In Praise Of Large Payloads

Joseph Friedlander discusses BFRs over at Next Big Future.

Absent a dire need (e.g., an asteroid heading right at us), I don’t see these vehicles being developed with the current market or political environment. They’re just too damned big, and they’d have too low a flight rate. I think that, barring some huge tech (probably nanotech) breakthrough, the path to space lies in small reusable chemical vehicles that grow in capability (suborbital, then on to orbit, with perhaps point-to-point in between), then size as their markets grow with them.

46 thoughts on “In Praise Of Large Payloads

  1. David

    I’m afraid I don’t think too much of any of those ideas. Most of them are just perturbations of “make nuclear rocket work, everything is cheap to orbit”, and “they made this conceptual design 40 years ago, so it must be better than the current designs.” I mean really, if we are going to assume perfected, non-polluting nuclear propulsion we might as well say “in a 10 kg package, too!” That way we can all have flying space cars in addition to rockets.

    I mean, come on, people are not that dumb – if a design from 40 years ago would work, they’d use it. Problems show up when you get into the details, not in a surface review. Some of them are probably workable (Sea Dragon was fairly complete, as I recall), but as a wise man once told me (Jeff Greason), “You can’t make space access cheap by spending a lot of money.” It is still true.

    Space access will be made cheap by developing small vehicles, not large ones.

  2. ken anthony

    Obviously these are not designs for today because there is no current market. Small or large is immaterial. The only consideration is how big is the market… that determines the most effective size and flight rates are probably the determining factor. Size and flight rates both go up as the market grows.

    The biggest growth will only come with colonization. I’m just glad that people have the imagination (and engineering talent) to think of equipment larger than any current market. It gives one hope.

    if a design from 40 years ago would work, they’d use it. In what world does rational thought rule? Certainly not this one. Your argument is equivalent to saying we are on the fastest growth curve with little inefficiency. I would argue that we have a staggering amount of inefficiency in our growth curve. Not being able to repeat fifty year old accomplishments when we should be far in advance of them today is just one point of evidence I offer to support this position.

  3. Jim Bennett

    The US was pursuing the Orion development fairly seriously when the Test Ban Treaty stopped it cold. No big technological show-stoppers were identified as they went forward. As for Truax, there was never an identified need for Sea Dragon, so it never got pursued. I.K. Brunel built the Great Eastern, a ship fifty years ahead of its time, which was never properly utilized because the market for its capacity didn’t exist. These ships would be similarly underutizied if they were built today. Only colonization would justify such capacities, and we will never have colonization until we have secure land title at the extraterrestrial destinations, which means sovereign control by an entity with properly protected constitutional rights.

  4. Dennis Wingo

    Have to agree with Jim here. If we did not have a Moon or any resources to latch onto out there, BFR’s might make sense. After ISRU gets bootstrapped there will never be a need for extremely large integrated payloads launched from the Earth.

  5. Brian Wang

    I think the volume could be there if there was a good plan and objectives to seriously develop space (industrialize, colonize and develop energy). Go for 500 (simple chemical, space dragon) then 1000 ton heavy lift (gaseous core). Try to take some near earth asteroids and use them for material. Put up 500 or 1000 ton versions of bigelow inflated structures.

    Bootstrapping with In space resources and small payloads makes all of the problems more complicated and takes longer.

    Orion stopped getting funding after it was the air force partnered with NASA and NASA would not step up for the budget. There was probably also the political overlay but I will be getting hold of the 2002 book and looking at the historical record as to what killed what first.

    Space Dragon had a NASA study which said that it would work and at the lower costs. Space Dragon would be cheaper to develop than Ares or Direct 2.0. Why do we need another small lift system ?

  6. Brock

    I mean, come on, people are not that dumb – if a design from 40 years ago would work, they’d use it.

    This argument isn’t even remotely valid. There are both numerous counter-examples and many use tests besides “does it work.”

    I hadn’t seen the Aldebaran concept before. Quite a monster. It looks like it could be an orbital cruise liner, which certainly sounds like a viable business concern (assuming a ticket price similar to an all-paid vacation).

    The primary problem with these designs in the absence of any near-term market I can think of for putting 1,000 tons in orbit in one go (rather than many smaller launched). But that doesn’t mean such a market would never appear. As just one for-instance, if launch traffic to LEO or beyond reached 2,000 people/day (or an equivalent amount of commercial cargo) perhaps one of these would make sense simply to cut down on the number of vessels launched per day.

  7. Edward Wright

    After ISRU gets bootstrapped there will never be a need for extremely large integrated payloads launched from the Earth.

    Or before.

    Here’s the problem, Dennis. If you invest all your money in a great big rocket up front (whether Mike’s Ares V or your Shuttle C), then all your payloads will be designed to require that great big rocket. Just like ISS components are designed to require Shuttle.

    That’s why Mike Griffin said Ares would be the only way NASA astronauts went into space for the next 40 years.

    At the same time, ISRU will never take off without affordable transportation. Building a complete mining and manufacturing infrastructure on the Moon is going to require more up-front logistics than enthusiasts imagine, and unless launch costs are reduced, that’s going to be a killer. Just as it was for ISS. That’s why none of the predictions about using ISS for building satellites, etc. came to pass.

  8. Dennis Wingo

    At the same time, ISRU will never take off without affordable transportation.

    Ed my brother this is where you have it backward. Affordable transportation will never take off without the demand generated by ISRU for small components versus large integrated payloads.

    The comsat market is just fine without RLV’s. The issue is not cost of launch but total cost of ownership. Until there is a market to support the NRE to develop an RLV, we remain SOL. To make the opposite argument that if you have an RLV the market will come, misses the gap between the availability of the RLV and the payloads. Payloads designed to fly on the RLV in parallel? Highly unlikely due to the risk of RLV failure.

    This is not a comfortable reality, but none the less, it is reality.

  9. Edward Wright

    Affordable transportation will never take off without the demand generated by ISRU for small components versus large integrated payloads.

    XCOR, Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, Rocketplane — which of those companies are depending on “ISRU components” to generate demand?

    The comsat market is just fine without RLV’s.

    So is the pickled herring market. So what, Dennis? No one is trying to justify an RLV based on comsats or red herrings.

    Until there is a market to support the NRE to develop an RLV, we remain SOL.

    The same can be said about your heavy lifter, Dennis. The NRE for Shuttle C would be larger than that for a small orbital RLV.

    The lunar market is too small to justify a $1 billion investment but large enough to justify a $5-10 billion investment? By what Bizarro logic does that work?

    To make the opposite argument that if you have an RLV the market will come, misses the gap between the availability of the RLV and the payloads.

    What “gap” is that, Dennis? Are you saying you couldn’t have your lunar payloads couldn’t ready by the time an RLV is ready?

    Payloads designed to fly on the RLV in parallel? Highly unlikely due to the risk of RLV failure.

    You don’t think ELV development failure is a risk? Have you looked at Ares I and V lately?

    If you’re really concerned about development risk, then you ought to design your payloads to fly on existing ELVs and still be compatible with (but not dependent on) RLVs that might be developed later. That way you’d have zero launcher development risk.

  10. Dennis Wingo

    XCOR, Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, Rocketplane — which of those companies are depending on “ISRU components” to generate demand?

    Talk to me when one of them reaches orbit. Different market, different investment needs.

    The same can be said about your heavy lifter, Dennis. The NRE for Shuttle C would be larger than that for a small orbital RLV.

    Except that this would keep all those kiddies well fed in Florida.

    What “gap” is that, Dennis? Are you saying you couldn’t have your lunar payloads couldn’t ready by the time an RLV is ready?

    The problem is Ed that no one believes today that there is a market for RLV’s therefore no one is going to fund one. Perception is reality. The gap between ANY RLV and ANY business in space is real. This is exactly what is keeping the Falcon 1 from being more than a niche player in a niche market until it is proven to be reliable and workable.

    You don’t think ELV development failure is a risk? Have you looked at Ares I and V lately?

    It does not matter what I think, it matters what the market thinks, and no one who builds spacecraft thinks that an RLV is going to work and therefore no one is going to risk building payloads for one until it does, therefore there is an inevitable gap between initial operating status and a market. Don’t shoot the messenger.

    If you’re really concerned about development risk, then you ought to design your payloads to fly on existing ELVs and still be compatible with (but not dependent on) RLVs that might be developed later. That way you’d have zero launcher development risk.

    Completely different animals. You are not going to build an RLV large enough to carry a GEO comsat and the small payloads, while they could easily be designed that way (I would argue that they already are), are by definition, cheap and there are only a few in the pipeline waiting to fly and after they fly, what are you going to do?

    I seriously think that the role of an RLV will be in support of ISS or some commercial station that has a flight rate demand that will justify the development costs of one. You also need a team putting it together that has far more experience bending metal than making power points.

    So what is going to drive a market that generates the demand that allows for the amortization of the cost of development of an RLV. This question must be answered or it is no better than your typical NSS presentation.

  11. Ken Murphy

    A point that one of the commenters (Brock) made at the referenced blog post was that “All that matters is cost/unit mass to orbit.” Except that it’s not. To think about it from a business perspecective, let’s look at the current situation.

    1) Payload insurance is not as difficult to get as it has been at points in the past, but it’s still not easy to get the insurance pool together to handle two sats at one time on an Ariane. If 20 metric tonnes to LEO is what most of the big rockets we have right now are launching to LEO, and getting insurance is not necessarily easy for that payload range, then how does one put together a risk pool big enough to cover, say, 100 metric tonnes to LEO all at once?

    2) Let’s say you’re a company that wants to put 3 Bigelow balloons and a Universal Docking Node in orbit. That’s four EELV launches, or one BFR launch. The smart choice is to go with the four EELV launches, so that that you don’t put your entire capital investment at risk at one time. If one rocket fails, that’s what you have insurance for, and you still have other pieces you can proceed with on a different EELV while they figure out what went wrong on the one that did blow. If a BFR goes kablooie that’s 100 metric tonnes of very expensive equipment, years of work and billions of dollars of capital, in the drink. Only the government can self-insure for that kind of risk.

    3) It is a generally understood principle of economics that higher production rates of a good allows for efficiencies and a reduction in the cost of any individual example of that good. The wider the customer base, the more of those goods that can be produced for a profit. Why the rocket industry should be an exception is something that escapes me. If the current launch market is 20 metric tonnes, then we should be lobbing as many 20 metric tonne payloads as we can into orbit,and pushing them further and further out. If we can’t figure out orbital assembly, then we don’t deserve to be spacefaring.

    I wish we had an RLV. We don’t, but we do have EELVs, and when enough payloads are making their way to orbit on disposables people are going to have to wise up and realize that RLVs are the better way to go. Eventually we may even have the permanent solution, a space elevator. But right now we’ve got throwaway rockets, and the business parameters that have evolved alongside the payload size. We can work with that, or we can keep babbling on about fantasy BFRs (Ares V or SeaDragon) and fantasy payloads and how great they’d be if we had them.

  12. Edward Wright

    Talk to me when one of them reaches orbit. Different market, different investment needs.

    Yes, and Bob Zubrin would say “talk to me when one of them reaches Mars.”

    That’s the old Kennedy/Von Braun mentality. If something’s affordable, it isn’t worth doing. “We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard….”

    How did that work out last time, Dennis?

    Except that this would keep all those kiddies well fed in Florida.

    You could keep them equally well fed by giving them contracts to build levees or highways — for less money.

    no one believes today that there is a market for RLV’s therefore no one is going to fund one.

    No one believes there’s a market for Shuttle C, either, Dennis. Yet, you’re still lobbying for it.

    The Moonies could *be* a market, Dennis, if you guys were willing to buy commercial transportation instead of squandering all your shekels on Ares, Shuttle C, and whatever comes next. (Shuttle D?)

    no one who builds spacecraft thinks that an RLV is going to work

    Really? Who has successfully developed a new spacecraft in the last 40 years, Dennis? The only one I know is Burt Rutan, and he certainly doesn’t agree with that.

    no one is going to risk building payloads for one until it does

    That’s a red herring, Dennis. As I explained before, you don’t have to build a payload specifically for an RLV. You could build payloads that are vehicle-agnostic, capable of flying on any of the current ELVs or any RLV that comes along.

    You could build a *lot* of payloads for what you’d spend building Shuttle C. You could even pay those kiddies down in Florida to build them, if that’s your first priority.

    Completely different animals. You are not going to build an RLV large enough to carry a GEO comsat

    Why do keep injecting comsats into this conversation? You don’t need GEO comsats to build your mining colony on the Moon, and no one needs Shuttle C to launch GEO comsats.

    the small payloads, while they could easily be designed that way (I would argue that they already are), are by definition, cheap and there are only a few in the pipeline waiting to fly and after they fly, what are you going to do?

    Building a big industrial infrastructure like you want on the Moon is going to take a lot more than “only a few” payloads, Dennis. I don’t care what you say about ISRU, there are a lot of items you’ll need that just aren’t going to be practical to make out of lunar materials anytime soon.

  13. Dennis Wingo

    That’s a red herring, Dennis. As I explained before, you don’t have to build a payload specifically for an RLV. You could build payloads that are vehicle-agnostic, capable of flying on any of the current ELVs or any RLV that comes along.

    Ed you can do all of the explaining you want but you are not going to change the realities of the market.

    You could build a *lot* of payloads for what you’d spend building Shuttle C. You could even pay those kiddies down in Florida to build them, if that’s your first priority.

    Yep, but that is not the political world we live in so there you have it.

    If you want an RLV, go build one. There is nothing stopping you from doing so, except several billion dollars, and a having a team put together that can do so. Even Elon admits that he is only going to lower prices around the margins now.

  14. Edward Wright

    Ed you can do all of the explaining you want but you are not going to change the realities of the market.

    And yet here you are, once again clamoring for the taxpayers to spend billions of dollars building a rocket for which there is no market.

    Yep, but that is not the political world we live in so there you have it.

    Political correctness, Dennis? Is that the best argument you can come up with?

    I was expecting something better this time. :-)

  15. Dennis Wingo

    And yet here you are, once again clamoring for the taxpayers to spend billions of dollars building a rocket for which there is no market.

    Nope, not clamoring for anything, just realizing what is going on and throwing a plan out that NASA could actually do successfully.

    Political correctness, Dennis? Is that the best argument you can come up with?

    Nope but it keeps those guys distracted while the other real companies continue to learn and grow.

  16. ken anthony

    Even Elon admits that he is only going to lower prices around the margins now.

    Which IMHO doesn’t mean what you think it means.

    “Elon, we’d like you to do this thing for us.”

    “Sure, I could do that for 50 mi…”

    “We were wondering if you could do it for 1.6 billion?”

    “Oh.. Oh sure. 1.6 billion? That was just what I was thinking.”

    He’s a good businessman. That’s all. No assumptions should be made about his margins.
    ——————————————-

    If somebody builds an RLV that gets to earth orbit a light bulb is going to go off… Hey, we just built a lunar taxi. Just in time for all those nations planning on putting bases on the Moon.

  17. Edward Wright

    Nope, not clamoring for anything, just realizing what is going on and throwing a plan out that NASA could actually do successfully.

    You thought ESAS was a plan NASA could do successfully. What makes you so sure you’re right this time?

    Do you know what they call it when you keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results?

  18. Carl Soderstrom

    Ken Murphy has a good grasp of the economics involved. (Once you have a basic grasp of economics, the world makes a whole lot more sense. Here’s a quick set of introductory lectures that I like:
    http://www.mises.org/media.aspx?ID=89&action=category ).

    One thing he doesn’t note (tho I’m sure he recognizes) is that 100 tons of water is far different to insure (may not even be worth insuring) than 100 tons of comsats.

    Competition in the marketplace will inevitably lead to differentiated solutions; in the same way that there’s 100s of ways to get a package from Georgia to Germany. Trip times and costs range from hours to months, and prices vary with the services and guarantees provided.

    I think that over time, the market will break down into a number of categories:

    – Very low reliablity, very low cost. Things like SS/L’s Aquarius launcher or Sea Dragon. Shipping containers of food & fuel up to LEO where a tug might grab them. If they blow up, so what? Launch another one. These could be sea-launched and therefore grow tremendously large.

    – Average reliability, average cost. Things like EELVs. It *probably* won’t blow up, and the performance is pretty good, but if it does fail the failure modes are not good. Launch things like satellites and high-dollar components on this.

    – High reliability, high cost. Your RLVs. Low payload performance, but designed to have comparatively benign failure modes. The only things that may justify the cost at first are people. All the extra bits added on (whether they be wings, parachutes, redundant systems, escape pods or flubber) will add to the launch cost and reduce the space available for cargo; infrastructure possibly imposing some upper limits on just how big these things can get. (For instance, you might have trouble closing a business case for a sea launch version; so you’re stuck with a winged vehicle that can only get as big as a 747, because after that the capital costs for custom infrastructure become prohibitive).

    The result of this differentiation is that customers will be able to choose the vehicle that fits their cost/benefit needs; rather than relying on a one-size-fits-none solution. (Which is the government route). Once a market has been established for any of these given classes, the vehicles will simply be iteratively scaled up (and made more efficient, for some metric of efficiency) to accomodate the cargo requirements.

    Trying to impose just one solution on the market leads us to the dead ends like Saturn V and the Shuttle.

  19. Godzilla

    I mean, come on, people are not that dumb – if a design from 40 years ago would work, they’d use it

    Tsiolkovsky wrote about liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rockets in 1903. How long did *those* take to be used? Hint: think J-2 powered Saturn V upper stage and do the math.

  20. Godzilla

    Nuclear pulse propulsion is IMO one of the great forgotten ideas in space history and will eventually be revived at some point.

    Nuclear pulse propulsion is not used now because:
    a) Governments control access to nuclear materials and won’t simply let anyone build a nuclear bomb.
    b) The smallest nuclear bombs are too dirty. Large nuclear bombs make little sense this point in time.
    c) It is too expensive for the kinds of payloads and destinations we are interested in right now.

    My hypothetical scenario for it to be used, disregarding alien contact or an impact with an asteroid, is to explore possible Earth-like planets in the stellar neighborhood. Sure, it would be too slow to send people in (unless you make one of those generation ships). But you would want to send a robotic mission for first anyway.

    If it is nuclear we are talking about, nuclear thermal with LOX afterburning makes more sense at this point in time. That would still be for upper stages or in-space propulsion. Governments would be more reasonable with providing low-enriched uranium than the weapon grade version.

  21. Edward Wright

    > – Very low reliablity, very low cost.
    > – High reliability, high cost.

    Sorry, but there’s no such thing. As the late Dr. Max Hunter once said, almost anything you can do to improve reliability also reduces cost, and vice versa.

    To answer your question, “If they blow up, so what? Launch another one,” building another rocket is very expensive and takes months, perhaps years.

    Propellant is cheap; hardware is expensive.

    Also, if you have to build a new flight article for each launch, then you have a new (i.e., untested) flight article for each launch. With all that entails for cost and reliability.

    > All the extra bits added on (whether they be wings, parachutes,
    > redundant systems, escape pods or flubber) will add to the launch
    > cost and reduce the space available for cargo;

    If those things increase reliability, they will reduce cost.

    If they didn’t increase reliability, why would anyone use them?

  22. Godzilla

    I guess you never read the other side of the argument Ed. That Germany launched thousands of V2s (which were complex liquid fueled rockets) while the Allies bombed the place into oblivion. That mass production and quality control can improve reliability and reduce costs, perhaps more than reusability can at this point. He just took the expendable argument to the extreme. For all their supposed benefits, no one has made a good reusable vehicle yet and it was not due to lack of trying. Virtually all the current space powers (USA, Russia, Europe, Japan) dabbled into it spending billions. Some even argue it helped bankrupt the Soviet Union, which is an interesting thing to say.

  23. ken anthony

    build a new flight article for each launch, then you have a new (i.e., untested) flight article for each launch.

    I cringe every time I hear variations on this line… expendables are a new rocket each launch and reusables are not. This is complete crap.

    You can say ALL rockets are new each launch… the difference is reusables have a wear issue and expendables have a quality control issue. I’d rather ride in an expendable with good manufacturing than a rocket with unknown fatigue issues… unless they over design the reusable… which they won’t because of the weight issues.

    When Elon launches a Falcon he’s not launching a new rocket. He’s launching a variation of a new rocket. He’s learning each time and getting it right. His F9, currently on the launch pad, is not a new rocket. That’s the whole point of the F1… so that the F9 doesn’t have to be a new rocket.

    Everybody would like to see a successful RLV. I hope somebody builds one so we can see the financial results directly instead of just debating it.

  24. Edward Wright

    I guess you never read the other side of the argument Ed. That Germany launched thousands of V2s (which were complex liquid fueled rockets) while the Allies bombed the place into oblivion. That mass production and quality control can improve reliability and reduce costs

    You guess wrong. I’ve read those arguments, I just don’t put a lot of stock in arguments that are not supported by the facts.

    The V-2 rocket was hideously expensive and inefficient. The Nazis spent more to build a V-2 rocket than a heavy bomber, but the V-2 could only be launched once while the bomber could fly again and again.

    Von Braun accidentally did the allies a favor by diverting German resources away from aircraft production into guided missiles.

    That mass production and quality control can improve reliability and reduce costs, perhaps more than reusability can at this point.

    Any evidence to support that notion?

    Do you know any companies are using produced V-2 missiles to deliver mail instead of reusable aircraft? If mass production and quality control make missiles cheaper and more reliable, how is Federal Express able to stay in business operating nothing but reusable aircraft?

    For all their supposed benefits, no one has made a good reusable vehicle yet and it was not due to lack of trying.

    Did you miss SpaceShip One? It was in all the papers.

    Virtually all the current space powers (USA, Russia, Europe, Japan) dabbled into it spending billions.

    Perhaps in some parallel universe, where giant fire-breathing Japanese monsters exist. :-)

    Unfortunately, in the world where I live, there’s been little serious work on reusable vehicles for space travel. Instead, we’ve spent hundreds of billions on the descendents of Von Braun’s V-2, with no significant improvements in cost or reliability.

  25. Edward Wright

    I’d rather ride in an expendable with good manufacturing than a rocket with unknown fatigue issues… unless they over design the reusable… which they won’t because of the weight issues.

    Yes, they will, Ken. All vehicles are “overdesigned” as you call it. Good engineers always include extra margin. Even expendables have margins. If you don’t believe that, just talk to Elon.

    Fatigue issues for reusable rockets will be better known than they are for expendables because reuseable rockets can be flight tested, recovered, examined, tested, and maintained just like aircraft are. Fatigue on expendables cannot be measured, it can only be estimated based on telemetry.

    When Elon launches a Falcon he’s not launching a new rocket.

    Yes, he is. You’re confusing a new vehicle of an existing design with a flown and tested vehicle. They are not the same thing.

    Every 737 that comes off the assembly line is a new airplane, even though Boeing has built hundreds of them. They don’t just flight test the 737 design; they also flight test the workmanship of every serial number that comes off the line. Both Boeing and the FAA require that.

    How many acceptance flight tests do you expect each Falcon to fly before it carries a $100 million satellite?

  26. Godzilla

    Do you know any companies are using produced V-2 missiles to deliver mail instead of reusable aircraft? If mass production and quality control make missiles cheaper and more reliable, how is Federal Express able to stay in business operating nothing but reusable aircraft?

    That is a disingenuous argument Ed. Aircraft scoop the oxidizer from the air and get lift from wings. That technique only works inside the Earth atmosphere BTW. It is lousy for spacecraft. We are talking spacecraft here right? Otherwise I will speak about how aircraft are lame and expensive, because oil and bananas are still sent by ship.

    Did you miss SpaceShip One? It was in all the papers.

    To hell with SS1. It has been done before. Ever heard of X-15? It was in all the papers at the time too.

    Perhaps in some parallel universe, where giant fire-breathing Japanese monsters exist. :-)

    Oh really? Let’s see our old friend the Space Shuttle

    the shuttle ended up costing $ 6.744 billion in 1971 dollars

    To be expected I guess. Now Let’s read a bit about ESA Hermes shall we?


    A total of $2 billion had been invested in Hermes when the project was cancelled.

    $2 billion spend and only paper to show! Neat uh? Next is NASDA HOPE… Hey this one was cheap! Only $305 million spent… before they wisely canceled the program. Still billions though (of yen of course). Let’s end on a pleasant note with something that actually flew, if even just once. Buran.

    The cost of Buran – 14.5 billion rubles, a significant part of the effort to maintain strategic and technical parity with the United States – contributed to the collapse of the Soviet system and the demise of the spacecraft.

    Let’s be nice and use black-market money conversion rather than the Soviet Union’s silly 0.6x conversion factor of ruble to dollar. Let’s divide that by 8. “Only” $1.8 billion. A bargain for sure.

  27. Edward Wright

    That is a disingenuous argument Ed. Aircraft scoop the oxidizer from the air and get lift from wings. That technique only works inside the Earth atmosphere BTW. It is lousy for spacecraft.

    The disingenuous argument is yours. I never said spacecraft should get their oxidizer from the air.

    Now, what does this have to do with your belief that the V-2 somehow proves expendable missiles are cheap and reliable?

    Or were you just trying to change the subject? :-)

    To hell with SS1. It has been done before. Ever heard of X-15? It was in all the papers at the time too.

    Yes, I have.

    If you knew about the X-15, why did you say no one had ever built a reusable rocket?

    And why am I arguing with someone who thinks he’s a Japanese cartoon character? :-)

    Oh really? Let’s see our old friend the Space Shuttle…

    the shuttle ended up costing $ 6.744 billion in 1971 dollars

    Ah, I see the problem.

    You’ve confused the Shuttle (and HOPE and Buran) with a reusable launch vehicle.

  28. Dennis Wingo

    You thought ESAS was a plan NASA could do successfully. What makes you so sure you’re right this time?

    No I did not Ed, and said so in no less of a place than the koolaid drinkers paper the Huntsville Times. I have said multiple times that if you wanted to pick the worst possible architecture for a spacefaring civilization you could not have done a better job at it than ESAS.

  29. Godzilla

    Ed:

    The V2 was cheap enough for a bombed up country to build and launch thousands of them in little over a year. That is more than any foreseeable launch rate. Automated production is even more improved now. Cost decreased from 100000 RM to 50000 RM in that year. If that isn’t enough of a proof regarding expendables, I dunno what is. How about this: all commercial satellites in the world are launched with expendables. Everyone who developed reusables dropped them. I’m sorry if it offends your eco-sense Ed, but Kleenexes beat handkerchiefs, and Styrofoam cups are cheaper if you don’t recycle them.

    SS1 is suborbital. I didn’t consider it, the same way I don’t consider X-15, the same way I don’t consider an ox cart. Its apples and oranges. SS1 reminds me of when Hiram Maxim couldn’t get his airplane to work, so he tried to made it into an amusement ride. He was quite successful BTW. At making an amusement ride. Oh, the apologists say, but Burt Rutan isn’t making an orbital plane, that is going to be SS3. Or Tier Two. Or whatever. Sure. I’ll wait for that sitting down thank you. Burt has managed to gain the attention of the public to spaceflight and that is laudable in itself. A spaceship designed by an airplane designer is IMO always going to be like a fish with a bicycle.

  30. Rand Simberg Post author

    The V2 was cheap enough for a bombed up country to build and launch thousands of them in little over a year. That is more than any foreseeable launch rate.

    This discussion has devolved to the point that I don’t really want to weigh in but it’s a little nutty to point to the V2 as a paragon of either reliability or low cost. There was a war on, and it didn’t matter if a large number of the expensive rockets didn’t hit their targets, as long as a larger number of them sort of did.

    Not to mention, of course, the fact that the leader of the country launching them was clinically insane.

  31. Edward Wright

    SS1 is suborbital. I didn’t consider it, the same way I don’t consider X-15, the same way I don’t consider an ox cart. Its apples and oranges.

    Apples and oranges? Really? You mean you didn’t know the V-2 was suborbital?

    How about this: all commercial satellites in the world are launched with expendables.

    Yes, at enormous cost, with poor reliability. That does not prove your belief that they are cheap and reliable.

  32. Karl Hallowell

    This discussion has devolved to the point that I don’t really want to weigh in but it’s a little nutty to point to the V2 as a paragon of either reliability or low cost. There was a war on, and it didn’t matter if a large number of the expensive rockets didn’t hit their targets, as long as a larger number of them sort of did.

    I disagree. There aren’t many examples of mass produced rockets capable of reaching space (if only on a suborbital trajectory), basically the V-2 and the ICBMs made by the US and the USSR. These missiles obviously don’t have the same requirements as some vehicle to LEO would have, but one can study how the vehicles were manufactured and derive partial answers to questions like whether launch frequency is an important economy of scale.

    Not to mention, of course, the fact that the leader of the country launching them was clinically insane.

    Maybe he was. But the people designing the V-2 were quite sane.

  33. Karl Hallowell

    Godzilla, you wrote:

    A spaceship designed by an airplane designer is IMO always going to be like a fish with a bicycle.

    Scaled Composites is also a spaceship designer since they designed SpaceShipOne (and SpaceShipTwo). So I guess it’s more like a bicycle designer with a bicycle.

    And if you try to cling to this argument, remember Boeing and Lockheed Martin are airplane designers. They also designed a number of successful rockets. Your analogy isn’t working.

  34. Edward Wright

    These missiles obviously don’t have the same requirements as some vehicle to LEO would have, but one can study how the vehicles were manufactured and derive partial answers to questions like whether launch frequency is an important economy of scale.

    Karl, you missed the point. Godzilla didn’t bring up the V-2 to study how launch frequency affects economy of scale. He brought up the V-2 because he thinks it somehow proves expendable rockets are cheaper and more reliable than reusable rockets.

    Yes, you can point to the V-2 as an example that shows rockets get cheaper as you build more of them. That question is not in dispute, however. It’s exactly what you would expect based on the learning curve, which is a fundamental principle of business and engineering economics that applies to all products and processes. If it didn’t apply to rockets, that would be a startling result, like finding out that the law of gravity didn’t apply to rockets.

    The question is not whether the learning curve exists but how best to apply it. Do we want to make rockets cheap, or do we want to make launches cheap? If the goal is to make rockets cheap, then it makes sense to build as many as possible and never reuse them. That will keep the assembly lines humming and drive the manufacturing costs down. But the number of launches will remain small, so the cost per launch will remain high. If we want to make launches cheap, we need to maximize the number of launches, not the number of rockets.

    Customers don’t actually want rockets, they want the service that rockets provides (i.e., launches). So, we need to apply the principles of mass production to launches, not necessarily to rockets. Saying customers should only be able to build a rocket once so factories can build more rockets is like saying customers should only be able to drive a car once so Detroit can build more cars.

  35. David

    like saying customers should only be able to drive a car once so Detroit can build more cars.

    Please, Ed, don’t give the Democrats any ideas!

  36. ken anthony

    >Good engineers always include extra margin. Even expendables have margins.

    We agree.

    >Fatigue issues for reusable rockets will be better known than they are for expendables…

    Can or may be; will be is putting it a bit too strong IMHO.

    >You’re confusing a new vehicle of an existing design with a flown and tested vehicle. They are not the same thing.

    Semantics. I don’t believe either one of us is confused.

    >Every 737…

    My deceased stepdad was a flight line inspector for Boeing before the famous Seattle sign that asked if the last person to leave please turn out the lights (after failure to get the SST contract.) I enjoy a good 737 example.

    >How many acceptance flight tests do you expect each Falcon to fly before it carries a $100 million satellite?

    That’s up to the satellite owner to decide. According to SpaceX bookings the answer seems to be somewhere between zero and one.

  37. ken anthony

    More explicitly, the sign said something like…

    Will the last person to leave Seattle, please turn out the lights.

  38. Edward Wright

    >How many acceptance flight tests do you expect each Falcon to fly before it carries a $100 million satellite?

    That’s up to the satellite owner to decide. According to SpaceX bookings the answer seems to be somewhere between zero and one.

    No, it is not up to the satellite owner. (At least, not until Elon manages to recover and refurbish a Falcon.)

    You’re confusing acceptance flight tests with development flight tests. Acceptance flight tests are not tests performed on a vehicle of a similar type; they are tests performed on every tail number that comes off the assembly line.

    Call it “semantics” if you like, but each vehicle that comes off an assembly line is a new article, and each article begins life in the “infant mortality” portion of the failure curve. Reusable vehicles can fly acceptance tests to get them past that point before they enter service. ELVs can’t. The implication should be obvious.

  39. Jim Davis

    “Reusable vehicles can fly acceptance tests to get them past that point before they enter service. ELVs can’t. The implication should be obvious.”

    Elon Musk is an idiot? :-)

  40. Edward Wright

    Elon Musk is an idiot?

    At a recent AIAA meeting, Elon said that he has long-term plans to develop reusable flyback stages for Falcon.

    So, even if you believe Elon is infallible, His Word does not agree with expendable theology.

  41. Jim Davis

    “At a recent AIAA meeting, Elon said that he has long-term plans to develop reusable flyback stages for Falcon.”

    I wonder why that isn’t his short term plan.

    “So, even if you believe Elon is infallible, His Word does not agree with expendable theology.”

    His deeds do.

  42. Rand Simberg Post author

    I wonder why that isn’t his short term plan.

    Because it requires a much greater up-front investment than he was willing to invest until he got the company off the ground?

    His deeds do.

    His “deeds” are that he has designed a vehicle that is evolvable to one with a reusable first stage.

  43. Jim Davis

    “Because it requires a much greater up-front investment than he was willing to invest until he got the company off the ground?”

    So ELVs are a more reliable means of getting a company off the ground than RLVs? Rand Simberg, extolling the virtues of ELVs. Ed, are you listening?

    “His “deeds” are that he has designed a vehicle that is evolvable to one with a reusable first stage.”

    This is interesting. Exactly what features does his vehicle have that makes it any more “evolvable” than any other ELV out there?

  44. Rand Simberg Post author

    So ELVs are a more reliable means of getting a company off the ground than RLVs?

    Not in general, no, but if you’re going after a limited existing market, probably. It’s not what I would have done if I had Elon’s money, but I wouldn’t have been trying to get to orbit immediately, either. I would have focused on suborbit.

    Exactly what features does his vehicle have that makes it any more “evolvable” than any other ELV out there?

    How about doing a little research to see what he says about it, since you consider yourself such an expert on his business plan, rather than flaunting your ignorance here?

  45. Jim Davis

    JD: Exactly what features does his vehicle have that makes it any more “evolvable” than any other ELV out there?

    RS: How about doing a little research to see what he says about it, since you consider yourself such an expert on his business plan, rather than flaunting your ignorance here?

    I think I have my answer. :-)

  46. Rand Simberg Post author

    Actually, I apologize for that, Jim. I didn’t realize that you were Jim Davis, because I’ve been sparring with a resident troll named Jim.

    Nonetheless, Elon has a story on that. You can agree or disagree (I’m an agnostic), but I’m not going to bother to go research it for you. He has a stated goal of reusability, so clearly he thinks (or at least wants us to think he thinks) that it’s a better way to go ultimately.

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