SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket gets a customer

The competition heats up: The commercial satellite company Inmarsat has booked SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket for one firm launch and two additional options.

The firm contract is for the launch, scheduled perhaps aggressively for late 2016, of a satellite being built for both Inmarsat and Arabsat of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Arabsat will use the satellite for conventional telecommunications services for its wholly owned Hellas-Sat fleet operator of Greece. The Inmarsat payload uses S-band to provide mobile communications in Europe as part of a satellite-terrestrial broadband network, which is a new business line for Inmarsat.

Inmarsat’s launch contract is for a rocket that has not even yet been tested once, which tells us something about the faith they have in SpaceX. While I would be shocked if they didn’t have an option to pull out should there be significant delays or problems in launching Falcon Heavy, that they are willing to commit to it now is a convincing endorsement of SpaceX.

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16 comments

  • DK Williams

    I just hope SpaceX doesn’t become a target for government bureaucrats protecting their own interests.

    • Kelly Starks

      Govs been carrying SpaceX up until now. A bigger issues is political winds changing for SpaceX after the next election or two? They can’t be covering costs at what they state they charge commercials, and certification will be a bear, if possible at all, given their structure and company/design concepts. Likely one of the reasons they and SNC need a 6 month extension on CCDev. Could cut them out of Mil and CCDev business.

      • Dick Eagleson

        Govs been carrying SpaceX up until now.

        More like the other way around. SpaceX provides the cheapest ISS resupply and the only way to get significant mass back downhill from ISS. Compared to what NASA would have to pay the Japanese, the europeans, the Russians or even Orbital Sciences just to haul freight uphill, SpaceX is going to save NASA more money by the end of its current CRS contract than the development money NASA provided to them during the entire COTS and CCDev process. By the time 2020 rolls around, NASA will have achieved a considerable ROI on its development seed money for SpaceX.

        And none of the aforementioned pricier freight haulers can bring more than a few hundred pounds of small stuff back from orbit. SpaceX’s ability to do so makes the ISS far more valuable to commercial experimenters who also provide NASA with revenue. So unique SpaceX capabilities yield a second stream of investment return for NASA.

        A bigger issues is political winds changing for SpaceX after the next election or two?

        Only if you share the delusional notion entertained by some that Elon is one of Obama’s golf buddies. The new House Majority Leader is from California, SpaceX’s major center of employment. Hard to see how that hurts. If, as seems likely, the Republicans emerge from November 2014 in control of the Senate as well as the House, Richard Shelby will be more powerful, but so will every Republican senator and there are a lot more of them with reasons to resist gratuitous attempts to sabotage SpaceX. As months go by with no more RD-180’s arriving from Russia, it’s going to be more and more untenable for the usual ULA amen corner to keep insisting on corrupt business as usual. The politics that increasingly favor SpaceX are mostly international.

        They can’t be covering costs at what they state they charge commercials,

        So now you claim to know what SpaceX’s books look like? You’re wasted on space blogging. You should join the Psychic Friends Network.

        SpaceX has stated that it is cash flow positive. That has evidently been true for at least the last two years as that is when I recall Elon first saying this. As SpaceX has neither gone public nor even solicited additional funds from its extant venture capital investors during this time, I have no reason to believe it’s not true. Much of SpaceX’s capital spending on the Hawthorne plant, McGregor test facility, and Vandenberg and Canaveral pad renovations was done before 2012. In the last two years, the main SpaceX expenditures for infrastructure have been land and regulatory compliance for the Brownsville facility and the beginnings of renovation work on LC-39A at KSC. At the same time, SpaceX has actually booked major revenue from both NASA and private launch customers during this interval. Bottom line? If SpaceX is supposed to be broke now, they must have been really broke two years ago after spending to build most of their infrastructure but before all this recent revenue came in. But they weren’t broke two years ago and are still less so now.

        and certification will be a bear, if possible at all, given their structure and company/design concepts.

        As usual, here, one can glean very little about what you’re talking about by simply reading the text of your comment – lots of completely unsupported dark implications, no specific facts. What, in your learned opinion, makes SpaceX’s “structure” and/or “company/design concepts” impediments to certification? If you imagine the answer to be obvious by inspection, you are quite wrong, as usual.

        The only thing about which you are even partially correct is that certification is, indeed, a “bear” because it’s an essentially pointless bureaucratic exercise in ass-covering by the USAF procurement bureaucracy. But SpaceX appears to have figured out how to jump the hoops and the critical path to completing certification now seems to be how many bodies the Aerospace Corp. can put on the project. No one credible who has commented publicly on this process – including those in charge of the process on both the SpaceX and Aerospace Corp. ends of things – thinks that certification procedures will not be complete on or before December 31, 2014 or that SpaceX will fail to be certified.

        Likely one of the reasons they and SNC need a 6 month extension on CCDev.

        A likelier reason is that NASA may not be able to pay them for milestones achieved any faster than that as NASA has never received as much as they have requested for CCDev. In any event, both SpaceX and Sierra Nevada have a far more challenging set of milestones to accomplish, including multiple flight tests of actual hardware, than does Boeing. Boeing, despite getting more money via CCDev than either SpaceX or SNC, has never built a complete vehicle or even built an assembly facility in which to turn one out. Since Boeing isn’t doing much that’s real on CCDev, it’s unsurprising they’ve asked for no extensions.

        Could cut them out of Mil and CCDev business.

        Yes, we all know by now what you want for Christmas. Problem is, you haven’t been a good boy this year.

        • Kelly Starks

          >> Govs been carrying SpaceX up until now.

          > More like the other way around. SpaceX provides the cheapest ISS resupply …

          Incorrect, and rather irrelevant. The point is SpaceX has largely been funded by NASA and AF grants and contract, and getting special exceptions to rules. That was done in response to political pressure, which is likely not going to be there, and SpaceX issues will.

          >…makes the ISS far more valuable to commercial experimenters who also provide NASA with revenue.

          NASA isn’t a business, they don’t even get to keep fees for ISS use as far as I know.

          >> A bigger issues is political winds changing for SpaceX after the next election or two?

          > Only if you share the delusional notion entertained by some that Elon is one of Obama’s golf buddies. The new House Majority Leader is from California,..

          The guy who was the house whip.. no change there, and hes from the Farming and resource areas of Cal. I doubt SpaceX would be high on his list..
          And certainly Obamas push for commercials and against any big NASA capacities like SLS would go away.

          >…. As months go by with no more RD-180′s arriving from Russia, it’s going to be more and more untenable for the usual ULA amen corner to
          > keep insisting on corrupt business as usual. ..

          Musk has nothing that can do what ULA’s birds can. The RD-180 issue will push to start a US engine source contract though. musk hasn’t anything that can compete for that either.

          >> They can’t be covering costs at what they state they charge commercials,

          > So now you claim to know what SpaceX’s books look like? …

          I know how much engineering staffs and their overhead cost. And I’m not the first one in the industry that his expenses are far higher then what he charges. Same with Tesla and Solar city actually.

          > SpaceX has stated that it is cash flow positive.

          It didn’t say the moneys from its launch fees.

          >> …. and certification will be a bear, if possible at all, given their structure and company/design concepts.

          > What, in your learned opinion, makes SpaceX’s “structure” and/or “company/design concepts” impediments to certification? …

          Certification is a lot easier if your using certified and tested parts from a certified and experienced vendor (they build their own) and follow normal requirements validation and verification rules (which from folks I know who’ve been given behind the scene tours, AIAA folks, and reports – they don’t), and have a firm hardened configuration they verified everything against (as has been stated, they treat every ship as a test platform and change the configuration for most ships). All this has been discussed here and in other articles, and certainly makes certification very challenging.

          >…certification is, indeed, a “bear” because it’s an essentially pointless bureaucratic exercise in ass-covering by the USAF procurement bureaucracy..

          Folks say that about housing inspectors to, but it pays off in the end in higher safety and reliability. Something of a issue for SpaceX.

          >> Likely one of the reasons they and SNC need a 6 month extension on CCDev.

          > A likelier reason is that NASA may not be able to pay them for milestones achieved any faster than that as NASA has never
          > received as much as they have requested for CCDev….

          NASA doesn’t have to pay them now even if they give the award now…. and SNL was pretty much self funded anyway. Also SNL was definatly not going to be ready. (Personal note: I’m finding NewSpace companies inability to make decisions or deal with issues due to office politics EXTREAMLY FRUSTRATING!!!!)
          …..though you may have a point in wanting to stall .. say post fall elections?

          >…. Since Boeing isn’t doing much that’s real on CCDev, it’s unsurprising they’ve asked for no extensions.

          Actually its Boeing that’s done more of what’s “real” in engineering and developing their vehicle. The expensive and time consuming stuff that isn’t as flashy as “just go build something” but works better, and results in a better product..

          Boeings definitely the one to beat at this point. Certainly no one would look stupid buying a manned craft from Boeing, which would make voters and congress reassured.

          • Dick Eagleson

            Incorrect, and rather irrelevant. The point is SpaceX has largely been funded by NASA and AF grants and contract, and getting special exceptions to rules. That was done in response to political pressure, which is likely not going to be there, and SpaceX issues will.

            Correct and quite relevant. I referenced a NASA Inspector General’s audit report on another thread. Here’s the link again. This report computes the price NASA pays for a SpaceX CRS mission the same way I did, by dividing the total value of the SpaceX CRS contract by the number of missions. It does likewise for Orbital-ATK’s CRS missions and also has a cash-equivalent “price” for Japanese HTV and ESA ATV resupply missions. These vehicles can carry twice as much as Dragon or Cygnus going uphill but cost three to more than four times as much per mission. The report notes that NASA doesn’t pay for the Russian Progress missions, the Russians do. Given that SpaceX CRS missions are at least $100 million dollars cheaper than any of the alternatives NASA either pays for directly or has barter arrangements for, and that Dragon is also the only vehicle that can return cargo downhill, it’s the obvious bargain of the group.

            As to SpaceX’s funding, this report also states both that NASA paid SpaceX a total of $396 million in F9 and Dragon development money and that SpaceX provided more than 50 percent of total development funds. That squares with SpaceX’s public statements that they spent $450 million of company funds on COTS development. The Air Force paid nothing toward F9 or Dragon development but may have paid SpaceX some modest deposit money as USAF has a couple payloads on SpaceX’s launch manifest that are separate from the EELV national security payloads that SpaceX is currently dicing with ULA about.

            Special exceptions to rules? Political pressure? Try some specifics instead of unsupported dark innuendo – unless that’s all you’ve got. For what it’s worth, SpaceX’s COTS contract was executed while Bush was still president. Perhaps you would care to explain how a company with no significant Washington presence up until a couple years ago can arrange to have “politics” get things for them that the big legacy aerospace companies and their many long-time supporters in Congress have been aggressively working to deny them? Perhaps you would, further, like to tell all of us how they managed this trick under both Republican and Democratic administrations? Good luck with that.

            NASA isn’t a business, they don’t even get to keep fees for ISS use as far as I know.

            Correct on point number one. As for point number two, I don’t know if NASA has financial arrangements of any kind with Nanoracks and other commercial users of ISS. If they do, this could become a problem once Bigelow gets his first human-crewed hab into LEO as it would probably violate the Commercial Space Act’s prohibition on NASA competing directly with any commercial provider of services.

            The guy who was the house whip.. no change there, and hes from the Farming and resource areas of Cal. I doubt SpaceX would be high on his list..
            And certainly Obamas push for commercials and against any big NASA capacities like SLS would go away.

            Not exactly. McCarthy’s district includes the Mojave Spaceport so he’s not exactly unacquainted with commercial NewSpace. SpaceX isn’t in his district, but being part of the California delegation it’s hard to imagine he’s going to be neutral while some Senator from the grits belt tries stink-bombing a major California employer.

            Musk has nothing that can do what ULA’s birds can. The RD-180 issue will push to start a US engine source contract though. musk hasn’t anything that can compete for that either.

            Please! The F9v1.1 has more lift capacity to LEO than any configuration of Delta IV except the Heavy, which costs five or more times as much. It also has more LEO lift capacity than the most commonly used Atlas V, the 401 model, and beats it in GTO lift as well. The Atlas V needs at least two strap-on solid boosters to match or exceed F9’s LEO performance. It needs at least one to beat F9’s GTO performance. Based on the masses of the payloads and their orbital element requirements, SpaceX figured their rocket, as it stands, could handle over 60% of the missions for which the USAF concluded the block buy with ULA.

            As for the RD-180 issue, Musk doesn’t need anything to compete for an engine contract that, at this point, is highly vaporware-ish. He isn’t the one who needs a new engine. That would be ULA. Musk was merely smart enough, back in the day, not to stick the company crank through a Russian gloryhole.

            I know how much engineering staffs and their overhead cost. And I’m not the first one in the industry that his expenses are far higher then what he charges. Same with Tesla and Solar city actually.

            Shorter Starks: “I have no idea how he does what he does! Therefore, it’s impossible and he isn’t really doing it!” This is sort of like that classic line attributed to the late Pauline Kael back in 1968: “How did Nixon get elected? Nobody I know voted for him!” If the only people you know in “the industry” are the ones Elon is beating like a bass drum, it’s not surprising you haven’t a clue.

            Tesla and Solar City won’t help your case here either. Both have been going concerns for some years, both are now publicly traded and both are, perforce, subject to SEC reporting requirements, Sarbanes-Oxley and all the other regulatory oversight crap every other public company has to put up with. And yet they have impressive market capitalizations and Elon’s personal share of both is worth around $10 billion, give or take. If their finances were as iffy as you assert, it’s hard to see how their stocks wouldn’t be trading on the penny exchange by now. But, of course, they’re not.

            It didn’t say the moneys from its launch fees.

            Some of the money is from launch fees. Hey, they’ve done some launches! Some of it is from deposits by people for whom future launches will be made. Some is from CCDev milestones. Some is probably reserves from previous rounds of private venture capital. Hell, some of it is probably from sale of SpaceX-logoed souvenir mugs and T-shirts! You keep dropping dark, but unsubstantiated, accusations that SpaceX has some kind of private pipe to Fort Knox. They don’t. They don’t need to. It’s all of your friends in “the industry” who seem to need a government subsidy before they’ll even get out of bed in the morning.

            Certification is a lot easier if your using certified and tested parts from a certified and experienced vendor (they build their own) and follow normal requirements validation and verification rules (which from folks I know who’ve been given behind the scene tours, AIAA folks, and reports – they don’t), and have a firm hardened configuration they verified everything against (as has been stated, they treat every ship as a test platform and change the configuration for most ships). All this has been discussed here and in other articles, and certainly makes certification very challenging.

            Elon has told the story of how he looked into sourcing parts from the “usual suspects” in the old-boy aerospace subcontracting “community.” The prices quoted were insanity on stilts. So he elected, quite reasonably, to do without their “expertise.” But not really. If you went onto the production floor at SpaceX you’d find production staffers with lots of legacy aerospace entries on their resumes. The legacy aerospace biz in So. Cal. isn’t really doing all that well and hasn’t been for some time. Plenty of people with a lot of good experience are at loose ends and Elon can cherry pick. He doesn’t need to, and doesn’t, employ anyone with a “close enough for government work” attitude.

            Traditional subcontracting usually involves outgoing QA at the subcontractor facility and incoming QA at the contractor facility. This is because traditional aerospace contracting is not based on trust, it’s based on verification. Every firm at every level of the subcontracting “tree” needs to verify that his own sub-contractors aren’t trying to foist “close enough for government work” parts on him. This traditional model of massive outsourcing requires the employment of a lot of QA people that wouldn’t be needed if all the production was done in-house. The easiest way to insure that you get consistently good parts is to be the guy who signs the paychecks of the people who make and inspect them. You don’t absolutely need to be a genius to figure this out, but Elon is a genius anyway so it was even easier for him to decide to keep subcontracting to the economically optimal minimum.

            I’ve never been on SpaceX’s production floor, but I’ve watched the tour video on the SpaceX web site. Northop-Grumman has a space-related manufacturing facility only two or three miles from SpaceX’s plant. I have seen the inside of that facility. Both companies use exactly the same machine tools to make their parts. Both companies employ production workers who are well-trained and have a lot of experience. Parts made in-house by SpaceX are not inferior to those made by legacy aerospace companies, they simply don’t carry all the pointless overhead that people working in a cost-plus environment find normal and natural. The Falcon 9’s success record confirms this.

            As to the “hardened configuration” notion that seems to underlie “certification,” it runs counter to modern practice in most sectors of manufacturing. SpaceX is simply doing what the Japanese car companies did to win their current enviable market shares – continually improving the product. SpaceX has said it will manufacture to a frozen configuration if that’s what the USAF requires, but it’s not obvious that doing so is the best way to do things, it’s merely traditional.

            Folks say that about housing inspectors to, but it pays off in the end in higher safety and reliability. Something of a issue for SpaceX.

            That assumes the “code” to which the inspection is being done actually improves safety and reliability. In the case of housing that appears to be true. In the case of EELV “certification” the jury is, to put it mildly, out. At present, SpaceX has a better reliability record than any of its competitors so what “issue” did you have in mind?

            NASA doesn’t have to pay them now even if they give the award now…. and SNL was pretty much self funded anyway. Also SNL was definatly not going to be ready. (Personal note: I’m finding NewSpace companies inability to make decisions or deal with issues due to office politics EXTREAMLY FRUSTRATING!!!!)
            …..though you may have a point in wanting to stall .. say post fall elections?

            News to me that Saturday Night Live is building a space vehicle:) Seriously, all of the CCDev participants are supposed to be self-funding at the greater than 50% level. Good to hear you acknowledge that about SNC. As with COTS, it’s true of SpaceX as well. It is certainly true of Blue Origin as they are still in the program but no longer receiving any NASA funds at all. Boeing seems to be the laggard here.

            Don’t know what “decisions” or “office politics” you’re referring to here, but then you seem to routinely assume that the rest of us here are conversant with matters of your personal life experience of which we could not possibly have any knowledge. Kind of annoying, really. If you can’t be troubled to provide sufficient background to make a point comprehensible, don’t bother bringing it up in the first place.

            The remark about the fall elections seems to be either a complete non sequitur or a 180 on your part. Is it now your contention that SpaceX’s political situation will improve if, as is widely expected, the Republicans take back the Senate in November (well, January, actually)? Gee, what happened to all that politcal juice with the current administration you’ve been insinuating SpaceX critically relies on to work its witchy magic? If you were driving a car instead of posting blog comments you’d be pulled over and given a field sobriety test.

            Actually its Boeing that’s done more of what’s “real” in engineering and developing their vehicle. The expensive and time consuming stuff that isn’t as flashy as “just go build something” but works better, and results in a better product..

            Boeings definitely the one to beat at this point. Certainly no one would look stupid buying a manned craft from Boeing, which would make voters and congress reassured.

            Good thing you put quotes on “real” or I’d have had to do it myself… whoops!

            Seriously, no one can dispute that Boeing has done a lot of time-consuming stuff on CCDev. It’s just that we watchers from outside can’t really make out exactly what it is they’ve done.

            Build a complete test article? Well, no.

            Build a production facility? Well, no.

            Push a metric shitload of paper? Bingo!

            I get that you think there’s some kind of magic “club” of initiates into the inner mysteries of aerospace engineering and that everyone who belongs also works for one of the old-line companies that can trace its lineage all the way back to the glorious days of Apollo in the 60’s. I gather you think of yourself as a member of said club. You think the only way to do things is the club way and anybody who isn’t a club member is an idiot who can’t part his hair without help.

            A lot of people in a lot of industires that are now memories have had this same insular attitude. I did some consulting for the late Bethlehem Steel in the early 80’s. I met a lot of guys who thought just like you do. When the axe finally fell a few years later they had no idea why they were suddenly out on the street.

            Disruptive entrepreneurism is like that. The guys about to lose their heads never see the blade coming.

  • Pzatchok

    “Govs been carrying SpaceX up until now.”

    Unlike Boeings SLS space program up until now.

    Tell us again how many private cargo launches SLS has made so far?

    • Dick Eagleson

      That would be zero on the SLS launches, P, but of course that was a rhetorical question. Don’t expect even a rhetorical answer from Mr. S.

      Nor will he probably have anything enlightening to say about what an SLS “cargo” launch would cost. But the rest of us have no doubt noted Boeing’s receipt of a $2.8 billion contract to build exactly two SLS core stages. That prices out at $1.4 billion apiece.

      There is more to an SLS than the core stage of course. There are a pair of Orbital-ATK’s 5-segment solid boosters plus the Centaur upper stage at the very least. But let’s take that $1.4 billion core stage price tag and divide it by the 70 metric tons the whole entry-level SLS can put in LEO. That works out to $20,000 per kilogram. By the time all the other components of a full SLS mission stack are included, especially a reasonable amortization of development costs and labor costs associated with operating LC-29B, etc. the effective cost per kilo of mass boosted to LEO by SLS will at least double. It might even triple.

      Compare this to the $85 million price and 53 metric ton payload of the upcoming Falcon Heavy. Works out to just over $1,600 per kilo.

      Fun times ahead, P, fun times ahead.

    • Kelly Starks

      > Unlike Boeings SLS space program up until now.

      Boeing wasn’t going to go under if they lost SLS contract, nor did NASA need to rewrite the COTS contract for ethm to keep them alive.

      > Tell us again how many private cargo launches SLS has made so far?

      How many manned launches has SpaceX made? How much experience do they have on any NASA or Mil operational program?

      • Dick Eagleson

        Boeing wasn’t going to go under if they lost SLS contract,

        There’s something to be said for hiring the hungry instead of the well-fed if you want things done right and in a hurry.

        nor did NASA need to rewrite the COTS contract for ethm to keep them alive.

        If NASA didn’t “rewrite” the COTS contract to keep Rocketplane-Kistler alive – considering all the NASA old hands that were in its management cadre at the time – it’s hard to see why they would have done so for a startup run by an immigrant propeller-head. Oh, that’s right. They didn’t.

        How many manned launches has SpaceX made?

        As many as Boeing at this point. Yeah, I know Boeing owns the remaining corporate bones of the companies that built Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle. That’s history. The people working there now have to make their own bones. I’m betting SpaceX gets there first.

        How much experience do they have on any NASA or Mil operational program?

        Well, they have two demo and three operational flights worth of experience on NASA CRS. Does that count? As for Nat-Sec stuff, hey, that’s what the lawsuit over the ULA block buy is about. SpaceX says they can do the job. USAF and ULA conspired to keep them from getting a turn at bat. At this point, criticizing SpaceX for lack of military mission experience is a bit like ridiculing a man who’s just been punched in the nose for getting blood on the floor.

  • Pzatchok

    As for any certifications to carry either cargo or passengers to space.

    Being a private company they could just decide to launch from any other friendly nation that will certify them.

    None of the technology being used constitutes anything secret, top secret or as a weapon part except MAYBE some of the electronics but I bet even that could be replaced by wholly civilian available parts. Maybe the engines but those can be switched out.
    Having a flexible engineering staff means that any similar sized and powered engines could be substituted for the what they are already running. Payload weight might change but that can be dealt with.

    I bet India would love a little cheap help in their space program. In under 5 years they could be running full operations in India.

    The only certifications they have to worry about are the simple FAA ones for airworthiness everyone with an airship goes through in the US and for the most part they already have all of those.
    And the NASA only certifications that NASA themselves impose and demand. Private launches don’t actually require them.
    NASA has no more control over what or who docks with the ISS than they have control over who Russia sends up on happy flights.

    If NASA and Congress don’t play well they could end up with nothing until the SLS is fully finished and flying.

    • Kelly Starks

      > Being a private company they could just decide to launch from any other friendly nation that will certify them.

      Actually not. Given SpaceX is a US company, regardless of where they launch they fall under US laws. The certification however is a requirement for certain US gov contracts they want to be able to bid for. Also failure to get certification could impact other commercial interst.

      >…None of the technology being used constitutes anything secret, top secret or as a weapon …

      The vehicles themselves are legally – and practically – weapons. (You obviously can use them as ICBMs.)

      > I bet India would love a little cheap help in their space program. ..

      They rae devedloping there own launcher — not sure politically how thrilled they be to adopted and fund a ex US group like SpaceX — certainly SpaceX would lose a lot of US staff if they desolved and reformed a new company in India. Also don’t think Musk would care to lose his capital and political investments (and gov funding) in the US.

      >.. NASA has no more control over what or who docks with the ISS than they have control over who Russia sends up on happy flights.

      They actually do, and have been arm twisting the Russians to get them to alow SpaceX anywhere near the station.

      > If NASA and Congress don’t play well they could end up with nothing until the SLS is fully finished and flying.

      Not sure that would bother them at all.
      Really, With Orion launch able on ULA birds before SNL or Boeing will be launching, and arguably able to replace the Dragon as cargo carry and later crew carry (which is its priority) you could see a argument to “eliminate wasteful duplication” (always a politically popular stupid idea) and pour the funding into speeding up Orion/SLS, and shorten the time it take to get NASA doing “real missions” again?

      • Dick Eagleson

        Sorry P, Kelly is right about SpaceX vis-a-vis India. Neither SpaceX nor India would be interested in going partners and U.S. law would be an insuperable impediment anyway. India seems to have it in mind to compete with SpaceX if they can.

        But, as usual, Kelly declined to quit while he was ahead.

        They actually do, and have been arm twisting the Russians to get them to alow SpaceX anywhere near the station.

        This is a rumor that was going around before the first SpaceX demo mission that actually berthed with the ISS back in 2012. Supposedly, the Russians had a veto over whether or not SpaceX’s vehicle would be allowed to hook up with ISS. They don’t, actually. It was also said the Russians didn’t want competition for their freight-hauling Progress vehicle. SpaceX isn’t competition for Progress. NASA doesn’t pay for Progress flights. Truth is, neither NASA nor the Russians have veto authority over what the other wants to do anent the ISS. NASA had to acquiesce to space tourists being on the ISS when Russia made deals to carry them there. Similarly, Russia’s putative attitude toward SpaceX and Dragon, even if strongly negative, wouldn’t serve to keep them away from ISS.

        Really, With Orion launch able on ULA birds before SNL or Boeing will be launching, and arguably able to replace the Dragon as cargo carry and later crew carry (which is its priority) you could see a argument to “eliminate wasteful duplication” (always a politically popular stupid idea) and pour the funding into speeding up Orion/SLS, and shorten the time it take to get NASA doing “real missions” again?

        Hoo boy, talk about a target-rich environment!

        Orion is so overweight it is only launchable on the biggest ULA bird – Delta IV Heavy – with a boiler-plate service module, not a real one. Replacing Dragon as cargo or crew carrier is an even more ludicrous idea. A Dragon cargo mission currently costs $133.3 million, all up. A Dragon V2 crew mission will cost roughly $140 million. Hard to imagine NASA would prefer to pay whatever an Orion costs plus the tab for a Delta IV Heavy to do the same work. The price of a Delta IV Heavy is a bit mysterious but has been estimated at up to $680 million a pop. Even if it is half that it would be no bargain. If anyone in Congress is really looking to “cut wasteful duplication” its not hard to see what ought to go. Hint: it ain’t F9 and Dragon.

        • Kelly Starks

          >>They actually do, and have been arm twisting the Russians to get them to allow SpaceX anywhere near the station.

          > This is a rumor that was going around before the first SpaceX demo mission that actually berthed with the ISS back in 2012…

          Actually it was a report from Russia with some NASA confirmation. After nearly whipping out their Mir crew with a experimental auto docking test years before, they likely were gun shy about this test.

          Russia doesn’t have Veto powers, but given we need their cooperation to even get to the station, much les operate it, you don’t want to get to much on their bad side.

          Agree that SpaceX was never competition for the progress freighters. SpaceX has never claimed they had any plans to developed comparable functions.

          >> Really, With Orion launch able on ULA birds before SNL or Boeing will be launching, and arguably able to replace the Dragon as cargo carry and
          >> later crew carry (which is its priority) you could see a argument to “eliminate wasteful duplication” (always a politically popular stupid idea) and pour
          >> the funding into speeding up Orion/SLS, and shorten the time it take to get NASA doing “real missions” again?

          > Orion is so overweight it is only launchable on the biggest ULA bird – Delta IV Heavy – with a boiler-plate service module, not a real one.
          > Replacing Dragon as cargo or crew carrier is an even more ludicrous idea. A Dragon cargo mission currently costs $133.3 million, all up
          > A Dragon V2 crew mission will cost roughly $140 million…

          Mostly true but irrelevant. ( I know the first Dream Chasers flights wont be the real final design, nor I expect CST – though Borings much farther along then the other two CCDev competitors) NASA needs Orion/SLS for the kind of future missions Congress has in mind for them. None of the others can credibly fill those demands – but Orion can do Crew and Cargo to ISS for its last couple years. So dropping a redundant couple billion dollar ISS support development program would be tempting.

          . Hard to imagine NASA would prefer to pay whatever an Orion costs plus the tab for a Delta IV Heavy to do the same work. The price of a Delta IV Heavy is a bit mysterious but has been estimated at up to $680 million a pop. Even if it is half that it would be no bargain. If anyone in Congress is really looking to “cut wasteful duplication” its not hard to see what ought to go. Hint: it ain’t F9 and Dragon.

          • Dick Eagleson

            Not sure what relevance the auto-docking problem of Progress with Mir (Kee-rashh!) has to cargo Dragons and ISS. The cargo Dragon doesn’t auto-dock. In fact, by NASA’s definition of the word, it doesn’t “dock” at all, it “berths” and under manual control from ISS crew. Doubtless the Russians wanted some reasonable assurance that Dragon wasn’t likely to run amok and take out the ISS, but NASA wouldn’t have had much problem reassuring them on that score. As Elon has repeatedly noted, NASA has a number of people on long-term assignment at Hawthorne so they were fully aware of SpaceX’s development and status anent the needed avionics and software for Dragon’s assisted berthing flight profile. Dragon flew one demo mission into proximity with ISS before it berthed on its second demo mission. That would also have retired a lot of putative Russian concern. I think this whole meme is mostly the work of people who had the same attitude about SpaceX back in 2011 and 2012 that you still have now.

            You are quite correct about Dragon, even Dragon V2, being no plug-to-plug replacement for Progress. Neither flavor of Dragon can, for now at least, supplant Progress as a mechanism for re-boosting ISS periodically. Not sure I’d want to bet the ranch on that staying true forever, though. If the Russians actually bail out of ISS after 2020, it’ll certainly be with enough notice that SpaceX could add this capability to Dragon V2 in time to take over the re-boost work too.

            Mostly true but irrelevant.

            Completely true and quite relevant. As usual. And completely unhelpful to your case. Also as usual.

            ( I know the first Dream Chasers flights wont be the real final design, nor I expect CST – though Borings much farther along then the other two CCDev competitors)

            No, Boeing is not “much further along” than SpaceX and SNC. Both of the latter have built full-scale, flyable test articles. SpaceX’s test article is actually flyable in space. Boeing has done no such thing. Both SpaceX and SNC have also either built or contracted for actual production facilities for their craft. Boeing has leased some space at the Cape but hasn’t installed anything much in it yet. If they don’t get what they want in the next CCDev round, I’m predicting they’ll do a fast fade. Easy to do as they’ve carefully avoided accumulating much baggage that would have to be abandoned. They’re carpetbaggers. If the easy money goes away, they’re outahere.

            NASA needs Orion/SLS for the kind of future missions Congress has in mind for them.

            Congress has no future missions in mind for them. Oh, the usual suspects give the usual lip service to the idea that BEO missions are on the agenda. But their actual behavior when appropriations are formulated says both Orion and SLS are pure pork sausages and going nowhere.

            To start with, Orion isn’t going anywhere on its own. It has no toilet facilities and its not much bigger inside than an SUV. Nobody with sense is going to spend months on a BEO mission in an elbow-roomless can with no can, so to speak. The Apollo missions were nasty enough from a personal hygiene standpoint. Wearing Depends in space for months on end is nobody’s idea of a practical mission parameter.

            Orion needs to be accompanied by a hab with a loo. NASA doesn’t have one, though it could certainly get one from Bigelow straightforwardly,. But, hey, there’s no budget for that. I won’t even bring up the question of what kind of Earth-escape stage would be needed to get a combined Orion and hab on its way to anywhere interesting. Oh, wait! I just did! No budget for that either.

            None of the others can credibly fill those demands

            Sure they can. Just substitute either Dragon V2 or CST-100 for Orion. In combination with a suitable Bigelow hab and a suitable Earth-escape stage, either could do any mission now contemplated for Orion and at a fraction the cost. CST-100 would need a better heat shield first, but, hey, so does Orion. With the thing it’s got on its ass currently, Orion would frizzle like a fritter coming back from Mars.

            but Orion can do Crew and Cargo to ISS for its last couple years.

            No it can’t. NASA only has money to build two SLSes before 2020 and only one of them will fly before then and it won’t have a crew – and that’s assuming the next administration doesn’t kill the whole sorry mess dead, dead, dead when it takes office in 2017. The second mission may or may not have a crew either depending upon what NASA decides about using the new, untested, quad RL-10 SLS upper stage. As previously pointed out – by me in another thread on this site – the ISS can’t use even 17.5 tons of stuff delivered all at once (a typical Shuttle-load according to that Congressional document of dubious provenance you linked to on that same other thread). It sure as hell can’t use 70 or – God forbid, 93 – metric tons delivered in one fell swoop. So – useless for cargo to ISS.

            And not scheduled to make a first crewed flight until 2021 (or maybe 2022) so – useless for crew to ISS too, at least before 2020. We’ll forget about the several billion dollar cost of each SLS mission… oh no, we won’t! Even if ISS and SLS both live beyond 2020, SLS would be no good for cargo or crew missions because it can only fly every other year – if that. Current CRS cargo missions are scheduled at six to eight a year. Crew rotation missions happen roughly twice a year. SLS fits the ISS cargo and crew resupply missions about as well as socks fit on a snake.

            So dropping a redundant couple billion dollar ISS support development program would be tempting.

            As already demonstrated, not redundant. As to putative temptation, I don’t doubt your idiotic notion is tempting to Sen. Shelby and to you. Just not to anyone with a lick of integrity and sense.

          • Dick,

            I essentially agree with most of what you write, but I must also make a very minor correction. You say, “Dragon flew one demo mission into proximity with ISS before it berthed on its second demo mission.” This is incorrect. Dragon was originally scheduled to do these two separate demo flights but got them combined into one mission. They flew proximity, then swung around and did the berthing. SpaceX then followed with its first official supply mission on Dragon’s second flight to ISS.

            Which by the way only adds strength to your arguments.

          • Dick Eagleson

            Thanks for the correction, BZ. Had a senior moment there I guess. I know SpaceX flew a Dragon to orbit once before the demo mission to ISS and misremembered that as being an ISS-adjacent mision, but it wasn’t.

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