SpaceX

Dick Eagleson writes that it’s about to eat its young.

53 thoughts on “SpaceX”

  1. I’m getting my popcorn ready for the 9m hauls from Hawthorne. Can’t wait to see how that works out, inside baseball or no. Keep us right coasters informed on this one okay? Ooooor maybe Dick is missing the idea that these (final) assemblies will be done on-site in Boca Chica or Canaveral? With Vandenberg eventually relegated to just F9H flights?

    Yeah no propulsive landing for Dragon V2, ever? No thanks. I can see more clearly now why Elon is push hard for BFR/BFS.

    It’s a big step tho. We’ll see.

      1. You’re welcome. The volume and diversity of responses has been a surprise, but a generally pleasant one. I haven’t been keeping up here for awhile due to my spare time since Monday having been pretty much monopolized trying to tread water over at The Space Review. Thus the lateness of this response.

    1. Not as big a step in terms of actual development because of SpaceX methodology. Last year, I was a bit disappointed in Elon’s announcement because I thought ITS would slow things down.

      This new proposal is going to happen a lot faster than people think.

      1. Rocket flights over land, especially populated land, will face legal opposition. At least until they demonstrate safety even in the event of inevitable malfunctions, like airliners. No one likes a chance of a passing rocket crashing on their house.

      2. The question of BFR logistics came up in several comments and I replied to all of them. BFR’s can’t be launched from the Hawthorne factory itself so they would still have to be moved, somehow, to someplace else in CA to launch even if there were no regulatory hurdles to doing so.

        Thing is, if one has to move the BFR’s off the factory site anyway, there are a lot more docks and ports in CA than there are launch sites. It makes more sense to go to one of them and thence by ship or barge to one’s ultimate launch-from destinations – all of which are on various seacoasts.

        Getting from the factory to some port of embarkation is almost certainly going to be done by rail. That’s how Northrop sent off the 747 fuselage sections that were built in the plant before SpaceX bought it. There are tracks on the southern boundary of the factory site.

  2. I’m guessing that they’ll eventually say BFR stands for Bimodal Falcon Rocket, because it’s both a launch vehicle and a landing vehicle.

  3. I don’t think the Deep Space Gateway is completely dead. That particular orbit is too potentially useful to be a “line shack in the middle of nowhere”. Eventually something will have to go there, even if NASA isn’t the one putting it there.

    1. I’d say a DSG, if it were to exist, would more likely be destined for one of the Lagrange points than a lunar orbit where station keeping is a whole lot easier and less difficult to reach from LEO as well.

      Still like the idea of putting ISS at L4/L5 for parts. Why not have BFS tow/push it there?

      1. Without running the numbers, I’m pretty sure the ISS is simply too massive to move to an Earth/Moon L-point. It’d take a lot of propellant to do the job. It still would need resupply several times a year, only at an L-point that becomes more difficult. Add to that the fact that some of the ISS modules are already getting old. The first module was launched 19 years ago next month. All good things come to an end eventually.

        1. –Larry J
          October 3, 2017 at 11:44 AM

          Without running the numbers, I’m pretty sure the ISS is simply too massive to move to an Earth/Moon L-point. It’d take a lot of propellant to do the job…–

          Does that mean that the only reasonable option is to spend millions of dollars to permit us to de-orbit ISS [crash into the atmosphere at some point in time].

          What about selling it for scrap. And selling it for scrap is basically buying insurance of any possible liability related to ISS.

          Or you say de-orbiting ISS is basically buying insurance of any possible liability and is there any other options of buying insurance of any possible liability.
          So if ISS is sold, it doesn’t matter what the party does with the ISS other than will pay damages if any are incurred related to the continued existence of ISS.
          So nations could remove and bring back to Earth anything they want to return to Earth surface, then what is left is sold as scrap with idea that any liability connected to use of the scrap is paid for. So price of ISS is the liability insurnace which could be expensive but I would guess should less than 1 billion dollars- or coverage would + tens of billions of dollars.

          So if sold as scrap, could ISS or parts of ISS be sent to higher orbit. One could have chunks of ISS brought back to earth and be like the Berlin wall type thing. One could also have ISS or parts of ISS continue in LEO. One might take ISS to higher orbit and recycle the material. Or one only transport it to higher orbit if that somehow makes it have more value. And what would difference of value of ISS at LEO vs a ISS in higher orbit.

        2. I’m not sure I agree. But yes I’d have to run the numbers too. But since it’s already in a airless environment, even a low-g propulsion unit, (i.e. electric ion drive running of the solar arrays) would eventually get the job done.

          Resupply? Eh? Parts.. Think junkyard in space. Junkyards if you’ve ever needed one are very handy to have if not so nice to look at. However at L4/L5 and least for 50 years or so its NIMBY!

          I dunno, to me parts is parts. Why de-orbit that mass just to ferry it up again later in some other form? You’ve paid the freight once already and for the costliest part of the trip.

          1. Was it Orbital ATK that suggested using the Cygnus as a wet workshop or something? At the very least the ISS has an environment that can be used.

    2. You may be right about the potential usefulness of some constructed entity in that orbit, but the DSG, as so-far spitballed, doesn’t seem to be it.

      In the Old West, line shacks were only infrequently occupied and for short periods. The DSG would seem to be likewise. Based on what I’ve read about it thus far, it would only be occupied, for certain, by astronauts there briefly to add another piece to it. After it was “complete” – whatever that would mean – there seems no obvious purpose requiring it to ever be occupied again.

      The habitation module will be tiny and the logistics module looks grossly inadequate to support even one person for any “long-duration” mission, let alone DSG’s alleged maximum of four occupants.

      Supposedly, DSG would be where NASA’s Mars mission(s) form up. But DSG looks far too small for that purpose. The initial design provides no space for accumulating and storing, say, propellant, water or any other type of bulk consumable commodity a Mars expedition would require.

      By the time DSG would be complete, given SLS-Orion’s mingy launch cadence, the human population of Mars might be well into three figures courtesy of SpaceX’s BFR.

      DSG is just more too-little, too-late NASA pork busywork for legacy contractors.

  4. More savings yet could accrue from making maxium use of the cavernous payload bay of the freighter version of BFR’s upper stage to avoid all the origami engineering needed to get probes inside existing payload fairings.

    I want to believe this but I suspect there are those with a mindset of pushing the boundaries, so a larger payload fairing will just mean more possibilities for even more intricate origami and larger one off marvels of engineering that produce vast quantities of awesome wallpaper pics.

    However, with launch prices comparable to a F9 today but with vastly more payload, it does open up the market to these big colleges with billions in their endowment funds and many others with less than that.

    1. “… so a larger payload fairing will just mean more possibilities for even more intricate origami and larger one off marvels of engineering that produce vast quantities of awesome wallpaper pics.”

      Sort of like how my programs would run blazingly fast today were I using the software I was using 20 years ago. Or, I would be living large on my salary of today if my needs were what they were when I was 22. Everything is never quite enough.

  5. The Deep Space Gateway is now certifiably toast. When a 2-BFR mission can put 150 tonnes on the Moon and bring 50 tonnes back many times per year, it becomes straightforwardly possible—if I may indulge an American West analogy—to quickly and cheaply put as many Ponderosa main houses as one cares to on the actual lunar surface (or subsurface).

    But what would be more possible than ever before is the construction of an interplanetary class space ship crewed by hundreds or thousands and variable gravity stations.

    1. Yes. I, too, consider that a far more likely outcome over the long term. There will be things humans will want to do on both the Moon and Mars. But I don’t think either place is ever going to be anything but a hardship post. I foresee modest, transient populations of researchers and resource extractors on both bodies, but mass permanent settlement strikes me as unlikely. That’s not to say there won’t be at least a few hermit-types and misfits who try to make a long-term go of lunar or martian residence, but I think Elon’s vision of “Del Webb on Mars” is unlikely to materialize.

  6. It sounds to me like they’re not at all confident that Falcon Heavy is going to work.

    Maybe I’m just pessimistic, but I sense a whiff of desperation with BFR.

    I guess that Falcon 9 was a huge leap beyond Falcon 1, and BFR is a huge leap beyond Falcon 9. Hopefully they know what they’re doing.

    1. I sense a whiff of desperation with BFR.

      I don’t see that at all. What I see is that they took a fresh look; ran some numbers and came up with a surprising result…

      It just makes economic sense to move to BFR as quickly as possible. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with F9 or FH. F9 has a proven profit record. There is no reason not to believe FH would not as well.

      If BFR is cheaper, the tooling is straight forward, the engines are ready… it’s time to move on it.

    2. I am not sure this says anything about the FH from a technical standpoint, like will it or wont it work. On the business side, it is tough to tell. I think there was an interview with Gwynne Shotwell where she said they didn’t estimate the demand for the FH correctly. But the business serves to help Musk achieve his vision and not strictly for making profits.

      FH was supposed to begin the prospecting of Mars, it was never going to be efficient enough to move large numbers of people. With the cancellation of Red Dragon, FH no longer supports the larger vision aside from turning a profit. And Musk always planned on building a new launcher. The BFR says more about the previous ITS proposal than it does about FH, except that Musk isn’t deeply attached to the FH.

      It should be interesting to see how many F9/FH cores they stockpile before switching over to the BFR and how long it takes to get the crewed version of the BFR after the cargo one.

      1. Well, SpaceX already has a nice pile of Block 3 and Block 4 cores that are likely to get second and maybe even third uses in the coming year or so before being retired. Block 5’s are probably already coming off the line(s).

        There will be at least seven of these constructed to meet NASA’s human-rating demands before authorizing any people on Dragon 2. Maybe there will be more than seven built before the Falcon line(s) shut down – and maybe not.

        At ten missions between overhauls, even this handful of Block 5’s could – with the shorter-lived Block 3’s and 4’s remaining – cover all SpaceX’s likely needs for two years or more before any of the Block 5’s would have to be idled for refurb. After that, the same handful of Block 5’s could keep going for another year or more before a second refurb cycle even if SpaceX’s launch cadence rises to 40, 50 or even 60 missions per year in the years after 2018. By that time, BFR should be coming on-line at least for testing even if it doesn’t do so in time to make that “aspirational” first pair of Mars landings in 2022.

        During this time, SpaceX will have to continue making F9 and FH 2nd stages. These use much of the same tooling as the 1st stages, but are much shorter. Even after most of Hawthorne’s floor space is repurposed for BFR, there should still be enough spare space to keep a 2nd-stage construction area in service.

    3. Many allege to detect hubris in the BFR presentation. Desperation is, if nothing else, a unique alternate interpretation. But it’s hard to see what SpaceX would have to be desperate about. The company is having the best year in its history.

      So, yeah, you’re just pessimistic. They know what they’re doing.

      If there’s any attitudinal smell in the air wafting from Hawthorne these days, I’d say its more like pique mixed with steely resolve.

      SpaceX was obviously not happy about the sudden last-minute ration of crap they were served by NASA over Dragon 2’s propulsive landing. IMHO this was a childish way for some in NASA to express ire over SpaceX’s “presumption” – as they obviously saw it – in taking on that “adventure tourism” circum-lunar mission set for next year. I suspect some at NASA simply never believed Elon Musk was really serious about going to Mars and reacted badly when the Moon mission announcement made it apparent SpaceX was actually going to “intrude” – as they would see it – into deep space.

      BFR – particularly the accelerated schedule for its implementation enabled by its downsizing – is Elon’s way of getting to a point, ASAP, at which NASA is no longer able to arbitrarily mess with SpaceX’s plans ala Dragon 2. Part and parcel of that was de-scoping BFR to eliminate the need to take any of the king’s shilling for its remaining development beyond payment for already-contracted services. BFR is, in a very real sense, SpaceX’s own Declaration of Independence.

  7. Could be it was my own lack of effort, but this article was extremely helpful to me in understanding what the BFR does that the earlier rockets didn’t.

  8. I agree with Dick Eagleson for the most part. While this redesign to 9m diameter, which makes the vehicle smaller, takes care of some of the concerns I had I still think this is just too big of a step. There simply isn’t a market for it and there are too many problems which need to be solved to get it to work first. Elon would do well to have an intermediate design before this, like I have proposed here before. Elon’s repeating the same boneheaded arguments that lead us to expensive elephantine designs like the Shuttle and Ariane 5. The market simply isn’t there yet. Just because we have 747s it doesn’t mean the market for 737’s is gone now is it? SpaceX does not require this gigantic rocket.

    As examples of issues they still need to address:
    – they haven’t experimented with the cryogenic composite tanks. especially in a reusable vehicle.
    – the plumbing on this first stage is going to be a whole lot more complicated than even that in the Falcon 9. this was a major cause of issues in the Soviet N1 for example.
    – the video shows they plan to land the second stage in Mars (perhaps Earth as well?) with something like the DC-X’s flip over maneuver. this requires a whole lot more attention to the tanks and the plumbing design. this issue was never quite exactly solved in the DC-X. SpaceX should just keep the same lander configuration originally planned for the Red Dragon. If the problem is the landing legs popping out of the base of the vehicle (which I doubt is a real problem, I mean, Shuttle had landing gear as well, close to the nose of the plane even) then just produce the landing legs out the side of the vehicle.

    IMHO they should instead use base first reentry with a low L/D vehicle. The fact is the lower part of the stage is already made to withstand hot temperatures and the engine’s shock exhaust can serve as a way to reduce atmospheric friction heating.

    Because of the payload diameter the 9m vehicle won’t be easily road transportable anymore. It might still be possible to transport it over short roads with local authority permission, similar to how Airbus transports airplane sections across France in the middle of the night. But they need to build new infrastructure, close to either their Texas or Florida launch sites, to inspect, and repair the vehicles. Also they won’t be able to carry the vehicles to Hawthorne for testing anymore. Which I suppose is solvable by replacing the stage tests with hold down tests at the Texas launch site but this can be somewhat expensive and dangerous as the USSR’s experience with the N1 clearly shows. Building a test stand can be expensive but it’s important to solve issues early in the design process with minimal fuss like vibration or plumbing issues.

    RocketLab still has a chance as this rocket will be awfully expensive. Some users might want to launch at different orbits or with a specific launch trajectory for their payload and for this a dedicated launch vehicle is quite important. It’s all a matter of how they target the market. I hope their investors aren’t scared away by this. They shouldn’t really. I think Falcon 9 is much more of a formidable competitor to them than this will ever will be.

    1. You should never introduce more than a single new technology in any single vehicle. Look at what SpaceX is planning here. LOX/LCH4 staged combustion engines, LOX/LCH4 cryogenic tanks, reusable lightweight composite tanks for cryogenic fuel, vertical upper stage reentry, highly complex first stage with dozens of engines. It’s just plain insane. They need to rethink these plans to mitigate risk or it ain’t gonna happen.

    2. I would just make a vehicle in the Falcon 9/Falcon 9 Heavy class first with competitive parallel designs for both the composite and Al-Li tanks. Separately I would make a program for a reusable upper stage with the required technologies. Once that works then I would scale up the design.
      Another alternative would be to make a rocket based on the second stage of the BFR as a first stage. Saw off the nose section for the crew and cargo. Add an adapter which can be used to plug either a satellite orbit insertion stage or a crew and cargo section. Make that into a launch vehicle. Then once that design is proven, replace the engine bell nozzles for others more optimized for high altitude, and produce the larger first stage.

      1. I would just make a vehicle in the Falcon 9/Falcon 9 Heavy class first with competitive parallel designs for both the composite and Al-Li tanks. Separately I would make a program for a reusable upper stage with the required technologies.

        This seems logical. Could just creating a reusable second stage for the FH and F9 with the new engines and tanks be enough to work out the kinks for the BFR?

    3. OT: I recently had an idea for a variable geometry plug nozzle design. Similar to an AL-41F1S jet engine it would have 3D TVC petals. In the center it would have a cone with multiple positions similar to a MiG-21’s shock cone. Most of the time you need variable geometry it is to perform low velocity maneuvers so in those phases, to solve the issue of plug nozzles not having TVC, you would simply retract the plug nozzle when you need the TVC, and extract the plug nozzle when you go maximum burn without the TVC.

      Then again I don’t know if this idea makes sense or not.

      1. The advantage of a plug nozzle it not needing variable geometry to adjust to altitude. And the engine can have the effect of gimbeling by differential throttle in the chambers surrounding the plug.

        1. There are other designs that also avoid changing geometry. For example, one can put a bump in the nozzle to control where flow detachment occurs. Also, one can have two combustion chambers with a common nozzle (one annular chamber around the other) and only use one to get a higher expansion ratio.

    4. RocketLab still has a chance as this rocket will be awfully expensive.

      The cost to develop or the price they will charge? Not sure we can get good information on either right now. Development has been going on a while now so they have enough excess cash from current operations to do it. A price anywhere near F9 would be an amazing achievement.

      There simply isn’t a market for it

      We don’t really know because there isn’t a way for the market to exist right now. The real market is Musk though. He wants to do something and can’t because the market doesn’t exist. He is creating the conditions for the market to exist. How it unfolds is tough to say but there are companies that would like to use the capabilities a BFR provides.

      Any prices around what the F9 has now will mean the current market is served, even though there might be unused capacity. Because there could be unused capacity and/or more available capacity for a similar price, companies will use it somehow.

      So, some of the market is there but the other part can’t exist until it has a means to do so. Chickens come from eggs and the BFR is the egg that will grow the chicken. But you can’t have an egg without having a chicken first and the F9 market is the chicken laying the BFR egg.

    5. I was wondering when the Orbiter landing gear would be mentioned. In addition there is the 17inch main disconnect. The disconnect is on the bottom of the Orbiter in black tile territory. The disconnect “closes” after the External Tank separation and there ain’t no QC around to verify proper closure.

      I am sure there was a reason ‘for dropping propulsive landing but the technical ability to pull off ‘pop-thru” landing legs was not the point

      1. No, they were not the point. The point was to, metaphorically, smack SpaceX’s hand with a ruler for being “impudent” enough to invade what some at NASA still consider their monopoly turf – flying Americans into deep space.

    6. Godzilla also posted these comments to my piece over at The Space Review. Anyone interested is invited to read my replies over there.

  9. Oh and I think this launch vehicle can’t be done in anytime less than 5 years but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up taking a decade or never being built, at least not in this configuration.

      1. Sure. You can quote me on that. The TSTO BFR will not be ready in less than five years in this configuration. If ever.

        1. Okay, I’ll go on record too. SpaceX will fly BFR for the first time – and it will be a freighter version because that is what is initially needed both for Mars and to launch satellites – in three years or less.

    1. What if they just roll out just the BFR as a TSTO and adapt a fairing to it that would allow them to MIRV Dragon V2’s? Until the BFS is ready, which I consider the real stretch here. It’s great pie-in-the-sky. I have no numbers… Anyone think it is possible?

      1. Well, the laws of physics don’t absolutely rule it out, but, no, that’s not going to happen.

        Building huge composite BFR stages is going to be complicated enough. Building a monster fairing is just pointless extra work that would never earn back its costs. And there are other difficulties.

        Starting with where one would test such a thing in a space-like environment. NASA Plum Brook’s huge vacuum chamber, where SpaceX tested the F9/H’s payload fairing, isn’t big enough to accommodate a fairing that’s actually the same size as a BFR second stage. Those are 48 meters long. That’s more than 35 feet longer than the Plum Brook vacuum chamber is high.

        A fairing wouldn’t have to be that tall, of course, just to cover three Dragon 2’s arranged in a triangle within its 8-meter-plus inner circumference.

        But, short or tall, a fairing is no place for a Dragon 2 to be if it’s actually carrying people. In the event of serious booster trouble on ascent, Dragon 2 needs to be able to fire its Super Dracos and bug out. Needing to first separate a fairing would not, to say the least, be at all helpful in that regard.

        That would be especially so should misadventure strike while still within significant atmosphere. Payload fairings are designed to separate in effective vacuum. With significant air still streaming past, the gas piston mechanisms SpaceX uses to separate fairing halves would be unlikely to have enough moxie to do the job.

  10. If the Ares nee SLS is Apollo on Steroids, the BFR is the Shuttle on Steroids.

    Rand, remember you saying it would be a long time until a vehicle with the myriad of capabilities of the shuttle once again flies?

    If the BFR gets constructed, would it not also be able to do everything the Shuttle could and more, except land on a runway like a plane?

    1. More like the Shuttle-that never-was on steroids. I refer to the original design studies that incorporated a huge flyback booster.

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