Safely landing the Falcon 9 first stage on the next launch


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The competition heats up: The website SpaceFlightNow takes a close look at SpaceX’s effort on the next Falcon 9 launch on December 16 to recover the rocket’s first stage.

Musk estimates a 50% chance of success on this launch. Though I think his estimate is reasonable, I also think that this number is a testament to the skill and success of his company. Imagine: in less than three years, since Musk first proposed the idea of landing the first stage vertically, they have come so close to doing it! NASA certainly couldn’t have moved that fast. Neither could most of the experienced launch companies like Arianespace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, or Russia.

Instead, it takes a new company, a fresh outlook, and freedom to change the world. Who would have guessed?

9 comments

  • PeterF

    I wonder if this event will receive comparative media coverage to the first shuttle landings…

  • Competential

    The rocket industry isn’t very innovative, which opens for successful competitive entry. By developing a brand new rocket from scratch, one can design to take advantage of modern production methods and even new concepts like reusability. Nine engines allow for engine-out-survival. 3D-printed engines give total control over their production quality. Common core boosters that share fuel. And everything else, including organization, is state of the art for our time.

    The competition holds on to their old stuff. Even extremely reliable rockets like Soyuz, Ariane 5, Atlas V, Delta IV cannot compete economically. Proton’s reliability is in question. Angara was basically developed in the 1980’s. The Indian GSLV versions have failed a majority of their launches. Maybe the new Chinese rockets are more innovative than just building upon old technology and concepts? (I wouldn’t expect they do.) The engines of Antares and SLS are out of production, they take old engines designed for other vehicles from the storage, which must lead to compromises. Ariane 6 maybe won’t happen now that the Italians seem to have left the project.

    ULA-Blue origin and the Chinese is the only potential competition to SpaceX that I can imagine next decade, but haven’t heard much about them. Can the Souyz (with half the lift capacity of Falcon 9) still be going strong more than half a century after it was designed?

    Elon Musk chose the rocket business because the competition is retarded, fundamentally because of legacy political decisions.

  • Competential

    There’s the Mitsubishi H-II launchers too. The H-IIA has been reliable, but it seems to build upon old rockets (Delta) and I don’t see anything very innovative with them.

  • Competential

    Good point, because it won’t. Although, to ordinary people, the shuttle just looked like an airplane landing on a runway, while a Falcon 9 landing will look as if Flash Gordon will step out of it.

  • geoffc

    The landing coverage will depend on what SpaceX publishes.

    The barge will be sufficiently offshore, NOTAM excluding vessels, and airplanes/helicopters from the region that the only source of video will be SpaceX itself.

    Heres hoping that the barge is outfitted with TONS of cameras!

    Mid-day launch windows 2:30PM EST I think, so should be good light too.

    But imagine a camera under the X in the center, video of a stage landing on top of it before it melts.

    No cows this time though. I like the McGregor cows. Especially in the latest videos where some hear the engine and run. Others look, as if to say, Meh, rocket launching next door, what else is new? (World’s most jaded cows, wonder how they taste?)

  • geoffc

    H-II A or B are so expensive, nobody will ever launch commercially on them without serious discounts. (Witness the single commercial launch they snagged as I recall). It is a national pride project so Japan will continue using it but it is just plain not viable.

  • geoffc

    I just hope when they go for landing they televise it, and CapCom gets to say “Lock S-foils in attack position” when it is time to deploy the grid fins.

  • mccuerc

    “Nasa certainly couldn’t have moved that fast”

    That’s a little blind to history.

    NASA moved very fast during the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo program. Going from incapable of successfully launching a manned vehicle to landing on the moon within a decade. They took a lot of risk. They killed 3 astronauts on the pad in Apollo 1. They nearly lost the Eagle on the Moon. They nearly lost Apollo 13. And what they did was so gigantic that the argument can easily be made that progress stopped with the Apollo program. (That’s false of course, as much has been learned about actually maintaining humans alive in space since then.) But launch technology certainly has coasted for almost 45 years on the first burst of NASA work.

    What is critical about NASA moving fast was money (peaking at 4.41% of the federal budget in 1966 versus roughly 0.50% now), a clearly articulated single goal to which everything else was subordinated, and a real competitor to that single goal in the Soviet Union. Or put in simple words: politics. The political will existed to do things. Now the political will that keeps NASA going is the rather grimy politics of making sure that every congressional district gets some of the jobs (from an engineering viewpoint inefficient – from a survival viewpoint critically necessary) and that nothing goes wrong in a spectacular manner. NASA thus is cautious and slow today. Not out of any organizational necessity but out of political necessity. A political weight penalty that SpaceX, thankfully, does not have to carry.

  • Competential

    I think NASA could move fast in the 1960’s because it was a new organization then. I recognize the pattern from many governmental bureaucracies, that when they were new they did accomplish stuff. But when they mature they stand still. Increased budgets won’t help anymore.

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