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back to article Musk's SpaceX gets foot in door of US secret 'black' space program

Internet space cowboy Elon Musk has scored two lucrative military contracts from the US Air Force, which could be stepping stones into the hugely lucrative 'black' spy-sat launch market. SpaceX will launch two science missions for the USAF in 2014 and 2015, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Space Test Program 2 ( …

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Unhappy

Where the big bucks are ...

The NRO (the existence of which was officially denied for decades) basically puts up a Hubble every year, just looking down instead of up. The KH-11 series were said to each cost the same as a Nimitz-class carrier - $6bn - while Hubble came in under that amount.

I'm a complete supporter of military funding, but I really wish the US would divert just 5% of it's defence expenditure to NASA and space exploration. The results would be amazing.

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Silver badge

Re: Where the big bucks are ...

Yeah, when you think of the tens of thousands of engineers, scientists and mathematicians employed for military ends... not to mention analysts, linguists, strategists...

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Bronze badge

Re: Where the big bucks are ...

Or put one up every other year to pay down their deficit.

Ah what the heck, I just checked and that wouldn't really do anything. Go nuts, NRO!

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Devil

Re: Where the big bucks are ...

> I'm a complete supporter of military funding

Well, have fun slaving two months this year just for the military and the skinning congressmen.

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Devil

Re: Where the big bucks are ...

Oh a thumbs down. Someone must be thinking that the US has a secret of the WELLSPRING OF MONEY which will be tasked to deliver 700 billion of greenbacks this year. And that's just the visible part.

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Devil

Re: Where the big bucks are ...

And, I would like to add, that money must come from the tax-paying, not the tax-feeding part of the population.

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Re: Where the big bucks are ...

>not the tax-feeding part of the population.

Funny how people assume that means people on welfare instead of defense contractor employees which judging by their million dollar homes in Northern Virginia are a bit more expensive than your typical food stamp recipient.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Where the big bucks are ...

Just because spy sats are expensive doesn't mean that there is huge extra profit in launching one. Probably the opposite in fact, as the customer will be very keen that their baby gets launched right. The security costs alone are going to be quite high, I should think. Plus one launch per year isn't exactly a big revenue earner.

Elon is presumably going for the prestige but that is risky; a screwed up launch would be correspondingly extra embarrassing...

I don't think that Space X is doing that good a job just yet. Their trip to the ISS had a number of significant technical problems, not least of which was that it was a complete failure for one of its two payloads. Not exactly a good track record. Their Dragon capsule/service module suffered a computer failure which, although covered off by triplication, isn't exactly the kind of thing you want happening with any regularity whatsoever, and certainly not on manned flights. Especially when it was ultimately attributed to them having bought cheap processor boards that aren't radiation hardened. Personally speaking I think that was going too far - why not spend a little bit more on better kit where it can really make a big difference to one's reputation?

SpaceX are getting a lot of publicity because of their prices but they must get the quality right. If they don't then the insurance premiums for launch customers will skyrocket and no one will launch with them. SpaceX is all about being as penny-pinching as possible, but they have to be reliable too and soon. Otherwise they'll start looking pound-foolish.

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Re: Just because spy sats are expensive

I'm pretty sure in this context "where the big bucks are" means a steady cash flow for Musk as opposed to the jerk around funding of NASA. As to the one per year bit, that's one per year we know about. There's a reason they call these things 'secret'.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just because spy sats are expensive

"As to the one per year bit, that's one per year we know about."

We know about all of the launches. There are international conventions about launching such things, eg telling every other country that you're going to do it. Saves a lot of bother in case some where with a load of nuclear tipped icbms (eg Russia) gets the wrong idea and mistakes it for a weapons launch and retaliates.

We also know a lot about the orbits of these things. The amateur spotters are very good at identifying stealthy satelites just from star oclusions, something that you can't prevent by any technical means.

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Flame

Perspective

We have politicians exerting themselves over how to make sure their value system / social mechanism stays the way it is and at the same time they spaz bazillions of dollars on helicopters and stealth planes.

My humble opinion is that those in control of such budgets (our appointed leaders) need to get a little perspective on what they're doing, which is wasting time and money on maintaining the status quo of state and nationality (as opposed to human advancement and all that good stuff).

Actually thinking about it, this may be exactly what they're all up to.

I for one am getting my coat and heading to Mars.

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Holmes

USAF?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Space_Climate_Observatory

Why is this a USAF project?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: USAF?

The military have always been very interested in the weather.

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Re: USAF?

The weather can seriously affect the military, even today.

The "Battle of the Bulge" was primarily because low cloud and rain prevent Allied aircraft from operating and gave the Wehrmacht an opportunity to deploy its forces effectively for the first time in months.

Most of the attempts to invade Russia have foundered when encountering the, er, delightful winter conditions.

Even today, low cloud will blind many sensors; rain will make the infantry miserable; sandstorms can destroy electro-optical equipment etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: USAF?

"Why is this a USAF project?"

Your link doesn't say it USAF, but refers to NASA.

In any case, does it matter?

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Re: invade Russia have foundered when encountering the, er, delightful winter conditions.

The Werhrmacht found that out to their dismay, didn't they. No matter how much planning you can make for invading another country; the target always has "home court advantage". Too bad (for millions of German and Soviet troops) Hitler didn't realize that.

The battle for Stalingrad was an expensive 'lesson' for Hitler.

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Space Test Program 2 must be big, if it needs a Falcon Heavy.

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Poor copy

"SpaceX deeply appreciates and is honoured by the vote of confidence shown by the Air Force in our Falcon launch vehicles," Musk gushed.

Having seen Mr Musk in interviews where he is disarmingly erudite I really doubt that he gushed. But he might think about getting a bodyguard after landing such a contract.

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Predictable...

The prospect of cheap access to space gives the US State Dept. the EBGB's. After all, how would you like to know that anybody with the necessary millions (as opposed to another govt. that you can mollify or threaten) could launch a rocket at you from anywhere with no notice at all?

"Private" efforts have a history of being co-opted with nice lucrative contracts, and this looks like the latest chapter. I predict that SpaceX, like Orbital Sciences and Sea Launch, will suddenly become just another govt. client, with limited interest in private launches and no interest in selling its tech to anybody else.

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Pirate

Bye SpaceX, t'was nice hearing you

Going into classified work will suck out all the life. It's the same as touching a undead body in need of a soul. Gone from the market, regulated up the ass, forbidden to do this and that, in need of whining and dining the people holding the money sluices...

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Meh

Re: Bye SpaceX, t'was nice hearing you

"Going into classified work will suck out all the life. It's the same as touching a undead body in need of a soul. "

I think it's more a case of how much the people at DoD and NRO insist on things being done their way.

Unlike ULA (who appear to have no commercial business in DIV or AV) spacex has a healthy business. If DoD or NRO complain (IIRC you're not meant to charge the US gov any higher prices because it's a USG order) about the price Spacex will split out the NASA/DoD/NRO "Special Sauce" (c Lewis Page) requirements as a separate item, something ULA seem most reluctant to do.

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Pint

Re: Bye SpaceX, t'was nice hearing you

Well, not quite. There may be nothing currently on the manifest, but that's because the NRO, air force, NASA are tossing stuff at them. They've launched several commercial sats, ICO-1 for one.

This development will help level the playing field of the launch business, but not how most might expect. To participate in government contacts, SpaceX must comply with requirements for reporting, testing, audits, quality management, and the vagaries of a more particular customer, which ULA and its parent companies have been dealing with for a while, and which do figure in their costs.

So as SpaceX comes into the government contracting fold, their costs are going to rise. It is possible that ULA costs will fall, as if SpaceX is excused from certain requirements inherent in the EELV program, ULA can make a good case for also not having to abide by them.

This should be good, seeing the fur fly.

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Pint

Re: Bye SpaceX, t'was nice hearing you

"So as SpaceX comes into the government contracting fold, their costs are going to rise. It is possible that ULA costs will fall, as if SpaceX is excused from certain requirements inherent in the EELV program, ULA can make a good case for also not having to abide by them."

Err you need to be aware of something.

This is the OSP-3 programme. AFAIK this is an "indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity" delivery programme.

It is not the cost plus EELV programme (which relates to the development of Atlas V and Delta IV)

But ULA have charged a great deal for "mission assurance" and been rather coy about what that actually means. Hopefully Spacex's involvement will bring a little transparency to this "magical" process by which they improve mission reliability.

I will raise a pint to that as well.

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Devil

Imagine being able to see one whole side of the Earth without having to change orbit!

Another more plausible reason why the USAF is involved with DSCOVR is that these satellites are located where they have a view that allows them to see a complete hemisphere of the Earth and have great resolution. Other "spy" satellites are perhaps in closer orbit but need to expend precious fuel to be directed at a particular location. If a large scale missle launch happened, all of the targets could be easily seen by DSCOVR by simply zooming in rather than by moving the bird. The bonus is you get to see the weather as well as the ground.

If Hubble can see light years away then the militarized resolution for this satellite should allow them to count how many hairs are on Putins ass. (not that one would want to)

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Meh

Re: Imagine being able to see one whole side of the Earth without having to change orbit!

Counting the hair on Putin's ass and seeing a complete hemisphere of the Earth are actually conflicting requirements.

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Re: Imagine being able to see one whole side of the Earth without having to change orbit!

The Wiki article says it can see the whole of the sunlit side of the Earth all the time,

So if you want to beat the USAF early warning system that you describe then it might be an idea to launch your attack at night.......

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What a conundrum.

If only they could carry more than one instrument!

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