SpaceX launches satellite with reused first stage, recovers stage


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Capitalism in space: SpaceX has done it again. They have placed a Bulgarian television satellite into orbit, using a previously flown first stage.

The landing of the first stage had a moment of fear. Just before the stage was to land, as it was firing its engines during the landing burn, the video showed something hit the water next to the barge, then the image froze and was lost. For about fifteen seconds it appeared that possibly something had gone wrong during the burn. Then the image returned, showing the stage sitting neatly and upright and apparently unharmed, on the barge. Whether this stage will fly a third time will have to wait until they inspect it, but if it does, they will certainly prove without question that the decades of big space engineers telling us that such things were impossible was childish and narrow-minded hogwash.

Remember that the next time someone tells you something is too hard to try to do.

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11 comments

  • 116,479 Was the ‘watching now’ peak viewers for this launch.
    The highest I’ve seen in all live streams of SpaceX.

  • geoffc

    Theory seems to be that with a three engine landing burn, the thrust from the booster was affecting the water as it came in. Thus the ‘something hit the water’ is likely the exhaust from the engines.

    Also seems like SpaceX figured since this is the second flight, lets see how close to the edge of performance we can get.

    Cannot wait till they get footage off the barge of the landing though.

    I think it was Gwynne who suggested that they are not crashing enough to learn properly. (In reference to Grasshopper of course, not production vehicles).

  • mkent

    “…they will certainly prove without question that the decades of big space engineers telling us that such things were impossible was childish and narrow-minded hogwash.”

    Do you mean the big space engineers that accomplished the same functional thing 128 times between 1981 and 2011? Or the ones that flew Delta Clipper in 1993? Or the ones building their own RLVs before the NASDAQ crash in 2000?

    SpaceX is doing some amazing things. What’s even more amazing is the mythology that’s been built up around them.

  • mkent: I am talking about the engineers and managers at companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin and Arianespace, who spent decades doing nothing to innovate their rocket designs so as to lower costs. If anyone suggested they do so, they poo-pooed the idea as foolish and unworthy of attention.

    Nor do the space shuttle or the Delta Clipper apply here. These were built not by private companies trying to lower cost, but by big government agencies who, though interested in developing new rocket designs, had no idea that such designs have to be tied to cost or they will go nowhere in the free market. Which both the space shuttle and Delta Clipper did-go nowhere.

    As for the RLVs being developed in the late 1990s, they might have done what SpaceX has done, if the market hadn’t crashed, and if the cellphone market hadn’t burst the satellite telephone market. But the market did crash, and the cellphone market made satellite telephones noncompetitive, at that time, and so these rocket companies went bust.

  • Jhon

    When I saw the splash in the water and the picture freeze I thought OH NO, it went in the drink. First landing I have seen where they did not land inside the bullseye.
    These landings are amazing and one of the things that got me interested in space again.

  • pzatchok

    As for comparing then Shuttle to a reusable space craft.

    Well if it didn’t need a years turn around and rebuild time maybe.
    If you reused more than the shuttle air frame itself maybe.
    And if in the end they were not trading parts from one shuttle to the next just to get one more flying maybe.

    The space shuttle was originally built to carry and recover the Hexagon KH-9 secret spy satellite. And old film based system.
    But by the time the shuttle made its second flight technology passed it by and spy satellites were converting over to digital cameras.

    After that everything the shuttle did was make work. Everything it did could have been done with updates Apollo style craft.

  • Edward

    mkent,
    You mentioned a few previous attempts at creating low cost entry to space. They failed for various reasons, but the one overall theme to those reasons is: rocket development is difficult.

    http://spacenews.com/500-new-space-startups-by-2025-the-founder-institute-wants-to-make-that-happen/
    “[E]ntrepreneurship itself is very hard and space entrepreneurship is orders of magnitude harder because you have all the complexities of space itself and you have all the unusual market dynamics of the space industry.”

    Some engineers made it look easy, such as Dick Rutan and Elon Musk, but other engineers who also knew how to do it had unexpected problems with the technologies that they were trying to develop. Kistler, Armadillo, and Rotary Rocket companies are three that went bust trying to improve rocket technology and reduce launch costs.

    Entering the space industry is a bit easier now than it was in the 1990s, because venture capitalists no longer think that it is impossible to do so. Thus some financing can be obtained in order to start a new company. The technology development is still problematic.

  • ken anthony

    The problem with naysayers is it takes many failures to make a success so naysayers are always going to be right more often than wrong. Once proven wrong they just switch to beating other dead horses.

    Basically, naysaying is for lazy cowards.

    Naysayers should not be confused with skeptics. Skepticism requires thought. Naysaying really doesn’t.

  • mkent

    “I am talking about the engineers and managers at companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin and Arianespace, who spent decades doing nothing to innovate their rocket designs so as to lower costs.”

    Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and their ULA joint venture have been innovating in rocket design for the last thirty years, improving performance, reliability, *and* cost. SpaceX is doing good work, but they’re a newcomer in this game.

    Delta Clipper not about cost? That is to laugh! Delta Clipper was about nothing but cost.

    NASA and the Air Force priced out the DC-X as a $1 billion program that was so high-risk it was likely to fail. Then-McDonnell-Douglas succeeded with the program, and they did so for about $60 million.

    The purpose of the program was to develop the technology for (and then later develop) a re-usable launch vehicle that could launch SDIO’s Brilliant Pebbles. That program envisioned the launch of 100,000 space-based autonomous interceptors. There was no way to affordably launch such a constellation using the technology of the 1980’s. By dramatically lowering launch costs far more than SpaceX has done, Delta Clipper would have made that program possible.

    Alas, Brilliant Pebbles was cancelled, and the need for Delta Clipper died with it. The program was transferred to NASA, who didn’t want it, and they killed it outright after an accident. Boeing continued development privately, planning to replace the Delta II with it around 2010, but that effort died with Teledesic in the NASDAQ crash of 2000.

    To claim that nobody cared about launch costs before SpaceX is ridiculous. It’s the claim of a fanboy, not a serious journalist or historian.

  • LocalFluff

    mkent
    “To claim that nobody cared about launch costs before SpaceX is ridiculous. “

    So you say that they are stupid? Stooopid.
    That they have tried but always failed?
    No, even I wouldn’t be that rude. And I’m rude! I think it is political. That there never even were any intention to even try to make launches cheaper. And the rocket boys were happy to play with the toys in the garage. Costs were someone else’s problem.

  • Edward

    mkent wrote: “NASA and the Air Force priced out the DC-X as a $1 billion program that was so high-risk it was likely to fail. Then-McDonnell-Douglas succeeded with the program, and they did so for about $60 million.

    For $60 million, all DC-X did was small hops. For the entire billion dollars, a second, larger prototype was supposed to eventually go into orbit and return. It turned out that the billion dollars was not so available, after all.

    mkent wrote: “To claim that nobody cared about launch costs before SpaceX is ridiculous.

    Both the Space Shuttle and the DC-X started out with the intention of lowering costs, but neither worked out that way. The problem, as I see it, was that neither NASA nor the Congressional purse strings cared enough about the cost-to-orbit to seriously pursue solutions. Otherwise the Space Shuttle would have been announced as the disappointment that it was and a replacement would have been worked out. The cost to put a pound into orbit remained about the same for half a century.

    Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and their ULA joint venture have only made incremental changes to performance, which is why everyone is so excited or spooked by SpaceX’s accomplishments. SpaceX and Orbital ATK have demonstrated that development costs can be reduced from the aerospace standard, and that has people excited or spooked, too. Boeing and Sierra Nevada may add more evidence that development costs have been too high, for the past half century. Blue Origin has the opportunity to show that SpaceX’s launch prices are not an anomaly but are the future of spaceflight.

    Aren’t these exciting (or spooky) facts what Robert’s paper, “Capitalism In Space” is all about?
    http://behindtheblack.com/books/capitalism-in-space/

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