Falcon Heavy launch tomorrow

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Capitalism in space: Several stories today about tomorrow’s long-awaited Falcon Heavy launch, with a launch window opening at 1:30 pm (eastern).

First, the FAA has approved SpaceX’s launch license. This is an example of the absolute irrelevance of government. There was no way this launch license was going to be denied, which means that the FAA’s only purpose here was to simply make work for some bureaucrats.

Second, this story by Bill Harwood provides a nice summary of the context of the launch, including SpaceX’s success at shaking up the launch history in the past decade. The money quote, however, comes when Harwood quotes John Logsdon, founder and now retired director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. For years Logsdon has been the media’s go-to expert on the policy of space, and has consistently expressed unbounded faith and love for NASA projects like SLS. His perspective has always been that of the 1960s, when the space race then established the concept that in order to succeed in space you needed to have a government space program. The idea of a chaotic, competitive effort by private companies has always been inconceivable to him and most liberal policy experts. Thus, when asked about the purpose behind Falcon Heavy as well as Musk’s even bigger proposed rocket, the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), Logsdon was totally baffled.

“I don’t understand what they’re doing,” Logsdon said. “Elon’s out talking about they’re not going to pursue the Falcon line of rockets, he’s going to put all his efforts into the BFR. So, what is the future of Heavy?”

…Logsdon said he believes it is “good for the country to have two alternative heavy lift vehicles, at least for a little while, to see which one works better.” But he also believes the SLS enjoys enough solid congressional support to “sustain it for some few more years, anyway.”

What Logsdon, being an academic his whole life, has never understood is the concept of profit and efficiency. Unlike the government projects like SLS that Logsdon tends to favor, Falcon Heavy is designed to provide customers a cheap way to get large payloads into orbit. That ability is going to soon provide SpaceX plenty of business, and will make SLS look like a complete waste of money. Furthermore, the BFR is Musk’s declaration that, as the head of a cutting edge private company, he is not going to stand still, but will keep pushing the envelope to provide his customers even better products in the future.

Finally, this CNN article, while typically shallow and not very knowledgeable, does provide one piece of important information, about the launchpad being used.

Because of a special walkway that has been constructed for it, Pad 39A is the only site that can host flights of SpaceX’s new spacecraft, Crew Dragon. That’s the spacecraft the company is developing to help NASA ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Crew Dragon has already faced delays. And destroying the launch pad could mean pushing deadlines back even further, according to U.S. Government Accountability Office Director Cristina Chaplain.

A launch failure on the launchpad would therefore significantly impact the schedule for SpaceX’s private manned capsule. This also explains why Musk has said he would consider this launch a success if the Falcon Heavy simply cleared the launch tower.



  • Matt in AZ

    Today’s Dilbert comic sums up most government projects all too well…


  • ken anthony

    What does Logsdon tell us about human intelligence when I could explain SLS vs. FH to any ten year old child?

    Only perhaps that it has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with willful blindness. So the next question is why society allows any blind person to lead us into the abyss?

    I promise you. These people would never be employed by me. This is just too fundamental to trust their judgement on anything else. It will never change as long as we continue to reward this nonsense.

    Worse, because our system of govt. allows such morons to decide all our fates and the imbecile ratio seems to be growing. The future hangs in the balance.

    “The human race? Yeah, they had a shot but ultimately didn’t make it. We’re really hopeful for the goop on sigma 9 though.”

  • Edward

    From the article: “So, what is the future of Heavy?

    The same as for the Delta II. It will be used as long as it is useful, then retired when it is obsolete.

    From the article: “A knowledgeable rocket engineer who asked not to be named said the Heavy is too powerful for routine use launching Earth-orbiting satellites but not powerful enough to serve as a stand-alone lunar exploration rocket.
    He said it’s generally agreed that meaningful missions to the moon or beyond will require rockets capable of boosting 130-metric-ton payloads into Earth orbit.

    I’m not sure who suggested that Falcon Heavy should be in the category of lunar exploration rocket, but it wasn’t SpaceX. Falcon Heavy may be more powerful than necessary to launch Earth-orbiting satellites, but if the price is right, then customers will come to it, and SpaceX has already announced a larger rocket suitable for lunar and interplanetary manned travel.

    Customers have already come: Arabsat (Arabsat 6A), Inmarsat, U.S. Air Force (STP-2), and Viasat.
    reference: http://www.spacex.com/missions

    The general answer to both Logsdon and the unnamed but knowledgeable rocket engineer is that Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are stepping stones to larger rockets, just as Falcon 1 was. Rather than starting big and learning all the lessons the hard way, on the large expensive stuff, they did as every business does and started out small and affordable then working to larger size as revenue allows and as customers desire.

    I may be a little harsh on the unnamed rocket engineer, as he probably wants to be unnamed due to his statement being paraphrased out of context. He may be smarter than the author, William Harwood, makes him appear, although I would not suggest unmanned probes to the Moon or other planets are meaningless.

    Harwood does a nice job of presenting some of the reasons that this first launch is risky.

  • Kirk

    RZ: First, the FAA has approved SpaceX’s launch license. This is an example of the absolute irrelevance of government. There was no way this launch license was going to be denied, which means that the FAA’s only purpose here was to simply make work for some bureaucrats.

    They have a legitimate role here. Had SpaceX wanted to launch west, overfly Orlando, and land the central booster in the gulf, then FAA would have had good grounds to deny a permit.

  • Kirk

    Re pad 39A destruction, in yesterday’s conference call Mr. Musk said that it would take 9-12 months to rebuild it if the worst happens, then later said maybe 8 months.

    I wonder if NASA would be satisfied with SpaceX launching their unmanned Dragon V2 demo flight from pad 40, of if they need to simulate crew loading and closeout on that mission itself.

  • Kirk: Can you imagine any situation where a company like SpaceX, responsible, competitive, striving to demonstrate intelligence, capability, and good product, would have wanted “to launch west, overfly Orlando?” You can’t. Competition forces good behavior. SpaceX cannot afford to do foolish things that will hurt its brand.

    In truth, my words however were bit over the top. I agree that the FAA does have a role. I just despise the fact that people today assume it is far larger than it should be.

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.–
    What legal enforcement mechanisms, do these Administrative agencies, actually have?
    (Let’s stick with the FAA right now. Some of these administrative agencies do have their own little fully armed, armies. I’m more familiar with how the EPA & HHS works, on the actual ground.)
    Not familiar with the relevant law (launch license) nor the enabling legislation for the FAA in general.

    say for example, the FAA wanted to issue a warrant, or subpoena , for any random FAA administrative law violation. Are they instituting administrative or criminal actions?
    –in the SpaceX example here– failure to secure a launch-license, is exactly what sort of violation?

    (depending on what Federal Regulation one might be violating, one may be criminally liable and face prison, or one might only be incurring civil-fines & administrative actions, short of prison, or anywhere in between. This is the true insidiousness of the administrative-state.)

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