Tag Archives: SpaceX

Block 5 Falcon 9 first stage returns to port

SpaceX’s first Block 5 first stage for its Falcon 9 rocket, designed to fly a minimum of ten times, has returned to port after its first flight last week.

This is the most interesting detail revealed:

While not visible, the most significant improvements are likely to be found at the base of the first stage’s octaweb – now assembled with bolts instead of welds – in the form of a dramatically improved heat shield around its nine Merlin 1D engines (also upgraded, of course). One of the Falcon recovery technicians showed some exceptional interest in the shield and Merlins, likely documenting their condition in extreme detail to inform engineering reviews of the pathfinder rocket after its first flight test.

The pictures show those bolts quite clearly.

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SpaceX successfully launches in Block 5 Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully placed in orbit Bangladesh’s first communications satellite, successfully using its upgraded Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket, its first stage designed to be reused a minimum of ten times.

They successfully recovered the first stage, and will now take it apart to confirm this new version worked as planned. If so, it will be put back together and returned to service.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

14 China
9 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

The U.S. and China are once again tied at 14 for the nation lead. SpaceX’s launch rate is presently double what it achieved last year, when it launched the most rockets of any private company ever.

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Air Force forces delay in next Falcon Heavy launch

Because the Air Force wishes to do more testing and review of both its payload and the rocket, the second launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has been delayed several months.

The Falcon Heavy mission for the Air Force will be its first for a paying customer. STP-2 has a number of objectives, including demonstrating the new rocket’s capabilities and launching several satellites.

The launch had been set for June.

That the Air Force is on board Falcon Heavy now indicates that it wants to get this rocket certified for military launches as quickly as possible, thus giving it another heavy lift launch option besides the much more expensive Delta Heavy of ULA. This strategy is good for the Air Force, good for the taxpayer, and good for the launch industry. It will lower launch costs while encouraging competition.

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Dragon returns successfully from ISS

Capitalism in space: A reused Dragon capsule successfully splashed down on Saturday, returning after a month-long cargo mission to ISS.

The successful splashdown Saturday marked the conclusion of SpaceX’s 14th resupply mission to the space station under the space transport company’s more than $3 billion, 20-launch cargo contract with NASA. It was the third round-trip cargo flight with a reused Dragon capsule.

I await the first time one of these capsules completes its third flight into space. That will be significant.

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Musk releases image of Falcon 9 fairing floating back to Earth

On Tuesday Elon Musk released an image of a Falcon 9 fairing as its parafoil opened to slow and guide the fairing back to Earth.

The image is pretty, but doesn’t really provide any information about SpaceX’s effort to recover its rocket fairings. The next attempt should come during their next Vandenberg launch in mid-May.

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SpaceX announces it will build its Big Falcon Rocket in Los Angeles

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has confirmed that it will build its Big Falcon Rocket in the facility it has leased in the port of Los Angeles.

Looking at the string of stories I have just posted on Behind the Black, all describing the space plans of Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch, Orbital ATK, SpaceX, China, and the UAE, all aimed at taking off in the early 2020s, it seems the next decade will be a wild ride for space geeks.

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Elon Musk hints at using a “giant party balloon” to recover Falcon 9 upper stages

In several tweets yesterday, Elon Musk said that SpaceX is considering using “a giant party balloon” to recover Falcon 9 upper stages.

No timetable was mentioned. It seems that Musk and SpaceX is still looking at ways to reuse the Falcon 9 upper stage. Whether this proposal ever makes it to hardware however is a different question. Musk and his engineers have floated many concepts over the years, not all of which have flown.

The balloon idea has some merit, as it has been successfully used to land landers and rovers on the Moon and Mars.

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SpaceX in the news!

Rather than have two more consecutive posts about SpaceX, I’ve decided to post these two together in an effort to avoid making this website look like a site totally devoted only to this one company.

The first story makes it clear that SpaceX will almost certainly fly the first unmanned demo missions of its manned capsule later this year. We should also get an idea whether the first manned flight will occur before the end of the year, or slip into 2019, in May.

The second story reveals once again the robust and growing financial value of SpaceX.

Elon Musk-led SpaceX Corp is raising $507 million in a new round of funding, valuing the company at around $26 billion, according to a filing seen by Reuters. New articles of incorporation filed by the company last week and sent to Reuters by private analytics firm Lagniappe Labs showed the addition of 3 million ‘Series I’ shares from a previous version filed in November.

The filing also gave the initial value of the Series I shares as $169, 25 percent higher than a value given in its previous fundraising round late last year.

As Al Jolson once said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” I expect that SpaceX’s value will only go up in the coming years.

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New information on SpaceX’s rocket fairing recovery effort

Link here. In requesting permission to recover Dragon capsules in the Gulf of Mexico, SpaceX submitted a great deal of information to the FAA about its effort to recover and reuse the fairings of its Falcon 9 rocket. Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc has done a nice job of excerpting that information at the link.

For example, SpaceX is not only trying to recover the fairings, it is trying to recover the new fairing drogue chutes that it uses to slow the fairings down and then ejects before splashdown.

To me, however, one tidbit that stood out like a beacon and actually tells us more about SpaceX’s future anticipated launch rate was this quote:

From 2019-2024, SpaceX anticipates the frequency of launches involving fairing recovery to increase. In 2018, SpaceX anticipates approximately two recovery attempts, and from 2019-2024, SpaceX anticipates approximately three recovery attempts per month. Thus, for all seven years, SpaceX anticipates up to 480 drogue parachutes and 480 parafoils would land in the ocean.

This is further confirmation of SpaceX’s public prediction that it will soon be launching about 30 to 40 times per year. These numbers also equal the best yearly rates the entire United States launch industry ever achieved, and suggest that the entire launch industry in the next decade will be experiencing a significant boom, since aggressive competition usually causes an increase in business for all competitors.

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Two investigations blame Northrop Grumman for Zuma failure

Two independent investigations have now placed the blame for the failure of the classified Zuma satellite to reach orbit on Northrop Grumman, not SpaceX.

Two independent investigations, made up of federal and industry officials, pointed to Northrop’s payload adapter as the cause of the satellite’s loss, the report said, citing people familiar with the probes. The payload adapter is a key part of deploying a satellite in orbit, connecting the satellite to the upper stage of a rocket.

…The investigations tentatively concluded that onboard sensors did not immediately communicate to ground systems that the satellite did not separate from the rocket, according to the Journal. Unbeknownst to officials at the time, the planned return of the rocket’s upper stage — a method of disposal to avoid adding space debris around the Earth — brought the satellite back down with it. By the time the satellite separated from the rocket it was too late, putting Zuma too low in orbit to save, according to the report.

I still have a nagging suspicion that Zuma actually did reach orbit, and this entire story that it never separated from the upper stage is all a disinformation campaign to help distract people from the satellite’s existence in orbit. At the same time, by this time I don’t put much faith in my own suspicions. These two reports appear to settle the matter.

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NASA expands first manned Starliner mission

NASA has modified its contract with Boeing to allow its first manned Starliner test mission to add an astronaut and extend the mission’s length so that it more resembles an operational flight to ISS.

NASA is considering adding a third crew member to the Starliner’s “Crew Flight Test” and could extend its trip to the International Space Station from two weeks up to six months, the length of a typical ISS expedition. The potential changes, outlined in a contract modification with Boeing, could help NASA maintain its presence on the International Space Station through 2019 and beyond.

NASA’s last purchased ride aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, upon which the U.S. has relied for access to the ISS since the shuttle’s retirement in 2011, is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2019.
Boeing’s new Starliner spacesuit features lightweight fabric, slim gloves and sneaker-like boots. But Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon may not be certified to fly four-person crews until after that. “This contract modification provides NASA with additional schedule margin if needed,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, head of human spaceflight operations at NASA headquarters in Washington. “We appreciate Boeing’s willingness to evolve its flight to ensure we have continued access to space for our astronauts.”

Doing this makes some sense, but I wonder why NASA chose to do it with Boeing’s Starliner instead of SpaceX’s Dragon. Starliner has never flown in any form, while the manned Dragon is based on SpaceX’s well tested design.

I suspect NASA will soon modify its SpaceX contract as well. It makes sense. Once you put humans on board, you might as well give yourself the option to do a full mission.

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NOAA admits it wants the power to license all camera use in space

Government power grab: At a conference today a NOAA official revealed that its lawyers have decided to liberally interpret federal law so that the agency has the power to license all camera use in space.

According to Tahara Dawkins, director of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office,

[p]art of the licensing review for commercial remote sensing systems involves a check of any national security implications of that system, but it’s not clear what issues an onboard camera system, whose views of the Earth are typically low resolution and often obscured by the rocket itself, might pose.

Dawkins said that no previous SpaceX launches had NOAA commercial remote sensing licenses, even though many have flown onboard cameras, including several previous Iridium missions. An April 2 launch of a Falcon 9 from Florida carrying a Dragon cargo spacecraft had no such restrictions, she said, because that was considered a government mission. While the spacecraft is performing a mission under contract to NASA, the launch itself was considered commercial and licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

NOAA was not aware of the previous launches that featured onboard cameras. “Our office is extremely small, and there’s a lot of things out there that we miss,” she said. “The onus is on the companies to come to us and get a license when needed.” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words prove that the big publicity of the Falcon Heavy launch, showing the Tesla with the Earth in the background, instigated this stupidity. This office doesn’t have the slightest idea what is going on. Footage from rocket launches have become routine now for almost a decade. They saw the Tesla images and decided to exert their power, despite the fact that, as the article notes,

Part of the licensing review for commercial remote sensing systems involves a check of any national security implications of that system, but it’s not clear what issues an onboard camera system, whose views of the Earth are typically low resolution and often obscured by the rocket itself, might pose.

This is government overreach at its worst. If Trump is serious about cutting back regulation, he should step it now to shut this down.

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SpaceX launches Dragon to ISS

SpaceX successfully launched a reused Dragon capsule into orbit yesterday, once again using a reused first stage.

To show you how routine this has become, I myself completely forgot the launch was happening yesterday, and spent that time doing my monthly bills. Oy.

They did not attempt to recover the first stage, using it instead to do re-entry flight tests as it landed in the Atlantic Ocean. I suspect they have decided that it is not cost effective to recover used first stages, and would rather dump them in the ocean than pay the cost to recover, test, and store them.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

10 China
7 SpaceX
4 Russia
3 Japan
3 ULA

China and the U.S. continue to be tied in the national standings.

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SpaceX ship returns with this week’s fairing apparently intact

Despite tweets from Elon Musk suggesting it had hit the water at “high speed,” SpaceX’s recovery ship appears to have returned with one half of the fairing intact.

There are several images at the link showing the fairing on the ship. That it recovered it out of the water without damage seems surprising and unlikely. Nonetheless, that it looks intact means that the parafoil managed to slow it down enough to limit damage as it hit the water, and the company seems to be making real progress towards making these fairings reusable.

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NOAA bureaucracy shuts down SpaceX telecast because stupid

Government marches on! The NOAA bureaucracy forced SpaceX to shut down its launch telecast this morning because agency bureaucrats had decided that views of Earth in the background were the equivalent of a satellite remote sensing system that the agency is required to regulate.

It was definitely an issue with NOAA, the rocket company said. Apparently NOAA recently asserted that cameras on the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, which SpaceX uses for engineering purposes, qualify as a remote sensing system, which are subject to NOAA’s regulation. A provisional license obtained by SpaceX for Friday’s launch of the Iridium-5 mission required it to end views once the second stage reached orbit.

This raises some questions about the real purpose behind NOAA’s action, as the regulation specifically exempts “small, hand-held cameras.” SpaceX intends to obtain a full license for such camera views, and as of now there is apparently no restriction in place for SpaceX’s next launch of a NASA cargo ship from Florida, happening as early as Monday.

One theory put forth is that some bureaucrats at NOAA might not have liked the good press that SpaceX got when it broadcast views of the Tesla in space, launched by the Falcon Heavy, and wanted to exert their petty power. This might not be true. What is true is that this interference by NOAA in SpaceX operations is beyond stupid.

But then, why should be expect anything different from our present federal government?

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FCC approves SpaceX 4K+ satellite constellation with strict new requirements

Capitalism in space: The FCC today approved SpaceX proposed gigantic 4,425 Starlink satellite constellation, designed to provide internet access worldwide, while also imposing a deadline for its launch and requiring the company to provide detailed de-orbit plans.

SpaceX will have to launch at least half of its constellation of Ku- and Ka-band satellites within six years of today, per the agency’s recently revised rules, or its authorization freezes at the number of satellites in operation at that date. The FCC in September relaxed its deadline, giving operators nine years to launch their full constellation, but even those rules are stricter than what SpaceX would refer. The launch-provider-turned-satellite operator asked the FCC for an okay to launch 1,600 satellites in six years — just over a third of its full constellation.

SpaceX said the FCC’s deadline was “impractical” and that it could start broadband service without the full constellation. The FCC said no, but gave SpaceX permission to re-submit a waiver request in the future. SpaceX said in October it plans to start service with 800 to 900 satellites.

SpaceX’s constellation is the largest of all the applicants, generating concern about its potential to enshroud the Earth in a cloud of space debris. Fleet operators OneWeb, Spire, SES and Space Norway all expressed concern about how SpaceX will protect the space environment when operating so many satellites. But weighing more heavily with the FCC was NASA, which said a constellation as large as SpaceX’s likely needs to meet more stringent standards than what NASA recommends for de-orbit reliability. NASA’s reliability standard is that at least 90 percent of satellites can deorbit properly after their mission is complete.

The FCC did say that SpaceX will have the right in the future to request a waiver on the launch deadline.

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SpaceX successfully launches ten Iridium satellites into orbit

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this morning successfully placed ten Iridium satellites into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket.

They did maneuver and landing tests with the first stage, which was making its second flight, but did not try to recover it. They did attempt to catch one half of the rocket’s fairing with their fast-moving ship and its giant net. No word yet on whether that attempt worked. Fairing recovery failed. See comments below.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

9 China
6 SpaceX
4 Russia
3 Japan
3 ULA
2 Europe
2 India

The U.S. and China remain tied at nine for the lead in the national rankings.

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First commercial crew flights still set for 2018 with chance of delay

NASA’s manager of the commercial crew program provided an update to the agency’s advisory board on Monday, noting that both SpaceX and Boeing are making good progress to their scheduled first flights late this year.

The bottom line however is that there is a good chance the flights will slip into 2019, though based on the update it appears to me that the flights will not slip that much beyond that.

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SpaceX using up old used boosters as it shifts to final Falcon 9 design

Capitalism in space: As SpaceX prepares to introduce its final Falcon 9 design, dubbed Block 5, it also plans to use up its stock of old used boosters, with four of the six launches scheduled through the end of April using previously flown boosters.

The article’s review of SpaceX’s stock suggests that the company will only have two used boosters after these launches. It also notes that the company appears to have decided that these earlier Falcon 9 designs can only fly two or three times safely, and that it will be the Block 5 final design that they hope will finally be the booster that can fly repeatedly and reliably.

Since NASA won’t let astronauts fly on anything other than Block 5, and insists it fly at least seven times successfully before the agency will allow its astronauts on it, SpaceX has a lot at stake with this final design. If it has problems, the company will be in trouble. If not, the company will cement the dominate position it presently holds in the launch industry.

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SpaceX’s August launch created largest shockwave from rocket ever measured

The August launch by SpaceX of a communications satellite created the largest rocket shockwave in the atmosphere ever measured.

In the new study, Lin and his colleagues used GPS signals to determine how the FORMOSAT-5 launch affected the upper atmosphere. They found Falcon 9’s vertical trajectory created a circular shock wave above the western United States that had never before been seen from a rocket launch. The only similarly-shaped shock wave Lin had seen was from an eruption of Russia’s Sarychev volcano in June 2009.

Not only was the shock wave circular, it was also the largest one Lin had ever seen – roughly four times the area of California. In the new study, he ran computer simulations of rocket launches and found the momentum from a vertical trajectory would tend to create a much stronger atmospheric disturbance than a curved one, which could explain why the shock wave was so large.

In addition to creating a gigantic shock wave, the launch created a hole in the ionosphere above California. Water vapor in the rocket’s exhaust reacted with the ionosphere’s charged particles to create a hole in the plasma layer that took up to two hours to recover.

The rocket’s vertical trajectory was because the overall payload was light. Heavier payload cause the trajectory to curve more as the rocket rises.

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Port of Los Angeles approves SpaceX portside construction site

The Port of Los Angeles has granted SpaceX approval to begin construction of a booster construction and refurbishment facility on a large abandoned lot with direct ocean berthing access.

A request summary completed on March 6 details SpaceX’s proposal, laying out a bright future of rocket manufacturing for the abandoned 18-acre lot at Berth 240, one that might soon support “composite curing, cleaning, painting, and assembly [of commercial transportation vessels]” that “would need to be transported by water due to their size.

The article then speculates that this facility will be used to build SpaceX’s BFR. Maybe so, but my guess is that the facility is needed now for bringing reused Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters back after launch and prepping them for reuse.

While it is likely to take a fair amount of time to prepare the lot for the construction of a facility capable of manufacturing advanced composite rocket components, the wording in the Port documentation also suggests that SpaceX means to transfer its Falcon 9 recovery work to the new berth as soon as it’s available. Indeed, the comparatively massive space would give SpaceX far more room for recovery operations with the drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI), and could potentially become a one-stop-shop for booster recovery and refurbishment. As of now, boosters recovered on the West Coast are transported to the Hawthorne factory for all refurbishment work, operations that themselves already require brief road stoppages to accommodate the sheer size of Falcon 9.

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New Air Force launch contracts for SpaceX and ULA

Capitalism in space: The Air Force announced yesterday that it has awarded launch contracts to ULA and SpaceX worth nearly $650 million.

Colorado-based ULA was awarded a $355 million contract for its launch services to deliver two Air Force Space Command spacecraft, labeled AFSPC-8 and AFSPC-12, to orbit. The missions are expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by June 2020 and March 2020, respectively.

…SpaceX, meanwhile, secured a $290 million contract to launch three next-generation Global Positioning System satellites for the Air Force, known as GPS III. The first is expected to launch from the Space Coast by March 2020, either from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 or Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A.

Note the price difference between the ULA and SpaceX.launches. ULA’s cost is $177.5 million per launch, while SpaceX’s is $96.7 million per launch. While it could be that the ULA launches need to cost more because of the nature of the payloads, I don’t buy it. The company simply charges too much, partly because its rockets are expensive. The Air Force however has a strategic need to have more than one launch company, so they bite their tongues and pay the larger amount.

I should add one positive aspect about ULA’s price. The price is considerably below what they used to charge, before SpaceX entered the game. Then, their lowest launch price was never less than $200 million, and usually much more. This lower price indicates they are working at getting competitive. Though SpaceX offers the Falcon Heavy at $90 million (with reused boosters) and $150 million (all new) to commercial customers, its price for the Air Force will likely be higher because of the Air Force’s stricter requirements. This means that ULA’s per launch price of $177.5 here is getting quite close to being competitive with the Falcon Heavy.

Note that the article mentions that SpaceX has also gotten two more commercial launch contracts with DigitalGlobe, so that company’s business continues to boom.

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NASA concludes design error caused June 2015 Falcon 9 launch failure

NASA’s independent investigation into the SpaceX’s June 2015 Falcon 9 launch failure has concluded, like SpaceX, that it was caused by the failure of a strut holding an internal tank, but unlike SpaceX the report cites a “design error” for that failure.

In simpler terms, the steel strut that SpaceX chose was not certified to be used in such conditions. Furthermore, SpaceX did not meet the 4:1 redundancy requirement that the manufacturer had instructed. Therefore, the IRT recommended that SpaceX applied greater care when certifying commercially sourced parts for flight.

Interestingly, the IRT also discovered another area of concern not directly related to the accident that arose during the investigation. The report found that the telemetry architecture on the upcoming “Full Thrust” version of the Falcon 9 included a new method of handling packets that increased latency, and thus vital data could have been lost in the event of a similar anomaly.

The IRT report finished by noting that all of the key findings in the report were addressed by SpaceX in time for the successful Jason-3 mission for NASA.

I suspect a political decision at NASA explains the timing of the release of this report, far later than normal. At this point the issues it raises are mostly moot, as SpaceX has upgraded the Falcon 9 and is no longer using the older version that failed on that June 2015 launch. Moreover, NASA has certified those upgraded rockets, which suggests they have reviewed the company’s methods and have decided it is now using parts that are properly certified.

However, the recent successful launch of Falcon Heavy has created a big threat to SLS. This report, released now, is certainly going to be used by SpaceX’s enemies to argue that it is dangerous to buy its heavy lift rocket. “Look, SpaceX is sloppy! It uses uncertified parts that cause its rockets to blow up!” I can see the op-eds, paid for covertly by the big space companies Boeing and Lockeheed Martin, being typed even as I write this.

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Highlight video reel of Falcon Heavy launch

One of the creators of a television science fiction series has produced a highlight video, set to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”, of the first Falcon Heavy launch that shows some new footage of the core stage watery crash.

I have embedded the video below the fold. To me, the best part is the footage of the spectators, including the many children, wonder-struck by the launch. Some of that footage is very reminiscent of footage taken during the Apollo Saturn 5 launches in the late 1960s.

To the next generation: We are going to the Moon — and beyond. And this time we are going to stay.
» Read more

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Trump plugs private space at cabinet meeting

At the beginning of a cabinet meeting yesterday Trump spent some time talking about the recent successes in commercial space.

Three quotes of interest:

  • “Rich guys, they love rocket ships. And that’s good. Better than us paying for them.”
  • “I notice the prices of the last one they sent. It cost $80 million. If the government did it the same thing would have cost probably 40-50 times that amount of money. I mean literally. … I’m so used to hearing different numbers from NASA.”
  • We’re really at the forefront, nobody is doing what we’re doing. I don’t know if you saw, with Elon, the [Falcon Heavy] rocket boosters where they’re coming back down. To me that was more amazing than watching the rocket go up. ‘Cause I’ve never seen that before. Nobody has seen that before…. They landed so beautifully.

Not unusually, Trump gets some details wrong but understands the essentials, much to the terror of the big space contractors of SLS (Boeing) and Orion (Lockheed Martin). SpaceX will charge $90 million for the launch of a reused Falcon Heavy (using three reused first stages). Estimates for the cost of a single SLS launch are difficult to estimate. In Capitalism in Space I had estimated the project’s overall cost, based on Congressional appropriations, to be about $25 billion come its first manned flight, but that cost is likely going up because the first flight will be delayed. Trump’s numbers estimate a cost of about $4 billion for a single launch, which is a reasonable number considering SLS is not expected to launch more than once a year, and SLS’s annual appropriations, about $3 billion, which will not change once it is operational.

In other words, SLS is an overpriced rip-off, especially now that we have a cost-effective alternative.

Yesterday there were two op-eds warning everyone of the dangers of giving government money to SpaceX.

The first worries that Musk is a “master manipulator” and the king of “crony capitalism” and that we shouldn’t be blinded by this single Falcon Heavy success. Others, like ULA, are better companies to depend on. The second warns that the government mustn’t become so blinded by SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch that it decides to invest money in the company.

Both op-eds are laughable. Compared to the crony capitalism of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which have sucked almost $50 billion from the taxpayers for SLS/Orion while producing no flights, Elon Musk is a piker. And no one has ever suggested investing in SpaceX, like a venture capitalist. The Trump administration has merely proposed buying its rockets to launch future deep space missions, in order to save the taxpayers a lot of money.

There is real fear and terror in the bowels of big space and in the swamp in Washington. Elon Musk and the Falcon Heavy have put it there. Increasingly, it is becoming plainly obvious that SLS is a big over-priced boondoggle that we cannot afford, and Trump’s comments yesterday indicate that this fact is finally beginning to be politically acceptable.

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SpaceX successfully launches commercial communications satellite

SpaceX tonight successfully launched a commercial communications satellite. They did not recover the first stage because the seas were too rough to send out the drone ship.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

7 China
5 SpaceX
3 Japan
3 ULA
2 Russia

Though I have removed Rocket Lab as an American company, crediting it instead to New Zealand, the U.S. still has 8 successful launches total, one more than China.

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A detailed look at SpaceX’s attempt to recovery its rocket fairings

Link here. The article contains lots of good information and background, including some cost figures that suggest this recovery scheme will only work if they can recovery a lot of fairings while doing a lot of launches. Since SpaceX’s goal is to do a lot of launches, the numbers seem reasonable.

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SpaceX successfully launches Spanish radar satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a Spanish radar satellite.

They also intended to try to recover the rocket’s fairing, but they did not telecast this, and there is no word yet whether they were successful. In fact, their low-key approach here suggests a shift in policy. Previously, SpaceX was eager to show off its test programs. Now, this silence suggests a desire to throttle back on that openness, possibly in order to protect their proprietary engineering.

Update: It appears that at least one fairing half landed in the water intact, though that also means they were unable to catch it. According to a Musk tweet at the link, the fairing missed the ship net by “a few hundred meters.” Musk also indicates the need for larger chutes in the future. Either way, I wonder if the fairing in the water can still be reused.

The 2018 launch standings:

7 China
4 SpaceX
2 ULA
2 Russia
2 Japan

As a nation, the U.S. now has 7 launches total, tying China.

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More details about SpaceX’s fairing recovery plans

Link here. The article has some additional excellent images, but it was this paragraph that I thought was most significant:

To oversimplify, after launch, the payload fairing separates (mechanically) from the second stage once Falcon 9 or Heavy has left behind the majority of Earth’s atmosphere. After separation, each fairing half orients itself for a gentler reentry into the atmosphere with cold nitrogen gas thrusters, likely the exact same thrusters used in part to achieve Falcon 9’s accurate and reliable landings. Due to their massive surface area and comparatively tiny weight, fairing halves effectively become exceptionally finicky and awkward sails falling through the atmosphere at insane velocities, with the goal generally being to orient each half like a boat’s hull to provide some stability. Once they are low enough, assuming they’ve survived the journey from TEN TIMES THE SPEED OF SOUND and 62 MILES above Earth’s surface to a more reasonable ~Mach 0.5 and maybe 5 miles of altitude, the fun parts begin. At this point, each fairing half deploys a GPS-connected parachute system (a parasail, to be exact) capable of directing the massive hunks of carbon fiber and aluminum to a very specific point on the surface of the ocean.

What we don’t yet know is whether SpaceX will have cameras on the fairing, and if so, whether they will make those images available to the public, during launch.

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