Tag Archives: SpaceX

Faced with stiff competition in the launch market, Europe struggles to come up with a competitive replacement for Ariane 5

Faced with stiff competition in the launch market, Europe struggles to come up with a competitive replacement for Ariane 5

“I strongly believe we have to decide, as quickly as possible, to develop a new-generation launcher to be competitive in the market as it is forecast, and with the competitors,” [ESA Director General Jean-Jacques] Dordain said at the Berlin air show last month, a reference to new launch vehicle developments in India, China and the U.S., where Space Exploration Technologies’ low-cost Falcon 9 is challenging the global launcher market.

While space cadets might argue about launch prices till the cows come home, the actual competitors in the industry know better: SpaceX’s low prices are real and are forcing everyone to find ways to lower costs or lose business.

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The Orbcomm communications satellite put in a wrong orbit in the Falcon 9 launch has fallen to Earth.

The Orbcomm communications satellite that was put in the wrong orbit by the Falcon 9 rocket Sunday has fallen to Earth.

According to the company insurance will cover most of the loss. They also said that “had Orbcomm been the primary payload on this mission, as planned for the upcoming launches, we believe the OG2 prototype would have reached the desired orbit.” This appears to be a strong endorsement of the Falcon 9 rocket from the company, which has a contract with SpaceX to launch 17 more satellites on two Falcon 9 launches, scheduled for 2013 and 2014.

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An update on the Falcon 9 engine problems.

An update on the Falcon 9 engine problems.

Based on SpaceX’s press release, the rocket functioned as designed to overcome the engine failure. Nonetheless, it behooves them to find out why that engine shut down prematurely.

More worrisome for the company is the failure the Falcon 9 rocket to place in its proper orbit a secondary payload, an Orbcomm communications satellite. The satellite ended up in too low an orbit, probably because of the engine failure during launch. Orbcomm has a contract with SpaceX to launch a whole series of these satellites. This failure now, right at the get-go, won’t do them much good in terms of public relations.

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One engine of the Falcon 9 failed during launch.

Confirmed: One engine of the Falcon 9 exploded during launch.

Video at the link. The other 8 engines picked up the slack — as designed — and got Dragon into orbit.

This spectacular engine failure will of course have to be reviewed. However, if I were a commercial satellite company looking for a rocket to get my satellites into orbit, this failure would be recommendation, not a deterrent. The Falcon 9 demonstrated that even if one engine fails (and this one did by blowing up!), the rocket can survive the failure and make it to orbit. If that isn’t clear proof that this is a well designed and well built rocket, nothing is.

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The head of Russia’s space agency said today that they need to reorganize their industry in order to compete.

Isn’t competition wonderful? The head of Russia’s space agency said today that they need to reorganize their industry in order to compete.

Key quote: “Unless we act now – we will cease to be competitive,” he warned.

I wonder why? Could it be there is a company out there selling launch capability at half the cost?

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France and Germany in the European Space Agency are at loggerheads about the best way to compete in the launch market.

The competition heats up: France and Germany in the European Space Agency are in serious disagreement about whether to replace the Ariane 5 or upgrade it.

The French space agency, CNES, quietly backed by Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium, has argued that the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift vehicle has only a fragile hold on its current 50 percent commercial market share. Just as important, according to the French reasoning, is that the entire Ariane 5 system, including its ground infrastructure, is expensive to operate and likely to remain so. Because money is short in Europe, it would be preferable to move immediately to a next-generation vehicle that would carry payloads ranging from 2,500 kilograms to 6,000 kilograms — with an extension to 8,000 kilograms — into geostationary transfer orbit, one at a time. This modular vehicle ultimately would replace not only today’s Ariane 5, but also the Russian Soyuz rocket that is now operating from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Set against this reasoning are industrial policy issues raised by the German space agency, DLR, and by Astrium, which is Ariane 5’s prime contractor. They say Europe needs to complete development of an upgraded Ariane 5 — at a cost of about 1.4 billion euros ($1.8 billion) — before embarking on a decade-long development of an Ariane 6 whose cost and industrial work-share distribution are unknown. [emphasis mine]

It is very clear that ESA has recognized that once Falcon 9 becomes completely operational, it will be difficult to get anyone to buy tickets on the very expensive Ariane 5. From the article it appears the battle centers on the fact that the French realize this, while the Germans are willing to look the other way.

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Three astronauts have safely returned to Earth from ISS.

Three astronauts have safely returned to Earth from ISS.

More important, the Russians have now delayed the next Soyuz manned launch to ISS for a week due to “some malfunctions [that] have appeared in one of the devices of the decent module.”

They also say the delay is to avoid a flight conflict with the next Dragon mission on October 15. This is interesting in that the last word we had from NASA was that the Dragon launch could occur as early as October 5.

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Prices, Demand, and SpaceX

For the past three days there has been a very lively debate by readers of Behind the Black, attempting to figure out the actual cost of launching payload to low Earth orbit by various rockets, including SpaceX, the space shuttle, and the NASA-built Space Launch System.

Three stories published today add some new information to this debate.
» Read more

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It appears that Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Georgia are all competing to be the location of SpaceX’s proposed private commercial spaceport.

The competition heats up: It appears that Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Georgia are all competing to be the location of SpaceX’s proposed private commercial spaceport.

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Bigelow Aerospace has expanded its workforce as well doubled its factory space in response to the commercial contracts NASA recently awarded.

The competition heats up: Bigelow Aerospace has expanded its workforce as well doubled its factory space in response to the commercial contracts NASA recently awarded.

The company just opened a 185,000-square-foot addition, bringing its North Las Vegas plant up to about 350,000 square feet. It slashed its work force from 150 before the recession to 50 during the downturn; now, it’s looking to jump back up to 90 workers by Christmas. It’s hiring structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, as well as chemists, molecular biologists and workers who craft composite spacecraft parts.

Hat tip to Clark Lindsey at NewSpace Watch.

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A failed fuel line in the upper stage has been pinpointed as the probably cause of the Russian Proton rocket failure on Tuesday.

A failed fuel line in the upper stage has been pinpointed as the probably cause of the Russian Proton rocket failure on Tuesday.

In related news, the Russian prime minister said today that he intends to name and shame the officials responsible for the rocket failure.

“I would like to hold a meeting on this next week. It will be prepared by the appropriate deputy prime minister and structures. They are tasked with reporting who should be punished and what to do next,” Medvedev told a government meeting in Moscow. He also said Russia’s space failures “could not be tolerated anymore.”

Do tell. With SpaceX’s cheaper prices looming over them, Russia’s government-owned commercial rocket business can’t afford rocket failures as well. If they don’t fix this soon, their business will evaporate, and Medvedev knows it.

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Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada the winners of NASA’s commercial crew contracts.

It’s official: Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are the winners of NASA’s commercial crew contracts.

Boeing will receive $460 million, SpaceX $440 million, and Sierra Nevada $212.5. All are planning to launch by 2015.

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Alan Boyle at NBC tonight reports that Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada are the winning companies in the competition to provide human ferrying services to ISS.

Alan Boyle at NBC tonight reports that Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada are the winning companies in the competition to provide human ferrying services to ISS, to be announced officially by NASA tomorrow.

The report does not provide dollar numbers. This Wall Street Journal story says that Boeing and SpaceX will be the prime contractors, which suggests that Sierra Nevada will be getting a smaller award.

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The cost of launch

Two news items from NASA today:

What I find most interesting about these stories is the fees charged by the two companies. SpaceX will be paid $82 million for its one launch, while ULA will be paid $412 million for its three launches, or about $137 million per launch.
» Read more

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ESA is revamping how it builds rockets in order to compete with SpaceX.

The competition heats up: ESA is revamping how it builds rockets in order to compete with SpaceX.

ESA officials have been spooked by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., which has demonstrated its technical prowess with the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo vehicle to the international space station. SpaceX officials say one of the keys to its success is that Falcon 9 is built in one factory owned by SpaceX.

Read the whole thing. The way ESA builds the Ariane rocket requires too many participants (what we in the U.S. call pork), raising its cost. ESA is now abandoning that approach to cut costs and thus compete with SpaceX.

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Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said today that his country needs to expand its commercial space services and grab market share from the United States and Europe.

The competition heats up: Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said today that his country needs to expand its commercial space services and grab market share from the United States and Europe.

I wonder if these comments stem from a realization that — because Russia’s Proton rocket, its main commercial space product, is twice as expensive as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 — Russia faces a significant loss of business if it does not adapt.

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Clark Lindsey posted today this interesting cost comparison between the Falcon 9 and the Russian-built Proton rocket.

The cost of launch: Clark Lindsey posted today this interesting cost comparison between the Falcon 9 and the Russian-built Proton rocket.

The essence is this: The Proton rocket costs twice as much as the Falcon 9. If SpaceX can make a profit charging these low numbers, the launch industry is going to see a major shake out in the coming years.

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More details on both SpaceX’s Merlin engine test yesterday as well as Orbital Sciences’ test firing of its Antares AJ-26 rocket engine on Monday.

More details on both SpaceX’s Merlin engine test yesterday as well as Orbital Sciences’ test firing of its Antares AJ-26 rocket engine on Monday.

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