Tuesday, June 8, 2010

SpaceX Launch Afterthoughts

It's been a few days since SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 test. I didn't post anything on this immediately on purpose, just so I could see how the mass media would digest this, and follow the blogs, and see what people thought.

News: Small quick blip on their radar. Typical.

Blogs: Loaded with opinions...like mine. Some informed, others not.

Reactions: Generally good. I guess all the SpaceX and Commercial Space haters went into hiding.

In summary, I wouldn't call this a victory, nor would I minimize the accomplishment. It was awesome! It was special, and it was vastly cheaper and better than the Ares-IX test launch. At least this went to orbit. There, I got my jab in. :)

Nevertheless, it's time to turn things around, check the data, do another launch, then ramp up for bigger and better things. All things considered, it was a good day for NewSpace and Government space, as one proved it's worth and the other probably gave a sigh of relief.

Now if we could just get the government to commit to a real plan with a serious deadline, like building a Moon Base in 10 years. :)


Bartacus said...

Re: cheaper than Ares I-X

You left out the cost of developing the engines for Falcon 9, which are both based on NASA engines (e.g. FASTRAC). Then there are the costs of any launch-related infrastructure (telemetry, radars, etc.). How much of that did SpaceX use? What were the costs?

That said, yes, I'm happy for SpaceX. I just wish the media was a little more factual and evenhanded (dare one say "fair and balanced") in its coverage.


Douglas Mallette said...

Bartacus - Well said. I'm not factoring that into the equation....somewhat.

Ares is a recycled system, but they spent a nice chunk of change on that anyway, AND they had to reset the whole original design because of that vibration issue, which also reduced its capability.

SpaceX has its own MC and had to rebuild...refit the launch pad somewhat for its use.

I'm sure we could nit pick down the line, but I still bet SpaceX ends up with a much smaller number.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Since Space X has launched payloads into orbit before, this was more of a propaganda victory for the Obama administration than any real technological breakthrough.

Of course, the easy part is getting something into orbit which other private companies like the ULA and Sea Launch have done many times before.

The hard part, however, is to routinely launch humans into space and bring them back safely to the Earth. Human safety requirements can dramatically increase the cost of any launch.

Douglas Mallette said...

I maintain that any increase in costs by the private sector for man launches will still be much cheaper than baseline costs for the government.

Norman Copeland said...

Wondering how many people could advance their knowledge of business for the sheer delight of looking at stars...

Bartacus said...


I hope you're right. The problem, of course, will be balancing what is necessary for flight safety vs. what NASA thinks is necessary from an extremely cautious, risk-averse point of view. And even with that view, they've still lost astronauts. I'd like to think that loss of business/profit alone would be a sufficient deterrent to Not F@#$ing Up, but as BP has proven, profit motive is no guarantee of wisdom or safety.

That said, Elon, ULA, et al., might be deemed "too big to fail," so that even if there is a loss of life on the commercial sector's watch, the government won't allow them to shut down, even if there's a public loss of confidence in their services.

Again, I hope the Obama bet is right on all this. We'll all find out the hard way, one way or another.


Douglas Mallette said...

Bartacus - Agreed on every point you've made.

I do have a feeling that oil tycoons have a different (lower) mental perspective than space explorers, but that's my bias sneaking in. ;)

Richard said...


I think it was a little unfair to say that the launch wasn't a real technological breakthrough. I am not at all an engineer, never mind a rocket engineer but naively I would think that Falcon 9 is a far more complicated beast than Falcon 1. Surely getting it to go right first time does represent a technological advance?

Personally it was great to see the problems that *didn't* happen this time. No recontact at staging, no (apparent) slosh problems in the second stage. Shame the parachutes on the first stage didn't work but I'm pretty sure that SpaceX will settle for getting to orbit first time out :) 'Company learns from mistakes, doesn't repeat them' really shouldn't be a surprise but it's still reassuring.

Quick thought about loss of life in NewSpace companies. Didn't Scaled Composites have that propellant accident a while back with the sad loss of three workers? Granted this isnt the same - media wise - as losing passengers but Scaled Composites still seem to be going strong.

- Richard

Norman Copeland said...

Lol... Yes, the wind does have a habit of doing what one says...

The arsenal of the situation dictates that on the highstreet the word is out.

Elon Musk wins.

Have a nice day.