back to article Getting metal hunks into orbit used to cost a bomb. Then SpaceX's Falcon 9 landed

Monday's historic landing of the first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is possibly the most significant event in rocketry since Apollo 8 showed we could get humans to the Moon and back safely. Landing from helo https://t.co/dYomRtG0Xs — SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 22, 2015 The Falcon rocket's first stage is hugely important …

  1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Well, cautiously optimistic. It would be interesting to see their projected figures on the additional cost of engineering a launcher that can be re-used, the lifetime of re-use, and projections if the number of re-uses (with and without landing snafus). I suspect it might be confidential though :-)

    1. Mikel
      Thumb Up

      Unreservedly, unabashedly euphorically optimistic

      They will figure it out. They'll make the unavoidably expendable pieces inexpensive and quick to replace. They'll analyze the structure of every piece to determine the stresses it has undergone and remove the bits discovered to be excess. They will spend more on the parts that need changed less often. It will be made faster, cheaper, more reliable and produced in more volume. Now that they have a sample of a used orbital booster that lands, they have what they need to build one that does so every day. This was the invention - the "Eureka!" Moment. What follows is iteration, improvement, refinement. It is the Wright Flyer of reusable orbital boosters - just barely enough to survive the landing and prove the concept. What comes next from this group is the 737 of reusable orbital boosters - the pickup truck of the next generation.

      Everybody else in the space launch industry had best get cracking, because SpaceX is not just undercutting them by half - they are getting a free reusable orbital booster out of each launch deal as well. That is going to break their business model. They are in the horse buggy business. That is what makes me the most excited. The gold rush is on!

      Knowing it can be done is the biggest deal. Once it is known to be possible, greed and competitiveness will take us the rest of the way. No doubt in China, Russia, India, Europe are government agencies in emergency meeting to discuss how they can get in on this before the Americans claim the whole cosmos for themselves. Man is finally going to get off our little mudball and start claiming our destiny.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Unreservedly, unabashedly euphorically optimistic

        They will figure it out. They'll make the unavoidably expendable pieces inexpensive and quick to replace.

        The bits that are most prone to trouble are the turbo pumps. These are effectively the only moving parts in the whole propulsion chain, and they get a hell of a hammering. It took NASA a lot of effort to get those right on, well, every engine they've ever had, especially the Shuttle. They're far too expensive to be expendable, and are also a key part of the innards of the engine.

        I don't know why people are getting so worked up about the knowledge now 'available' to SpaceX following this flight. You don't need to fly an engine to see what it looks like after a burn, you can pretty much do that all on the ground on a static test. They probably already know roughly what maintenance work is required to re-use the engines. All SpaceX need to do is see if the flown engines match static test engines.

        And assuming that every engine is static fired anyway before it flies, every engine in a sense has already gone through the required maintenance regime to return them to flyable condition.

        [As far as I'm aware the only engines in the history of space launches that weren't static fired before flight was some of the upper stage motors on Ariane 4, later on in the lifetime of that launcher. They had become so good at making them (they traced their origins back to Blue Streak) that there was little point in test firing them. Maybe the Russians don't bother any more either, given the age and success of their design.]

        I suspect that SpaceX will very interested in how the structure of the 1st stage has coped with the battering it's undergone in making an about face turn, a slightly slowed ballistic return followed by some sharp deceleration just prior to landing. There's also the acoustic and heat loading it will experience on landing on a flat concrete landing pad. On a launch pad these are taken away by the flame trench (I don't know if SpaceX use sprayed water to suppress the acoustic load). On the plus side the amount of thrust needed to land is way less than that to take off - there's a lot less weight!

        1. Tim Brummer

          Re: Unreservedly, unabashedly euphorically optimistic

          Upon return the engine nozzles also experience a lot of heating and aerodynamic stress from re-entry, something static fired engines don't experience. Same for the hydraulic gimbal actuators.

          1. RubberJohnny

            Re: Unreservedly, unabashedly euphorically optimistic

            The first stage doesn't achieve orbit and so doesn't have the same heating problems of re-entry that an orbiting craft would. In fact it has completely reversed direction from the launched orbit, so there is none of the orbital energy left. it then slows its reentry by burning the rockets again.

            I would think that lower atmosphere airflow cooling is the biggest difference between flight and static test.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Unreservedly, unabashedly euphorically optimistic

            What heating? The booster slows itself to near zero horizontal velocity before re-encountering the atmosphere. It's pretty much straight down from there(*) and not particularly fast when it's doing it.

            These units are _not_ coming back in from orbital velocities.

            Aerodynamic stress I'll give you but this is much less than the stresses imposed by boost phase.

            (*) All the boosters have to do is "stop" - the earth's rotation brings the launch site back under them, so they don't have to backtrack the 50-75 miles they've gone downrange.

        2. Tom 13

          Re: I don't know why people are getting so worked up

          Everything up to now is a model, even the assumption that firing them on the ground is the same as running them during launch. This is our first real data point.

      2. NeilPost

        Re: Unreservedly, unabashedly euphorically optimistic

        Once Space X get past their vertical landing party trick and into the regular business of week in, week out, doing some real commerical payload launches, we will see.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: into the regular business of week in, week out

          Hey, I'll be pleased as punch if they get it to the month in, month out stage! The Shuttles were supposed to keep up that hectic schedule yet we rarely launched them more than once every 3 months even when we had a fleet of them.

          Not that I'd object to a week in, week out schedule.

  2. Semtex451 Silver badge
    Gimp

    "there is a room-sized vibrator" - pull the other one mate

    1. Dan Wilkie

      That's what she said

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        @Semtex451 & @Dan_Wilkie - anything bigger than ones handbag is really just showing off.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          What if it's multi-pronged?

          1. MyffyW Silver badge

            @AC What if it's multi-pronged?

            Eugh!

            Whoever thought that was a good idea? I'm a firm believer that orbital insertion should be kept well away from any re-entry practises.

            1. grthinker

              Belief Isn't Necessarily Reality

              Believing may make a person feel good, but only time will verify the idea.

      2. Ben Boyle

        Now push... and pull... and PUSH....

    2. JohnnyGStrings

      I went straight to the comments when I read that line :)

    3. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      "there is a room-sized vibrator" - pull the other one mate

      It will probably pull lots, simultaneously.

    4. Semtex451 Silver badge
      Gimp

      "there is a room-sized vibrator" - come off it mate

      ...was what I should have said

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not the first falcon landing.

    Falcon 9 has landed before, just only from small test flights until this week.

    Also, I doubt these engines will ever fly again, or the next few flights either. But knowing SpaceX, they'll learn a lot from them on how to make engines that can fly over and over, then watch the prices drop.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Not the first falcon landing.

      The article seems to think that there is no opportunity for the Falcon 9 engines to be modified to cope better with repeat lauches.

      These engines will be tested, I expect to destruction...

      The next set, well that depends how fast they break these ones...

    2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Not the first falcon landing.

      I understand they're already designed longevity and repeated firings, they've just never had the opportunity to test reused engines outside of the test stand before now.

  4. et tu, brute?
    Megaphone

    A bit negative...

    ...is my opinion of the article! Not so good, Vulture central!

    At least now we have, for the first time ever, a first stage that successfully boosted a delivery to it's intended orbit, and got it back in one piece, able to analyse exactly what happens to the engines! And if it becomes obvious from that analysis that the engines are not really reusable right now, we at least get to learn how to build them better to make them properly reusable...

    Nobody has ever done that before, so it's hats off to SpaceX!

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: A bit negative...

      Negative? NEGATIVE?

      How much inane "yippee kay-yay" squeaky sounds does one need today when Generation Z is self-pretendingly ascendent to count as "positive"?

      Anyway, for SpaceX: "NOW THIS IS DEVOPS!"

    2. Smooth Newt

      Re: A bit negative...

      Elon Musk's idea is that by landing and refurbishing the rockets he uses, the cost of orbital delivery can be slashed.

      I am not convinced that it was his idea. The first person to publicly propose it was probably Max Valier in the 1920s. The first stage of the Space Shuttle, the two solid rocket boosters, certainly were re-usable, and re-used, although they were detached at about 50 km up, instead of 100 km for the first stage of this rocket. Nevertheless they contributed about 70% of the total mass of the vehicle at launch.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: A bit negative...

        SRBs are basically a metal tube.

        There's very little in them that's breakable - other than gaskets that were expected to be replaced every time.

        Liquid engines are really expensive with loads of fiddly bits to go wrong.

        They are aiming to get 30 launches out of each engine. If they get a 10th of that, it's a gamechanger.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: A bit negative...

          SRBs are basically a metal tube.

          There's very little in them that's breakable - other than gaskets that were expected to be replaced every time.

          They've also got a lot more power. Simple, cheap, and a huge amount of grunt - what's not to like about them?

          They do have one major disadvantage - they're not smooth burning. If you've got a lot of SRBs attached to your launcher you get a rough ride whilst they're burning, and it gets rougher as they burn (there's less weight to be shaken about). That's not necessarily a problem, you simply tell your customers how strong their satellites have to be. However, it is an unwelcome complication.

          1. Gene Cash Silver badge

            Re: A bit negative...

            TWO major disadvantages: when a solid goes boom, it does so extremely quickly with no warning, like a firework. Bang. You're dead.

            Liquids give you not only quite a bit of advance warning, since you're monitoring all sorts of vital signs, but they also have the ability to shut down, giving you a little more time to abort.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: A bit negative...

              G Cash offered, "...when a solid goes boom, it does so extremely quickly with no warning, like a firework. Bang. You're dead."

              You realize that they set fire to SRBs, like a firework, intentionally at launch? That's how they work.

              Are you concerned that they'll start burning from the top end too?

              1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

                Re: A bit negative...

                I suppose the "when a solid goes boom" meant a failing SRB, not one working as planned. You know, like the SRB on Challenger. That one did go boom, it did so very quickly, and yes, the crew died. There is a lot to be said for engines that can be shut down.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: A bit negative...

                  The SRB on the Challenger did not go boom. It just leaked a bit. It was the External (liquid fuel) Tank, specifically its recent contents, that sort-of went boom after it disintegrated.

                  The fundamental point here is quite simple:

                  SRBs are *already* on fire. They're pretty much immune to going 'boom'.

                  Using the phrase 'going boom' in the context of an SRB indicates ZERO knowledge about SRBs.

                  Obviously.

                  1. RubberJohnny

                    Re: A bit negative...

                    They fail when are breached and release from somewhere other than the thrust nozzle, thus igniting and burning much quicker than intended.

                    On another point, SRBs thrust is not controllable in the way that a liquid motor with pumped accelerant/oxidant is.

                  2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                    Re: A bit negative...

                    "The SRB on the Challenger did not go boom. It just leaked a bit."

                    It went boom eventually - when the range safety officer fired the destruct mechanism that split the booster along its length.

                    Mind you that was several seconds (and several tens of km) after Challenger had self-destructed as a result of going sideways at high mach numbers.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: A bit negative...

        "the two solid rocket boosters, certainly were re-usable, and re-used,"

        Well, yes and no. Bits of them were re-used, ie most of the steel casing. After being completely dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up. All of that expensive recovery work was PR to imply it was cheaper. I doubt they even broke even on the recovery/"refurbishment" process compared to just building a new SRB from scratch.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: A bit negative...

          "All of that expensive recovery work was PR to imply it was cheaper."

          Not to mention that congressional pork resulted in the things being built in Utah, which automatically limited their diameter to what would fit in railway tunnels.

          The original proposal was for the boosters to be built somewhere along the gulf coast and barged in. Doing that would have allowed them to be much bigger - and the original liquid rocket design was intended to be "fly home"

          Shuttle was a clusterfuck built on top of a camel - the F35 of its day.

      3. Mike Richards Silver badge

        Re: A bit negative...

        The four Zenit boosters that were packed around the Energia core were designed to be reusable, returning to Earth by parachute. Anyone know if the Soviet Union ever recovered them from the two Energia launches?

  5. Jason Hindle

    Very much agreed

    Up Goer 9 is a magnificent achievement (and it's also a Down Goer, in a nice way).

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Very much agreed

      Down Goer with fire still coming out as if was an Up Goer, and the right end pointing towards space.

      1. dotdavid

        Re: Very much agreed

        If it starts pointing to space you are having a bad problem and will come back from space too fast

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Very much agreed

          Speaking of XKCD, after Bezos' Shepard landing, Elon musk tweeted a link to Mr Munroe's website:

          - "Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster"

          - "It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/ "

          [ https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/669129347555430400 ]

          He wasn't snarky, either.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Very much agreed

        It was really cloudy, but I did see the retro burn through the clouds, and it looked REALLY WEIRD to see the rocket going the OTHER WAY, after 30 years of "rockets go up, not down"

        Plus it was HAULING ASS compared to a launch...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ballistics

    If you were to replace stages 2 and 3 with a nice comfy cabin, and then fire this in a ballastic trajectory, how far around Earth would you get?

    Could you use it as a hypersonic transport from New York to London, say?

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Ballistics

      Landing might be patchy...

      if doing that then why ditch stage 1 - why not use it to slow and land?

      BTW - it's not (yet) man rated, and it's certainly not public rated.

      The cost would also be stratospheric...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ballistics

        You you sell it to the MIC for doing rapid intervention for "Ballistic Space Marines", whereby once the Commander In Chief is appraised of the likely bayesianically-calculated presence of an Axis of Evil member in the Sandlands in the middle of the night and gives his mighty Go-Ahead for Operation [INSERT BOY SCOUT CODENAME HERE], they will land on top of the baddie in 15 minutes flat.

        MIC dicks going hard!

        1. PaulFrederick

          Re: Ballistics

          We already have one of those. The X-37B

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Ballistics

      If it was built in the US you could probably take off from NY. If it was not us-ian there would be noise problems or something, bumper in the wrong place that sort of thing.

    3. grthinker

      Re: Ballistics Heat shields and wings

      Will the passengers like '0' Gs? How robust are the heat shields or ablatives on the leading edges. if those are reusable or long lasting, then you're just talking service life. In miles/gallon, might be a good deal.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Real numbers would be interesting

    For a start the Falcon 9 first stage has to leave fuel unburnt to power it's descent. That's fuel not available to boost the second stage higher, or to put it another way is mass taken off the rest of the payload. You end up with a much bigger, and hence more expensive, launcher than a non-reusable one for the same payload.

    Then there's the reusability issue. Engines, pumps etc engineered for multiple use are going to be more expensive and probably heavier than one-shot equivalents, and (as the article says) will need a lot of expensive inspection and refurbishment between launches to ensure they're as reliable as new ones.

    I'm not saying the economics won't make sense, just that it's not a given that reusable=cheaper. If an article is going to call itself "analysis" then I suggest it needs some facts and figures to back up its "slashing costs" claim.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Real numbers would be interesting

      Not all payloads are the same - the largest payloads will always require the first stage to be forfeited, but slightly smaller payloads afford the spare capacity for some 'descent fuel' to be carried as well.

      (Slightly lighter payloads don't have enough spare fuel to return to base, hence the barge landing option)

      Of course given the cost of the stage it might be more economical to split the big payload in two and assemble it in orbit?!

      As for designing things for reuse - it's a good thing that cars are single use items... and planes... and bikes.... and shoes....

      Oh, wait a moment.

      They don't have to be very much heavier, certainly not when compared with the all up mass of the rocket.

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Real numbers would be interesting

      @Credas you raise an interesting point - it would be interesting to see someone pushing the other side of this - making throwaway rockets as efficiently as possible without the agenda of the space agencies or defence contractors.

      1. Vulch

        Re: Real numbers would be interesting

        making throwaway rockets as efficiently as possible without the agenda of the space agencies or defence contractors

        Military involvement as it was originally designed as a very large ICBM, but it's thought the Russian Proton takes a team of around 50 people just under a year to build. It's assembled horizontally (the first stage is put together from 7 components which are the largest size that will fit a standard Russian railway tunnel) when it reaches the launch site. All pad services run through a single set of umbilicals at the base of the first stage and the pre-launch checkout is highly automated. That's probably as cheap as you can get. Buying a Proton launch if you aren't Russian isn't that cheap as there's a lot of middle-men taking a cut.

        It's the people needed to build, inspect and launch a rocket cost a large chunk of the money. The more of a particular model you can launch, the less the standing army adds to each one. Elon Musk has mentioned that during the stand-down they've got the first stage production rate to one every three weeks. Start adding in reflights of recovered stages and they could hit a launch a week which gets them to the point where they need another shift at the assembly and launch point.

      2. Weapon

        Re: Real numbers would be interesting

        SpaceX is already the cheapest launch provider in the world.

    3. Stuart 22

      Re: Real numbers would be interesting

      Yes - and I assume manned flight will be well down the list of potential customers.Well until they can prove a second hand rocket salesman can deliver the same quality and reliability as brand new. Yes there is the argument that a light bulb's highest chance of failure is in the first few hours - but sitting on the pad does the fact the rocket underneath has done 17 trips already make you feel more or less confident?

      And the fuel efficiency and extra weight and complexity of a multi-use vehicle is going to require a lot of re-use. The jetliner analogy is a bit dodgy. Just think how the cost of a jetliner is amortised over 20/30 years use @ > 8 hours flying time a day. The single/multi-use ration would be several magnitudes different.

      Oh and VTOL jet economics is so crazy even the military can seldom afford them.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Real numbers would be interesting

        "but sitting on the pad does the fact the rocket underneath has done 17 trips already make you feel more or less confident?"

        More confident than (and I quote):

        "How do you think you'd feel if you knew you were on top of two million parts built by the lowest bidder in a government contract?"

        I really don't know - but I'm probably not cut out to sit atop an experimental firework anyway...

        1. James 63

          Re: Real numbers would be interesting

          "- but sitting on the pad does the fact the rocket underneath has done 17 trips already make you feel more or less confident?"

          Corollary: Would you rather be sitting on an airliner that's done 500 flights, or none?

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Real numbers would be interesting

        but sitting on the pad does the fact the rocket underneath has done 17 trips already make you feel more or less confident

        We just don't know. Failure modes will have to be tested and battled ("exploratory testing", right?)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Real numbers would be interesting

        And the fuel efficiency and extra weight and complexity of a multi-use vehicle is going to require a lot of re-use.

        Not that much. Assume a reuseable booster is twice the cost of a disposable. Two launches and you're evens. Third successful launch then gives a programme cost 33% cheaper than single use. That's a pretty big reduction. To engineer for hundreds of repeat launches probably won't be worth it, but if in this simplistic example you got five successful launches, your costs would be 40% of using disposable launchers (ie a 60% saving). By that point the fuel costs are a far more important proportion of the total launch cost, and that might be where you focus your effort.

        Of course, making it cheaper to put things in orbit is all very well, but that just puts more junk into LEO. How long before space debris becomes such a problem that we need a solution to clean up?

        1. Permidion

          Re: Real numbers would be interesting

          "How long before space debris becomes such a problem that we need a solution to clean up?"

          you mean that: http://actu.epfl.ch/news/a-giant-pac-man-to-gobble-up-space-debris/

          1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Real numbers would be interesting (space debris)

            I noticed that the shroud panels were jettisoned surprisingly (to me) early in the ascent. It made me wonder if that was intentional, in order to ensure that the panels were low enough and slow enough to ensure that they will definitely reenter quickly.

            I've seen plenty of old NASA launches (videos) where the shroud panel were finally jettisoned after reaching the parking orbit. Meaning that those shroud panels will certainly become space junk for months or years.

            If this detail is as I suspect, then kudos.

        2. Mikel

          Re: Real numbers would be interesting

          >To engineer for hundreds of repeat launches probably won't be worth it, but if in this simplistic example you got five successful launches, your costs would be 40% of using disposable launchers (ie a 60% saving).

          You don't engineer it for hundreds of launches. You engineer it for dozens, and after you get your dozens you throw up expendable payloads (rocket fuel?) as long as you can bear the risk and then scrap the rocket. The recycler then takes three of them and slaps together the least worn parts and repeats the process. Iterate until it's no longer space worthy, and some hick converts it into a Bezos-style thrill ride for the county fair.

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Real numbers would be interesting

            I think the parts are a lot more expensive for re-use than two or three times. The fuel containers go through massive temperature and pressure changes which is really destructive unless severely over-engineered. Checking them between trips is not going to be cheap either.

            I wish them well but its not going to be an easy ride.

            I still think a massive gun in the Andes would be a lot cheaper in the long run.

            1. Dani Eder

              Re: Giant Space Guns (BFGs)

              > I still think a massive gun in the Andes would be a lot cheaper in the long run.

              We studied that about 20 years ago at Boeing. The muzzle velocity is set by the speed of sound of the working gas, so the best option is hot hydrogen, and the max temp is set by parts of the gun melting. Since the max velocity is limited, the g-forces are set by the length of the barrel. A 2 km barrel on the side of Mt. Cayembe in Ecuador (right on the Equator) requires 400-1000 g's. That's not for humans or delicate spacecraft parts. It's fine for bulk materials like propellants.

              If you extend the barrel off the mountain onto the nearby plains, you can get 20 km, and if you limit it to 6 g's so people and delicate hardware can survive, you emerge at Mach 5. That's a good start to getting to orbit, but you still need a rocket to finish the job. Even a high-g gun needs a small rocket stage to get to orbit, but way less than a conventional rocket.

              One drawback is a big barrel on a mountain can't be pointed - it goes only one place. On the plus side, since it doesn't have to fly, it can be made of heavy duty industrial parts, and last a long time. For such a gun to make economic sense, you need a lot of traffic to the particular orbit the gun is pointed at. Steerable guns can be built in the ocean, but they need to fly through twice as much atmosphere, and are less efficient. You can also build multiple guns pointed to different orbits, but again, you need enough traffic for each gun to pay back the construction cost.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Giant Space Guns (BFGs)

                Project HARP reached 180 km altitude suborbital.

              2. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: Giant Space Guns (BFGs)

                I was expecting there to be second stages for a lot of things. If we wish to grow potatoes in our own shit on Mars a very cheap option is to fire fuel pods up there. As for heat - well you could use magnetic drive, and/or water cooling. As you say you can make it industrial. As for the speed of sound of the gas - that's not a problem - the meteorite gas guns manage nearly 10km/s in a metre! Not sure if that's practical and you wouldn't get me up in on of those!

                And you can fly through the remaining atmosphere to redirect the projectile quite a lot - but if you can get a lot of fuel up there cheaply in the form of ready made boosters and then meet up with them the cost.

                But if you can just drop the 1st stage and get into low earth orbit then that looks 'bloody cheap' compared with most solutions.

      4. John Sanders
        Holmes

        Re: Real numbers would be interesting

        No reason why manned flights could be done on new rockets for extra security, and payloads on used rockets for cheapness.

        Also reusable doesn't mean cheap, it means better economic value.

        My jaw is still on the floor after seeing the landing.

        1. Captain DaFt

          Re: Real numbers would be interesting

          "No reason why manned flights could be done on new rockets for extra security"

          You can go up on the first flight if you want. I'll wait until the second flight to make sure no undetected manufacturing flaws spoil my day. :)

    4. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Real numbers would be interesting

      Credas: "...has to leave fuel unburnt to power it's descent. ...mass taken off the rest of the payload. You end up with a much bigger, and hence more expensive, launcher than a non-reusable one for the same payload. ..."

      It's a bit unobvious, until you think about it, that the amount of extra fuel required is quite small when compared to the initial mass of fuel required for launch. Because the first stage mass is mostly fuel, once it's reached initial MECO, then it's much less mass. So the retro-burn and re-entry is dealing with a very low mass vehicle. Surprisingly so.

      Also, even if the 1st Stage was twice the cost for the reason you've listed (but it clearly isn't twice), if it can be reused even just three times, then you're ahead on the deal. If it can be reused dozens of time, well - you do the math.

      In summary, it's a*obviously* a very clever strategy. Your objections are all true, but are obviously swamped out by the basic math.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Real numbers would be interesting

        @Credas

        Yes, the first stage will require more fuel, but fuel is only a tiny part of the cost of the launch. I was amazed when I learnt how little of the launch cost is fuel. Musk's approach is neatly outlined by this:

        Musk reiterated the origin of the SpaceX production model, saying fuel is only 0.3 percent of the total cost of a rocket, with construction materials accounting for no more than 2 percent of the total cost, which for the Falcon 9 is about $60 million.

        So, the obvious cost savings are to be made by i, making the vehicle more cheaply, and ii, reusing it.

        Musk has made the vehicle cheaper to build by:

        -using the same propellant in the upper and lower stages means that operationally, you only need to have one set of fuel tanks. If you can imagine a situation where you have a kerosene first stage, hydrogen upper stage, and solid rocket side boosters, you’ve just tripled your cost right there.

        - the upper stage of a Falcon 9 is simply a short version of the first stage. That may seem pretty obvious, but nobody else does that. They tend to create upper stage in a totally different way than they create the first stage.

        - The Merlin engine — we used it on the upper stage of Falcon 9, on the main stage of Falcon 9 and on the first stage of Falcon 1. So we get economies of scale in use of the Merlin engine.

        -Our tanks are friction stir welded, [aluminum] skin and stringer designed as opposed to machined aluminum, [giving us] a 20 fold advantage in the cost of materials, and our stage ends up being lighter …because geometrically, we can have deeper stringers.

        - https://www.pehub.com/2010/06/elon-musk-on-why-his-rockets-are-faster-cheaper-and-lighter-than-what-youve-seen-before/

    5. Vulch

      Re: Real numbers would be interesting

      You end up with a much bigger, and hence more expensive

      Rocket cost only weakly scales with size, complexity affects it far more. This Falcon 9 had around 30% more capability than the baseline v1.1 model at the cost of a bunch of engine improvements and a few feet extra on the tanks. No significant added complexity, and an extra ring of aluminium welded in during manufacture.

    6. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: Real numbers would be interesting

      See here, Orbcomm OG2-2 Results, for propellant of 1st stage see graph in the middle, red line. These graphs zoom automatically to fill the width of the browser window, so you can see some detail.

      1. Tim Brummer

        Re: Real numbers would be interesting

        Looks like 75 tons of propellant needed for the return.

        The SpaceX site says stage 1 holds 395 tons of propellant, so about 20% of the fuel is needed for return.

    7. Anonymous John

      Re: Real numbers would be interesting

      This F9 was more powerful than the ones before Longer first stage, and uses LOX at much colder temps than anyone has used before. Unlike the earlier ones, it can launch to geosynchronous orbit, and still have enough fuel to land. I don't know offhand about the Crew Dragon.

    8. David_42

      Re: Real numbers would be interesting

      The latest Falcon 9 features larger fuel tanks and super-cools the LOX, that takes care of extra fuel requirement for landing. The engines provide 30% more thrust, so the payload to LEO has actually gone up slightly despite the extra weight of the cold gas control system, the fins and the landing gear.

  8. Killing Time

    Cautious note understood…

    However, broad comparison with the whole shuttle refurbishment cost is highly conservative. Comparison with the refurbishment of the shuttle’s propulsion system would provide a better contrast and I am sure the data exists on the success and costs for reuse of those engines as NASA did it for years.

    Elon Musk and his investors strike me as too shrewd to have entered into this game without considering this.

    Space X rock!

    1. Moosh

      Re: Cautious note understood…

      I imagine NASA believes that SpaceX has a chance at making this achievable, as otherwise I don't see why they'd have confidence in giving them a billion dollar contract to deliver satellites into orbit.

    2. Stanislaw
      Boffin

      Re: Cautious note understood…

      This is indeed the point. The Shuttle as a launch system turned out to be a white elephant, but the Shuttle's main engines were, and remain, a miracle of engineering. 46 engines were used in groups of three on a total of 135 flights, so each engine did an average of 8.8 flights - there was only one in-flight failure and seven on-pad failures and as we all know, none of these were catastrophic. All this from engines designed in the 1970s by men (probably were all men then, but I'm happy to be proved wrong) wearing ties and wielding slide rules.

      Clearly rocket engines can be re-used regularly and reliably. Given SpaceX's record so far, I'd be surprised (and deeply disappointed) if they couldn't make engines of similar durability, and be able to make the economics work too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cautious note understood…

        "engines designed in the 1970s by men (probably were all men then, but I'm happy to be proved wrong) wearing ties and wielding slide rules"

        Mostly men, but not all of us wore ties, and we certainly used computers. (I played a minor role in the design and was responsible for a FORTRAN program that was used to help calculate some of the aerodynamic parameters.)

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Cautious note understood…

        "46 engines were used in groups of three on a total of 135 flights, so each engine did an average of 8.8 flights - there was only one in-flight failure and seven on-pad failures and as we all know, none of these were catastrophic."

        You forgot to factor in the ones that exploded on the test stand. At one point there were very real fears it would never fly because there wouldn't be any engines to fit to it.

        The quality of welding required for the Bells to prevent LH2 leakage was high and at that stage the USA had forgotten (literally) how to make seamless tubing - requiring kludges like hacking gun barrels off ww2 battleships whilst historians and archivists tracked down the last remaining metalurgists living in retirement homes (IIRC the youngest was in his mid 80s) to try and get the details about how to recreate the process.

    3. NeilPost

      Re: Cautious note understood…

      Shuttle build and tech was late 70's/early 80's.

      With the advances in materials science over the last 3 decades, A Shuttle 2 built today would be far better made, more re-usable, cheaper, more efficient etc.

      Comparing the Space X F9 with the 135 mission, stopped in 2011 Space Shuttle programme, is like comparing a Tesla Model S with a Shelby Cobra.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So my wish for a space "burial" might be a thing, soonish...

    Bring it.

  10. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Bezos' naming it "New Shepard"

    America's 1st man in space was Alan Shepard. He went on a short *sub-orbital* 15-minute hop (Alan Shepard himself went on to walk on the Moon during Apollo 14). It wasn't until John Glenn's flight (The USA's 3rd manned space launch) that the USA put a man into orbit.

    Bezos naming his ship the "New Shepard" seems to be a subtle nod to the sub-orbital capabilities.

    .: My conclusion is that Bezos hasn't missed the distinction (w.r.t. suborbital); seeing how he's made a (very) subtle joke about it.

  11. John Mangan

    Why the unnecessary snark?

    "allowing rich idiots the chance to experience freefall for a few minutes before returning to Earth"

    I suspect that a large part of the readership of this article are not idiots but if they were rich would be lining up for this sort of experience. Jealous much?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Why the unnecessary snark?

      Not jealousy, but thinking that if we were mega-rich we would prefer a couple of days in orbit instead of a few minutes in free-fall.

      1. John Mangan

        Re: Why the unnecessary snark?

        Maybe you've got the money but not the time for the several months of training required for a true orbital experience . . . .

        Still doesn't make you an idiot for wanting to go.

        1. Mikel

          Re: Why the unnecessary snark?

          It doesn't take months of training to bear a couple days of free fall. It takes a handful of Xanax and Dramamine. The months of training is for being useful while you're there, and mindful not to open the patio door.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    STS comparison

    "...the space shuttle was supposed to be reusable..."

    I don't think that the comparison of the STS with the Falcon 9 is valid; the STS had to cope with re-entry but the Falcon 9 doesn't, which will make a big difference in the refurbishment costs.

    It's also not axiomatic that the cost of a re-usable launch stack has to cost a lot more than a one-shot launch stack; clever design should result in re-usable components that don't cost excessively more to manufacture than one-shot components.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: STS comparison

      "I don't think that the comparison of the STS with the Falcon 9 is valid; the STS had to cope with re-entry but the Falcon 9 doesn't, which will make a big difference in the refurbishment costs."

      Well, it does have to cope with reenty - that's what the third burn is for.

      It doesn't have to cope with reentry from orbital speeds however...

  13. Tikimon Silver badge
    Happy

    Shuttle vs Falcon comparison - politics not involved!

    The Shuttle was a NASA project. As such, it was subject to interference and demands from many parties, each pushing their agenda or chasing their selfish wants. The US Congress, the Air Force, politicians with contractors in their states, the list goes on. It took years of everyone putting their finger in before anything ever got done. As such, the Shuttle was a Frankenproject with a hundred argumentative parents. It was NOT a lean, finely tuned engineering project focused on simple, reasonable goals.

    Space-X is ultimately driven by the vision of Elon Musk. He's got the cash and independence to make it happen his way, and not be at the mercy of appropriations committees or other politically-driven bodies.

    This has everything to do with the rapid success of Space-X, and will go a long way toward reaching the goal of reliable reusable rockets. When a change is needed, they DO IT. No Congress-creep is going to block the change to protect a contractor in his state. No teachers will be forced into the crew for dubious PR stunts. It's all about engineering the best rockets humans can make.

    So it's not useful to compare the expense of the Shuttle to the Falcon project. Worlds apart in conception, execution, and outcome. My money is on Space-X (and others!) to make reusable, affordable rockets a reality. SOON!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shuttle vs Falcon comparison - politics not involved!

      !The Shuttle was a NASA project. As such, it was subject to interference and demands from many parties"

      No, what made the shuttle hideously expensive was the need to keep 7 humans alive throughout it's journey, you cannot but triple up and replace almost 90% of the life support systems and nick nacks rather than risk a failure when lives depend on their functioning

      the boosters and tank are the only comparable bits to Falcon

      1. John Stoffel

        Re: Shuttle vs Falcon comparison - politics not involved!

        A big part of the problem with the shuttle is that to get Air Force support, NASA had to build it bigger than they wanted, so that they could launch Air Force payloads. Also why they had (and did) launch from Vandenbery in CA. The Air Force (CIA/NSA/spooks) wanted high inclination polar orbits with a high mass capacity.

        NASA meanwhile wanted something smaller, but to get funding, made a deal.

        Another problem with refurbishment was the OMS (Orbital Maneuvering System) which is in the two pods at the rear of the shuttle. To make sure it would always light when they needed it to light, it used hypergolic propellants which are might obnoxiously toxic to be around. This is why once the shuttle lands on the runway, you saw it just sit there for an hour or two because they needed to drain any remaning propellants in the OMS to make it safe enough to be around.

        And I think for the tiles to cool a bit too, though it might be that I'm forgetting something. I think it might be that they needed to pump cooling air into the shuttle as the heat finally leaked through the tiles into the body of the orbiter.

        Throwing away the main fuel tank isn't that bad, but having to re-do the solid rocket boosters each time also adds to the cost.

        And think about how much testing you need to do when building something that MUST work. It can't fail. Then think about how you build something that you can incrementally test and check out before it has to do it's job? Ever watch How It's Made where they do initial tests on the production line to make sure things are working before they ship it out? Being able to launch a rocket stage, then bring it back down and look it over makes for a compelling case to be the second or third launch customer, instead of the first. Then you know with alot more certaintly that things will work as expected.

        John

    2. grthinker

      Re: Shuttle vs Falcon comparison - politics not involved!

      Nice comparison!

  14. StampedChipmunk

    STS comparison

    If I remember rightly the main cost incurred in refurbishing the Shuttle was the checking and replacing of the re-entry tiles as they never lasted as long as anyone expected and the slightest failure would prove catastrophic to the vehicle (see STS-107 Columbia - though the damage to the tiles was caused in orbit).

    Oh, and there were a lot of them. Over 20,000.

    I recall only the OMS and the Main engines needed to removed, stripped and refurbished.The OMS rockets were built in modules and could be replaced quickly.

    Rocketdyne built 45 RS-25 engines and only had one in mission failure throughout the lifetime of the shuttle. Considering they were gimbal-mounted and throttleable that's astounding. Anyway even with the full fleet of four orbiters full built, there would be 33 engines either being refurbished, in the test phase or certified ready-to-fly.

    If it wasn't for those tiles, the shuttle turn-around could probably been much faster. But it's not really fair to say components being reusable isn't effective, or safe, or cheap. As Killing_Time says, there's plenty of data around on the RS-25 project - 405 individual engine missions to be exact.

    The main things that killed the shuttle as a resuable space truck was that its hand-gnawingly expensive to get humans into space, meaning that each shuttle launch was $500m+, and that the complete system simply didn't go high enough, or carry enough payload, to make the economics work.

    Falcon 9, however, can heft a payload to much the same altitude as the Shuttle did, and bring the vast majority of its lifting ability back to earth safely for refurbishment. The 9 engines on Stage 1 are largely identical to the single engine on Stage 2 so the entire system uses one engine design (Shuttle had two, Apollo had four). A lot of the control hardware is off-the-shelf gear running open source software. All of this brings down the cost-per-launch and the cost-per-kilo to launch.

    Dragon support launches for the ISS cost Nasa $133m each under a fixed price contract. Falcon 9 launches are currently $69.2m. If SpaceX can reuse large parts of that first stage, perhaps $30m a launch is achieveable - that is extraordinarily cheap.

    If Bezos gets his New Shepherd to the same level, competition will drive the commercial unmanned prices down. If the Falcon Heavy can shift twice the payload to twice the height that 9 can, that'll drive the prices down. if the Dragon Crew capsule gets approval that puts SpaceX in commercial competition with RKK “Energiya” (Soyuz) which will bring the manned launch prices down.

    This is the start of something great.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      I wonder if a redesigned Shuttle would still cost so much...

      The Shuttle was designed in the early '70s, and since then technology about many materials - and their construction techniques - improved a lot. Could today a Shuttle be designed with less waek points and improved, more resistant parts? Could the tile design be improved with better ceramics, and larger tiles? The Air Force has its little Shuttle that can sustain long mission and should be reusable - how much they learnt from Shuttle?

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: I wonder if a redesigned Shuttle would still cost so much...

        "Could today a Shuttle be designed with less waek points and improved, more resistant parts? "

        I'm sure it could, but the fundamental design error of building an aeroplane to go to space and back would remain.

      2. Jon 37

        Re: I wonder if a redesigned Shuttle would still cost so much...

        > The Shuttle was designed in the early '70s, and since then technology about many materials - and their construction techniques - improved a lot. Could today a Shuttle be designed with less weak points and improved, more resistant parts?

        Yes. That's what the new SpaceX rockets are.

        The wings on a shuttle are redundant, they were only included for special military missions that never actually happened, that would have involved launching, doing something secret, then landing again back at your launch site with only a single loop around the Earth. In that scenario you need the wings because the Earth's rotated a bit while you were flying, so you launch from the west coast of the US, but re-enter above the ocean and have to *turn* east and fly back to your launch site, and the wings let you turn during landing. In a time before the Internet and before spy satellites were so good, when they were only worried about being spotted while flying over enemy territory, they were hoping that would allow them to launch and land without the enemy noticing, but I don't think that would work nowadays. Since we don't care about that scenario any more, it's easier to land using a parachute or retro-rockets, and that gives you a much smaller surface that has to withstand the heat of reentry.

        Another one of the shuttle's fatal flaws was that at launch, it was on the side of the fuel tank. That meant it had no launch abort system - it should be on the top so you can escape away from the booster if there's a launch failure (Challenger). It also made it vulnerable to ice strikes on launch (Columbia).

        Once you put the orbiter on the top and take off the wings, it becomes a capsule like the SpaceX Dragon capsule.

        Another thing we've realized since the Shuttle is that many missions really don't need humans on board, with the weight & expense of their life-support systems and the grave consequences if anything goes wrong. So the system should be capable of manned and unmanned operation.

        Then you notice that the Shuttle has two very different types of engines - the shuttle main engines and the solid rocket boosters. It would be cheaper to just have one type of engine. SpaceX is planning Falcon Heavy, which is a normal Falcon with 2 boosters that are basically Falcons stuck on the side of it, for 3x the thrust at launch. Potentially all 4 boosters are reusable - the 2 extra boosters can fly back to the launch point, and depending on mission the main first stage and the second stage may be able to fly back or land on a barge.

        1. NeilPost

          Re: I wonder if a redesigned Shuttle would still cost so much...

          ... Errr, weren;t the wings pretty fundamental to the re-usability and landing the craft back on earth as their primary purpose, as opposed to some shady military project.

        2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: I wonder if a redesigned Shuttle would still cost so much...Jon37

          I have downvoted your post because the comment about the Shuttle wings being redundant is incorrect, both in the sense that there is an alternative landing system and in the sense that they are not needed.

          A close relative worked on the Shuttle project and told me that the wings are essential to the design. Aerodynamically the Shuttle body is a brick outhouse. The wings turn it into a brick outhouse that is capable of landing. But, as he says, with the right wings and control surfaces it would be perfectly possible to land almost anything.

          Looking at your post you are just reinforcing my own comment - that in order to make a more effective reusuable vehicle you have to jettison everything that made the Shuttle the Shuttle, and return to pre-spaceplane concepts.

      3. PaulFrederick

        Re: I wonder if a redesigned Shuttle would still cost so much...

        What are you basing this claim on that things have improved in aerospace since the 1970s? In the 1970s we launched the Voyager missions, and put men on the Moon. What mission since then has been better? Crickets! Welcome to the generation with no stuff.

        Know what we learned from the Shuttle? Reusable space vehicles don't work. But I guess folks will have to learn that all over for themselves again now.

        1. James Hughes 1

          Re: I wonder if a redesigned Shuttle would still cost so much...

          @PaulFrederick

          What we learnt from the shuttle is that winged reusable space vehicles like the shuttle work (clearly) but are too expensive.

          And that's about it. It hasn't shown us that reusable space vehicles in general don't work.

        2. NeilPost

          Re: I wonder if a redesigned Shuttle would still cost so much...

          - materials science has advanced hugely - composites, ceramics,metalurgy, fabrics, glass, rubbers/seals etc

          - IT has advanced hugely

          - propulsion science/chemistry too

          Think Shelby Charger v's a Nissan GTR (or Tesla Model S if you must) in technology generations, and you get the drift.-

  15. trollied

    The thing is...

    Falcon 9 could have carried New Shepard as its payload, that's the difference we're talking here!

    1. Martin Budden

      Re: The thing is...

      Wow! Best comparison I've heard, thanks!

  16. Ben1892

    I'm not sure how "...possibly the most significant event in rocketry since Apollo 8..." comes across as negative, but anyhow, I think there's a good point made about the costs of re-use being cheaper or not.

    I'm not sure the rocket engines themselves being designed to be re-usable - have you seen the planned production run for the Merlin 1D ? 5 per week doesn't seem to suggest to me they are planning on reusing them any time soon and I would have thought that's where a lot of the expense goes.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Yes, designed from the start to be reusable. I believe some have undergone many test firings.

      As for production capacity, they still need to produce lots of engines right now, because the reusability is still under development, so meantime they need expendables.

  17. revilo

    "is possibly the most significant event in rocketry since Apollo 8"

    yes, it is an achievement but seriously: does this really top the space shuttle

    program? Its more likely to be one of the most significant event since the space shuttle program

    was shelved.

  18. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    "if we had to throw away an aircraft every time it flew, then flying would be a very rare and expensive occurrence"

    If we used airframes and engines in an aircraft as hard as we do those in a rocket this old saw would be forgotten instead of written on a post-it stuck to the computer monitor of every single press commentator on rocketry.

    The shuttle proved many things in its lifetime, among them that the cost of refurbishment is much higher than the cost of throw-away when only considering the out of pocket expenses. I predict this will not be different for the definitely amazing Space X first stage (hey, it lands like a rocket should land).

    " allowing rich idiots the chance"

    Until access to space for everyone is a reality, no-one will be able to drum up much enthusiasm in the payers-of-taxes that fund all this sort of stuff.

    Personally, it is all over for me, but it could still be possible for my kid to see space from inside it. I support any effort that gets us closer to that, because ordinary people in space is better than a select few of those with The Right Stuff any day of the week.

    Why should the first footprints on Mars be made by someone with a doctorate degree rather than anyone else? It took NASA long enough to twig about sending geologists to do geology on the Moon. The best sort of person to be on Mars might very well be a plumber or an electrician given the need to get life-supporting stuff fixed-up with a radio lag back to Mommy Central anywhere from 4 to 24 minutes.

    You may judge resupply of the NEO shed of political off-showery to be more important, but I don't see much work being done on how to engineer a proper space station on the ISS. Lots of science, but little practical technology that shifts the paradigm.

    A proper space station would house people without the need for excessive special training. It would have enough gravity to make life relatively simple and provide proper windows so the visitors could see why they built the damn thing in the first place.

    And it should float higher than a gnat's whisker away from the atmosphere, so it doesn't need so much shoving to keep it aloft. Which means we need better lifting engines so people can get there.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Bah!

      "A proper space station would house people without the need for excessive special training."

      Falcon Heavy + Bigelow = ....

    2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re. "...the first footprints on Mars be made..."

      Prediction. The first footprints on Mars be made by somebody from the NHK/Discovery Channel joint venture video crew that lands a few days before 'The Big Event' to set up. Actual first person will probably be some previously unknown caterer running outside to set up the snacks table.

      It'll be months later before anyone twigs, "Hey, who videoed this 'first step' anyway? Oh. Oh my gawd..."

    3. David Roberts Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      From bitter experience (well, life was soft back in them days) it is easier to train computer programmers to type letters than teach clerical staff to program computers. So fire the clerical staff and have the technical staff work below their maximum ability part of the time.

      So I respectfully suggest that any plumbing and wiring will turn out to be work that someone with a doctorate in applied physics can be "real worlded" to undertake.

    4. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      "A proper space station would house people without the need for excessive special training. It would have enough gravity to make life relatively simple and provide proper windows so the visitors could see why they built the damn thing in the first place."

      Has enough gravity - well, the ISS experiences about 90% of the gravitational force that we do on the surface - the thing is, it's in freefall - that's kind of required for an orbit...

      You could set up a fast spinning station, but then you have lost half of your usable surfaces within the structure...

      Windows of course are a rather delicate point. Both from a "resisting air pressure against the vacuum of space" and from the "a grain of sand could shatter this" perspectives. That's why there are 7 holes in the ISS YouTube.

      "And it should float higher than a gnat's whisker away from the atmosphere, so it doesn't need so much shoving to keep it aloft. Which means we need better lifting engines so people can get there."

      You can either keep boosting the ISS a little, or spend an inordinate amount more fuel *every* time you transfer people/cargo...

      I'm again going to suggest that the people at NASA might have considered the various options regarding altitude, and decided on where it is for a reason...

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Bah! - the people at NASA might have considered the various options

        But...it's a well known trope of Hollywood-style science fiction that one lone inventor toiling away in a garage knows more than all those so-called experts!

        I'm reminded of the people who, taxed with this, used to say "Well, Hewlett and Packard started up in a garage". Yes, and they had all their contacts from university, including their professor, to fall back on.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Bah! - the people at NASA might have considered the various options

          Yes, but the HP startup didn't produce (trying to think of something good and complex that HP produce....), erm... all their products.., cough, from that garage.

          They produced something small and simple, and did it well.

          This is a somewhat different challenge. Can I suggest that you try a higher orbitting station in kerbal and see what the issues are?

      2. Esme

        Re: Bah!

        @John Robson - yes, yes, but no brownie points for stating the obvious that the Earth's gravitational field is nearly as strong at the altitude of the ISS as it is at the surface of Earth, because you know as well as I do that what the poster you were responding to was on about was the need (in their view) for a rotating space station that thereby provides artificial gravity/pseudo gravity/insert term of your choice as a result of that rotation. I agree with them.

        One of the things that I've found most frustrating about the decades since Apollo is that, so far as I'm aware, there have to date been no experiments put into orbit involving rotationally induced 'artificial gravity' in order to determine its effects on and usability for both plants and humans. I am very much hoping that at some point something of the sort will be tried, possibly using 2-3 Bigelow BEAM 330 units directly connected and spun at a very low rotational rate to give a very low 'artificial gravity'.

        The point of this being that if there's any kind of obvious local 'down', then fluids behave as you'd expect fluids to behave, albeit maybe at a different rate to the one we're used to at the surface of Earth. Just seeing how that'd affect plants would be both fascinating and useful, but the big question is how would it affect astronauts?

        Currently, they all get cold-like symptoms and a loss of appetite from fluid build up in the head. Add a little artificial G, and that effect is lessened or done away with altogether. So how much 'artificial G' is needed to eliminate this effect? What effect will the 'artificial G' have on loss of bone and muscle strength? Will the astronauts be able to sleep better in it? And ultimately, we need to get some solid data on what spin rate at what radius of rotation humans can actually tolerate for long periods, because at the moment the only data we have on that comes from earth-bound centrifuges where results are always skewed by the centrifuge itself being on the Earth's surface and thus NOT in free-fall.

        At the moment what we have on the subject is, effectively guesswork. Very well educated guesswork, to be sure, but the sooner we get some solid experimental data on these things the better. And given Mr Musk's enthusiasm for getting people to Mars, and that Bigelow suddenly started ramping up prodcution capabilities a few months ago, I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone out there is thinking along the same lines. At some point, take two unmanned BEAM 330's and tether to each other with heavily over-engineered cables. Then steadily increase RPM and monitor effect on plant life within to get data on large-radii centrifugal environments. Eventually, and with appropriate safety measures, repeat again with a manned unit. Then we'll gather the kind of data we need to build 'classic' rotating space stations and deep interplanetary space manned ships.

        The ISS? Yep, great achievement for its time, and I'm sure that it was the best that could be built under the circumstances (see earlier posts about NASA, contractors , subcontractors etc and whether what actually gets built is the best that technically could have been built). Circumstances have changed. Materials science has changed. We're ready for the next step. The ISS is the past of manned orbital flight - we now need to get cracking on the future of manned orbital space flight and interplanetary manned exploration.

        1. The Axe

          Re: Bah!

          @Esme, the problem with rotational derived gravity is the Coriolis Effect. That causes more problems than the artificial gravity solves.

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: Coriollis effect causes more problems than etc

            Bollocks. Citation please. The Coriollis effect can be debilitating at high rpm. Increase the radius, reduce the angular velocity and coriollis effect accordingly.

            Fair disclosure: I've experienced it firsthand.

      3. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        "Has enough gravity - well, the ISS experiences about 90% of the gravitational force that we do on the surface - the thing is, it's in freefall - that's kind of required for an orbit..."

        Yes I have an A level in Physics, I know how it works. You go on to show that you understood my point but were just oipening with the Git Gambit. I could volley back with "freefall? Doncher know there's no such thing? Those In The Know call it "microgravity" these days". But I won't.

        [Windows] Who cares about grains of sand? The thing will be higher than most of the bleedin' space shrapnel zooming round the earth. OIt all comes from bits of spacecraft. 90% of which are in some variation of LEO. And we have the tech to address this, because we used it on Apollo, fortymumble years ago.

        [Higher Orbit = more cost per lift] So what? The reason the ISS is in LEO is that we can't put it any further out. We have no booster capable of doing the job, nor, as you say, any booster capable of lifting people to it if we did. This is not a plus. Further out is better for all sorts of reasons, starting with research possibilities.

        [NASA] NASA did what it could. actually, it didn't. Funding was cut and cut and cut. Look at the original plans for the cans-in-space ISS from the Clinton Persidency. Then look at what they've achieved in the intervening 16 years. A stunning testament to the Can-Do ethic. Not.

      4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        >I'm again going to suggest that the people at NASA might have considered the various options regarding altitude, and decided on where it is for a reason...

        And concluded that it had to be a collobaration with the Rooskis to get approval and so the altitude and orbit were set by the need to reach it from the Cape and Baikonur

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The BlueOrigin landing was interesting and will make a side note in history along with the grasshopper landings. The prize though was landing a real rocket, one that can get real things into real SpaceX and SpaceX have done that. I'm confident history will remember this Falcon 9 landing as the day cheap space launching started.

    As for how cheap it'll be that a difficult call. My guess is that the rocket will be largely reusable without serious over-hauls. It won't be at aeroplane levels of reuse but it'll be closer to that than throw-it-away-and-build-another which is what we have now. The reason for this guess is down to the fact that we know a lot more about materials than we did when the space shuttle was designed and this rocket really has been built with reuse in mind.

  20. AndrewN

    Falcon 9 vs New Shepard

    * Trajectory & engine burns (up & down): https://www.reddit.com/r/spacex/comments/3xvu9p/blue_origin_new_shepard_vs_spacex_falcon_9/?ref=share&ref_source=link

    * Numbersssss: https://www.reddit.com/r/spacex/comments/3xwlbw/falcon_9_vs_new_shepard_comparison_and_writeup/?ref=share&ref_source=link

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Falcon 9 vs New Shepard

      Reddit images:

      Flight paths

      Rocket comparison

  21. logic

    FIRST VERTICAL LANDING

    Spacex was sending "up and down" rockets, like Blue Origins, and landing them three years ago. See "Grasshopper".

  22. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Excellent

    This comment section is like a nerd X-Mas party.

    More like this!

  23. NeilPost

    Party Trick

    The party trick technology demonstration of reverse landing the rocket is pretty neat, but it it really a cost effective way forward ?? Think of all the extra fuel needed to be carried all the way into space and back to allow this. I struggle to see how this can remotely be cheaper than other re-entry methods, gliding a stub winged craft for a wheeled airstrip landing, or parachutes and recovery etc.

    I can see a slightly wonky landing easily toppling the Falcon 9 over, to a huge explosion.

    Materials science, partly down to NASA, has moved on hugely since the design of the Space Shuttle.If a next gen the space shuttle, like the Lockheed Martin VentureSta or similarr, was properly developed today... it would be a very different beat to the venerable 1970/1980's designed space shuttle.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Party Trick

      See earlier posts - and consider how many people are thinking about it at SpaceX.

      The structure has strength and rigidity in the required direction already, and both of the current private enterprises are doing it the same way...

    2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Party Trick - gliding a stub winged craft for a wheeled airstrip landing

      Lifting extra fuel for landing versus lifting the wings, which increase the lifting fuel cost and which require extensive protection against heat, failure of which led to the loss of one Shuttle?

      No matter what means you employ the fundamental issue with any reusable system is that you have to take the landing system with you. A landing system that does not need complex test, inspection and repair after every flight (as wings do) has a built in advantage.

      1. James Hughes 1

        Re: Party Trick - gliding a stub winged craft for a wheeled airstrip landing

        SpaceX considered parachutes, they didn't work. So went with this. Shuttle showed us that you really don't want to be carrying big wings aloft unless you really need them (X37-B)

        So BO and SpaceX are going with rocket landing. Which, if nothing else (and there is much else), is much cooler. The extra fuel costs about 15% in payload IIRC, depending on whether you RTLS or land on a barge.

      2. NeilPost

        Re: Party Trick - gliding a stub winged craft for a wheeled airstrip landing

        I struggle to see why you imply wings (and although you don't say I will include landing gear) need complex test, inspection and repair after every flight with the contrary view that the rocket motors and the rigid structure at the bottom of the rocket thst it will land back on won't ?

        It's kind of self-evident, that rockets burning for many minutes to allow a vertical landing... over and above the stresses of launch with payload - will be subject to much stress, strain and shear. Is it not also something new that the rocket motor will burn and fall through it's own exhaust plume, to temperature fatigue will also need to be factored in - the rocket is falling through a plume of red-hot gases.

        A heavy landing, due to motor issues, wind, unforseen issues etc could well crumple the bottom of the rockety, or topple it over on landing - so I would suggest the F9 will also need "complex test, inspection and repair after every flight"

        Everyone though the De Haviland Comet was fab, until after time metal fatigue and some design oversights nobbled that.

        1. Brangdon

          Re: Party Trick - gliding a stub winged craft for a wheeled airstrip landing

          You are suggesting using one system to launch (rocket) and a second system to land (wings). That doubles the complexity. You now have twice as much stuff to check and refurbish before you can re-use it. Using the same rocket to land as to launch is much simpler. Landing itself should be less stressful because the rocket mass is less, having disposed of the 2nd stage and the fuel you needed to get it to orbit.

    3. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: Party Trick

      The cost of fuel is 0.3% of the launch cost (source SpaceX Chief Says Reusable First Stage Will Slash Launch Costs ). The cost of first stage is between 20% to 70% (that depends). So yes, the extra fuel is worth it.

      1. NeilPost

        Re: Party Trick

        sigh.... more Tesla acolytes here.

        self-evidently - More fuel = bigger rocket, bigger rocket motors, more cost, more engineering required etc.. etc......

        Fuel may only be a small %tge of the cost, but having to carry a suggested 20% more (so above posts) to allow the landing means the F9 is much bigger as a consequence.

        1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Party Trick

          NeilPost "...having to carry....20% more fuel..."

          Mush is quoted as it's a 30% ***reduction in payload***. Not 20-30% "more fuel".

          Payload to fuel mass ratio is a small fraction.

          So extra fuel (and including vanes and legs) is 30% x a small fraction.

          Cheers.

          1. Seajay#

            Re: Party Trick

            "Mush is quoted as it's a 30% ***reduction in payload***. Not 20-30% "more fuel"."

            But a 30% reduction in payload is worse than using 20-30% more fuel because that means you have to do 1/70% times as many launches to get the same payload to orbit which is 43% more fuel.

            I still like the reusable rocket concept. And to me the most amazing thing is that they are already hugely undercutting the competition even before they have started reusing them.

    4. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Party Trick

      NeilPost "Think of all the extra fuel needed to be carried all the way into space and back to allow this."

      Much less fuel than your instincts are suggesting.

      Musk has stated that the Return to Land approach (fuel and extra gear) imposes 30% reduction on payload. NOT 30% extra fuel mass, but 30% less payload. Payload mass is a very small fraction of initial fuel mass. So that's 30% multiplied by some very small fraction.

      Although the 1st stage looks much the same landing as it did at launch, it's then nearly empty of fuel and is thus vastly less mass.

      People are visual creatures, and one can't see that it's essentially empty at landing.

      They should make it transparent so that everyone can more easily understand.

      Merry Xmas!!

  24. grthinker

    We already know the engines can be re-used. They were tested before the launch, launched, and then relighted 3 times during the re-entry and landing phases. Now we're taling about 'service' life, or "time to overhaul", just like an aircraft engine. Consider also that after three launches, Spacex could have, on site at Cape Canaveral the basic launcher for the Falcon Heavy. All they will need is a new second stage, and a worthy payload.

    Go Spacex!

  25. CheesyTheClown

    FFS!!!

    There are now three companies... that's right... companies... privately owned enterprises which have been establishing launch capability and rocket reuse. These companies have all managed to accomplish MASSIVE tasks. Bezos, Musk and Rutan have all been able to make history by not only launching rockets into space but doing it with very little money compared to the old dogs (who are due to be put out to rest).

    This doesn't need to be a competition. I'd imagine that there is more than enough business to keep them all going. Whether it's satellites, space travel, exploration, etc... we need all of them and it doesn't matter who did what first. The game has barely started. We'll soon start building space stations and colonies and more. There will be some enterprising people who decide to mine the moon or mars and build more ships out there. What I'm sure of is, unlike NASA who lacked agility, the technology behind space travel will evolve rapidly now. Imagine a day when virgin galactic can fly you to space to be dropped off at a port where large rockets not even to be dreamed of yet will take you to the moon or beyond.

    Quit the competitive bullshit already and congratulate three great companies run by true visionaries.

    1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: FFS!!!

      "This doesn't need to be a competition."

      An exquisitely incorrect statement.

  26. Jonjonz

    Used to cost a bomb and used to be fairly safe.

    Now you ride an unstable bomb, and hope it does not blow.

  27. Palf

    It's called New Shepard because

    like the eponymous Alan Shepard, it just goes up, and then down. Oingo Boingo. We did this in the early sixties. It's boring.

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