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SpaceX Delays Falcon 9 Launch

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the harder-than-it-looks dept.

Space 41

stoolpigeon writes to tell us that Elon Musk recently announced a delay to the projected summer launch for SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. "Falcon 9 is the centerpiece of SpaceX's project for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) project. NASA is hoping to be able to draw on new and cheaper commercial rockets to service the International Space Station once the shuttle fleet retires in 2010. If the trial flight of Falcon 9 early next year is a success, payload-carrying COTS missions could follow in quick succession. But the delay is worrying some observers who note that SpaceX's other rocket project, the Falcon 1, has failed during its only two launch attempts. The first Falcon 1 caught fire and crashed, and the second failed to achieve orbit due to problems during stage separation. A third Falcon 1 launch is planned for April."

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And you call that bad? (3, Informative)

Paul server guy (1128251) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608388)

Two failures and one delay? And one of the failures wasn't that bad? For a brand new company and new rocket tech? Considering how many outright explosions and multiple failures NASA and all others did before they got it right, I'd say they are doing just fine. I bet NASA wishes they had that success rate!
It's not like Musk has a whole governments space programs budget to throw at it. (Which is pitifully small BTW.) He is being careful with his money. That sounds wise, and certainly not something I'd be worried about.

Jeesh, It's not like it's Rocket Science to understand it...

Re:And you call that bad? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22608404)

"I bet NASA wishes they had that success rate!"

100% failure rate for the entire history of the company, yeah I'm sure they are really jealous.

Re:And you call that bad? (3, Interesting)

Somegeek (624100) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608484)

And the article mentions that much of the delay is due to a huge increase in paperwork. The have changed their launch site to the Cape instead of the Kwajalein Atoll that they had originally planned to use, and as a consequence are faced with a maze of new documents that the Air Force is requiring that they submit.

Re:And you call that bad? (1)

LogicallyGenius (916669) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608544)

They can take out a old satellite with explosive payload but ......

Re:And you call that bad? (2, Informative)

sconeu (64226) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608634)

For launches from Canaveral, I believe EWR-127 applies. I don't know if it applies to Kwaj.

Re:And you call that bad? (1)

bughunter (10093) | more than 6 years ago | (#22612626)

EWR-127 is almost always tailored from program to program, and often from mission to mission. The contracting agency (in this case NASA) negotiates with the range (Kwaj for Falcon 1, Canaveral for Falcon 9) which requirements apply, which are waived, and which can be modified.

In my experience, Canaveral and Vandenberg are the least forgiving at these negotiations, while more remote ranges (like Kodiak, Kwaj, and PWMR) are more liberal.

Re:And you call that bad? (5, Informative)

JeffreyCornish (668785) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608574)

You are absolutely right. If you look to much earlier rocketry development programs, ie Dr. Robert Goddard and Dr. Werner Braun (ignoring any politics of either, just the pure research, engineering and development effort) Developing Rockets are Hard. SpaceX lost their first rocket because of a corroded aluminum nut securing a fuel line. I think it is worth pointing out a number of facts with this accident. The Falcon 1 launch vehicle have an in flight rapid disassembly event (explosion for those desiring a non-obfuscated tone). The nut failed, fuel spewed from the line, combusting when it reached into the rocket's plume, this caused a fire in the region of the Falcon 1's fuel pumps, gutting control wiring and other fuel lines. Result-- the engine simply shut down. The rocket fell onto the reef offshore and was destroyed. As a result SpaceX reviewed the engine design and one of the changes was to replace all aluminum nuts with stainless steel. Equivelent mass, not prone to corrosion and cheaper as an additional benefit. The second flight's failure was due to the wrong flight profile being loaded into the first stage's engine's computer(s). As a result the fuel/oxidizer mix fed to the engine wasn't quite optimal, resulting in the first stage engine cutoff (MECO) occured at a lower altitude than intended. At that point in flight the Falcon 1's orientation, with respect to it's trajectory (it's 'angle of attack') was enough that aerodynamic forces from the dynamic pressure (the atmospheric pressure at altitude considering the vehicle's velocity through it) caused the Falcon 1 first stage as it was jettisoned to pitch more than expected. This resulted in the first stage coming into contact with the second stage's engine bell. This resulted in the second stage in being rotated about it's center of mass a bit. The second stage Kestral engine pivoted to correct the second stage's orientation onto the correct vector. This resulted in an increasing oscillation that toward the end of the second stage's burn, as the mass of the vehicle was less and less. This resulted in the remaining fuel in the propellant tanks sloshing away from the fuel tank's sump. The Second stage engine cut off prematurely, below orbital velocity and the vehicle reentered. Lessons and modifications taken from this. Confirm that the proper engine software is loaded onto the vehicle, and the installation of an anti-slosh baffles in the propellant tanks. In this case the vehicle engines or structure did not fail catastrophically. The upcoming flight is takes the lessons learned from all of this, and is a flight test for the new Merlin 1C engine, which will be used on the Falcon 9 when it flies. Spaceflight is hard. SpaceX is standing on the shoulder's of giants, and still there is much to learn, old lessons to apply, and new breakthroughs to be made. But the goal is worthwhile.

Re:And you call that bad? (0, Offtopic)

Rei (128717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22610304)

Yep. Either the baffles *or* the correct trajectory would have been enough to make the mission a success. Even the payload separated -- just in the wrong trajectory. They got about 2/3 of the delta-V they needed.

For a practically from-scratch, they've done a heck of a job, and I like their design. And I was very impressed by how rapidly they're able to turn around on launch attempts. Here's to the next Falcon 1 launch! :)

Questionable Failure Analysis (1)

mrcaseyj (902945) | more than 6 years ago | (#22612998)

I'm worried about SpaceX's failure analysis for the unstable second stage. It doesn't seem to me that the stage separation bump had much of anything to do with it because the second stage recovered and stabilized quickly. While I think slosh may have contributed and slosh baffles MAY solve the problem, I doubt if slosh is the source of the instability. If slosh were the primary problem I would expect the oscillations to get out of control much more quickly. It doesn't take very many shoves on a tub of liquid before the oscillations reach a high or maximum amplitude. Instead the oscillations started out very small and SLOWLY and STEADILY increased, seemingly inversely proportional to the mass of fuel and therefore the rotational inertia of the stage. I would also have expected the movements to be more random if slosh was the primary problem.


Instead I would suspect first that the control routine was just not quite acting quick enough to stabilize the vehicle. As the rotational inertia dropped, the slow reaction time of the control routine allowed greater deviations. Yet if the control system was totally too slow to keep control of the vehicle I would have expected it to just totally loose control much more quickly than it did. Instead I expect the slowness may have been the result of a non linear factor in the control routine that commanded less drastic corrections for less drastic deviations, yet increased corrections sufficiently as the deviations increased.


I doubt that slosh baffles will solve this problem and I don't think a smoother stage separation will have any significant benefit. SpaceX says third party experts have verified their conclusion "that LOX slosh was the primary contributor to this instability". If SpaceX believes this is the primary problem and it's not, then there is a great danger that their solution won't be adequate.

Re:And you call that bad? (1, Troll)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 6 years ago | (#22610542)

Two failures and one delay? And one of the failures wasn't that bad? For a brand new company and new rocket tech? Considering how many outright explosions and multiple failures NASA and all others did before they got it right, I'd say they are doing just fine. I bet NASA wishes they had that success rate!

The most recent launch vehicle developed by NASA the space shuttle, which was successful on its first 24 launches. After the first failure, it succeeded on the next hundred launches before the next failure.

Before that, the previous vehicle developed by NASA was the Saturn-V, ten launches, no failures.

Before that, the Saturn 1/1b, nineteen launches, no failures.

Why in the world would NASA "wish they had a success rate" of 0 successes?

Re:And you call that bad? (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22611880)

The Saturn V and Saturn I(b) rockets were designed by a team that had more than twenty years' experience, going back to before the V-1. They blew up more than their share of rockets, not all of them deliberately.

Indeed, the Saturns were designed by Von Braun's team that in NASA's early days had been working out of the Redstone Arsenal. The rockets that NASA was designing on its own at that time were blowing up with depressing regularity; if Eisenhower had let them, the Von Braun team could have put something in orbit before the Russians did.

Shuttle may have made its first few launches successfully, but they blew up their fair share of hardware during testing (the SSMEs in particular were a bitch). They had couple of decades of experience with large solids (initially for Titan III, developed in part for the Air Force's MOL program) by then, too.

Not to mention that NASA had a development budget several orders of magnitude larger than SpaceX's.

On paper, rocket science isn't that hard. The thing is, a lot of it isn't on paper as such, it comes with the experience that tells you to use stainless steel nuts instead of aluminum ones, or to make sure your LOX valves don't get condensation and ice on them that freezes them shut, or to triple check that you've got the right software loaded.

Re:And you call that bad? (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 6 years ago | (#22612696)

The Saturn V and Saturn I(b) rockets were designed by a team that had more than twenty years' experience, going back to before the V-1.

Actually, V-1 wasn't a rocket, it was a pulse jet; and it wasn't the Von Braun team; it was their competitors

...Indeed, the Saturns were designed by Von Braun's team that in NASA's early days had been working out of the Redstone Arsenal. The rockets that NASA was designing on its own at that time were blowing up with depressing regularity;

I expect you must be thinking of Project Vanguard. That predates NASA-- it was a NRL (Navy Research Labs) project. if Eisenhower had let them, the Von Braun team could have put something in orbit before the Russians did.

Shuttle may have made its first few launches successfully, but they blew up their fair share of hardware during testing (the SSMEs in particular were a bitch). They had couple of decades of experience with large solids (initially for Titan III, developed in part for the Air Force's MOL program) by then, too.

Not to mention that NASA had a development budget several orders of magnitude larger than SpaceX's.

On paper, rocket science isn't that hard. The thing is, a lot of it isn't on paper as such, it comes with the experience that tells you to use stainless steel nuts instead of aluminum ones, or to make sure your LOX valves don't get condensation and ice on them that freezes them shut, or to triple check that you've got the right software loaded.

Re:And you call that bad? (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613398)

Actually, V-1 wasn't a rocket, it was a pulse jet;

You're right, that was a brain spasm. Of course I meant V-2.

Re:And you call that bad? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22615496)

I should point out that there have been some of the design team of the Saturn rockets (both Saturn I and Saturn V) that considered themselves to be "lucky" that they didn't have any failures, rather than 100% success.

Had the Saturn rockets gone on to fly the equivalent of the number of flights that the Shuttle program has gone through, you would have seen perhaps a similar level of rocketry failure. It may not have been as catastrophic in terms of loss of human life (the Shuttle is particularly awful on that point) due to emergency provisions like the Launch Escape Tower (a launch problem like what hit the Challenger might have been survived by the astronauts on a Saturn V), but you would still have seen a failure rate.

This is also clearly ignoring the early history of NASA, when they were using Redstone rockets, the Atlas, and other rockets in the early days of the Mercury program.... some of which were even televised "live" on network television and had them blow up spectacularly before the American public. Those televised launches were especially interesting, as they weren't really supposed to be "prototypes" of the typical sort, but rather preliminary launches to demonstrate capsule performance... and still failed. It got so bad that comedians of the time were making jokes asking if NASA could even potentially send an astronaut into space at all, and congressmen wondering why Russia could "do it" but not NASA.

SpaceX has made some mistakes, but they are sitting in a much better position than NASA was in the early 1960's. I'll also have to admit that the reason SpaceX is in the position they are in is due to the knowledge gained by NASA and the U.S. military back in the 1950's and 1960's as well (not to mention other rocket developers), but I wouldn't condemn them for not trying. At least they have tried to put hardware up, rather than spend billions on worthless "studies" that never get launched in the first place, which seems to be NASA current design approach.

Re:And you call that bad? (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 6 years ago | (#22619750)

SpaceX has made some mistakes, but they are sitting in a much better position than NASA was in the early 1960's. I'll also have to admit that the reason SpaceX is in the position they are in is due to the knowledge gained by NASA and the U.S. military back in the 1950's and 1960's as well (not to mention other rocket developers), but I wouldn't condemn them for not trying.

I do want to emphasize that at no point have I condemned Space-X, and most certainly you can't criticize them for not trying. My respect for Space-X goes up a notch every time they follow up a failure with a commitment to learn from their mistakes and keep on working. This is something to be admired, not condemned. They are out there proving that they've got what it takes.

Re:And you call that bad? (1)

JeffreyCornish (668785) | more than 6 years ago | (#22617360)

Geoffrey Landis commented on my post??

Cool!

BTW, Geoff, I'd love having you back at Norwescon one of these years. You were a great Science GoH.

Of course I was making some generalizations. The paragraph about NASA would have gotten rather unwieldy very shortly.

SpaceX did not integrate every possibly lesson from every possible launch vehicle program by all of the various groups.

They did not take into account that hot, humid, salty sea air + aluminum nut with a scratch it its paint = possible failure of said nut.

For two flights they are almost to a walk from a crawl is my view (for what it's worth). Elon has a flight manifest that is pretty full, a near working launch vehicle, and two other models on the way. He has a passion for this in sinking his fortune into it.

He has stated "When people ask me why I started a rocket company, I say, 'I was trying to learn how to turn a large fortune into a small one.' " (http://www.spacex.com/media.php?page=42). I think he has the right attitude, that he could go broke doing this. The development of the railroad network across North America in the 19th century certainly cost a number of men and shareholders their wealth, but the result was the powerhouse that America's industries became.

I should have appended IANARS (I am not a rocket scientist) or IANAE (economist) either, but it's a subject that I have some knowledge about and quite a bit of passion, more on those two counts than many people I know and meet.

Thank you for your time.

Slippage (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608502)

If the schedule for the next Falcon 1 launch is pushed back any further Musk might as well go back to writing software.

space *exploration* (3, Insightful)

debatem1 (1087307) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608572)

Alright, I just have to rant about this.

We are eight years into the new millennium. We chose to go to the moon forty-six years ago. I want you to think about that. Not a decade ago. Not even a generation ago. Forty-six years. In some places, two full generations have been born, lived, and passed into history since John F. Kennedy spoke those words to a packed crowd in Houston. And yet here we are, nigh on a half a century of unimaginable innovation later, and we have lost our courage and our way. Not when the stakes were high, not when the risk was great, but now, when bolder men than we have already faced the greatest challenges, we find that we no longer dare to set foot into the void.
It isn't that we don't have the technology. And certainly no newfound danger has emerged to lend credence to the sophists' snivelling. We have, indisputably, the technology, the capital, and the infrastructure to once again walk among the stars. Butt he truth is that we have shrunk away from it, that our collective cowardice and the braying of the bean-counters has emasculated the quintessentially human pursuit of the unknown in its most compelling form. I hate to see what it has done to our country, to our stature in the world, and to the dreams common to all men whose eyes behold the stars- that space seems no nearer to us today than it did on the eve of Apollo 1. I fear that somewhere above us, in the cramped tube that has become the locus of all our space-bound endeavours, those dreams have gone to die. I can say no more than that it appalls me, and that for all the world our hopes are that much less bright for having abandoned the challenge of our age.

/rant over

Re:space *exploration* (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608592)

Rant acknowledged.

We don't need to go into space, apart from re-living the plots in old Heinlein books. I want to go, you may want to go, but neither of us can afford to go. Some people have paid to go to orbit and in 20 or 30 years it may be possible to pay to go to the moon.

By the standards of history, that is pretty fast progress. Consider how long it took to colonise America and Australia after it became clear that there was land out there somewhere.

It will happen. In a hundred years or so I expect some people will live on the moon. Two or three hundred, asteroids and possibly Mars.

Re:space *exploration* (2, Interesting)

debatem1 (1087307) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608758)

I'm not talking about sending everybody though. I'm talking about taking mankind to the stars again. I'm talking about pushing the boundaries of known space. Is that so crazy? Personally, I that we should be doing everything in our power not just to infuse our flagging economy with R&D dollars and great jobs, not just to bring prestige and interest to the sciences and mathematics, but to prove ourselves as equal to the greatest challenges of our species as our forebears, and to bequeath to future generations the legacy of a people whose courage took them into the forbidding unknown? Certainly, for right or for wrong we are the beneficiaries of a culture of exploration, from Magellan to Aldrin and Andrew Jackson to Teddy Roosevelt, our power and prestige has not come from shrinking back from the unknown, but rather from when we leap into the darkness and wrested from it the spoils of our victory. You and I are ourselves children of a post-space-race age, accustomed as we are to the myriad technologies developed in that effort. At what cost, glory? At what cost, opportunity?

Re:space *exploration* (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608874)

The best way to start would be to work for one of the private firms developing launchers and orbital habitats. In the medium term try to establish habitats on near Earth asteroids. I think that is a reasonable goal for our generation.

Re:space *exploration* (2, Informative)

imasu (1008081) | more than 6 years ago | (#22608896)

Don't worry, men will once again walk on the moon and beyond. They just probably won't be Americans. We've dropped that ball *big time*.

Last year's *total* NASA budget was $16.8B. The cost of the Apollo program, adjusted for 2006 dollars, was about $135B ($25B 1969 USD). We're not going to the moon again any time soon, unless there's a drastic change in our spending priorities. Regardless of what any politician tries to sell you.

The change is coming soon. (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22609172)

You did notice the announcement on the Chinese lander, yes? It's launch was moved from 2012-2014, to 2009. It should be obvious that their announcements of timeline and capabilities are false. That is going to spark the next space race. The next president will be forced to deal with that. In particular, one of the real issues will be weaponization. China is pushing for us not to weaponize space, while they are developing such systems. In fact, I am guessing that once China puts a lander on the moon, even Obama will push to speed up NASA, not slow it down. But I suspect that he will create a COTs II for doing it. The reason is that by the end of 2009, I believe that Musk will actually have the dragon certified (in spite of the new launch manifest).

Re:The change is coming soon. (1)

imasu (1008081) | more than 6 years ago | (#22609192)

That would constitute a "drastic change in our spending priorities" as I mentioned, yes? :)

Re:The change is coming soon. (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22609320)

Even if American Gov. does nothing, Americans will be on the moon within a decade. In fact, I believe it will be either 2015 or 2016. Yeah, that is aggressive, but I think that we will be there. Both bigelow and musk want this. Bad. Once we have a base there, rich ppl will want to vacation there. And of course, behind all that will be the DOD. I would be surprised if DOD does not put big money into this starting in 2011 (most likely to fund the spacex BFR).

Another prediction is that either Carmack (with more funding) or Bezos will join this. They both speak about developing a rocket for use on earth, but their work will be of better use on the moon. In fact, I believe that one of these 2 will hook up with Musk to do the Google prize. Keep in mind that if you want lots of money to be spent, you have to have lots of press. And the prize will be as mainstream as a presidential election. All of America, the west, and most of the world will be pushing for somebody to win this. Few want to stay on this rock (well, I am seeing FAR too many Americans who believe that we should either do just robotics or nothing; Thank God none of those will make a single US policy).

Re:The change is coming soon. (2, Funny)

lennier (44736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22618200)

"Another prediction is that either Carmack (with more funding) or Bezos will join this. They both speak about developing a rocket for use on earth, but their work will be of better use on the moon. In fact, I believe that one of these 2 will hook up with Musk to do the Google prize."

2008: The Large Hadron Collider is powered up.

2009: Jeff Bezos, John Carmack, and Richard Branson announce the merging of Armadillo, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic into the 'Union Aerospace Company'.

2010: The LHC detects the Higgs Boson, as well as anomalous results suggesting the existence of wormhole formation.

2012: Mark Shuttleworth is the first UAC astronaut to land on the moon at Copernicus Crater. The landing site is named 'Zenlike Zulu'.

2016: The UAC beats NASA to obtain a European Union science contract to build the Lunar Farside Accelerator, an automated facility to investigate wormhole creation.

2017: The LDA, and the entire far side of the Moon, vanishes.

2018: Undeterred, the UAC continues with plans to build a manned Mars science base on the moon Phobos...

Re:The change is coming soon. (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22615660)

While I'm not completely dissing China here, this seems to be rather ambitious for China to make it to the Moon sometime next year... or even by the end of the next decade (2020). Ambitious to the point that if they make it to the Moon, that you might see some "Chinese Astronauts" die as a result of the activities.

If the Chinese are conducting aggressive LEO operations, this might be quite a bit more believable. Doing docking rendezvous or other orbital actions that would demonstrate equipment capable of being used for lunar operations. This is hard-won experience to be able to accomplish this sort of task, and something that even NASA is lacking right now, with all of their Apollo-era astronauts who knew these skills being retired and soon will die due to age.

This isn't suggesting that China couldn't get to the Moon quickly, but I don't see them making it soon. I should note that Shenzhou 7, the "next" manned Chinese spaceflight, is supposed to be the first Chinese EVA attempt. Something worth watching, and one of the baby steps necessary for getting to the Moon.

The Chinese have shown themselves to be very cautious in terms of spaceflight of any sort, and generally don't "push the envelope" very much, at least in terms of racing to achieve some sort of technological objective like landing on the Moon.

An unmanned lander going to the Moon built by the Chinese may be more practical... but then again, look at the Google Space Prize at a whole bunch of people trying to do that same thing in the USA (and elsewhere!) as well... this time without support by NASA. That won't have nearly the same sort of reaction as you are suggesting here, unless you think another spacecraft like Clementine should be built and launched to the Moon.

Re:The change is coming soon. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22616402)

China is looking to move up the lander probe schedule to next year, not taikonauts. They initially claimed that the lander would take place in 2012. Now it is 3 years ahead. I believe that is actually meant to test their automated landing on the moon. It is quit likely that this system will be used for the final lunar vehicle. The fact that they have moved it up, means that they are concerned about something else. My guess is that American private is moving very fast by their estimates.

As to them having earned this, that is very false. Nearly all of their tech was bought from Russia or China. Russia earned it. America earned it. China simply bought it. Even their rockets were 1 off designs from Russia, and it took Americans to go in and correct their system. Other tech they have flatly stolen. My understanding is that their new space suits will be theirs though. We will see.

Finally, as to losing a few ppl in the try for the moon, well, it is likely. Hopefully, it will show the west that this is the kind of thing that is worth dieing for. Right now, we have lost 4000 troops in Iraq over OIL. I would rather lose 4000 astronauts struggling to get to mars than 4000 over more oil.

Re:The change is coming soon. (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22622876)

So wow! China is going to duplicate the Ranger series [wikipedia.org] of spacecraft!

I am underwhelmed at this huge revelation. Especially for a major national government that prides itself as a superpower which is a peer to Russia and America.

This is exactly what I thought was more legitimate in terms of something that China might try to pull off. It wouldn't surprise me if John Carmack might team up with Elon Musk and try something like that as a demonstration flight either, and produce something that could stick around on the Moon for a longer period of time as well.

I'm not saying that I don't find it interesting that China is getting to the space business, and I do wish them quite a bit of luck and success. But I don't see how China landing an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon is going to be anything worth bragging about other than the fact that they are demonstrating ballistic missile technology... proving that China is equivalent to what America had in the 1960's. Something of concern as China is a nuclear weapon political power, but otherwise not remarkable. Certainly not something for an American president to even mention in a press release, much less enact major legislation to get America to compete against China.

Re:The change is coming soon. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22625690)

Yeah, it is actually a nuclear powered rover. The real issue is that they had announced that they would land on 2013. Now, it is moved up to 2009. The craft that is expected to return samples will supposedly go 2017. The Chiange 3 will land, run around and collect samples, and then send it back to earth. They will follow the 3 with a human mission. They timeline calls for man to the moon around 2021. But my guess is that China will send a team by 2014-2015. The real issue is not that they have the tech, but that they announce one timeline, and then have sped it up. That will spook the DOD (and it should). Keep in mind that China did something similar with their nuclear sub; type 094. It was not suppose to be launched until 2010. It was found to have been launched in 2007 or earlier. The amount of money that China is spending on Military and Space is going to cause a LOT of issues over the next 2 years.

As to carmack teaming up, I use to think that was the ideal team. But the problem is that John has a nice company, but it does not make ANYWHERE near what amazon does. Bezos and Carmack are basically seeking the same craft technology. As such, I am guessing that Musk will team up with Bezos to capture the lunar x prize, followed by working with Bigelow to have access to the moon.

Re:space *exploration* (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22610864)

Last year's *total* NASA budget was $16.8B. The cost of the Apollo program, adjusted for 2006 dollars, was about $135B ($25B 1969 USD).

Hm... so the Apollo program went from 1961 to 1975, 14 years total. $135B/14 = $9.6 billion/year, which seems to be substantially less than NASA is getting now. Am I missing something in my calculations?

Re:space *exploration* (1)

cloricus (691063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614620)

Yes. This is all extrapolation so kind of pointless anyway... But, your figure easily puts one single program at well over half of NASAs total budget per year for ten+ years. On top of this they have to pay all other expenses and upkeep on a mothballed fleet of other projects that would have to wait the ten years while we reinvent the wheel. Also your average doesn't take into account out bursts in yearly funding requirements - pretty sure the apollo 11 year would have cost a lot more than the apollo 1 year.

Then again I totally agree with the world super power spending its money on increasing R&D in science over increasing the rate at which it pays for its Maccas workers being killed. Plus, while we are talking about broad extrapolations, we already know that space weaponisation isn't an issue due to the total lack of nuclear weapons leading to total world destruction over the last fifty-sixty years.

Not so fast. (3, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22609106)

Well, there is no doubt that many presidents since Kennedy/LBJ dropped the ball. I will say that things are not a total waste. While Nixon gave us the shuttle era, and reagan, Bushes, and Clinton gave us the ISS, a number of tech sprang from these. Probably most of all, is spacex and bigelow. The reason is that both of these companies CEOs are driven to go not to LEO, but to the moon and mars. And they want to do it CHEAP. Musk has built a rocket that is suppose to be cheaper than Russias, EU, India, Japan, AND even CHina with their yuan tied to the dollar. What many forget is that as long as he gets the falcon 1 and falcon 9 working, he starts profitable. Why? He has not only COTs, but he has the military, and other systems lining up. While we all know about failures of the 2 launches, what many missed, is that he launched the falcon 1 with less than 25 guys (I think that it was only 12 on-site). The Falcon 9 with a crewed config is still expected to be less than 100. The shuttle take several thousand at launch time. And of course, Musk has another rocket waiting in the wings. It is apparently smaller than Saturn V, but bigger than the next larger one. The idea is that once the launch rate is up, he will introduce it. He is expecting that around 2012-2013. While smaller than the Ares V, it will again be CHEAP, and designed to launch ~100,000KG to LEO, with perhaps 35-45,000 KG to the moon. Realize that even 35000 KG to the moon is more than all of the current rockets take to LEO. All in all, he will make space access cheap enough that businesses and rich folks will go.

Bigelow is using not just the transhab that sprang from the ISS, but is looking to use NASA's Life Support System. In the end, like spacex, his system costs will be very low. Bigelow first design is to operate in LEO, and will operate a multiple of these. But the design is to be used also for transportation as well as lunar and possibly Martian habitation. He is hoping to use these to carry ppl to the moon/mars , which is why they are so big. And his group is actively working on ideas and designs on mining and farming on the moon.

Even others are getting in on cheap access. Richard Branson's Virgin Galatic is looking to initially provide low orbital shots into space, followed by HOPEFULLY, even cheaper access to LEO. It is not likely that they will be able to put 100K KG worth of cargo up cheap, but they will hopefully be able to carry up the most difficult load (life) up cheap. I would not be surprised to see Branson decide to purchase a bigelow system to use as a hotel and perhaps a couple of falcon 9's.

Yes, through my lifetime, only 1 president has had a great vision of space, and that was kennedy (johnson simply followed his policy and all others have either been neutral or have taken us backwards). But Griffin's push on COTs made spaceX profitable. That policy has allowed Musk the chance to be profitable enough with this company that he is relatively risk free to work on bigger plans. Bigelow bought the rights to Transhab, a development from ISS, and he is now pushing to make even LMart do a large number of low-costs rockets.

Combine the cheap access, habitation with all the groups working on space access, mining, and innovation, and I now have hope that my kids will be able to settle on Mars. THings are looking to be back on track.

Re:Not so fast. (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22616090)

I'm a fairly big fan of SpaceX myself, so I won't rehash most of what you've said here... which is pretty good.

Bush('43) at least set the vision that Mars should be a long-term goal of NASA, and set in motion a series of actions that IMHO will make this irreversible in terms of future presidents. Nixon first suggested Mars as an eventual goal for manned spaceflight, but then did nothing at all to make it happen. At least Bush has specific programs being worked upon at NASA that are specific for an eventual mission to Mars. All Clinton did was push the ISS... which was really a Reagan-era program but rehashed for political purposes.

Keep in mind that the ISS was really a technology transfer vehicle from the Russian experiences in building MIR to bring that expertise to the USA. Time will tell if that is a bargain or not, but the ISS certainly is a step ahead of MIR in terms of capabilities and performance. Your comment here about Robert Bigelow gaining expertise off of the ISS is also very valid, and indirectly is a bonus from the MIR/Salyut experience as well.

Making SpaceX profitable is an amazing accomplishment on the part of Musk, and speaks volumes in terms of his approach to building that company up. The awesome part of the Dragon capsule is that it will be the first manned spacecraft that you can purchase without a specific congressional authorization by an American. There were previous attempts to purchase a privately owned space shuttle, but for various reasons these never happened... including some huge political roadblocks that kept it from happening.

I think the Falcon 1 is going to be heavily used, and due to its cost is going to bring about a whole new market that otherwise wouldn't have considered spaceflight before. Musk certainly seems to be hoping that a successful Falcon 1 launch is going to bring a large number of customers.

Musk certainly seems to be on the road to having a pretty good year for 2008, with the success of his other company, Tesla Motors. The Roadster has finally entered production and serial number 1 has been delivered. The only thing I haven't heard about is his solar energy company, which was going to mass-market solar-electric panels for home electricity generation at cheap prices. Obvious tie-ins for Tesla and SpaceX should be quite apparent as well if this other company makes any huge moves.

Re:Not so fast. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22630548)

Nanosolar has also gone into volume production, and has hit such a good price point that their entire projected 2008 production, at a nominal 100% capacity, is already sold. I was hoping they'd do retail panel sales, but it looks like that won't happen until 2009 at the earliest, and if they keep pushing for ever lower price points, it may be 2010 before they have the capacity to meet demand.

Re:space *exploration* (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22609718)

The problem is that we haven't had all that much innovation in the areas of chemistry and anti-gravity. So the whole getting to orbit thing is still really dangerous and expensive. And no one thinks that they have a self contained ecosystem that needs the challenges of a vacuum to improve, so the 'life boat' argument sort of falls flat(because money is better spent on things other than leaving the gravity well we call home).

Realistically, the challenge of our age is feeding everybody(not so much now as in 25 or 40 years, when there are 14 billion of us, but also now).

Re:space *exploration* (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22616236)

Actually, the only problem is that we haven't had too much innovation in terms of discovering new radioscopicly stable isotope of elements that can be extracted in large enough quantities for a fuel source, and simultaneously cheap enough to use as a fuel source as well.

There are only so many ways to combine basic elements in order to provide a chemical energy source, and the combination of hydrogen+oxygen is a tough reaction to beat in terms of rapid exothermic reactions, or its availability in large quantities on the Earth. Perhaps other exotic chemical reactions can be made, but it needs the new element Unobtainium [wikipedia.org] .

There has been continued progress in terms of developing other fuels sources, although it should be noted that the fueling of the vehicle... except for the fact that it needs fuel of some sort... is generally a very secondary consideration in spacecraft design. The cost of the vehicle materials, the engine design, and other considerations that drive up the cost are so significant that the fuel costs are statistically irrelevant.

As for anti-gravity... yeah, you may be right. If it can possibly move from being considered a psuedo-science topic to something more serious. Or even prove theoretically that it is even possible. I'd place more bets on finding a material with the tensile strength necessary for a space elevator first.

As for finding the food to feed everybody in the world... I consider that to be a solved problem as a scientific problem. The issue has more to do with politics and logistics... and the majority of that is political as well. With companies like ConAgra trying to figure out how to burn food up as a vehicle fuel source, the issue of generating sufficient food for 10x the current population of the world is hardly a concern.

I'm not saying that people don't go to bed hungry in many parts of the world for a lack of available food sources, but that happens because the leaders of their country have a wish for them to starve... or don't want to give up the political power they have in order to get the available food to those people who need the food. The food is there and available in quantities so large that the food is literally rotting away unused in most cases that could feed these "starving millions". The transportation infrastructure into these places is also mostly so poor that the food can't be brought to them from outside of the immediate neighborhood/communities where they live.

So tell me, when was the last famine that hit Los Angeles? It was in the early 19th Century, when the transportation infrastructure was so poor that the whole community died out to the last person. Yet there is a city of several million people living there now. Why aren't they still starving to death with 10000x the population that starved previously from a lack of food?

Re:space *exploration* (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22616650)

If we don't have the political will to deal with hunger, is it reasonable to expect that we have the political will to colonize space?

My comment about chemistry and anti-gravity was a bit tongue in cheek; neither has advanced, nor are they particularly likely to advance, a great deal from the state of the art in 1960(so, decent fuels and no anti-gravity), so advances in other areas aren't going to have an enormous impact on the basic operational economics of space faring. And other than satellite launches and super high end tourism(both of which are being actively pursued in the private sector), I'm not aware of any activity that justifies the fuel costs, let alone amortization of development costs. Nuclear rockets(and such) are interesting, but they currently slam head long into that lack of political will from earlier.

There is some argument to be made about having humans living somewhere other than on planet earth, but we don't know how to do that in a way that would be useful(which I would deem to be self sufficiency for at least several years, but really, decades), and the problems associated with it aren't problems that you need to be in space to investigate, so(and this is clearly an opinion) it isn't particularly worthwhile to be exercising our ability to deal with the challenges we can handle. It would be neat to have a moon base, and I'm sure all sorts of operational experience and interesting technologies would fall out of such a program, but I don't think the value of that experience and technology, added together with the fact that it was neat, would even begin to justify the costs.

The way I see it, the OP is standing on the sea shore holding a plank and pointing and shouting. Its easy to see that what he is talking about is compelling, but all signs point to it being, still, a little premature.

Re:space *exploration* (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22622734)

The issues of living somewhere other than on the Earth are, for the most part, also political. I have heard it said that why live on Mars when people haven't figured out how to live on Antarctica. The reason people in large numbers aren't living on Antarctica has to do with politics... particularly environmental politics that is concerned about oil and mining companies heading into that continent and establishing mineral extraction enterprises... and what will be done to keep the damage to the environment to a minimum if that happens. Even more politically explosive is to determine exactly what government jurisdiction has control over that continent and anything obtained there. I've heard it said that Antarctica may have more oil than the Middle East... think about how many countries might be interested in that!

Yes, I've read the Antarctic treaty... I've also read the Outer Space Treaty and other similar kinds of documents related to international law governing what happens in territory not currently a part of any particular nation state. It is very ugly right now on a political scope, and it will take a few very brave people to try and start challenging the current political order of things. This also applies to how the law is going to apply to what is going to happen to other worlds besides the Earth.

I personally don't take the Lunar Embassy seriously, nor any other similar effort to claim property rights. It will take somebody physically getting there, and holding up a gun to defend their turf denying others the ability to use it.

As to who is going to pay for trips into space... I think you might be surprised. As the costs of going into space drop, new markets are opening up for space-related businesses, and there are reasonable and compelling reasons to go up. It is far more than just rich tourists and communications satellites. But it will take building an infrastructure in terms of transportation systems that are affordable to make it happen. If Musk succeeds here with his approach, the cost of going into space for the average American or European (throw in the Japanese for good measure) is very comparable to what it cost the average European to travel to America in the 17th Century. A huge investment, no doubt, but at the cusp of something that can be done. The problem now is that a destination needs to be provided... which was also a major problem in the 17th Century for Europeans as well.

BTW, as for nuclear rocketry, I don't know of anybody who is legitimately talking about using nuclear rockets for launching somebody from the ground into Earth orbit using that sort of technology. This is something that is intended for inter-planetary missions... and I dare you to show me the environmental hazards that would come from the use of nuclear rockets on a genuine spaceship that travels through interplanetary space between the Earth and Mars. There aren't any, unless you are standing directly under the exhaust plume... which I wouldn't want to do under conventional chemical rockets either.

Re:space *exploration* (1)

benevixit (754447) | more than 6 years ago | (#22609848)

I disagree that space exploration has nothing to show for the past two generations... in fact, if you look at the track record of unpiloted exploration the progress has been nothing short of remarkable. Despite getting de-funded by an order of magnitude, after accounting for inflation, NASA has revolutionized our understanding of the solar system and the universe through missions like the Voyager probes, the Mars exploration rovers, and the Hubble telescope. Consider everything (that we can now take for granted) which space science has given us since the moon landing:

- first close-up images of Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn
- dunes, fjords and rivers on Titan
- icy volcanoes on IO
- subsurface oceans on Europa
- images from the surface of Mars and Venus
- dark matter
- discovery of hundreds of extrasolar planets, with some evidence of "terrestrial type" worlds
- proof of historical liquid water on Mars
- visible evidence of black holes

...And the list goes on. It's easy to forget how much we've learned since the 60's - I was browsing an old textbook from the era and was startled to find that the best map they could offer was a crummy, blurred-out and largely incorrect artist's "impression." Contrast with our current understanding: http://www.google.com/mars/ [google.com]

So I would agree with you that human spaceflight has gone basically nowhere since the moon, but I would draw a different conclusion. It's not that exploration has gone away, it's just that all the successes have been in the area of unpiloted missions. Which ironically cost much, much less than the piloted ones!

Re:space *exploration* (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22611528)

Bravo, sir! Very well said.

Fortunately there are more than a few of us out there that feel the same, and some are doing something about it. Whether or not that turns out to have been too little and too late, we shall see.

Sigh. In the late 1980s I had a reasonable expectation of being able to retire on the Moon, but NASA not only screwed their own pooch, they went out and started screwing everyone else's too (see the fate of DC-X for example). L5 merged with the NASA Fan Club, er, National Space Society, and Sagan's Planetary Society was always more interested in making space safe for robots, not people. Then came sixteen years of cowards and fools in the White House, and bog help us it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon. (Some might have said "another sixteen years", but GHWB's VP Dan Quayle got the DC-X project started, which wouldn't have been possible without Reagan's BMDO ("star wars")).

China was at one time the richest and most advanced country on the planet, and they sent a fleet of ships westward at least as far as Africa, decades before Portugal's early voyages. Then they halted their own age of exploration and entered a steady relative decline that they're only now, six hundred years later, coming out of. There was a five hundred year gap between the Norse withdrawal and Europeans again settling in North America. Americans may yet go again to the Moon and then Mars and beyond, but if we don't do it soon we're likely to find immigration agents there waiting for us.
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