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« OK, He's Apologized | Main | How Long Should A Life Sentence Be? »

A Heart Breaker

It looks like the private solar sail mission may have gone in the drink.

This just points up how ridiculous our space transportation situation is. There is no other field in which we would accept the horrifically low reliability of vehicles, and the only reason for it is that we've historically simply come to accept it, and won't demand better.

[Update on Wednesday morning]

Good news. Or at least better news. They seem to have found it. It's not in the right orbit, but it's in an orbit. Let's hope it's in an orbit that will last long enough to get it on its sunshiny way.

[Another update at 9:20 AM]

Emily Lakdawalla is blogging the progress.

[Update at 1:20 PM EDT]

Looks like the mission is history.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 21, 2005 06:26 PM
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Tracked: June 23, 2005 10:01 AM

In this case it was a converted Russian ICBM. I've been hoping for those to be unreliable for as long as I can remember.

Posted by David at June 21, 2005 06:50 PM

Sure, it's good for American launch providers' short-term profits to have the Russians be unreliable. But it's terrible for everyone who wants to get up there that the current providers can say "Look how much better than the Russians we are!" instead of being ashamed of their performance.

Posted by Karl Gallagher at June 21, 2005 09:20 PM

Sure, it's good for American launch providers' short-term profits to have the Russians be unreliable

I suspect David meant that the ICBMs were unreliable not the launchers intended for space access. In other words he was making reference to the intended purpose of incinerating people by the millions.

Posted by Brian Dunbar at June 21, 2005 09:49 PM

Actually, it is more properly a converted, ex-Soviet SLBM come to think of it. I can't get my mind around the fault of not having "demand[ed] better" reliability of Russian submarine missile technology. Bulky, slow to fuel, above ground boosters based on ICBMs of the Khrushchev era may be a different story. To the post-Soviet success in improving those I can wish qualified good will, I guess.

Posted by David at June 21, 2005 10:50 PM

Looks like they made it into some goofy sort of orbit.

It seems that the problems with both this launch and the prototype shot were terminal stage issues, which is where the Russians traditionally foul up (Polyus, Salyut-2, Mars '96, etc). I think the SLBM itself can be aquitted.

Posted by Duncan Young at June 22, 2005 01:08 AM

We've tried minor changes to improve reliability, the radical step awaits, are we ready for high energy fuels?

LiD, U, He4...

Posted by Norden at June 22, 2005 04:50 AM

>We've tried minor changes to improve reliabilty, the radical step awaits, are we ready for high enegy fuels?

Oh, wow -- you mean we could get to 95% of the dismal optimum permitted by the rocket equation, instead of just 92%?

Way radical, dude.

Posted by Geezer at June 22, 2005 06:23 AM

No, I mean we could get good results from the rocket equation with high ISP vehicles.

"Orion would reduce fuel storage costs three ways, first high ISP cuts fuel needs by 75-90%, second dry fuels are easier to store than liquids and third at low altitude NPP ships create a ram effect using air as part of the reaction mass."

Posted by Norden at June 22, 2005 10:43 AM

Orion works by ejecting nuclear bombs out the back. Only way you could get that funded and used would be if we were in an interplanetary war or some sort.

Posted by Gojira at June 22, 2005 11:02 AM

And you sure don't want an Orion drive with reliability problems ...

Posted by VR at June 22, 2005 03:43 PM

Norden, please accept my sincere apology. Less than an hour before reading your first post on "high energy fuels," I'd been fisking a passage elsewhere on the alleged potential of "zip" chemical fuels, monatomic hydrogen etc. -- and I simply and stupidly failed to process your "LiD,U, He4." Hence my response re the rocket equation.

We still don't know how much better in terms of Isp nuclear-thermal could be if it were implemented as a working, tolerably safe engine; I've always thought NERVA/Rover/Kiwi represented a stage of R&D comparable to Peenemunde c. 1935 at best. But there's no question that nuclear "external combustion" a la Orion would be a whole different ball game. (By sheerest coincidence, I'm lunching with Freeman Dyson today!)

Posted by Geezer at June 23, 2005 05:29 AM

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