back to article SpaceX's Musk: We'll reuse today's Falcon 9 rocket within 2 months

SpaceX supremo Elon Musk said his Falcon 9 rocket that made its historic robo-barge landing on Friday will be flying up into space again by June. "We'll bring the rocket back to Port Canaveral on Sunday and fire it 10 times in a row on the ground," he said. "If things look good then it is qualified for reuse and launch. We're …

Re: The plans are going to sound crazy

Aren't they the same person anyway, just using a different name depending on the type of story?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The plans are going to sound crazy

If you listened to the whole of the press conference you'd know that it's not a barge. It was a barge, but it's been converted into an autonomous drone* ship.

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Re: The plans are going to sound crazy

@ tirk

Yes, Musk deliberately called the drone barges in honour of the late Iain M Banks.

From the horse's mouth: https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/558665515351019520/

@Geoff

Yep, they were both the same person. His novel Transitions is sometimes M. Banks, sometimes plain Banks depending on where it was published. Iain was not related to Rosie M. Banks, a fictional romance author who appears in P.G Wodehouse stories. Though fictional, her name was borrowed as a pseudonym for real romance novels, and Iain's publishers initially didn't want to risk any confusion (not that anyone would confuse The Wasp Factory with Barbara Cartland-esque books). For a bit of fun, the two desk sergeants in the film Hot Fuzz, who are both played by Bill Bailey, can be distinguished by the noting that one reads Iain Banks books, the other Iain M. Banks.

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Re: The plans are going to sound crazy

"His novel Transitions is sometimes M. Banks, sometimes plain Banks depending on where it was published."

that is oddly beautiful.

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Re: The plans are going to sound crazy

Probably because it IS a ship name from an Iain M. Banks novel. They named it in tribute to him, I believe.

I'd have called it "Only Slightly Bent". :)

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Pricing's gonna change...

So currently, it's seen as riskier to try getting a payload aloft on a second use of the first stage. (30-50% discount).

If it turns out that they can reuse it 20 to 100 times, it'll be the first couple of launches and those as the tail end of expected life that are seen as risky. The premium will be paid for the "tested and reliable" vehicles.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

The landings are still going to be risky. The odds are against re-using a Falcon first stage that many times, and there are a lot of costs besides the actual first-stage hardware.

It will make a cost difference, but I doubt it will be as big a difference as some expect.

What will pay off is the ability to get the rocket back, and look closely at its condition, and learn what really happens to an engine firing in the upper atmosphere. And they may find new negatives. One aviation example is metal fatigue: it was very poorly understood when those Comet airliners fell out of the sky in the 1950s. They were doing something new, and found out the hard way.

SpaceX may find an effect that sets a limit on re-use that's a low lower than they expected. They're still learning.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

"One aviation example is metal fatigue: it was very poorly understood when those Comet airliners fell out of the sky in the 1950s."

It was very well understood by metallurgists, just not by aviation designers.

Windows are heavy and metal/carbon fibre really does "tear along the dotted line", plus there's not really that much interest in looking outside by 99% of passengers.

At some point I fully expect to see airliners marketed with no/very few portholes and the inside space where they used to be either blank (sleazyjet) or replaced with a lightweight oled screen (more likely the airliner will be fitted with more cameras and the seatback screen used to view them - It would be an interesting technology to provide a stitched-together 360 field of view and then allow virtual pan/tilting.)

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

"It was very well understood by metallurgists, just not by aviation designers."

Also, not much FEA in the 1950s.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

It will be interesting to see how it goes. One of the things that occurs to me is that if SpaceX do indeed get good mileage out of reusing the first stage the impact would be, in effect, to significantly increase the available supply of launches.

The problem I think they may run into is there not being enough satellite operators out there looking to take advantage. Unless one's satellite is really simple launch cost is already no where near the most expensive part of operating it.

For a decent sized geo comms sat you're looking like spending $1billion building it. The new Iridium satellites are reported to be costing $2.1billion to build, with launch costs with SpaceX of under $500million. After this success Iridium may well be looking for a discount too. If that launch cost comes down to, say, $200million then it will be less than 10% of the build cost and way less than the whole program cost.

And manned flight, to where exactly? They can't launch many payloads to the ISS, there's simply not the need for more than the ones they have already.

So if making the launch cheaper doesn't really dent the total costs of building and operating a fleet of space vehicles, from where is the rush of new operators going to come to take advantage of SpaceX's cheap launches? They may end up with very cheap-to-run re-usable launcher, but not have the regular customer base to really make that pay. We shall see. SpaceX may well end up grabbing a large share of the existing launch market, but growing that market could be really hard.

Of course, that may well be plenty enough for SpaceX!

The space tourism business though, now that could take off in a big way.

Reliable Reusability - Does it Really Bring a Cost Saving?

Musk reported that this was a challenging landing, high wind speed, etc. It will be fascinating to see how reliable it pans out to be in the long run. There could be some difficult consequences:

If they consistently lose, for example, 1 in 2, to landing mishaps then reuse is not really worthwhile. To sustain a launch schedule they'd pretty much have to keep making first stages all the time.

If they lose 1 in 10, that's a bit better but it's still trickier. They'd want to take advantage of that, but they'd still have to have enough of a production run going to guarantee that future launch customers aren't delayed.

If they lose 1 in 30, that then gives them a new problem. Clearly then they'd not be wanting to make a lot of boosters, but they would still have to retain the capability to build them at short notice, just in case.

However, preserving that capability is expensive; all those skilled workers to keep on the books, keeping the facilities together, keeping it all up to date, training new staff, paying into the company pension plan; those costs can never, ever go away.

Those costs currently make up a large portion of the $60million build costs; the raw materials themselves are actually quite cheap; paying the people needed to turn those materials into a launcher is the expensive part.

That will be reflected in the launch cost. The discount can't be too generous because every launch would have to contribute to preserving the launch capability, not just the fuel used and the launch manpower.

Of course they could do the American thing and, having built a fleet of boosters, lay off the portion of the staff that is now idle. Which would make it very expensive and risky to recover from a run of bad luck, and expensive to evolve the design.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

@ Bazza

Interesting comments relating market size, manufacturing capability, and skilled workforce.

My guess is that this will equalise through market forces, with much work being sub-contracted out, and with workforce mobility delivering skills to contract winning teams.

Further.... it would appear that we are now entering an era of greater commercial activity (in space).

Multiple space efforts are under way - LOHAN and PARIS to name but two :)

With private competition on the increase, we can expect much innovation in terms of 'commercial space enterprise'.

This is likely to mean that experienced staff will be in high demand.

Then we have Skylon on the visible horizon, carrying 12-ton payloads into LEO, with a predicted re-use @ 200 space flights.

However, this could easily be a conservative estimate, as that would equate to only 55 hours use of the engines (current jet engines operate for tens of thousand of hours).

This opens up the potential for LEO spacecraft assembly stations.

In a decade, re-usable stages may be becoming redundant.

However, the skilled high-tech workforce will already be moving, to take advantage of the new opportunities presented.

Rather than 'getting out' of the space industry..... I'm telling my 17-year-old son to 'get into it'.

;)

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@ bazza - Re: Pricing's gonna change...

Had to pee on the parade, no? Beancounter thinking like that takes all the adventure out of it and will ultimately lead to nobody even trying... No hard feelings.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pricing's gonna change...

"The landings are still going to be risky. The odds are against re-using a Falcon first stage that many times, and there are a lot of costs besides the actual first-stage hardware."

The odds are against it because ...?

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Re: @ bazza - Pricing's gonna change...

Had to pee on the parade, no? Beancounter thinking like that takes all the adventure out of it and will ultimately lead to nobody even trying... No hard feelings.

Not at all. I'm simply pointing out that re-usability, even if it is pretty good, is not going to result in launch prices falling significantly below where they are now. Not unless SpaceX exploit the re-use reliability (assuming it's as high as they think it could be) as a reason to not keep their staff and drop their contracts with suppliers (and I can't see that happening any time soon).

Just because they might be able to use the same booster 20 times doesn't mean launching it is going to be 1/20th of the current price.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

@eesiginfo,

"My guess is that this will equalise through market forces, with much work being sub-contracted out, and with workforce mobility delivering skills to contract winning teams."

Maybe, but like anything else labour comes at a premium if you have to hire it in a hurry (especially highly skilled engineers and technicians who can build a rocket). If SpaceX ever did (and I don't think they will) part company with a big slice of their staff to convert re-usability into high profit margin operations, then recruiting staff in a hurry and build another booster might be especially difficult. They'd largely be trying to entice back staff they'd previously sacked, and that never comes cheap.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

"airliners marketed with no/very few portholes...replaced with a lightweight oled screen (more likely the airliner will be fitted with more cameras and the seatback screen used to view them "

Not sure if it was Airbus or Boeing, but I've already seen that in mock-up/concept form.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

@ Bazza

Yes, I understand what you're saying... and in life, there can be winners and losers.

But I'm suggesting that 'gardening leave' is a very suspect clause in any contract.

It's almost a 'gentleman's agreement'.

It seems to still exist in F1 - Jock Clear took a year off, but my guess is that this simply suited everybody.

If it went to a Euro court it would be laughed at, cos you can't sign a contract that stops you from working (I can't quote the law.... but it exists, and it was established using football).

The fact is that Grosjean went to Haas because Lotus was struggling.

Renault bought Lotus and began investing because they saw an opportunity.

It's the future space industry in a micro chasm.

ONLY... that I'm suggesting that the space industry will no longer be a closed market.

Sure.... in a closed limited market, it is old out, new in.

In a shrinking market, it is 'worst out, best stay in'.

But in a growing market, that is made up of individual enterprises that supply space skills and products..... there is going to be an emphasis on winning supply contracts - many of which there will be.

These companies will hold a core of engineering expertise, and will employ according to contractual need.

Any 'contract winning' company, will advertise for the people who understand the technology.

Those staff will be coming from those companies that didn't get a particular contract.

The battle will be for those people AND for any core staff members, that might be looking at 'which way the wind is blowing'....... Grosjean to Haas, LouLou to Mercedes, Jock Clear to Ferrari etc.

.... and in a growing market, there will always be new companies that will be looking to employ skilled staff from companies that didn't hack it (probably for managerial reasons, rather than staff failure reasons)...... again 'Grosjean to Haas' (was it his fault that Lotus had no money?).

AND.... if you need a more 'space orientated' example..... look no further than Musk and Bezos.

These guys were nobody's..... yet they are building successful rockets from nothing.

Like I said earlier... the points you made were interesting...... but I just don't think your conclusion will hold up, or even do hold up, when looking at how new companies have pulled together the talent to build new spacecraft...... both of which have clearly done more than just that.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

@bazza - "And manned flight, to where exactly? They can't launch many payloads to the ISS, there's simply not the need for more than the ones they have already." - to a Bigelow-constructed space station or three, do keep up! Those B330 units Bigelow are gearing up manufacturing on look ideal for making relatively cheap but much safer space stations from. Connect them linearly for a freefall station; connect four around a hub and spin slowly for a station with very low 'artificial gravity' which would let us get some solid data on how much difference it makes to human bodies and plants to have very little G as compared to no apparent G.

Falcon Heavy could loft enough mass to be able to engage in a Mars Direct-like series of manned Mars missions. Use a couple of B330's for living space en-route, and possibly a third (or a specially developed unit using the same technology) to be deployed on the Martian surface to serve as a extra living space. Dragon capsule as the core of the Earth return vehicle. Of course, an unmanned Falcon Heavy could throw a B330 (or similar) to Mars along with a chemical factory ahead of the first manned mission, as per Mars Direct, so that there was a fully usable base ready and waiting for the first arrivals on Mars. And living in a Bigelow unit , whether in space or on the surface of Mars, is likely to be far safer than living in a tin-can type ship, with regard to protection from radiation and resistance to puncturing.

Or perhaps Musk intends a Mars-Earth 'Cycler' - so connect multiple B330's to provide the main living and storage space for the cycler, and equip the whole thing with an attitude control system and a high-efficiency , low thrust propulsion unit, then send it on its way, unmanned. First manned crew checks it out when it arrives back near Earth some months later, and if it looks good, off they go to Mars. Then teh descend to teh surface and stay there until teh cycler comes back again. etc,

No, there's a lot Musk could do with easy access to space, and that;s only considering Mars. When you consider the asteroids , and setting up an observatory on the lunar Farside - there's plenty of work for lots of launches. Heck, SpaceX and Bigelow could kick off manufacturing in sp[ace using asteroidal material.

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Re: plenty of work for lots of launches

I'm disappointed that I'm the only one to upvote you. Combined with reusable rockets, Bigelow units should be genuine game changers.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

They'll still need to produce 2nd stages, which use the same tooling - one advantage of a common tank diameter.

The work force released by making fewer Falcon 9 first stages is now avaialbe to start making MCT parts. I suspect this is why Musk is now ready to release the plans for that project - he's got the skilled workforce avaialble to get started on enacting them..

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Re: where is the rush of new operators going to come

Cube sats

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Big Brother

Re: no/very few portholes

@ the Browns

Add the fact that imaging tech is already here and flying on small drones, this would be way more fun than watching the inflight entertainment system and much easier on my neck (note to self, don't take a window seat in row 20 on a Westjet 737).

Imagine the open source recon one could cheaply purchase with a well timed one-way flight.

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Joke

Re: Pricing's gonna change...

<quote>Multiple space efforts are under way - LOHAN and PARIS to name but two :)</quote>

W T F ? ? ?

LOHAN and PARIS are nothing more than some silly attempt to slag off executive bonus money for a chosen few to have a "good time"!!

</sarcasm>

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

As has already been seen, as costs go down the market expands more than linearly. There are literally thousand of projects waiting in the wings that become feasible with greatly reduced costs. The prices on the SpaceX website to LEO are roughly 1/2 of standard industry prices a couple of years ago, and proposed prices for flight on used hardware reduces that by another 1/3, giving a net of about one third of the cost for a ULA Atlas. I expect that their costs will continue to decrease (not necessarily their price) as their launch schedule becomes more predictable and a stable manufacturing line matures with attendant efficiencies.

Of course the Indian agency ISRO is nipping at the heels, with their lower labor costs and government supporg, and a strong desire to take a significant market share. But they are handicapped by a US federal law that prevents US companies from using them without a waiver. Bottom line - the pricing structure of space us rapidly decrezsing, it us changing the industry forever. ESA and ULA are both restructuring their entire organizations - and no doubt beating up suppliers - to meet thus threat to their busibess.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

Iirc the second stages are nearly orbital - I know some older second and third stages are still in orbit. So I'm thinking that by simil as rly using a bit more fuel in the second srafe, after putting theid paylosds into tge proper trajdctory, those units could be boosted further to a parking orbit for later use as a resourcd. This would not work for every launch but I'm sure ut would be feasible for some launches. I r ed call some talk about returning the second stage and landing it as , but I am guessing that would only work using a 1/2 orbit (a barge 1000 or mire miles down range) or full orbit strategy. Considering the value of materials in space, I'm thinking the orbital strategy would have the best long term value.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

Suddenly I see the light.

Is he going to establish way stations outside the gravity pool, with shuttle services between them (ion drives)? Each way station being a farm, with a large number in orbit around Mars dropping down supplies while the colony gets established?

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

What possible advantage would there be to having a farm in orbit above the planet it is serving?

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Re: @ bazza - Pricing's gonna change...

"I'm simply pointing out that re-usability, even if it is pretty good, is not going to result in launch prices falling significantly below where they are now."

Don't equate "reusable" - shuttle style, with "reusable" - SpaceX style.

Shuttle had to be virtually torn down to bare metal and reassembled after each flight, making the reuse cost only slightly less than a disposable vehicle. The SRBs arguably should have been disposable.

SpaceX's version of reuse is "walk around, kick the tyres, check for dents and we're good to go again"

A large part of that difference is down to Shuttle's legacy as a camel. All those comflicting demands produced a ship which wasn't much good at anything (except eating money), whilst Dragon is built to do one thing and do it well.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

"I've already seen that in mock-up/concept form"

So have I, but it's always handwaved away with an argument that passengers won't stand for it.

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Re: Pricing's gonna change...

"those units could be boosted further to a parking orbit for later use as a resourcd"

The problem is fuelling. A number of "spent" boosters have exploded in orbit over the years so current policy is to vent everything when the job is done in order to avoid more orbital junk.

There's been discussion in the past about SpaceX bringing their 2nd stage back down for reuse.

At the moment most 2nd stage boosters put their payloads into fairly elliptical orbits and are relatively easily deorbited at perigee when they're over the Pacific or other isolated area. Bringing them back for reuse would require at least a "once around" trajectory but bear in mind that unlike the first stage they're at orbital velocity, so reentry heating would be a big issue.

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I wish I could work for a company like this and be so involved and invested in its success, I don't think i have many skills that would get me in though :(

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Well it's not like they ask for previous experience of landing orbital rockets on ships.

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Maybe that's why it took so long to get right, their HR policy was working against them.

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"I wish I could work for a company like this and be so involved and invested in its success, I don't think i have many skills that would get me in though :("

There are some great jobs going - I wish I was 20 years younger.

http://www.spacex.com/careers/list

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Trollface

If only they had put "Must have 20 year's rocket scientist experience" on each job advert, they'd have reached this milestone 10 years ago.

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Mushroom

Just add

"Has played KSP for 3 yrs and landed on all the major bodies"

That should get you in

<<wishing he'd tried something like that landing with his soon to be deceased Kerbals

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Just go for it.

It's not rocket scien... oh wait.

Go for it anyway.

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Sometimes it's not the skills but the interest and motivation. You can develop skills. Try going to some of the space conferences like ISDC or Space Tech Expo, meet up with the many space nerds out there, maybe work on a kickstarter, etc. My company is preparing to accept volunteers to help with new data for The Integeated space Plan (http://thespaceplan.com), adding information, curating and researching. We're making a big presentation next month at ISDC (http://isdc2016.nss.org).

Of course every company also needs janitors and other non-sexy jobs. You just hav d to be in the right place at the right time, or sufficiently persistent. I know someone who called his desired employer every week fir a year and finally got the job.

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Game Changing...

Ariane Space and the United Space Alliance are years behind... Space X rock!

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Re: Game Changing...

Arianespace behind? How many geostationary satellites has Falcon 9 put into orbit? I'm afraid your fanboyism is a little overstated. When Space X has achieved 274 launches and is putting up eight heavy lifters a year, let's see where Arianespace is then.

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Re: Game Changing...

No fanboyism I'm afraid, just a realist.

This has just cut the legs out from under Ariane 5 for a large proportion of the launch business and we can carry on this debate in two years when Ariane Space is still trying to get Ariane 6 off the floor if you like? Any plans for reusability on 6 and a step change in the reduction of launch cost? Nope...

USL are in a similar position. Wave the flag for Europe if you like but past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

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Re: Game Changing...

"No fanboyism I'm afraid, just a realist."

A realist would note that the original date for the Falcon Heavy was 2013, and it was recently put back to October 2016. It maybe in business delivering large payloads in 2017 as has been predicted, but until its first serious launch it's a unknown quantity. As you say, past performance (of SpaceX) is no guarantee of future results.

I would like to think that SpaceX succeeds - I don't hold a particular brief for Ariane which is in any case in a somewhat different business - but your initial triumphalism does have a bit of an air of counting unhatched chickens.

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Re: Game Changing...

I think your leap to defend Ariane Space (I note USL's efforts didn't get a mention) has lead to you completely missing the point.

I'll try to simplify, all that about past launches and plans that have gone before was the old game. The baseline launch costs just took a step change downwards. Going forward all launches will need to be competitive. That is the new launch game. This was an event which was game changing you might say Oh...yes I did already.....

p.s. Space X rock!

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Re: Game Changing...

I agree, the big cost reduction changes the whole game going forward.

The heavy will fly (or explode) but either way it will get worked out and there goes another big chunk of cost. Pretty soon any outfit that doesn't reuse will be out of business.

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Re: Game Changing...

Well, state-owned-and-operated outfits can always rely on "special undertable deals" and "taxpayer support". So they aren't going anywhere.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Game Changing...

KT "...are years behind..."

I take exception to your use of the word "are". Seems just a bit premature.

Now, if you'd wait until after the Falcon Heavy has actually launched and landed (even mostly), then you'd have a supportable argument.

One sign of lunacy is when the axis of time merges into a single point. Happens a lot with overly-excited fanboys. Some of them have already started to line-up to buy a Hyperloop ticket (exaggeration alert). Others have put down deposits on e-cars that are literally several years away from production (not an exaggeration at all).

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Re: Game Changing...

AC, you really should read up on the subject matter. It is a fact that Space X are streets ahead of the other major players in reusability. It will take years for these organisations to catch up given their structures and design cycles. Reusability translates directly to significantly lower launch costs

As for your rather superior meanderings about fan boys, Hyperloops and e cars, what's that got to do with Space X and their achievements? It might come as a suprise but Space X is not Elon Musk, if you were knowledgeable on the subject you would understand that and not have to resort to thinly veiled patronism in an attempt to make a point under an AC guise.

I am applauding Space X because I believe in credit where credit is due as I would applaud any company for their achievements which furthers spaceflight with the openness and at the rate Space X are, no matter the rationality.

In short..... Space X rocks!

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Re: Game Changing...

"How many geostationary satellites has Falcon 9 put into orbit?"

More than one.

Falcon9 isn't a heavy lifter. Falcon XX will be.

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Re: Game Changing...

"A realist would note that the original date for the Falcon Heavy was 2013, and it was recently put back to October 2016."

I prefer "it's ready when it's ready" to "We must stick to the schedule. Those boosters are safe. Launch anyway!"

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Pint

Meanwhile, at the Pork Barrel Bar..

U.S. needs up to 18 more Russian rocket engines: Pentagon

The Pentagon will need to buy up to 18 more Russian-built RD-180 engines to power rockets carrying U.S. military satellites into space over the next six years or so, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said in an interview on Friday.

...

McCain said last month that two Russians placed on the U.S. sanctions list because of events in Ukraine were leaders of Russian space agency Roscosmos, which he said was the parent of the company that makes the RD-180 rocket. [Add more family relationships for strong Monty Python humor]

ULA has said it was moving forward with two companies developing their own U.S. engines, Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, but such development programs were difficult and took years to complete.

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