Tag Archives: Falcon Heavy

A look at SpaceX’s upcoming launch schedule

Link here. It appears that the launch dates for both Falcon Heavy launches depend entirely on when the first Falcon 9 manned Dragon test flight takes place.

With Demo-1 having priority, the final preparations for Arabsat [using Falcon Heavy] will not be able to begin until the Demo-1 launch has occurred as there is only so much space in the Pad 39A hangar. With that in mind, Arabsat 6A will likely occur in the second half of March at the earliest, as NASA announced on Wednesday that Demo-1 is now targeting no earlier than March 2nd, 2019.

While the March 2nd launch date for Demo-1 is still tentative, it is understood that the Space Station’s Visiting Vehicle Schedule does have availability for a launch on that date should the NASA and SpaceX teams be ready.

Once Demo-1 and Arabsat are out of the way, Pad 39A will not be done supporting high profile missions. SpaceX will work to quickly turnaround the first stage boosters from the Arabsat 6A flight in order to reuse them for the STP-2 mission – the second Falcon Heavy launch of the year. STP-2 is a mission for the U.S. Air Force which will feature several technology demonstration payloads. According to FCC filings, the launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than April 30th, 2019. However, since this mission requires boosters from the Arabsat 6A launch, SpaceX will require several weeks between the two flights to refurbish the cores.

Therefore, STP-2 is directly connected to the launch schedule for Arabsat 6A which is in turn connected to Demo-1’s schedule. Consequently, the odds of a slip with STP-2’s date are high, as two major dominos currently stand in front of it.

In addition, the date for SpaceX’s launch abort test of Dragon depends entirely on the completion of the Demo-1 flight, since they plan to use that same capsule in the abort test.

Though there are a handful of other launches described in the article through April, but much of SpaceX’s schedule for the spring depends entirely on whether NASA can get off its duff and allow the Dragon test mission to fly. If NASA continues to drag its feet, everything else will get delayed. It would seem that at some point SpaceX might even have the right to demand financial compensation from NASA for the loss of income NASA is causing it. They don’t get paid for any of these launches until they fly, and thus NASA is preventing them from earning money from other customers.


Lockheed Martin’s space profits to decline in 2019 because of ULA

Capitalism in space: Lockheed Martin is projecting a decline in its space profits in 2019 because of a decline in income coming from its ULA partnership with Boeing.

In the previous quarterly earnings call in October, Bruce Tanner, Lockheed Martin’s chief financial officer, warned those earnings could be down as much as $150 million in 2019 compared to 2018. Tanner said then that both the number of [ULA] launches and the mix of vehicles contributed to that decline.

“We have more, for instance, Delta 4 launches in 2018 than we expect to have in 2019,” he said in the prior call. “Those are obviously the most profitable launch vehicles in all of ULA’s portfolio.”

In the latest earnings call, Tanner said the decline would not be as large as previously projected, estimating it to be closer $100 million. Part of the change has to do with improved performance at ULA, he said, but a bigger factor was a delay of a Delta 4 Heavy launch from late 2018 to earlier this month, shifting the profit realized from it to 2019. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted language illustrates why they are losing sales. The Delta family of rockets might bring ULA the most income, but that is because it is also its most expensive rocket to build and launch, and is also the one for which it charges the most.

Back in 2016 ULA announced that it planned to retire Delta, but it has not yet done so, probably because the company earns so much with each launch. Whether they eventually retire it or not doesn’t really matter, however, because its high cost will have it with time go the way of the horse regardless. Other cheaper rockets, such as the Falcon Heavy, are getting the business instead.

In fact, this competitive process probably explains entirely the drop in earnings expected in 2019.


SpaceX’s Tesla passes Mars’ orbit

Capitalism in space: The Tesla roadster that was put into solar orbit by the first Falcon Heavy launch in February has now successfully flown beyond Mars’ orbit.

The significance of this achievement is that this payload was put into solar orbit by a private company, using its own funds. The government had nothing to do with it.

For the entire history of the space age such a thing was considered absurd and impossible. You needed government to fund and build these big space projects. With this launch SpaceX and Elon Musk once again demonstrated how that accepted wisdom was bunk.


SpaceX lands another Falcon Heavy contract; seeks big loan

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has signed another Falcon Heavy launch contract, this time with the satellite company Viasat.

What is interesting here is that Viasat had previously had a Falcon Heavy contract, but switched to the Ariane 5 because of the long delays leading to the rocket’s first launch. That they have returned indicates that there is a strong need for a rocket that can lift this kind of large payload, even as a large part of the satellite industry is also miniaturizing.

In related news, SpaceX is reported to be negotiating for a half billion dollar loan.

Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX is seeking to borrow $500 million in the leveraged loan market, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is leading the talks with potential investors this week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because plan is private. Spokesmen for Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

This is especially interesting, based on the company’s philosophy to avoid taking government development money. While Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, and ULA recently accepted Air Force rocket development subsidies ranging from half a billion to a billion dollars for future military launches, SpaceX did not. Some reports suggested this meant the Air Force was going to exclude SpaceX in future contract bidding, a suggestion that I think is patently false.

This loan probably relates to development of the BFR, and will allow SpaceX to build it according to its desires, not the Air Force’s.


Final 2018 SpaceX launch schedule

Link here. The article describes in detail SpaceX’s schedule of launches through the end of 2018, which appears now to be firming up. Several take-aways:

  • They are going to attempt for the first time the third launch of first stage booster.
  • In one of these launches, the first stage will not be recovered, even though it is a block 5.
  • The second Falcon Heavy launch has now been definitely delayed to early 2019.

A look at the overall launch schedule shows that the two Falcon Heavy launches that have been pending and were originally set for the last quarter of 2018 are now set for “early 2019.” This full schedule also lists the first unmanned flight of the Dragon manned capsule for January.


SpaceX turned down government money to build Falcon Heavy

Capitalism in space: In a presentation yesterday in Europe, one of SpaceX’s executives, Hans Koenigsmann, made it clear that SpaceX paid entirely for the development of Falcon Heavy, and in fact turned down an offer of government funding.

According to the SpaceX executive, the company was actually approached by “the government”, with the unknown agency or agencies stating – in Hans’ words – that they wanted to be a part of the rocket’s development. According to Hans, SpaceX responded in an extremely unorthodox fashion: “we said, ‘Nope! We just wanna build it, you can buy it when it’s ready and we’ll charge you for the service.’” He noted in the next sentence that funding was the primary lever on the table: “It’s a great position to do this, you gotta find the money, you gotta know people that have money and are willing to invest in your company, and [SpaceX has] been lucky enough to know some of those people.”

In other words, when given an opportunity to either rely on government funding or some other source of capital for a given R&D project, SpaceX – or at least Hans Koenigsmann, VP of Reliability – would apparently recommend the latter option in almost all cases. Again, without being prompted, he elaborated on his feelings about funding sources, culminating in a statement that is simply profound coming from an executive in the aerospace industry. The following quote is unabridged and straight from Hans himself:

“You need to [try to not] get money from the government, otherwise the government will tell you what to build and how to build it… they will tell you how to build this and that’s just not always – I mean for some things it’s the best to do, but in others it’s actually not.”

In other words, don’t let the government run your business. Use the government as an eventual customer, but build your product in a way that will not make them your only customer.

You can watch his entire presentation in the embedded video below the fold. Koenigsmann also noted that this Sunday’s first attempt to land a first stage at Vandenberg will likely produce a spectacular show for anyone who watches.
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SpaceX to name on Monday its first customer for BFR flight around Moon

Capitalism in space: In a tweet SpaceX announced that it will name on Monday its first customer for flight around Moon, using its Big Falcon Rocket rather than the Falcon Heavy as previously announced.

There will be a lot of speculation over the next few days, but we must remember that the BFR is years away from launch, so nothing here is either set in concrete, nor even likely to happen.


Launch schedule shuffles for SpaceX

Link here. A combination of payload issues, scheduling conflicts, and rocket refurbishment demands has forced SpaceX to shuffle and delay many of its remaining launches scheduled for the rest of 2018.

The biggest conflict appears to be between the first manned Dragon test flight, and the second Falcon Heavy flight, both of which are now listed for a November launch. Since both will use the same launchpad, there must be some space between them.


The upcoming Falcon Heavy schedule

Link here. After the estimated October launch of an Air Force technology demonstration satellite, the next launch is a communications satellite for Saudi Arabia set for the December/January time frame.

After that there are no scheduled Falcon Heavy launches, though three companies, Intelsat, Viasat, and Inmarsat, have options for launches.

In related SpaceX news, the company came within 200 feet of catching one half of the fairing from last week’s launch. The picture of the fairing coming down by parachute is very cool, and indicates that SpaceX is very close to recovering them.


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.


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.


NASA chief argues against purchasing Falcon Heavy over SLS

When asked at a meeting of a NASA advisory council meeting why NASA doesn’t buy a lot of Falcon Heavies instead of building a few SLS rockets, NASA chief of human spaceflight Bill Gerstenmaier argued that only the SLS could launch the large payloads NASA requires to establish its Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway (LOP-G).

Gerstenmaier then said NASA’s exploration program will require the unique capabilities of the SLS rocket. “I think it’s still going to be large-volume, monolithic pieces that are going to require an SLS kind of capability to get them out into space,” he said. “Then for routine servicing and bringing cargo, maybe bringing smaller crew vehicles other than Orion, then Falcon Heavy can play a role. What’s been talked about by [Jeff] Bezos can play a role. What United Launch Alliance has talked about can play a role.”

The problem with this argument is that the “large-volume, monolithic pieces” Gerstenmaier proposes don’t exist yet, either in design or in budget. NASA could very easily design LOP-G’s pieces to fit on Falcon Heavy, and then use it. Instead, they are purposely creating a situation where SLS is required, rather than going with the most cost effective solution.

Unless someone in power, such as a president, puts his foot down and demands NASA do this intelligently, I expect NASA to accomplish nothing significant in manned space in the next decade. That does not mean Americans will be trapped on Earth, only that NASA will not be the way they will get off the planet. And unfortunately, based on the most recent budget passed by Congress and signed by Trump, I do not expect this president to do anything to change things. Right now, NASA is being run by the big contractors (Boeing and Lockheed Martin) that need SLS and Orion, and thus NASA is going to give them a lot of money to build things that we can’t afford and can do nothing to put Americans in space.


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.


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.


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


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.


The last picture from SpaceX’s Tesla

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has highlighted the last image from its Tesla car, heading out to the asteroid belt after being lofted into space by its Falcon Heavy rocket.

The image at the link is truly cool, as it also highlights that a private American company was able to send a payload beyond Earth orbit, and it took them only seven years of development and no government funds.


Update on Falcon Heavy core stage landing failure

Link here. According to Musk, the reason the core stage hit the water so fast is that some engines did not fire as intended.

He said engineers believed only one of three engines fired during a final burn designed to slow the rocket’s descent before touchdown. The stage only missed the boat by about the length of a football field, but the force of its water impact was enough to “take out” two engines on the nearby drone ship and spray it with debris.

This is proper engineering procedure. They flew a test, and learned something. They now need to figure out why it happened, and fix it.


Falcon Heavy reactions post launch

I could provide links to probably a hundred articles, but most simply say the same things, while generally being awed and excited. The handful below sum things up well, plus provide some additional details:

The first two stories provide a good overview of the excitement caused by the launch. The third story, about California’s tax on rocket launches, is really an op-ed opposing the tax. (I don’t expect that state’s leftist legislature to cancel it.) The third story also outlines what happened, but provides this significant quote from Musk, illustrating starkly how revolutionary this rocket is:

Musk said he personally inspected the landed boosters, adding that SpaceX could even reuse them if it wanted. Even after seeing the results of the launch, Musk said he was having difficulty comprehending the magnitude of the flight, saying it was surreal for him to see such success.

“It can launch things direct to Pluto and beyond. Don’t even need gravity assist or anything,” Musk said. “You can go back to the moon.”

He estimated the total SpaceX investment was over $500 million dollars to develop Falcon Heavy. Musk noted those funds were “all internal,” and not from taxpayers or fundraising.

In other words, the taxpayer now has available, at no development cost, the heavy-lift rocket that NASA has been trying and failing to build for tens of billions since 2004.

Finally, the last story isn’t really about Falcon Heavy, but about how SpaceX is in the driver’s seat in the prices it charges. The company is saving quite a lot by reusing its first stage boosters. For the first initial launches reusing these boosters they offered discounts to get customers to use them. Now they no longer have to, because their normal prices beat everyone else anyway. They can pocket the extra profits.

And all this has happened because of freedom, competition, and the vision of one man. Musk deserves all the accolades he is receiving today.


Falcon Heavy launch a success!

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has just successfully launched its Falcon Heavy into space.

The key to this launch was to get the three first stage boosters to all work in unison, and for the two side boosters to successfully separate. All worked.

As I write this we are waiting for the two side boosters on their way back to land, and the central core heading back to land at sea.

The two side boosters landed like synchronized swimmers. The core stage barge landing remains unconfirmed. Update: SpaceX has confirmed that the core stage failed to land correctly, crashing into the ocean.

Two Falcon Heavy boosters landing simultanously

Even so, the upper stage and its payload are in orbit. They will fire its engines in about a half hour, and then again in six hours to put the Tesla into solar orbit. Update: The first firing occurred as scheduled, and Musk has now confirmed that the final burn has placed the Tesla in a solar orbit that reaches out into the asteroid belt.

SpaceX has now started a live stream from the Tesla, showing its mannequin dubbed “Starman” sitting in the driver’s seat.

Even if the core stage failed to land successfully, and even if the upper stage fails to send the Tesla towards Mars, this launch is an unqualified success. SpaceX has demonstrated that the Falcon Heavy works. It is now the most powerful rocket in operation, and only matched or beaten in capability by the Saturn 5, Energia, and the Space Shuttle, none of which exist any longer.

The 2018 launch standings:

6 China
3 SpaceX
2 Japan


Watching the Falcon Heavy launch

This morning there are dozens of stories across the entire media about SpaceX’s first test launch today of its Falcon Heavy rocket, generally pushing out all other space news. Most repeat the same information, about the rocket, the company, the goals, its history, and its consequences, all subjects that I have already covered extensively here at Behind the Black or elsewhere.

One story however is not only fun, and demonstrates the value of freedom and private enterprise. An uber-type car transportation company called Lyft is offering half-price rides from Orlando to watch the Falcon Heavy launch.

The benefits of innovation and competition will be routinely surprising, and come from places unexpected. Lyft is doing this because of the high traffic being generated by SpaceX’s launch. It gives them margin to cut prices while also generating some good PR.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch the launch (launch now delayed to 2:00 pm Eastern), you can either go to SpaceX’s video stream on its website, or on youtube, or you can go to the live feed at Spaceflightnow.


Falcon Heavy launch tomorrow

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.


SpaceX sets February 6 for first Falcon Heavy launch attempt

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now scheduled February 6 as the date for its first attempt to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket.

I was amused by this tidbit from the article:

While a launch date has been set, the company still faces a regulatory obstacle ahead of the launch. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has not yet issued a launch license for the Falcon Heavy, a requirement for a commercial launch such as this. Such licenses are often issued days ahead of a launch.

I dare the FAA to deny this launch a license. I just dare them.


Video of Falcon Heavy static fire test

I have embedded below the fold the video that SpaceX has released of yesterday’s Falcon Heavy static fire test. This is the first footage I have seen that allows one to make a good estimate of the test’s length, though because the video has one edit during the firing the time length could have been edited.

The video makes it appear that the firing lasted seven seconds. Witnesses however suggest it lasted about twelve seconds, which was the length expected. The difference raises some questions. If the video was edited and the actual test lasted twelve seconds, one has to ask why SpaceX edited their video. Was there some proprietary information that SpaceX was protecting that would have been revealed had it kept the view locked on the close-up camera for the full twelve seconds? Or was there some issue that occurred during the test that they do not yet wish the public to see?

If the test did last only seven seconds, not twelve as planned, was there instead an issue that caused them to shut down early?

I’m not sure what to think. I am also of the mind that I might be over-analyzing this. Other footage from farther away suggests the test was for twelve seconds, as described by witnesses. The footage however is also not definitive. The trees prevent one from seeing exactly when the firing starts and stops.

We will have to wait and see what SpaceX does. If it schedules a launch relatively quickly, then all this analysis is what I suspect, mere junk. If not, or if they schedule a second static fire test, which was always an option, then this analysis is brilliant.

Personally, I prefer the former, not the latter.

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Falcon Heavy static fire test completed

SpaceX has apparently completed its static fire test of the first stage of its Falcon Heavy rocket.

You can see the test here, with the static fire beginning at about 37:00 minutes. From the video it is difficult to judge exactly how long the rocket fired, but it might have been longer than predicted. What is important is that all appeared to function as planned.


The Falcon Heavy vs the Saturn 5

As SpaceX prepares for what it hopes will be the first static fire test of its Falcon Heavy rocket today, this article provides a nice detailed comparison between the new heavy lift rocket and the Saturn 5, the biggest rocket ever built and successfully launched.

But where the Falcon Heavy comes out ahead is in economy. The estimated cost of a Saturn V launch in today’s dollars is a whopping US$1.16 billion. Meanwhile, the upper estimate for Falcon heavy is US$90 million. That’s million with an “M.”

So, which rocket comes out ahead? In terms of sheer numbers, the Saturn V wins hands down, but the contest is a bit unfair. Saturn V was a Cold War project with a main objective to put a man on the Moon as part of the struggle to prove the superiority of the Free World over the Soviet Union. It was a cost-is-no-object machine intended to win a bloodless battle for world supremacy.

Falcon Heavy, on the other hand, is a business venture. Its job is to make a profit for SpaceX’s investors and its development always had one eye on the ledger at all times. Its design is different, its function is different. To compare it with the Saturn V is a bit like comparing a nuclear strike carrier with the Queen Mary 2. Beyond a certain point, the exercise becomes meaningless.

Read it all. The comparison is quite fun, especially if you are an American and proud of our country’s history in space. To date, no one has built a rocket that truly compares with the Saturn 5. And now, today, an American company is proving that such rockets can be built in the future, for an affordable price.

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