Ah yes, CMMI, where you fork over a bunch of money to get a piece of paper that says you have a process. Not a good process, but a process. So it has to be better!

If you think SpaceX has no repeatable processes, documentation, you are insane.

Re:CMMI (1)

steviesteveo12 (2755637) | about a year ago | (#42394705)

Oh yeah, but it's just a chalkboard in their office.

Re:CMMI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395081)

And it apparently has the words "Make stuff better" scrawled across it.
They haven't even launched anything (except the Grasshopper) with their brand spanking new Merlin 1D engines and they've already announced they are designing a methane engine to replace it.

"about $464 million per launch" (0)

emho24 (2531820) | about a year ago | (#42394475)

about $464 million per launch

That figure is flat out unacceptable. What percent of the Nasa budget is gobbled up by this lunacy?

Re:"about $464 million per launch" (1)

Megane (129182) | about a year ago | (#42394703)

It depends on how much their lobbyists can get Washington to vote into NASA's budget. Then it's a simple matter of division.

Re:"about $464 million per launch" (2)

cheesybagel (670288) | about a year ago | (#42394709)

Considering a lot of people in Congress and the Senate until recently did not want to fund SpaceX (Falcon 9) or Orbital (Antares) for COTS i.e. ISS ressuply and continue paying even more to the Russians, or even more than that to ULA, well things have proceeded as usual. Not to mention that SpaceX can only ramp up their business so quickly. These things take time to mature.

some truth (5, Insightful)

Tom (822) | about a year ago | (#42394657)

There's some truth to it. SpaceX is built like an Internet startup - failure is always an option. The "old technology" is from an age when every launch was a national news event and failure was no option.

Read this:
http://www.fastcompany.com/28121/they-write-right-stuff [fastcompany.com]

and then realize that while everything NASA seems to be luxury spending, their software development manages to have at least two orders of magnitude fewer bugs than any commercial software company.

If your life depends on it - would you rather fly a NASA Space Shuttle or a Microsoft Rocket ?

SpaceX deserves a lot of credit, no doubt. Among other things, they have revitalized the "space exploration is cool" meme. And with it the willingness to take risks.

But how about we talk about costs when they've had their first two or three explosions and resulting fallout in costs, publicity, etc.?
I'd be mightily surprised if the learning wouldn't go two-way. Old tech learns from SpaceX how to cut costs while SpaceX learns from old tech which costs you shouldn't save on.

Re:some truth (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year ago | (#42394937)

SpaceX is built like an Internet startup - failure is always an option.

Unfortunately - their users (primarily NASA and other US government entities ATM, but soon other old guard customers) don't agree with that philosophy. So if their philosophy starts putting regularly birds in the drink... the contracts are going to dry up pretty rapidly. So just like a 'net startup looking to grow, they can't flaky for long.
 

SpaceX deserves a lot of credit, no doubt. Among other things, they have revitalized the "space exploration is cool" meme. And with it the willingness to take risks.

Nah. They haven't revitalized anything. The only people going "oh wow, exploring space is kewl" is the same people who have always said that.
 
The same goes for their technologies and the risk they're perceived as taking... That seems to be mostly PR posturing. In reality, they seem to be hardcore old school and conservative as hell. They're not making a better widget, they're not making a different widget, they're making the same ol' widget and making it cheaper. And only time will tell will if their new processes have cut one too many corners. The folks launching billion dollar payloads or human beings emphatically don't have the Wal-Mart mentality the consumer in the street does - if you can't perform, they don't care how cheap you are.

Re:some truth (1)

crakbone (860662) | about a year ago | (#42394983)

Nasa's shuttle missions cost about 1.9 billion per launch. Total costs over the life of the shuttle program. So far SpaceX has spent less than 3 billion total on launch facility construction and every launch to date.

Re:some truth (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42395055)

If your life depends on getting to the destination would you rather have a NASA rocket you cannot afford at all or a unit at a tenth the cost with a very minor increase in risk?

Risk is part of life, even the shuttle killed a crew every hundred launches and that thing cost a ridiculous amount. You could double that rate and kill two crew every hundred launches but get the cost down to a tenth it would surely be worth it. You would still have no problem finding qualified candidates for those missions.

Re:some truth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395143)

Was that posted from your iPhone?

Re:some truth (1)

yesterdaystomorrow (1766850) | about a year ago | (#42395653)

Read this: http://www.fastcompany.com/28121/they-write-right-stuff [fastcompany.com]

and then realize that while everything NASA seems to be luxury spending, their software development manages to have at least two orders of magnitude fewer bugs than any commercial software company.

Except that implicit in that is the idea that every bug is a disaster. SpaceX's approach is to have robust engineering rather than perfection. The idea is that small problems should not cascade into mission failures. That's how "real world" engineering works: for example, we don't use chains to hold up suspension bridges any more, because a single crack can cause a collapse. We use multi-strand cables, where cracks don't propagate from strand to strand. The fragile perfection of old-school aerospace is expensive and hazardous.

A logical counter (2)

ThePhilips (752041) | about a year ago | (#42394673)

"You can thrift on cost. You can take cost out of a rocket. But I will guarantee you, in my experience, when you start pulling a lot of costs out of a rocket, your quality and your probability of success in delivering a payload to orbit diminishes."

Fishy argument. Most of the payload I gather is pretty cheap stuff to make astronauts' life on ISS possible.

In a way, price gauging of the launchers has resulted in the reactive price gauging of the payload. But if one can cheaply transport materials to the ISS, some stuff can be actually built and assembled right there - instead of creating the stuff on surface up to the very high standards, required for it to survive the lift off.

Re:A logical counter (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#42394965)

In a way, price gauging of the launchers has resulted in the reactive price gauging of the payload. But if one can cheaply transport materials to the ISS, some stuff can be actually built and assembled right there - instead of creating the stuff on surface up to the very high standards, required for it to survive the lift off.

I don't see it. Manufacturing equipment is usually much heavier and often more delicate than the items manufactured.

Re:A logical counter (1)

ThePhilips (752041) | about a year ago | (#42395249)

I wasn't taking about manufacturing specifically - more like building/assembling the stuff using off-the-shelf parts. I was also thinking about potential expansion of the ISS. Right now it is made of older space modules, what is rather expensive building material. But probably you are right anyway.

That was just an idea, follow up on the possibilities offered by cheaper transportation to the space. Just like the accessible infrastructure down here, possibilities expand greatly.

Better / Faster / Cheaper: Pick Two (3, Insightful)

vinn (4370) | about a year ago | (#42394817)

Having worked as a contractor for Goddard Space Flight Center years ago on a few projects, I can assure you that SpaceX's way of doing business is completely different than the old school space business. Coming from NASA, which trickles down to Boeing and Lockheed, the standard mentality is do everything at least twice, and usually triple checking all of that. New processes are frowned upon and twenty year old technology is still considered new, potentially even unproven. It is a frustrating way to work for a lot of people because it moves so slow. However, it is fairly safe and effective.

Now, enter SpaceX. I suspect they have a lot of the old NASA engineers, so they have the experience to cut corners. However, they've designed the thing intentionally to tolerate failures - they stuck 9 engines on the rocket. And you definitely want to tolerate failures, however, it does lead to mistakes. Look what happens though when one engine fails - the extra burn time meant the Orbcomm secondary payload on the last mission failed and never made it into orbit. That wasn't highly publicized, but it was a partial failure.

Now, what we're going to run into the standard cost/benefit of the extra work that goes into Boeing rockets. Is it worth it? Well, I suspect once you start sticking people on the top of the rockets the tolerance for failure goes down. Personally, I love what SpaceX is doing and I think a lot of the stuff is cutting edge. It is the direction we need to be headed, and I personally think the risks are worth it.

Better - Faster - Cheaper

You only get two.

Re:Better / Faster / Cheaper: Pick Two (4, Informative)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about a year ago | (#42395039)

That failure was based on NASAs protocol to not relight the engine, and it was a secondary payload priced on that possibility. More like designed-in risk.

Re:Better / Faster / Cheaper: Pick Two (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395085)

SpaceX could have delivered that Orbcomm satellite to the right orbit despite the engine failure. However NASA rules interfered.

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2012/10/spacex-nasa-investigation/

Re:Better / Faster / Cheaper: Pick Two (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about a year ago | (#42395093)

The engine failure cause the loss of the secondary payload only because NASA wouldn't let SpaceX restart the engines due to ISS safety concerns.

Re:Better / Faster / Cheaper: Pick Two (4, Insightful)

C0R1D4N (970153) | about a year ago | (#42395227)

I do not see anything wrong with having a higher failure rate on unmanned missions if the cost is enough thet you need to fail four times before the cost matches the rocket with a lower fail rate.

We can have separate standards for manned vs unmanned.

Re:Better / Faster / Cheaper: Pick Two (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395907)

That's quite a pithy little statement you have there but the history of industrialization says yes, we can have all three.

Better Engineering (4, Insightful)

tjstork (137384) | about a year ago | (#42395073)

Musk once alluded to a better manufacturing process for actually building rockets. So, instead of saying that he's taking shortcuts and what not and doesn't have layers of bureacracy, what if he just has a cheaper way to build rockets that are better?

erroneus (253617) FatASS needs PIZZA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42395245)

"Oh... to eat pizza again..." by erroneus (253617) on Saturday December 22, @05:20PM (#42371769) from http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3335159&cid=42371769 [slashdot.org] since that disgusting fatbody pig is a waste of life obese swine with no self-control and no dick.

Too bad NASA + Boeing dropped the Delta Clipper (1)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | about a year ago | (#42395351)

That would have been a game changer in bringing micro satellites into low orbit at low prices.

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