back to article SpaceX wows world with a ho-hum launch of a reused rocket, landing it on a tiny boring barge

Elon Musk's promised revolution in affordable orbital delivery has begun: today his upstart SpaceX successfully launched a refurbished rocket from Earth, carrying a commercial satellite into orbit, and then landed the rocket's first stage on a sea barge. For any miserabilists hoping for drama, failure, and explosions, no such …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Amazing

    I'm impressed. This takes me back to the first days of NASA, when they were still a space agency. Wonderful achievement.

    Mr Musk drives me to distraction at times, but his big talk is backed by big ideas and big results.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Amazing

      Fully agree. It still amazes me that a rocket can land after doing a full launch. More amazingly, they do it on a moving barge at sea. And then they do it with one that's already done it before!

      Once Bezos gets fully up to speed, I think we'll see what real competition looks like. It's a shame ULA are going for a sort of half-hearted "we can do it too" approach, but max Kudos to Musk and SpaceX for their successes.

      I wish we had someone like Musk or Bezos backing Reaction Engines.

      1. David 164 Bronze badge

        Re: Amazing

        I wish we had a billionaire backing Reaction Engines as well. But it seems our billionaires are boring old farts who prefer to play it safe by buying properties.

        1. Holtsmark

          Re: Amazing

          The problem is that the fastest way to make a small fortune in aerospace is starting with a big one.

          The amount of turnover required in order to make a small profit is staggering, and billionaires got to be billionaires by watching their money. What is needed as a billionaire with enough drive to overlook the abovementioned problem, preferring to enjoy the ride for what it is worth.

          Aerospace is an industry full of people with too much love for their wonderful art.

          IAAAE

          1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

            Re: Amazing

            Our billionaires?

            Virgin galactic are still around, though ever so slightly overshadowed by SpaceX's achievements.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Amazing

              Virgin galactiic are still around,

              The old bearded goat is a Virgin Islands citizen. He is NOT a UK resident any more. That is not really ours. More like the citizen of the Universe May loves to hate and throw Hitler and Stalin quotes at.

              The only ours left in the UK (for a given value of ours) are Russian mobsters with dual citizenship. They are happy to pay an arbitrary size check for a dick with legs in football boots, donation to the Tory party keep us at loggerheads with their "other" Fatherland or a new super-yacht.

              Something to advance science and engineering for the common good?

              Not so much - you will have to wait for a few generations until their fortunes are controlled by the robber barons' grandchildren.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Amazing

                "The old bearded goat" would be a Billy Goat?

        2. Lotaresco

          Re: Amazing

          "But it seems our billionaires are boring old farts who prefer to play it safe by buying properties."

          To give him his dues, and it pains me to say this, Richard Branson is investing in technology projects. Sadly it seems that his vision is a little restricted though. Musk and Bezos are clearly enthusiastic and have been steeped in The Culture as well as culture. Those two want to make our future like the ones we saw in old re-runs on Saturday morning Kids TV. The world of "Lost in Space", "TinTin", RKO serials and "Flash Gordon" where rockets were infinitely reusable.

          Branson's ambitions are more modest but have the potential to pay off in slightly unexpected ways. So there's Virgin Galactic which isn't much more than a way of separating millionaires from their cash in return for an experience which used to be possible from Thunder City - an edge of atmosphere trip. White Knight 2 and Spaceship 2 have other potential uses for lifting loads for sub-orbital missions at low cost and given the lift capability of WK2 it could be used to lift a two-stage payload that could be fired into orbit.

          Branson's other project is his investment in Boom, which is planning a small (45 seat) SST. I hope that comes off also.

          The shame is that these are US projects and an investment in Reaction Engines would be an investment in UK engineering.

          1. Mike Richards Silver badge

            Re: Amazing

            Don't forget the other billionaire, Paul Allen, who is building a humungous aircraft to haul a rocket to altitude and then dropping it (hopefully after lighting the blue touch paper). More stuff about his monstrous machine here (don't forget to hum the 'Thunderbirds' tune):

            http://aerospace.vulcan.com

        3. Mike Richards Silver badge

          Re: Amazing

          I have a horrible feeling that the government will either a) insist that BAE take a stake in Reaction Engines and the project will die a long, lingering death; or b) vanish stateside like so much of Britain's aerospace expertise in the 1950s and 60s.

      2. danR2

        Re: Amazing

        I'll see competition when big aero starts putting fly-back airbreathers into the first-stage phase of launch. This land-on-tail stuff is thrilling Buck-Rogers era, but it's literally a waste of oxygen. Light and medium launch weight systems should be taking off and returning to airport runways, and getting reflown within the hour.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Amazing

          Elon Musk has repeatedly stated his goal is Mars. There are no runways to land such vehicles on Mars, hence the Dragon Module uses Draco Engines and a vertical (reuseable booster) landing system.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Amazing

            And because Mars' atmosphere AND gravity differ, it would likely be impossible to design a glide lander capable of working on both planets.

            1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Amazing

              Wonderful, wonderful wonderful stuff. Takes me right back to the excitement of the Apollo era of my youth. Astronauts and cosmonauts simply trump ALL other celebrities for sheer cool!

              Big thumbs up to all rocket scientists, engineers and all other staff at Space-X for making this happen. I will certainly raise a glass (or two, it's Friday after all) this evening

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Amazing

          I'll see competition when big aero starts putting fly-back airbreathers into the first-stage phase of launch.

          Prelude to Space - Arthur C. Clarke

          To those people that say you can't use them on other planets (Mars) I don't think anyone was saying that you had to. The thing is that such a fly-back craft would be the best way of getting material and manpower up into space to build the craft that would go to the other planets.

          1. hplasm Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Amazing

            a fly-back craft would be the second best way of getting material and manpower up into space.

            I see your Prelude to Space and raise you a Fountains of Paradise...

        3. cray74

          Re: Amazing

          This land-on-tail stuff is thrilling Buck-Rogers era, but it's literally a waste of oxygen.

          Of all the things you could waste in rocketry, oxygen is probably one of the better picks. Oxygen is wonderful: it's dense, it's very cheap, the tanks are light, and you throw most of it out the tailpipe so it isn't part of the dead mass carried into orbit. On the other hand, replacing the rocket engines (with 100:1 to 200:1 thrust-to-weight ratios) with an airbreathing engine that might optimistically have a 10:1 thrust-to-weight ratio means you're hauling more deadweight into orbit. You need a more aerodynamic aeroshell and heat shield, which means it has a worse surface-to-volume ratio than a simple oxygen tank and thus more weight. You need more elaborate aerodynamic controls and landing gear for the aircraft-style performance.

          Worse, the stuff you're keeping with these oxygen-saving airbreathing engines is probably hydrogen. Hydrogen's a headache: it has very low density, so its tankage is heavy compared to oxygen, and it's a pain to store, insulate, and handle. Everything associated with hydrogen is heavier than denser fluids: heat shields have to be larger, engines have lower thrust-to-weight ratios, the tanks are bigger and thus heavier, etc.

          A glimpse of the value of dense fluids is seen in this comparison of hydrogen-oxygen and kerosene-oxygen SSTOs (end of the email chain has plenty of detailed numbers and engineering discussion).

          So, like I said, oxygen is probably one of the best things you can waste in rocketry.

        4. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Amazing

          Apart from the issue that the airbreathers are going to have trouble in less than 30 seconds, you could do worse than strapping turbofans to the side and popping 'em off at 20,000 feet, or sitting the entire platform on a catapault to get more "kick" in the initial launch.

          (NB: These add complexity and make things more likely to fail. Rockets and launches have been shown to work best when the stack is as simple as possible. Vibration from the _sound_ alone is enough to break a lot of stuff - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MErKkBWRY9E)

          1. Tikimon Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Amazing

            Fly-back airbreathers? You clearly missed the press release from ULA! They're already on this.

            They plan to have the first stage re-enter the atmosphere using a heat shield. Special high-altitude helicopters will carry a wing with integral motors and fuel to 80,000 feet and rendezvous with an F-35 that is waiting on-station. As the spent rocket stage approaches, the helicopter will drop the wing while the F-35 deploys Chuck Norris from the weapons bay. He will then catch the wing, maneuver it to meet the falling rocket, and attach it with his bare hands. Then Chuck will start the motors and fly the first stage down to a landing in the jungle where he will destroy a terrorist training camp while waiting for the pickup helicopter to arrive.

            What could go wrong?

        5. Patrician

          Re: Amazing

          ..."fly-back airbreathers"

          Cannot, yet, get to the altitudes nor speeds required for anything that requires orbital speeds.

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge

            Re: Amazing

            ..."fly-back airbreathers"

            Cannot, yet, get to the altitudes nor speeds required for anything that requires orbital speeds.

            True, but getting part-way there might be a nice compromise, like Virgin did with theirs. 'Stage zero' air-breathing boosters up to about 100k feet...

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Amazing

      This is top science story? Rocket dosent crash? very good and all that , but :

      Top story in science section is 4 days old - wheres the graphene water sieve article?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Uncanny

    To be living in a world where YouTube accompanies my nightly cocoa with a live HD feed of a rocket performing a Thunderbirds mission that's on the cusp of being boringly routine, then the same YouTube suggests one of the apparently limitless "flat Earth" videos (rockets can't work in space because no air to push against, would collide with celestial dome, contradicted by the Old Testament, etc, etc)

    Perhaps the Law of Conservation of Stupidity will soon mathematically establish that every time someone does something wonderful, clever, beautiful then a counter-balancing amount of cretinous mendacity is unleashed?

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Uncanny

      I look forward to an actual landing on the boat video.

      1. ridley

        Re: Uncanny

        There was a live feed all the way down to the barge a few launches ago.

        1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

          Re: Uncanny

          "Perhaps the Law of Conservation of Stupidity will soon mathematically establish that every time someone does something wonderful, clever, beautiful then a counter-balancing amount of cretinous mendacity is unleashed?"

          To true I am afraid.

          Hopefully all the cretinous mendacity released by the current US administration will be counterbalanced soon by something breathtakingly clever and beautiful.

          One can but hope

      2. Lotaresco
        Boffin

        Re: Uncanny

        "I look forward to an actual landing on the boat video."

        What like this one?

        You Tube video of Falcon landing on a barge.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Uncanny

        There have been a couple of landing on the barge videos. The problem has been keeping the live uplink aimed at the right satellite as the rocket comes in (rockets are LOUD - enough to actually shake the snot out of stuff).

        The best solution would probably be a floating fibreoptic cable to another RO-boat a few hundred yards away carrying the uplink. You'd get the advantage of a wider angle landing view too.

    2. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit
      Pint

      Re: Uncanny

      Have one on me Mongo ---->

      I am firmly of the opinion that eventually science will prove human stupidity is the only infinite resource in the universe.

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Uncanny

        "I am firmly of the opinion that eventually science will prove human stupidity is the only infinite resource in the universe."

        Science has already proved it. We're in an age now where we could feed every single person on the planet, give power and electricity to all, and allow people to view all of the content and knowledge the world has to offer.

        But greed, paranoia, and racism gets in the way and ruins the whole thing for everyone. Then some bright spark decides he doesn't like someone else, decides to send them a missle with a nuclear bomb at the top of it and destroys the world at the click of a finger.

        Happy Friday.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Uncanny

      "YouTube suggests one of the apparently limitless "flat Earth" videos"

      Me too.

      You'd think having a browsing history filled with aerospace and science stuff, that maybe I'd not be interested in some idiot that still thinks the moon landings were a hoax*.

      Still, I guess you can't accuse them of keeping people in their own little media bubble.

      * My brother's girlfriend is one such idiot

    4. Lotaresco

      Re: Uncanny

      "Perhaps the Law of Conservation of Stupidity will soon mathematically establish that every time someone does something wonderful, clever, beautiful then a counter-balancing amount of cretinous mendacity is unleashed?"

      The sight of videos in the same feed that have been created by greedy, mendacious snake-oil salesmen to sell tat to people who are too uneducated to know the difference between science and magic is bad enough. But the thing that causes me to rend my garments and daub my faces with ashes is the response of the moonhowler commentards who can barely wait to jump in and post a message that all of this rocketry is "fake news". Why the actual do they do it?

    5. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Uncanny

      I only there was a way to use stupidity as an energy source... all of our energy problems would be solved, forever.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Uncanny

        There's always the BOFH approach to green energy, involving a shovel, roll of carpet, and a methane digester that seats six...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad people winning the world.

    AFAICT, Elon Musk is not a nice guy to work for, Donald Trump is an utter £$%^, Putin is an outrageously evil billionaire, and traitors Corbyn and May have $^&@ed up Britain for at least a generation.

    Is it just me, or are the &*&%s winning ?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Bad people winning the world.

      Many of the worlds most successful entrepreneurs have been borderline psychopaths at worst, raving workaholics at best. It seems we have to live with that reality if we want new shiny to play with.

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        @John Brown (no body) Re: Bad people winning the world.

        Musk has said in interviews how close the whole Tesla/Space-X ensemble was close to imploding due to things not going well at the start and running out of money.

        It takes one heck of a driven/determined person to hold on by their fingertips and keep going in those kinds of dire straits.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bad people winning the world.

        "Many of the worlds most successful entrepreneurs have been borderline psychopaths"

        True but that doesn't mean they are bad to work for. Look at Hank Scorpio. Yeah he may have been an international criminal mastermind, but he came across as a really nice guy. And yes, it was real folks, it was real.

    2. stucs201

      Re: Bad people winning the world.

      Between his various projects Musk appears to be genuinely trying to save the world single-handed (or at least ensure some of the human race survives it's end if it all goes wrong). How much more of a good guy do you want?

      (Either that or he's not joking about the white cat, and super-villain volcano lair)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bad people winning the world.

        I would like to hear that he is a not a terrible guy to work for.

        And then I could go and work for him.

      2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        @stucs201 Re: Bad people winning the world.

        Just because his motives appear benign on the surface, it doesn't mean he isn't a complete *$%^*& underneath. All, I suspect, we currently see of Musk is what a well-oiled PR machine sees.

        What he's really like underneath is just speculation.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @stucs201 Bad people winning the world.

          "All, I suspect, we currently see of Musk is what a well-oiled PR machine sees"

          you have never actually seen or heard Elon Musk then.... Elon is about as non-PR as it gets. He unashamedly a geek, who's bad at public speaking and wears his heart on his sleeve. He's speaks his mind without filters and is actually a dreamer who decided to try and do some good with his life/money.

          I bet you can only think of a handful of people like that. The world of people is full of people like Zuckerberg who say they are trying to change the world but are really just making money. SpaceX are privately held to allow them to do things that are BAD for business so they can follow Elon's dream.

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "(Either that or he's not joking about the white cat, and super-villain volcano lair)"

        Actually the obvious one is Hugo Drax in Moonraker.

        No cat, but a nice line in collarless jackets IIRC.

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: "(Either that or he's not joking about the white cat, and super-villain volcano lair)"

          @John Smith 19

          Actually the obvious one is Hugo Drax in Moonraker.

          No cat, but a nice line in collarless jackets IIRC.

          Hugo Drax. Elon Musk

          First and last names have 4 letters each,

          first name 2 vowels, last name 1

          Both made money elsewhere before using it to develop missiles/rockets for the government

          Will he follow the plot of the Moonraker novel or the film adaptation?

          In the film, Drax's shuttles dock with a space station

          Musk's Dragon craft docked with ISS

          What's the progress on Bond's Musk's submersible Lotus Esprit? - Time to get worried is when that's operational

          (Paris - where there's a Bond villain, there's a Bond Girl)

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Happy

            In the film, Drax's shuttles dock with a space station

            The film of course.

            Drax in the film is (like Musk) concerned about a catastrophe wiping out human civilization on Earth.

            Besides I strongly doubt that Musk can pull off a Liverpudlian ascent if his life depended upon it.

            What I am waiting for is Bill Hader of Saturday Night Live to pop on a Nehru jacket and announce what all those rockets are really for.

            I can't shake the feeling he's been tweaking his Julian Assange, waiting for the right script.

            1. DocJames
              Paris Hilton

              Re: In the film, Drax's shuttles dock with a space station

              I don't think that Drax in the book has a Liverpudlian accent...

              And plenty of Nazis headed to S Africa. Coincidence?*

              Gala Brand (see icon) is a great Bond girl name, and the only one in the books who has a genuine twist to her character/actions.

              * yes of course it's f##king coincidence you fool.

              1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

                "I don't think that Drax in the book has a Liverpudlian accent..."

                From memory Drax has stolen the identity of a British soldier from Liverpool who lost his memory (and his face) in an explosion.

                So supposedly all he knows about himself is from his Army records. As part of his cover he visits the area to try and see if he "remembers" anything.

                He doesn't remember the locals because of course he's never actually met them before and the plastic surgery explains why they don't remember him. No scouse accent? "Explosion damaged my vocal chords. I had to learn to speak all over again."

                Quite neat, eh?

                1. DocJames
                  Pint

                  Re: "I don't think that Drax in the book has a Liverpudlian accent..."

                  I'd forgotten about the "goes up there every so often to try and dig up his roots" - thanks! His voice I think remains "harsh" (or similar adjective) as a result of the explosion.

                  I do think Fleming's influence on literature is underappreciated...

                  1. DocJames

                    Re: "I don't think that Drax in the book has a Liverpudlian accent..."

                    Had a quick skim read... his accent is not commented upon at any point in the book. He did grow up in England though.

            2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

              Re: In the film, Drax's shuttles dock with a space station

              "Drax in the film is (like Musk) concerned about a catastrophe wiping out human civilization on Earth."

              Um, in the movie Drax is about to cause * a catastrophe, namely wiping out all human life on Earth using nerve gas. Because he seems to have a god complex.

              IIRC, in the book Drax wants to destroy London with a nuclear armed rocket, but is crushed to death under some giant bog rolls or something.

              So I guess we'll have to wait and see where this is all going.

              * Okay, technically planning something could sorta qualify as "being concerned about something", I'll give you that.

              1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
                Happy

                "Um, in the movie Drax is about to cause * a catastrophe, wiping out all human life on Earth"

                What do you expect? He is a Bond villain...

                And like all Bond villains (Blowfelt's back story comes to mind) he knows that if you want a catastrophe done right you've got to do it yourself.

                Which does make you wonder if perhaps Musk has a little backup plan to ensure that when the time comes to start selling tickets to Mars people will be literally killing each other to get tickets.

                Just a thought.

          2. Chris Hainey
            Trollface

            Re: "(Either that or he's not joking about the white cat, and super-villain volcano lair)"

            Half Life 3 confirmed?

    3. danR2

      Re: Bad people winning the world.

      Musk's employees are unquestionably one of the most satisfied group of people around, let alone workers. His approval rating on glass door is through the ceiling.

      1. rh587 Bronze badge

        Re: Bad people winning the world.

        Musk's employees are unquestionably one of the most satisfied group of people around, let alone workers. His approval rating on glass door is through the ceiling.

        It requires the right "type" of worker as well though.

        If you want a 9-to-5, you're not going to last long. If you're nearly as driven as Musk and start early/get thrown out by security in the evenings, put your job above your family or social life, then fantastic.

        There's quite a few people have left and loved their time there, but were only able to do a few years before having to move on before they burned out.

        By the sounds of it, he treats his staff well, but drives them really, really hard. Not unlike Gates in the early days of Microsoft who reputedly drove past his competitor's offices at weekends to see whose had cars in the parking lot. Applicants from companies that were closed up didn't get a look in - he only wanted grafters who he could use and abuse any time, any day of the week.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Bad people winning the world.

          Well, if we're playing with the Moonraker idea, there's also the Ben Elton novel (and TV series) S.T.A.R.K.

          A proprietor of an international satellite broadcasting network uses the supposed launches of broadcast satellites as cover for the construction of a luxury orbital habitat. He then sells tickets to the habitat to billionaires wishing to escape the impending ecological disaster on Earth. STar ARK.

    4. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: Bad people winning the world.

      "AFAICT, Elon Musk is not a nice guy to work for"

      Probably true. He seems obsessive, and keen to use his smarts to make things happen. Well, become a billionaire, then go make things happen. See other comments regarding the in at dawn, out at midnight work ethic.

      I'd rather more of the 0.1% with ~45% of the wealth did things like this, rather than vanity projects.

      A competent arsehole owner/boss who will fight tooth and nail for their company, when you share in their vision, can be great to work for. Exhausting, frustrating, but getting shit done well with management onboard is a wonderful thing. Musk doesn't even steal nearly as much credit as he could.

      He's a terrible businessman anyway. Rocketry is all about bilking the government through a cartel, not launching things into orbit at a low cost :)

  4. SkippyBing Silver badge

    ULA

    'Instead of landing its first stage, the firm proposes to wrap it in a heat shield and have it parachute back to Earth, whereupon a helicopter will snag the parachute and lower it to the ground.'

    Well what could possibly go right trying to catch a parachute with a helicopter...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ULA

      Did you see how the Curiosity Rover landed ?

      With heatshields and parachutes and rockets and skycranes ?

      On motherfarking Mars ?!

      1. David 164 Bronze badge

        Re: ULA

        I will believe it when I see it. It ULA plans have far points of failure than Musks and Bezos.

      2. gypsythief

        Curiosity's Landing

        The problem with landing on Mars is that the atmosphere is thin enough that parachutes don't work very well, but still thick enough to heat things up to vapourisation point; Curiosity made it but as you point out, it required "heatshields and parachutes and rockets and skycranes". And cotton wool. Although I'm not sure about the skycranes bit.

        Many other landers of course did not make it (*cough)Beagle(*cough).

        A working land-by-reverse-rocket solves the problems of the Martian atmosphere nicely: its thinness is irrelevant to rocket braking, and helps with not as much heating.

        Of course, if Elon does get us humans there, it will be interesting to see how long it is before the colonist become dark, with golden eyes.

        1. A K Stiles

          Re: Curiosity's Landing

          It appears from Mars reconnaissance photos that Beagle 2 actually did land pretty much as planned, but that it then failed to open fully to expose the solar cells and allow the science-bits to exit the landing module.

          and the skycrane for Curiosity was the rocket propelled platform that slowed the descent, then winched curiosity down close to the surface before releasing then hurling itself several hundred yards away to avoid contaminating the area around Curiosity with nasty toxic rocket fuel.

          You may have known all that already and I missed the tone of your post, but I'll finish by stating how utterly stunned and impressed I am by the latest reuse and landing from SpaceX - long may it continue.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Curiosity's Landing

          "A working land-by-reverse-rocket solves the problems of the Martian atmosphere nicely: its thinness is irrelevant to rocket braking, and helps with not as much heating."

          You're right, but Falcon requires it's guidance/steering fins, which likely won't be much, if any, use landing on Mars in it's near vacuum atmosphere. SpaceX failed with the first fin design and had to re-design to get something which worked in Earth's think atmosphere. Landing a re-launchable rocket on Mars may require more thrusters and more fuel and therefore more mass, but into a 1/3rd G gravity well. No doubt they've already thought of this. Here's hoping the first mission is a camera ship so we can watch the rest of the missions landings "live" :-)

      3. Pedigree-Pete
        Pint

        Re: Skycrane.

        Yep Bohboh. The Skycrane was a bats idea that worked perfectly 1st time out. Creative thinking NASA. You should be allowed to do more of that. PP

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: ULA

      ULA's plan is to recover only the engines, so the other bit to go wrong is the explosives to separate the engines from the fuel tank. ULA are a bunch of rocket scientists so they have the technical skills for mid-air retrieval. They would need an astronomical budget. As they have a proven record of getting billions from the US government, I would not scribble 'impossible' on their plan. I would go with 'ambitious with a clear smell of desperate', 'expensive' and 'will get delayed at least five years'.

    3. Truckle The Uncivil

      Re: ULA

      @SkippyBing

      Probably not that much since we have been doing in flight refuelling for fifty ears and snagging a parachute would be at a much, much lower velocity. Catching a parachute with a helicopter is probably the least of their issues.

      "Wrap it up in a heat shield" and re-entry are a tad more worrying to me.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: ULA

        In-flight refuelling involves gently inserting your probe into a tube that's being helpfully dangled exactly where you want it by the other aircrew.

        It's not really any harder for the pilots than formation flying, and the technical challenges of pumping the fuel and cutting it off without fireballs can be tested without risking an aircrew - eg in a wind tunnel.

        Mid-air retrieval involves grabbing a falling parachute that your aircraft is actively blowing away, without collapsing it before you have a good hold, then pulling away without hitting the ground or ripping bits off the aircraft or payload.

        With a payload that's very near the absolute maximum that the airframe can carry.

        You can't test very much of this without risking an aircrew.

        The financial cost is minimal, possibly even cheaper than a droneship, but the risk to the aircrew is insane.

      2. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: ULA

        'Probably not that much since we have been doing in flight refuelling for fifty ears and snagging a parachute would be at a much, much lower velocity. Catching a parachute with a helicopter is probably the least of their issues.'

        I've seen video of in flight parachute recoveries before, just never with a helicopter which strikes me as the worst option for doing it. You've got downwash trying to collapse the chute just as you're trying to catch it, the relative velocities are much closer than with an aircraft which makes interception trickier, and you've got all the rigging to wrap around the blades if you get to the intercept point slightly early.

        Plus the points Richard 12 just made above.

      3. Moonferret

        Re: ULA

        "Probably not that much since we have been doing in flight refuelling for fifty ears"

        Fifty ears? I'd love to know how one goes about refulling a single ear, let alone 50 of them! :)

        1. nijam

          Re: ULA

          > I'd love to know how one goes about refuelling a single ear

          Apparently you just put more wax in.

      4. nijam

        Re: ULA

        > Catching a parachute with a helicopter is probably the least of their issues.

        Because modern helicopters have no downdraught?

    4. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: ULA

      The US used to do it almost routinely for CORONA spy satellite film capsules. Although they weighed a tiny fraction of what Vulcan will be returning to Earth.

      Arianespace and Roscosmos have both looked at fitting wings to spent stages and have them swoop down to a runway landing. But I'd imagine the weight of undercarriage, hydraulics and wings would eat into the payload, not to mention the strengthening that would be required to stop it bending like a piece of wet spaghetti on touchdown.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: ULA

        "The US used to do it almost routinely for CORONA spy satellite film capsules."

        But not with helicopters

        It was tried, but the parachute failed anyway and it ended up doing a lithobraking exercise.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: ULA

          I was about to say. I think you might have more success with a rear-opening cargo plane than with a helicopter. Deploy a catch wire out the back as you fly past, snag it and reel it in. If you miss, circle around for another go (start from high enough and you should get several attempts).

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            Re: ULA

            The cargo plane approach is the only one that's been successfully tried, as far as I know.

            The success rate is a national secret because it was done for spy sat film canisters, so who knows how many payloads plunged - or even aircrews died.

            So I guess maximum payload mass of maybe 50kg?

            And now they want to do it for a hundred times larger payloads...

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: ULA

              But the physics still favor the cargo plane. It's a more stable flier and it has a much larger carrying capacity (I'm pretty sure they can do plenty more than 50kg--airdrops in the tonnes are de rigeur).

  5. David 164 Bronze badge

    Impressive but yeah it would be interesting to know just how much of the Falcon 9 had to be rebuilt for this launch.

    1. GerryMC

      So, is it like the Ship of Theseus (or Trigger's Broom), or is still "mainly" the same booster?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Even if they end up re-using the first stage in its entirety, they're still throwing away the second stage every single time.

        So they're keeping Trigger's broom's handle, maybe giving it a new link of paint and putting new bristles on the business end every time.

        This partial re-use may eventually (at least a few decades into the future) come back to bite SpaceX. If someone does ever build something like Skylon, that would significantly change how satellites are designed (smaller submodules) and assembled (in space, not on the ground) to end up being any size the operator wants (bigger is definitely better). And Skylon would be able to do the whole lot very quickly and keep doing it. That's a concept that really allows huge things to be orbited, and requires. Anyone with a glorified firework wouldn't be able to compete.

        Anyway, SpaceX have done pretty well to get this far, and now need to focus on launch frequency and reliability. They're still behind the curve on both fronts. Good luck to them. With Ariane 6 coming along they'll need it.

        1. Esme

          @AC - Skylon's something I'm really hoping gets built this time, and teh chances aren;t looking too bad at teh moment with Reaction Engiones actually getting some backing and interest at the moment. But it'll be best at high-frequency low tonnage to LEO scenarios compared to the 'glorified fireworks' that can carry much heavier payloads.

          Skylon is a part of what we need for an integrated space transport system (and it'd certainly make getting into orbit a damned sight comfier due to lower G-forces involved such that a large percentage of the population could potentially travel into space, compared with current techniology), but we need the 'glorified fireworks' too, to do the heavy lifting and the interplanetary stuff.

          We also need an orbit-to-orbit shuttle (ie: always in space, never lands),/space tug too. It'll come.

        2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

          Stage 2?

          Getting stage 2 back from orbital height without burning up could be tricky, but could they get sneaky and leave it up there, perhaps to be re-used as part of a space station (with a bit of re-fitting of course)

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "they're still throwing away the second stage every single time."

          Be patient - their next rocket (ITS) will be completely reusable. The 1st stage booster will land as with the Falcon 9 but the 2nd stage is designed to return from orbit and land too.

          I think it's more likely that ITS (and cargo delivering derivatives) are operational before we get a working SABRE engine

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Unhappy

            "Be patient - their next rocket (ITS) will be completely reusable. "

            Maybe, Mr AC they will have got the bugs out of full reusability by then, like they said they had when they released that nice video in 2011.

            Or maybe not.

            Unfortunately ITS is built to put 100 passengers into LEO. It's not just a bit oversized for pretty much every sat ellite planned, it's grossly over sized. So no it won't be any cheaper in absolute terms but SX will no doubt claim it's less than $1000/lb to LEO. Which will be true provided it's fully loaded.

            The combination of making it cheaper at the size of payload people want to buy, while swallowing the development bill, is what makes building a fully reusable launch system really hard.

            "I think it's more likely that ITS (and cargo delivering derivatives) are operational before we get a working SABRE engine"

            Musk said 6 years in 2014 and he thought that was optimistic.

            So IRL more like about 8-10 if FH is anything to go by (which remember is only about 2x bigger than an F9 in payload).

            REL were very open about what this would cost. You want a vehicle the size of an A380 that can deliver launch on demand and not rely on a single US company to do it for you? Guess what, it costs like an A380.

        4. cray74

          Even if they end up re-using the first stage in its entirety, they're still throwing away the second stage every single time.

          Yes, and there's a number of economic and engineering reasons for that. First, the first stage is the more expensive part. The dominating cost in a rocket stage, at least for simple ones like the Falcon 9**, is the engines. The first stage has 9 main engines; the second stage has one. If you want to start saving money on spaceflight but have a restricted budget, you target the first stage.

          Second, there's a matter of weight sensitivity. The rocket equation makes first stages relatively insensitive to weight changes. Roughly speaking, adding a pound to a first stage only takes a third of a pound out of payload, or less. For a two stage vehicle, every pounded added to the second stage directly removes one pound from payload. Worse, recovering the second stage is more challenging (i.e., requires proportionally heavier recovery systems) than the first stage because you're taking it down from orbital velocities.

          So, if you want to start saving money on a multi-stage rocket that a) isn't giant for its payload, and b) has a useful payload, then you target the first stage for recovery and get to the second stage when you can.

          The method of targeting the first stage for recovery seems to be working well for Musk. He was undercutting the price of competitors to begin with and now the most expensive part of the rocket is being amortized across multiple payloads. It'd be nice to recover the second stage, but it's not critical for business success in the current orbital launching industry.

          (**The matter's more complicated in spacecraft like the shuttle, which has a lot invested in the entire body of the orbiter rather than just the engines.)

      2. hplasm Silver badge
        Boffin

        Broom.

        It seems, according to reports from spacex, that they keep the handle and brush head, but replace any bristles that appear even slightly sub-optimal.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "it would be interesting to know just how much of the Falcon 9 had to be rebuilt for this launch."

      In the press conference afterward Musk on YouTube said they kept the main structure and engines but replaced anything that could be removed and looked a bit iffy.

      They will no doubt now remove all those parts to see what a first flight has done to the parts they replaced.

      Around about the 18-20min mark Musk says they expect the first stages to have a life of 10 launches with no refurb and a 100+ with moderate maintenance. So at 10 launches the TPS could have definitely burned through somewhere and the TEA tank (used for engine ignition) need refilling (the SR71 used a similar igntion system and the small tank was good for about 5 starts IIRC).

  6. Pangasinan Philippines

    it's likely the engineers did a fairly major refit

    My broom is reusable Iv'e changed the handle twice and the head 5 times!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They've also landed (and possibly recovered?) the school bus sized multimillion dollar payload fairing as well.

    They strapped thrusters and a parachute to each half and flew them back to the earth like aerofoils.

    Oh, SpaceX, never ever change.

    1. Spudley

      They've also landed (and possibly recovered?) the school bus sized multimillion dollar payload fairing as well.

      Did they? I didn't even hear about that bit.

      Sounds pretty cool (and eminently achievable), but I've got to wonder how come the fairings could cost multi million dollars? I guess everything in rocketry is going to be expensive by definition, but I would always have assumed that the fairings would be at the bottom of the list in terms of costs.

      Nevertheless, whatever their value, if they can be returned and re-used for less than the cost of making new ones, then it's a win. And well done SpaceX for trying it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "but I've got to wonder how come the fairings could cost multi million dollars?"

        They're low volume, custom designed, custom built, huge carbon fibre jobbies. There aren't many places that can make that kind of thing so they cost a fortune.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "They strapped thrusters and a parachute to each half and flew them back to the earth like aerofoils."

      Is there any video or photos of the these landing? I'd love to see that!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Unfortunately not, and they sunk. Next time Elon wants them to land on what amounts to a bouncy castle on the sea.

        Wondrous stuff.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Oh, that's a shame, but it was worth trying. Better luck next time.

  8. kcblo

    Congratulations, Spacex

    and cheers to the future of humanity in space

  9. JJKing Silver badge

    And so it begins........

    When I started school we used a slate and chalk in the classroom. I was 12 when Apollo 11 was launched (it launched on my youngest brother's birthday and returned on the second youngest's one) and the technological advances I have lived through have been astounding. While the IT advances I have witnessed have been enormous, I believe that SpaceX launching, recovering and then reusing the same first Stage again has had the most or will have the most far reaching impact of all that I have lived through.

    I don't think I will ever witness another event like this until a *"Warp Drive" becomes a reality.

    *or a similar propulsion system that makes interplanetry travel like a bus trip between cities today.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And so it begins........

      Yes indeed. And now I dial into a call with my US colleagues every day! How cool is that?[1] And I can remember the grainy black and white images beamed live from the US on Tomorrow's World.

      So there you have it -- Tomorrow's World, today!

      [1] And if you are not impressed when I in my car can talk to some dude in the US in their car, then you have issues.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: And so it begins........

        10 years ago I could dial into a call with my US colleagues.

        Now the first 30mins of each meeting is spent trying to remember the passwd for the conference room skype-for-business account, then nobody can remember who set it up and what email address they used for the password reset. then we have 5mins of emailing each other regular skype account names and sending new connection requests to each other.

        Then we have a couple of minutes of wondering why we can't hear much and finding out that the conference table speaker/mic has been ignored in favour of the one on the webcam in the corner

        Sometimes I wonder if video conferencing will be replaced by morse code or smoke signals

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: And so it begins........

          @ Yet Another Anonymous coward

          Next time, just get everyone to join in a matchmaking multiplayer session on XBOX Live or PlayStation. You could even illustrate some graphs by leaving virtual bullet holes in a virtual wall.

        2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken
          Coat

          Re: And so it begins........

          "Now the first 30mins of each meeting is spent trying to remember the passwd for the conference room skype-for-business account, then nobody can remember who set it up and what email address they used for the password reset. then we have 5mins of emailing each other regular skype account names and sending new connection requests to each other."

          At the risk of sounding like a petty killjoy 1) or something - these problems have nothing to do with the technology you are using and everything to do with the way you internally organise how to use it. If you organise this sort of thing 2) PHB-style 3), expect PHB-style "results".

          1) Around here we have the wonderfull term Korinthenknacker for that. Which can be suitably modified for extreme cases by omitting the third "n".

          2) Or any other thing that needs a bit of organising in order to work.

          3) Giving further proof that true, unpredictable randomness is actually possible (but never from a machine).

          (Mine's the one with all the mind maps and Gantt charts in the pocket.)

  10. Alistair Silver badge
    Pint

    I'm ... not sure

    *just* how I feel about this - I mean, dammit, I've been waiting for this sort of thing since I was what, 6 or 7 and reading Clarke, Niven, et al. <ref Science Fiction Fantasy monthly>

    Shuttle was a *wow* thing at the time, but it had too many issues, but was so 'rocket science' it was just amazing.

    Elon is steering a company that is (in a very real sense) blowing the doors off the idea of rocket science, making it look more like train travel.

    And now, reuse.

    I'm not sure if he's making my childhood dreams come true or just ruining them by making it look easy.

    Here's to 'rocket science', and rocket's being "Green" (or at least recyclable).

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: I'm ... not sure

      Rocket engineering, like many things, always looks easy from the outside when it's working.

      Rockets are particularly fun because for the most part they either work, don't work or explode.

      Rest assured that the actual rocket engineers are working their socks off to make it not explode.

      1. Alistair Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: I'm ... not sure

        @ Richard:

        One of my relatives was a technical advisor to a member of the House Science and Tech subcommittee from the late 70's to the mid 80's. Trust me I *know* the rocket science ain't easy (I have some memorabilia that my relative's boss decided he didn't want, and am an avid space nut) . SpaceX is making it LOOK easy by quite literally running through about 1/10th the iterations than the ... old school rocketeers did. Part of this is lessons learned from that time frame, part of it is far better simulation tech, part of it is that he's approaching it from the perspective of *not* being the one slugging it to the tax payer and, I think, mostly because he is a bit of a crazy nut. That is how he got to where he is now.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "if he's making my childhood dreams come true or just ruining them by making it look easy."

      This "easy" of which you speak has taken 15 years and the losses of 5 payloads to get to.

      Sputnik 1 launched in 1956. It has taken 61 years to turn what was basically a design for non reusable WMD into a partly reusable design. Incidentally the fairing (which was recovered for the first time ever yesterday) costs about $6m a pop and weighs several tonnes as well. That's important if you want to lower launch costs radically IE 90%, not 30%.

      I don't think a reusable TSTO was anybodies childhood dream.It was wings or the squat plug nozzle designs of Philip Bono from "Frontiers of Space."

      1. Alistair Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: "if he's making my childhood dreams come true or just ruining them by making it look easy."

        @ JohnSmith.

        15 years I'll agree -- however - in actual manufacture and firing -- compare even against Arianespace, Spacex has lost far less hardware *overall*, but then, they've also not done "testing" in the same manner.

        5 Payloads -- yes, losses all. Certainly not unique to SpaceX. I've watched several launches that were outright losses. Khazhakstan, Florida, Guyana, all have seen hardware lost. Some have even lost people.

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: "making it look easy."

          Ars est celare artem ardua.1)

          1) If I may take the liberty to mix'n'match two famous British mottos.

  11. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Pint

    Way to go Space X. I can't add more than what's already been said about this... but I can raise a toast.

  12. Nolveys Silver badge

    At the risk of sounding ineloquent...

    ...this is fucking rad.

    Next comes third reuse, then fourth. The stuff that needs replacing too often will be redesigned. Reliability will increase, price will fall.

    Fucking rad.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: At the risk of sounding ineloquent...

      "Next comes third reuse, then fourth"

      Not with this one. It's staying at the cape as an exhibit.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Life extension tech

    I think Elon Musk will be the first person to live to 250.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Life extension tech

      One can hope. If he gets hit by a bus, we're f*cked.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Life extension tech

        All things being equal, if your life expectancy is 250 years, you have roughly a 3x higher chance of being hit by a bus over your lifetime than you would if you only live for the traditional three-score years and ten.

      2. Steve Foster
        Boffin

        Re: Life extension tech

        If that were to be Elon's exit, it would at least be fitting if it were a space bus.

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "One can hope. If he gets hit by a bus, we're f*cked."

        That's when we discover how good his management really was.

        A really good team is bigger than one person. Its goals cannot be killed so easily.

        And of course what are the chances of being hit by a bus in LA?

  14. JLV Silver badge
    Pint

    Good coverage!

    Txs for details of 80 vs 1 % cost breakdown. Puts significance of this event in much better perspective.

    Far as I can tell other news outlets mostly aren't bothering our poor lil heads with this unacceptable level of numeracy ;-)

  15. My Coat

    Kerbal Space Program

    Every time SpaceX hit the news, I feel the urge to fire up Kerbal Space Program again...

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Kerbal Space Program

      I still want them to produce an 'alternative' stream with the KSP interface to show the numbers...

      NAV ball, and Kerbal Engineer stats etc...

      1. Kugutsu

        Re: Kerbal Space Program

        I found myself trying to move the camera angle during the launch video too :P

  16. Ben Bonsall

    'Pass the savings on to the customer' => 'Pass the savings into the hollow volcano fund'

  17. Andy 97

    It's still pretty impressive.

    I'm still amazed by the dynamics and how they can take exactly the correct amount of fuel into orbit - and still have enough for breaking and landing.

    Some clever people working for Elon.

    1. nijam
      Coat

      Re: It's still pretty impressive.

      > ... still have enough for breaking and landing

      Not sure whether you mean "braking and landing" or "breaking or landing".

  18. Neil 44

    The first reusable?

    ""This mission is the fundamental key demonstration that our technology is capable for reflight," said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell. "No one has ever done this before." "

    Didn't someone called NASA have something called a Shuttle back in 1981 that was mostly reusable?

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: The first reusable?

      "Didn't someone called NASA have something called a Shuttle back in 1981 that was mostly reusable?"

      No. NASA had a thing called a shuttle which launched as part of a vehicle assembly most of which got thrown away at launch. The bit that returned to Earth was a small part of the total.

      1. Neil 44

        Re: The first reusable?

        Didn't they refurbish the solid rocket boosters too?

        https://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/technology/sts-newsref/srb.html

      2. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: The first reusable?

        "The bit that returned to Earth was a small part of the total."

        Not to put too fine a point on it (I'm not trying to say the Shuttle was the best thing ever), but you _are_ aware the SRBs were reusable as well, right?

        1. IsJustabloke Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: The first reusable?

          They didn't turn it around in 4 months though and as I understand it they pretty much replaced every component on the shuttle before each "reuse".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The first reusable?

            "as I understand it they pretty much replaced every component on the shuttle before each "reuse""

            Then you misunderstand it. Unless you have a different definition of "component"

        2. Lotaresco

          Re: The first reusable?

          "Not to put too fine a point on it (I'm not trying to say the Shuttle was the best thing ever), but you _are_ aware the SRBs were reusable as well, right?"

          I do think the Shuttle was brilliant and it's still up there as the best thing ever until something else comes along. However its reusability was always over hyped. Of the 2,030 tonnes launch mass just under 300 tonnes was reused each mission being about 100 tonnes orbiter and 100 tonnes for each SRB. The SRBs are really questionable on reuse since they were of course the component that caused the Challenger disaster and that's something that might not have happened had the design been throw away. No need to design the SRB as a series of demountable ring sections.

          1. no-one in particular

            Re: The first reusable?

            > The SRBs are really questionable on reuse since they were of course the component that caused the Challenger disaster and that's something that might not have happened had the design been throw away. No need to design the SRB as a series of demountable ring sections.

            The SRBs were assembled from sections because of the problems transporting them from the factory, not because they were reusable.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: The first reusable?

              "The SRBs were assembled from sections because of the problems transporting them from the factory, not because they were reusable."

              The reason for that problem was pork-barreling. They could just as easily have been built as single units much closer to site. But I bet the senators lobbying to build them so far away didn't get any share of the blame when it all went wrong.

              Edit, just spotted SkippyBings posts. That'll teach me to not get distracted half-way through composing my reply :-)

          2. Neil 44

            Re: The first reusable?

            ~680 tonnes of hydrogen/oxygen in the main tank

            ~450 tonnes of solid rocket fuel per SRB

            So that's ~1130 tonnes that can't be recycled as it has burnt!

            That means that 900 tonnes aren't burnt - so its about a 1/3 that got reused. I seem to remember the bit that didn't was the aux fuel tank...

            (why do NASA quote everything in lbs so I have to convert to tonnes?!)

            I do agree that the design of the SRBs was suspect - as was shown when one failed. But like much of the early space stuff, it was very much seat of the pants design!

            1. SkippyBing Silver badge

              Re: The first reusable?

              'I do agree that the design of the SRBs was suspect - as was shown when one failed. But like much of the early space stuff, it was very much seat of the pants design!'

              It really shouldn't have been, they could have bought a single piece SRB from Rocketdyne* made in one of the Gulf of Mexico bordering states and floated around to the Cape. However for political pork barrel reasons they had to go with Morton Thiokol who being based in Utah found it slightly harder to transport the complete rocket as one unit. Consequently they came up with the 'o' ring seal the working of which during launch wasn't even fully understood by its designer.

              *I think it was them.

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: The first reusable?

                " they could have bought a single piece SRB from Rocketdyne* "

                Rocketdyne did actually build a test article. I think it's still sticking out of the ground because it wasn't worth pulling it out of the test stand after their contract was cancelled.

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: The first reusable?

              "(why do NASA quote everything in lbs so I have to convert to tonnes?!)"

              It's a fascination with big numbers. Watch any US documentary, especially engineering ones, and they almost never uses tons, long or short, in particular when emphasising how big something is. They use 16oz drinks instead of pints FFS.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            2,030 tonnes launch mass

            Seems like that number would include fuel?

          4. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: The first reusable?

            Lotaresco opined "...the Shuttle was brilliant..."

            Yes, but...

            1) Cost per launch was something like $1.2B towards the end, which is frighteningly expensive. Reusability in this example proved to be much more expensive, which is silly.

            2) The failure rate was much higher than expected. In hindsight, I don't think that it would even qualify as 'man rated'. A very harsh criticism, but arguably true.

            3) Multiple fundamental design issues: No practical launch escape system. Turn around time worse than expected. Near-zero possibility of growth, the way vehicles often evolve. A distinct lack of simplicity. Designed for LEO only.

            Yes, the Shuttle accomplished a great deal. But I wonder where we might be now, if we had not been diverted away from better, faster, cheaper rockets for so many decades.

            We never went back to the Moon, at least in some small part, because of the Shuttle.

            Oh well, we're back on track now.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The first reusable?

        "The bit that returned to Earth was a small part of the total."

        Bits (boosters and orbiter)

        And those bits were essentially stripped down to bare metal each time and built from scratch again with mostly new parts.

        It was reusable only in name.

  19. Pat Harkin

    A rocket went up...

    ...didn't go BANG!!!! and came down again.

    On Guy Fawkes Night we call that a dud.

  20. 's water music Silver badge

    re-use?

    Has anyone ever seen Terry Christian and Elon Musk in the same room? Just putting that out there.

  21. Mikel

    Grand achievement

    Hopefully many many more coming up. Six more reflights scheduled this year.

  22. Annihilator

    "SpaceX cut the feed blaming video link problems but the feed came back just in time to show the Falcon 9 sitting on the sea barge"

    Cue conspiracy theorists in 3... 2... 1...

  23. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    Totally Boring

    Mission accomplished!

  24. anothercynic Silver badge

    Congratulations to SES and SpaceX

    Well done! This is a major goal to see realised.

    *applauds*

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Congratulations to SES and SpaceX

      oh yeah, whoopee. He has done what others have done before this time with more fanbois and tweets. There's nothing new here. Masten Space Systems, Armadillo Aerospace, NASA, Blue Origin and several other companies have all done it before (other than landing on a barge). Only time will tell if it lowers the cost of launching satellites. The Space Shuttle was supposed to bring the cost of operating in space down to very accessible levels and that didn't work out so well when it needed a standing army to turn them around and a couple of massive fails that killed the crew.

      We get in our cars or onto another form of transportation most days that is being used for decades before being thrown away. At one point in the past some MBA decided that it was cheaper to throw rockets away after each launch rather than recover them and use them again. I'll bet that it was never revisited as technology improved since it was just a given across the industry. That's how it was done because ______________. Elon didn't suddenly get the idea on his own to look into reusing the first stage. He was taken by technology developed by teams that worked on winning the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge in 2007-2009 and the DCX program. He even said as much.

      This is one of those things that looks all exciting and new from the outside and not if you have been in the industry and seen it all before. Frankly, I'd dig having a 1910 Baker Electric car with modern electronics and battery upgrade. Not nearly as aerodynamic as a Tesla Model S and nowhere near as fast, but much cooler in a retro sort of way.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Congratulations to SES and SpaceX

        'Masten Space Systems, Armadillo Aerospace, NASA, Blue Origin and several other companies have all done it before (other than landing on a barge).'

        Remind me how many satellites Masten, Armadillo and Blue Origin have launched on the top of a rocket that's going into space for the second time.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Congratulations to SES and SpaceX

          Or indeed the first time.

          Masten, Armadillo (now Exos) and Blue Origin have put exactly nothing in orbit so far. Of them, only Blue Origin even hope to do so within the next few years.

          NASA and SpaceX are currently the only entities to have ever re-used significant parts of an orbital space launch system.

          The leap from suborbital to orbital is very significant.

      2. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Congratulations to SES and SpaceX

        My my @MachDiamond, aren't we pissy! Blue Origin did *tests*. They haven't actually delivered *real* hardware for a *real* client into a *real* orbit on reusable hardware before.

        And yes, the Shuttle was *supposed* to be reusable and yes, because of the valuable freight (you know, those things called 'astronauts'), NASA was extremely risk averse and had much of everything replaced. At least it *was* all replaceable, not 'fly it once, then scrap it'.

        But doing this with satellites at a much lower cost is a nice goal to achieve.

  25. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Build by Airbus - in the UK and France!

    The reused part that is, don't know about the upper stage and satellite.

  26. Timbo

    Question: How many engines does....

    ...a Falcon 9 have?

    In theory it's nine, mounted at the bottom of the 1st stage.

    BUT: In the article there's a pic of the 1st stage "burn" where the "grid fins" are extended and there's fire coming out of the end of the rocket.

    The grid fins are at the TOP of the first stage. So, is there a small engine at the top of the first stage, that then slows down the rocket, so it can then do a "flip" and allow the bottom of the rocket to then face downwards and eventually allow the 9 engines "relight" and do the "landing burn"?

    So, is there a 10th engine at the top of the 1st stage?

    http://www.spacex.com/falcon9 for more pics.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Question: How many engines does....

      The RCS thrusters normally aren't considered engines per se, as they are very low thrust and specific impulse.

      They are only for steering in the vacuum of space, where aerodynamics arr irrelevant.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Question: How many engines does....

      Oh, and the camera for that photo is at the top of the first stage facing downwards.

      You're seeing the flame from the main engines, looking down the length of the stage.

      1. Timbo

        Re: Question: How many engines does....

        "You're seeing the flame from the main engines, looking down the length of the stage."

        in which case, one should be the unextended "legs" on the side of the 1st stage and NOT the grid fins....

        But as mentioned the grid fins are at the top of the first stage, so the pic implies the 1st stage is heading back to earth "upside down".

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Question: How many engines does....

          Camera at top of first stage, grid fins below, then legs (neatly folded until seconds before hitting the deck) then fire breathing equipment.

          First stage returns with the business end still pointing down

  27. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Floaty Fiberoptic Cables from the barge back to the Mothership

    "...blaming video link problems..."

    Yep, high gain satellite dishes on a barge is apparently fine, right up until you land a rocket on the barge. That's been very well established by now.

    So, solutions: Floaty fiberoptic cables (cheap, one-time use strands, a half-dozen in parallel) from the barge to the mothership a few miles away would be one fix. Or, a short distance comms link (with commensurate low gain antennas immune to bouncing) from the bouncing barge to the mothership. Thence onward and upward with the delicate satellite link back to SpaceX HQ. Plenty of obviously viable options. An easy Comms problem to solve. Very easy.

    PS1: Yeah, SpaceX is cool, etc. Yep, got it. This is another parallel thought on reliable comms for those with room for two thoughts at once.

    PS2: Yes, these *are* viable solutions. Clearly. And there are others. The satellite dishes do not have to be on the barges.

    The downvoters will flail away in spite of the facts. Go ahead...

  28. lockeptrv

    We're LOOKING for HO-HUM.

    Reusability, reliability, and low cost are the goals. And so the scribblers complain when things turn out well. Paid by the word, and overpaid at that!

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