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SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

timothy posted about 6 months ago | from the not-at-the-same-time dept.

Space 125

mosb1000 (710161) writes "SpaceX is reporting that they've successfully landed the first stage of their CRS3 Falcon 9 rocket over the Atlantic Ocean today. This is potentially a huge milestone for low-cost space flight." In another win for the company, as the L.A. Times reports, SpaceX also has launched a re-supply mission to the ISS.

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Doh! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793117)

Feist poost!

Not sure about the recovery test (3, Interesting)

cbhacking (979169) | about 6 months ago | (#46793133)

If you read the LATimes link, SpaceX says they believe the first stage recovery was probably not successful, on account of very rough conditions (25' waves - about 8m - where the rocket tried to come to a hover over the water's surface). They were sending ships out to see, but estimated the odds of success at only 40%.

If anybody has an update on that attempt, please post it!

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (3, Interesting)

cbhacking (979169) | about 6 months ago | (#46793155)

Bah, sorry for the self-reply...

"Data upload from tracking plane shows first stage landing in Atlantic was good! Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal. Several boats enroute through heavy seas..." is the latest we've heard. They're calling it a success, though, which is hopeful! I don't know if they were expecting to get more than 8 seconds or not, and whether "booster went horizontal" was expected or not (got hit by a wave, maybe?) - but they know a lot more about what constitutes success than I do.

Pity about the rough conditions, though. Would have been *awesome* to see the first stage re-light and hover after a real launch. Maybe next time...

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793199)

"whether booster went horizontal was expected or not" ... the booster was never going to manage to stand on the water for any significant length of time...

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (5, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 6 months ago | (#46793225)

They soft landed, that's a success whether they are recovered or not. You didn't expect them to stand upright in the water like a buoy did you?

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (4, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 6 months ago | (#46793839)

Well, this is the commemorative weekend for an ancient Israeli dude who reportedly could walk on water, died and turned into a zombie. So, if that was possible, who knows, maybe Space-X can stand their rocket on water.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46794003)

Was it an actual soft landing, though? Water seems much more problematic than dry land to me for this feat since rockets tend to be brittle and moving around such masses at single-meters-per-second levels of speed in the vicinity of other heavy masses (like water) without having control over pressure points (like landing gear) and impact impulses (in the presence of changing terrain contours, like water has) is going to break something. Rockets aren't designed to handle random dynamic stresses like that, they're designed for minimum dry mass (and some sustained axial stress), sometimes at extreme costs (look up the thickness of Atlas fuel tanks, up to but not including Atlas III).

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 6 months ago | (#46795257)

Well, if they managed to bring the thing to a complete stop 8m above the water and then just drop it, that's still an incredibly soft landing compared to the traditional method of dropping it from a few dozen miles up at high speed.

I would assume the rocket was unrecoverable in a "reusable" sense - as you point out it wasn't designed for a water landing, and there is absolutely no point in doing so since this was only a full-scale proof-of-concept "landing" before attempting it on actual land. At most they would be looking to recover the rocket to analyze it for flight-related damage that could help to improve the next rocket - after all this is the very first rocket to manage anything remotely resembling a soft landing after a real-world orbital launch, there could be a great deal to be learned from it towards improving the reusability of the next rocket they build and launch. Ideally by the time they're confident enough in the safety of the landing procedure to attempt it over land, they will have worked out enough of the kinks that they can actually attempt to reuse it. Presumably in a situation where success is not assumed. A high-risk, cut-rate orbital launch perhaps? Or maybe just just a test firing.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 months ago | (#46795407)

SpaceX has a series of tests going on in New Mexico at Spaceport America (they've already built the launch/landing pads at this spaceport) that will do gradually higher flights until they anticipate going to 300k feet (technically the Kármán line). These are sub-orbital (mostly just up and back), but they will test the flight procedures and give confidence to regulators that flying the Falcon 9R (for recoverable or reusable) back to Florida won't end up in Miami and sit on somebody's breakfast nook. This is a part of the Grasshopper series of tests, but they have a fully functioning Falcon 9 core that they are testing right now rather than the somewhat smaller Grasshopper that was shown earlier. A video of a test performed last week by SpaceX can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UjWqQPWmsY [youtube.com]

I agree that the engineering data that can be recovered from one of these stages is more than worth the effort from a pure R&D perspective alone. It took decades before Jeff Bezos recovered the F1 engines used on the Apollo missions, and those were in pretty sad shape when they were recovered (having hit the ocean at terminal velocity... likely bell end first). SpaceX has been trying to recover the 1st stage of their rockets since the first Falcon 1 launch many years ago, and this particular launch is the closest that they've been able to get in terms of one that has soft landed.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46795521)

These are sub-orbital (mostly just up and back), but they will test the flight procedures and give confidence to regulators that flying the Falcon 9R (for recoverable or reusable) back to Florida won't end up in Miami and sit on somebody's breakfast nook.

Since Miami won't be there in a hundred years anyway, I wouldn't make such a big deal of it even if they managed to do just that. ;)

SpaceX has been trying to recover the 1st stage of their rockets since the first Falcon 1 launch many years ago

"Recover" as in "fetch the debris from the sea", or "recover" as in "have it land nicely"?

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 months ago | (#46795921)

"Recover" as in "fetch the debris from the sea", or "recover" as in "have it land nicely"?

That is "recover" as in "having it land in once piece so we can perform engineering analysis on what worked and didn't work in our engines" (from the perspective of SpaceX).

The earlier recovery systems that SpaceX tried to put into place were some parachutes into the upper parts of the 1st stages. SpaceX doesn't talk all that much about their failures, but apparently the parachute recovery systems were an utter and miserable failure for SpaceX, which is one reason why they have gone to the active thrust recovery system that was tested yesterday. Gwynne Shotwell talked briefly about the parachute system in her interview with David Livingston on the Space Show, when trying to explain why SpaceX is using this particular approach.

The earlier approach would have been more like the Shuttle SRB recovery approach, where some salt and seawater would be flushed out of the system after an at-sea recovery. They really did try to do this, but the dynamic loads on the parachutes were simply too much and even a multiple drogue chute system wouldn't work... at least in terms of being able to fit within the rocket equation at the same time and being able to deliver a usable payload.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

macpacheco (1764378) | about 6 months ago | (#46795597)

Real soft landings require land or calm seas.
Perhaps the criteria SpaceX needs is:
  1 - Prove the rocket touchdown was precise (no more than a few meters off)
  2 - Prove the rocket wasn't spinning or otherwise unstable instants prior to touchdown with water
  3 - Show the rocket didn't break up for some time after splashdown
  4 - Try to recover the rocket
From what we know, criteria 1,2 and 3 were met. Criteria 4 is unknown so far (and is the least important one).
With criteria 1,2 and 3 being met should be enough to give SpaceX hard data to convince NASA, FAA and USAF to at least allow for a near shore splashdown on the the launch (if not a real landing on terra firma).

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (5, Informative)

esperto (3521901) | about 6 months ago | (#46794155)

" You didn't expect them to stand upright in the water like a buoy did you?" Actually I would, when the booster from the shuttle land on water (here is a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] ) at first it goes horizontal but a few seconds later they go back straight up, because it is basically an empty cannister with some quite heavy engines on the bottom. IIRC before they start tugging the booster divers have to attach some hoses to pump water into the booster and make them go horizontal.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

ultranova (717540) | about 6 months ago | (#46794443)

You didn't expect them to stand upright in the water like a buoy did you?

Why not? Engines at the bottom and empty fuel tanks above them. That sounds like a buoy to me.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (4, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46793175)

Data upload from tracking plane shows first stage landing in Atlantic was good! Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal. Several boats enroute through heavy seas...

The issue is NOT whether they they recovered the stage, but whether it landed at slow controlled speeds. Apparently, SpaceX feels that it did 'land' on the water. As such, one or 2 more times with this, and they will be able to put it on land.

Personally, I think that bringing it all the way back to the cape is a mistake. Instead, they should use one of the old oil rigs that are out there. Clean it up, land it on the rig, and then offload with a crane to a barge and take it back for launc.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 months ago | (#46793215)

The issue is NOT whether they they recovered the stage, but whether it landed at slow controlled speeds

Also whether it landed at the planned location to within a metre or so, given that the plan is to land on a barge.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (3, Informative)

beelsebob (529313) | about 6 months ago | (#46793223)

No, the plan was to land in the sea, and to have helicopters near by. Only in the future do they plan to do very accurate landings.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

cjameshuff (624879) | about 6 months ago | (#46794025)

They're already doing precision landings with the Grasshopper vehicles. The only splashdown landings are going to be tests of the vehicle control, like this one, where the vehicle is not intended to be reused.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (2)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46794289)

I seriously doubt that spaceX has ANY intention of landing on barges. They move too much. Instead, an old oil rig would make far more sense.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 6 months ago | (#46795093)

Why would you land at sea at all though? After the testing phase at least. Once they're confident that they can land as intended, then they would presumably land someplace convenient for recovery and reuse, most likely at or near the launch site - a location already equipped to deal with all the horrible things that can go wrong during a launch.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 months ago | (#46795451)

The current plan is to return the rocket to a place near the launch pad where it left (depending on the launch site, there will be some designated landing zone which will be built... might even be under construction right now at all SpaceX launch locations).

The speculation about the oil rig centered on the fact that SpaceX will soon be launching from southern Texas (assuming that they have made up their mind about that location in spite of already spending nearly $100 million on real estate and infrastructure at that location). Since the path going eastward from Texas is over the Gulf of Mexico, there are literally thousands of oil rigs that can be used for this purpose if they decided to use one of those spots instead of going all of the way back to Brownsville.

An advantage of going that route is simply no extra delta-v is needed to reverse course and cancel the horizontal momentum that was earlier used to send the rest of the spaceship into orbit. Such a recovery system doesn't help with launches from KSC, so it makes no sense to build a special rocket that can be used in Texas and another one that is needed for Florida.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 6 months ago | (#46795715)

Of course they still have to neutralize the horizontal momentum, otherwise they crash into the ground with only a high horizontal speed instead of having a high vertical speed as well. All a separate landing pad saves them is the fuel required to fly back to the launch pad - but they'd then need a ship to carry the rocket from the sea-based landing pad, and then transfer it to some sort of overland vehicle capable of carrying a 200 foot long rocket massing over 500 tons. Considering everything I've heard is that flying it all the way back to the launch pad only adds a tiny percentage to the needed fuel, which itself is a tiny percentage of the cost of a launch, it seems like that's adding a whole lot of complexity for very questionable benefit, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if flying it back was actually cheaper than the alternative.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 months ago | (#46796671)

Flying back they have to cancel momentum twice, and fly the reverse of the outgoing trajectory. And they have to fly their rocket towards land, which means that populations on the ground would be at risk.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 months ago | (#46796653)

Oil rigs are very expensive to move and maintain. It would be hard to achieve ROI doing it that way. They might be better off with an adapted freighter. They could get a ship for 10 million USD.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (4, Informative)

Hadlock (143607) | about 6 months ago | (#46793273)

The rocket (1st stage) when empty needs almost no fuel (about 4% of the total fuel at launch) to return to the launch site and land. The upgraded Falcon v1.1 has 10% more fuel at launch as well as increased cargo capacity (more efficient engines). Hitting a floating barge means you have to have good conditions at the launch site, as well as 400 miles out at sea as well. That dramatically limits your launch capability and exponentially increases your recovery costs.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46794035)

The rocket (1st stage) when empty needs almost no fuel (about 4% of the total fuel at launch) to return to the launch site and land.

That seems unbelievable, given its hypersonic speed and considerable downrange distance at the point of first stage separation. Any real numbers on that?

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (4, Informative)

cjameshuff (624879) | about 6 months ago | (#46794183)

It got up there while carrying a lot more propellant and a whole second stage. The braking burn uses only 3 engines to limit the acceleration and ends with just enough propellant left to stop it when it reaches the ground. On top of this, it gets passive aerodynamic braking the whole way down.

The mass ratio for the first stage burn, burdened with the second stage and braking propellant, is probably around 4, and a braking burn with equal delta-v would need the same mass ratio, except with no second stage and ending with the rocket empty. The overall first stage mass ratio is around 30, so all else being equal, a return would take around 3/29 = 10% of the propellant on the first stage. But all else is not equal, the returning rocket is mostly empty tanks descending through a thick atmosphere that provides plenty of braking, so the final burn only has to bring it to a halt from terminal velocity, and I omitted the second stage propellant. Overall, 4% sounds quite reasonable.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46794579)

If I got the numbers correct, "4% of the total fuel mass" of an F9 v1.1 is something like 18 tons. 18 tons also happens to be almost exactly the dry weight of the F9 v1.1 first stage. Combined with the fuel's Isp, that projects to something like 2 km/s delta V. That happens to be precisely the projected separation speed for the reusable first stage, so you'd have just enough fuel to decelerate from an undesirable velocity vector to zero. Let's say that the atmosphere has somehow helped you - saved a bit of fuel to leave you with a few seconds of burst for a soft landing. First, congratulations, you've managed to land, but not anywhere near the launch pad since you had no fuel left to cover the rather considerable downrange distance. Second, you're effectively claiming that those ~20 tons of fuel make a 1,4 km/s difference at separation speed (the separation speed for the non-reusable flight profile is somewhere around 3,4 km/s), even at the final mass of ~100 tons for the dry first stage plus fully fueled upper stage. That must be some wonder fuel they got there! I'm sorry, but that still doesn't add up for me. Still missing the real numbers.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (2)

cjameshuff (624879) | about 6 months ago | (#46795543)

It doesn't need to brake to a complete stop and then retrace its outgoing path, it needs to bend it's largely-upward trajectory into one that comes back down over the landing site, and manage its velocity so it doesn't go too high and hit the atmosphere too fast on the way back down. As for the difference in separation speed, the flight profile for the reusable flights may very well take a more vertical trajectory during the first stage burn, the first stage taking on more of the gravity losses and going more for altitude rather than speed, and the ratio of propellant loading between the first and second stages may be different for reusable flights...they could oversize both at a minor cost in mass and tweak the ratio to suit the launch, the maximum loading being set by the first stage thrust rather than the total tank capacity.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46795829)

Right, that is the only thing that would make sense - you simply can't use the traditional "flat" trajectory (because that wouldn't make the velocity vector "largely upward" - it's largely horizontal for expendable first stages) with such a small amount of fuel - you'd either need more fuel to cancel the horizontal momentum and to put it on a return ballistic trajectory (one that would have somewhere around 700-1000 m/s of terminal velocity in vacuum, though), or you could redesign the whole flight profile and use a combination of gravity and aerodynamics to save fuel when returning along a steeper trajectory, even if it means greater gravity losses for both the first and the second stage. I'm just uncertain about how they want to deal with the dynamic stresses when hitting the dense atmosphere at higher speeds. Well, I guess we'll simply have to accept that they wouldn't be doing this if they thought it wouldn't work.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Hadlock (143607) | about 6 months ago | (#46795645)

The weight of the fuel decreases as you burn it out the back of the rocket, increasing efficiency For each second of the burn. Second, did you account for the rotation of the earth underneath the rocket? Zeroing out the forward momentum does eat up most of the fuel, but you don't need a whole lot of forward velocity to fall down a parabolic arc from that height to return home. Landing requires about 60m/s of delta v at it's new mass.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46795757)

I'm aware of all the things you mention, but they're irrelevant since they don't answer the issues (in the case of the Earth rotation, they don't even make sense since the launch goes eastward and with small flight distances over a mostly-eastward trajectory and with small altitude changes, you'll hardly notice the effects for the purpose of designing the first stage trajectory). OTOH, cjameshuff [slashdot.org] rightly points out that the only way of coping with this with the small amount of fuel allocated for the return phase would a complete redesign of the flight profile, since the overwhelmingly horizontal component of velocity of the traditional "flat" launch trajectory is a show-stopper. You have to take the return leg of the first stage into the calculation of the new flight profile, but in that case, all the numbers go completely off and we won't be able to infer anything applicable to a flight with a first stage return leg from this recent test flight.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Megane (129182) | about 6 months ago | (#46794195)

Where did this "floating barge" thing come from? They're landing it on the water right now so that it doesn't cause property damage if it fucks up. When they feel confident that it can stay under control and on target, they'll have touch down on land. A floating barge is a hell of a lot more difficult than dry land, with no advantages.

mod parent up (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46794303)

Exactly right.

Hopefully, later on, they will put it on an oil rig, rather than taking it all the way back to land. That will allow a lot more payload.

Re:mod parent up (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 months ago | (#46795525)

They are returning to the launch site, not an oil rig. The only point of a barge would simply be for logistics of moving the stage from one launch site to another or from the factory in the first place.

The odd proposal I've heard is for SpaceX to fly the stage from the factory in Los Angeles to the launch sites prior to full integration. It would save them the hassle of trying to get wide load permits and limits due to the size of an overpass... something that currently limits the maximum diameter of the cores. This has been suggested for the MCT 1st stage, which is going to be one huge beast of a vehicle and likely won't even make the trip through the Panama Canal if put on a barge. The MCT 1st stage is also supposed to be eventually a recoverable/reusable stage.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46794295)

Anybody that thinks that they will land this on a barge is kidding themselves. SpaceX has never said that, or hinted at that.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (4, Insightful)

Sivaraj (34067) | about 6 months ago | (#46793349)

The purpose of recovering it is to cut costs. Even if the stage becomes reusable, how much it is actually going to save is still an open question. In such case, landing it offshore, and transporting is not going to help with the costs.

SpaceX is audacious, but I am sure they will take all precautions and won't attempt to land it in the pad, unless they are highly confident that it will work.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (3, Interesting)

benjfowler (239527) | about 6 months ago | (#46793823)

Even if there isn't much to reuse, there are tremendous advantages to recovering the engines, and having the engineers tear them down to the last nut and bolt. Merlin will end up becoming an incredibly reliable rocket engine -- even more than now.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46794313)

considering that fuel is less than 1/4 of a million $, if they can land the first stage, either on land or an old oil rig, AND can get 10 launches from it, they will save 1/3 of their costs. And that is just for the first stage.

Knowing SpaceX, they will cut their price by at least 1/6, so that they pick up just about everything flying, and make increased profits to put into more R&D.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

jcr (53032) | about 6 months ago | (#46793495)

Clean it up, land it on the rig, and then offload with a crane to a barge

It would be way cooler if they just gave it a minimal fuel load and flew it back to the cape.

-jcr

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46794321)

cooler? Perhaps. Cheaper and more profitable? Not likely if they are getting only say 10 re-uses.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about 6 months ago | (#46793895)

Instead, they should use one of the old oil rigs that are out there. Clean it up, land it on the rig, and then offload with a crane to a barge and take it back for launc.

That is actually rather brilliant. Even if they had to invest in modifying a rig or building their own platform, it eliminates the potential hazard to humans. Maybe if they could demonstrate successfully landing a dozen or so, then they could land them at a spaceport.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794795)

The problem with that is that Blue Origin owns a patent to landing a rocket on a barge.

Re:Not sure about the recovery test (1)

Ben C. (2950903) | about 6 months ago | (#46795403)

Surely this is their reason for wanting to build a launch facility in Texas? Launch in Texas, land in Florida.

And a Russian 'tug' was there (5, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46793163)

Interesting that a russian naval ship (called a tug, but how many miles off florida coast ? ) was there at the landing site to watch this.
I think that everybody who continues to knock SpaceX, is realizing that they are all in serious trouble.

Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 months ago | (#46793219)

It used to be trawlers...

Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793759)

Russia is trying to determine how fucked their Soyuz commercial launch business is. The answer is "completely".

Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 6 months ago | (#46793931)

I doubt that. Competition will force them to upgrade their proven design. (To an unproven design, the irony.)

Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46794281)

Not any time soon. There is no doubt that multiple russian ships including subs, and I will bet Chinese sub has been there as well, have been offshore of florida looking for parts, esp. electronics. The algorithms are what will be of use to them.

Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 6 months ago | (#46794415)

You mean the algorithms that were developed in the 1950's and are unchanged to this day? I suspect any C2 code used by SpaceX would be rather useless to them... but then again that has never stopped them from stealing it anyway.

All Russia has to do is be cheaper. So they make their craft lighter or some such.

Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 months ago | (#46795695)

If SpaceX gets their spacecraft to become reusable, they have announced formally that their price will ultimately be $7 million per launch of the Falcon 9... with an assurance that the payload to orbit will remain the same. BTW, that is 10 metric tons of stuff to LEO and about 5 metric tons to GEO. If all they get going is just the reuse of the 1st stage, it will still be about $40 million.

Russia can't be cheaper through reduced labor costs or economies of scale through mass production to get to these figures. You have the rocket equation that really stops you from doing much in terms of a substantially cheaper piece of unobtainium from which you could construct the rocket and real world physics starts to push back at any significant weight reduction that they haven't already done. At that $7 million per launch, it is starting to strain the raw material prices, which implies they could only compete if the launches were heavily subsidized as a national policy. I could see Russia trying to do that simply to maintain control of the launch market, but that isn't a realistic long term prospect if the launch industry really takes off due to these much lower prices to orbit.

The only thing they can do is once SpaceX gets a viable reusable rocket system going, RKK Energia is by necessity going to start their own reusable rocket program and try to duplicate the efforts that SpaceX has done so far. Arianespace and the Chinese Space Agency is also going to need to do this as well simply to stay in the commercial launch market... or give up that market completely to SpaceX and perhaps other American companies.

Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794023)

I heard the head of Mercedes said it's just some passing fad.

Re:And a Russian 'tug' was there (0)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 months ago | (#46794331)

I heard the head of Mercedes said it's just some passing fad.

Referring to Tesla, not SpaceX.

And just like the German head of Airbus had it wrong about SpaceX, MB now has Tesla wrong.

Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (3, Informative)

wisebabo (638845) | about 6 months ago | (#46793195)

The landing of the first stage in the Atlantic (a process that required decelerating it and bringing it to a hover just above the surface of the ocean before letting it fall in), is part of the resupply mission to the ISS. That is, once the first stage boosted its cargo towards the ISS, it then performed this test.

Too bad that they didn't try to return the first stage to land and then try to land it there but I understand their desire to do things one step at a time (it's safer this way also). I'm curious to know if this first stage had landing gear attached (maybe not because of the additional weight, drag). Also, in the future when they DO try to land it on land, where will they be aiming? If the flight profile of the first stage is mostly vertical then, without much fuel I guess they could return to Florida, otherwise would they be going for a Caribbean island? The Azores or Canary Islands? Africa? I'm sure they've got this figured out, I'm just curious.

Anyway, if they manage to recover the first stage by soft landing it without dunking it in salt water, it could REALLY drop the costs of space flight, even if they don't manage to reuse the 2nd stage (which they plan to do also). I remember reading that of the $20 million cost of a launch only about $500,000 was due to fuel, so this is a complete game changer. Even if the stage can only be reused a few times it'll make access to low earth orbit (the expensive part of space travel) much cheaper!

I only hope and pray that it works reliably and that the weight penalty is not too great! I thought they would have to use a lot more fuel to slow down and turn around but I guess they're using air resistance for the braking and the (now almost empty) booster is very light. Pretty unbelievable when you see a 10 story tall rocket turn around and land on a pillar of fire.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (2)

clj (153252) | about 6 months ago | (#46793235)

> I'm curious to know if this first stage had landing gear attached

Yes, and they were hoping that that would contribute to ameliorating the roll problem they had on the first attempt to slow down the first stage on its way to landing (actually, watering). So, the bad sea conditions and (most likely) not recovering the first stage are unfortunate but it seems like they are making progress, and doing so without interfering with performing a successful mission for a paying customer.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (5, Informative)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about 6 months ago | (#46793237)

I remember reading that of the $20 million cost of a launch only about $500,000 was due to fuel, so this is a complete game changer.

Right idea, but wrong numbers. A Falcon 9 launch, not including the cost of the payload itself, is nearly $60M, while the fuel for it is only a quarter million.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793277)

Well well well if it isn't Mr thermoelectric transistor! Hey did you find that textbook for me yet?

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about 6 months ago | (#46793291)

Well if it isn't... no one knows, because it's an AC.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793307)

Irrelevant who I am. You made the claim, you back it up or admit you're full to the brim with internet excrement. Most of your posts reek of autistic word salad anyhow...

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794187)

No textbook, eh? Then please don't say that transistors use heat to turn on and off...

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793323)

And what will you do in low Earth orbit? It's still just the upper atmosphere, there's nowhere to go and space is empty. What's the obsession?

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (2)

DougF (1117261) | about 6 months ago | (#46793761)

About 400 years ago: "And what will you do when you get to the new lands? It's mostly empty, just a few natives prowling about, and a lot of trees. What's the obsession?" Answer: "To get the fuck out of here..."

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794011)

Yeah, except that there is a shitload of natural resources in America, which the USA is profiting from to this day. Unless you expect something like asteroid mining, there is no profit in space travel whatsoever. It's just some billionaires paying another billionaire, but that's a zero-sum game.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 months ago | (#46795727)

Yeah, except that there is a shitload of natural resources in America, which the USA is profiting from to this day. Unless you expect something like asteroid mining, there is no profit in space travel whatsoever. It's just some billionaires paying another billionaire, but that's a zero-sum game.

Right, telecom satellites are totally useless and not needed, so the several billion dollars each year those companies make from those satellites are just imaginary. Ditto for things like Google Maps and other surveying satellites.

BTW, there is a company who is setting itself up for asteroid prospecting too, by the name of Planetary Resources [planetaryresources.com] The interesting thing is that they have a business plan that essentially makes them a profitable business just from other space-based activity for equipment they plan on using for their prospecting.

I could name a dozen other space-based activities that make LEO profitable... indeed it is already profitable for quite a few companies. That you seem to be ignorant of commercial activity in space right now, you can continue to have your luddite dreams.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794103)

Why would you want to "get the fuck out of here"? Are you uncomfortable where you are? Is a sucking void full of deadly radiation and empty rocks the solution to your perceived problems? Get some help.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (1)

amorsen (7485) | about 6 months ago | (#46794171)

If Mars was as hospitable as the Americas, we would have settlers there already. If Mars was as hospitable as Antarctica, we would probably have a permanent manned science station there already.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794381)

Even if Mars were as lush as the Amazon rainforest, just getting there is quite a challenge. It's not even remotely comparable to the Europeans' boats. But ol Douggy up there was fishing for an easy +1. If you ever need to build your karma on slashdot, just regurgitate the usual Space Nutter talking points and you'll get a +5 insightful. But just try to question those beliefs, and it's -1 troll right away. The Space Nutters have very thin skin.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 6 months ago | (#46794435)

Note they weren't (and still aren't) lining up to go to the Arctic... which is a hell of a lot more accommodating than space is.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 6 months ago | (#46794643)

There are no polar bears on Mars. Just sayin.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 months ago | (#46795859)

Note they weren't (and still aren't) lining up to go to the Arctic... which is a hell of a lot more accommodating than space is.

Just a bunch of oil companies who want to make claims all over the Arctic Ocean. Are you sure that nobody wants to fight over ANWR? Ever hear about Prudhoe Bay?

Yeah, nobody wants to go into the Arctic as obviously there is nothing to find there.

Don't even get me started about Antarctica. Oil and mining companies would have boom towns of over a million people crawling all over that continent if it wasn't for the current international ambiguity over property rights in that part of the world... an ambiguity that everybody involved is putting off in the hopes it doesn't trigger World War III so they try to give it a nice face by saying it is exclusively for scientific research. I don't mind the current state of affairs in Antarctica and I think all of the natural resources which can be found there are better found in some asteroid instead from an ecological viewpoint, but using the argument that we should settle Antarctica first before going to the Moon or Mars is a false argument to make because doing so is currently illegal and the governments of the world are active in preventing people from doing so.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (4, Interesting)

gman003 (1693318) | about 6 months ago | (#46793333)

I'm curious to know if this first stage had landing gear attached (maybe not because of the additional weight, drag). Also, in the future when they DO try to land it on land, where will they be aiming? If the flight profile of the first stage is mostly vertical then, without much fuel I guess they could return to Florida, otherwise would they be going for a Caribbean island? The Azores or Canary Islands? Africa? I'm sure they've got this figured out, I'm just curious.

This test did have the landing gear attached and deployed during landing, as the aerodynamics of it are potentially problematic (one of their tests failed when it entered a spin before landing).

The first stage flight path doesn't seem to be mostly vertical - I'm having a hard time finding solid info, but based on images of the first-stage separation, I'd estimate it to be no more than a quarter of the way across the Atlantic. I do know that their plan is to return the rocket to the launchpad for landing, which wouldn't make much sense if it was much further away by stage 1 separation.

Their flight path does seem a bit weird, though - of the Space Shuttle abort modes, Return to Launch Site was the riskiest and most difficult, compared to Transoceanic Abort Landing (landing in a European or African site) or Abort to Once Around (doing a full orbit then landing as normal). Either the Falcon is accelerating far faster once they break the atmosphere, or the Space Shuttle accelerated horizontally a lot earlier than it may have needed to.

Re:Test and launch are the same, it is GREAT! (4, Informative)

subreality (157447) | about 6 months ago | (#46793499)

RTLS, TAL and AOA all relied on the main engines. If all three SSMEs failed they would have ditched it in the Atlantic. The scenarios aren't really comparable - they had a lot more fuel to work with but also a much heavier vehicle to return.

RTLS is easier for the Falon 9. After separation the stage 1 assembly is quite light: it has shed the payload, second stage, and most importantly, most of its own fuel; the remainder is about 5% of the original mass. It can therefore make a pretty quick burn to reverse its course.

They have some real numbers over here: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.c... [nasaspaceflight.com] .

Yes, but... (1)

jd (1658) | about 6 months ago | (#46793441)

Is it in either the Kerbal Space Program or Elite: Dangerous?

If I can't launch it or blow it up, how can I know if it really exists?

Re:Yes, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793677)

Surely it's available in orbiter?

What a shame. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793901)

Thousands of years of scientific development, and the popular media and its howling audience gives the credit to one banker and the people he took out of other established organisations to stick his brand name on.

The beginning of the end of space exploration was when Khrushchev decided that competing against the US was a better tactic than discovery for its own sake. The second blow was Reagan, whose new marketing-directed NASA paved the way for the Challenger disaster. Teat-sucker SpaceX is the final nail in the coffin.

The West and the Soviet Union did more between 1940 and 1970 than they'll do for a long time, and if we really need to see advancement, we're now going to have to look to India and China. China in particular understands that progress comes not from the Invisible Hand, but from directing your resources to a primary goal of human development. (If you doubt this, just look at every other facet of modern American life and economy.)

Re:What a shame. (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 6 months ago | (#46793937)

China will have their 40 years in the sun, at which point they will be surpassed by Brazil or possibly Canada... who will have a good 25 years of dominance.

Re:What a shame. (1)

sconeu (64226) | about 6 months ago | (#46794747)

At least the Canadians will be polite about it.

Re:What a shame. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793953)

So, do you go out on weekend evenings with friends, or do you sit around trying to make new ones on the internet with posts like these?

I bet you're great at parties.

Re:What a shame. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793991)

Well, I'm house-sitting a beautiful old place on the beach for a friend, IOW rent free get-away. I have a wonderful view across the sea beneath a clear blue sky, a cool glass of rum and coke, and a Wifi connection.

I'll worry about socialising tomorrow, but today I'm enjoy the sort of peace and property that came not from irrational short-termism but a country which once knew how to be great. I love this place, and that means I also feel sad when things go wrong. Being passionate is not the same as being blandly upbeat.

Re:What a shame. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794029)

Perhaps, but NASA made their own bed to lie in half a century ago when they decided their launch systems should be made of the most pork possible. No need to scoff at private enterprise being more efficient and agile than government.

Basically, this is a story about SpaceX continued success and the fact they are pushing technological boundaries. However, you managed to squint at this and see nothing but squalor, failure, and abrogation of duty, plus a hint of civilization collapse.

You seem to be a person who delights in finding the cloud behind every silver lining. This is odd for me to say, because I'm a goddamn engineer and no one has ever accused me of not being cynical.

Re:What a shame. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794085)

I've no doubt that NASA's partnerships with Boeing & co. have been their own downfall, but I don't think we can conclude from that anything about private enterprise being more efficient and agile. Testing an incremental improvement by a single business (building primarily on public designs with publicly-educated employees while risking public money) is incomparable to the revolutionary developments made by the US and Soviet governments during the middle of the 20th century. Howver, it's not about public vs private, but about technocratic goal-directed development vs ideologically motivated short-termism.

I'm not sure how you can make a conclusion about my whole person based on my love for something and disappointment that it has gone in the wrong direction. To cheerlead a project merely because small progress has been made, ignoring the bigger picture, is the height of pessimism: it is to set one's aim too low.

Re:What a shame. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794143)

So, instead of being pleased that there is progress and promise of future developments, you decry that some undefined, perfect approach is not being pursued instead?

You seem to pine for the earliest days of space exploration, forgetting that the primary reason it advanced so quickly was that it was a proxy fight during the Cold War. It has consequently stagnated since Apollo. SpaceX is at least free of the baggage that a government bureaucracy inevitably brings.

As for incremental development, so what? All technological development is incremental, if you take a very reductionist viewpoint. It's also nonsensical to complain evolutionary improvement of existing technology is somehow less worthy than "revolutionary" developments. What did you expect SpaceX to do? Reinvent rocketry? Come up with some alternate physics?

Also, if you are insinuating that the government has some proprietary interest in what people do after receiving "public education", then fuck you very much.

Do I want to see even more space exploration? Yes. I would also like to see a future where governments don't have a monopoly on access to space. I see significant potential here.

Re:What a shame. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794245)

"SpaceX is at least free of the baggage that a government bureaucracy inevitably brings."

For now. You think corporations are immune to bloat and infighting and cults of personality? These are human traits. The only times you can bypass these horrible human tendencies is during wartime. Look at how the SR-71 was developed.

Re:What a shame. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46794135)

". I have a wonderful view across the sea beneath a clear blue sky, a cool glass of rum and coke, and a Wifi connection."

So why the fuck do you care so deeply about dying in a deadly sucking void? There's nothing in space. The space age was the RESULT of "Thousands of years of scientific development", not the driver. So who cares? Your romantic fantasies about space are a delusion. Space propaganda. Get over it.

Re:What a shame. (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 6 months ago | (#46793957)

China in particular understands that progress comes not from the Invisible Hand, but from directing your resources to a primary goal of human development.

Which, presumably, is why China has done in 40 years what it took the US eight years...

Re:What a shame. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46793977)

Sorry, what has "the US" done (something from scratch?) in 8 years?

China was nothing before the last 20 years. It took the Soviet Union a good decade or two to ramp itself up from feudalism into modern civilisation too. Both needed to start by putting technocratic principles at the core of their policies, just as the US did in the middle of last century. But the US already had a good hundred years of stability before that which was fairly friendly to scientific development - not that there's any shame in not being the fastest if your priorities bring the benefit of not routinely abusing the majority of your citizens on a whim. China is, shockingly enough, coming ever closer to striking an honest balance.

Re:What a shame. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 6 months ago | (#46794223)

China was nothing before the last 20 years

Wait, what?

Re:What a shame. (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 6 months ago | (#46795401)

Sorry, what has "the US" done (something from scratch?) in 8 years?

First satellite in orbit to first lunar lander by the USA - eight years.

First satellite in orbit to first lunar lander by China - 40 years.

Re:What a shame. (1)

Isca (550291) | about 6 months ago | (#46795601)

This has way more to do with the political motivation to spend the money required than technical know how.

Re:What a shame. (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 6 months ago | (#46796375)

This has way more to do with the political motivation to spend the money required than technical know how.

And the Chinese inherited the technical knowhow, since they went after the US. So, given the technical know-how, the Chinese still took 40 years, after watching us do it in eight.

Yeah, there was a lot of "who cares?" from China that saw them ignore space for a long time. But even after they started taking it semi-seriously, there was still a couple decades before they managed that lunar lander (made with 21st century tech) that the US did in eight years (using 1960's tech).

And again in English please? (3)

clickclickdrone (964164) | about 6 months ago | (#46794009)

SpaceX Lands Launches Load to ISS

WTF?

Re:And again in English please? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 6 months ago | (#46794065)

s/es/ed/
"Lands Launched Load" sort of makes sense. Except the launched load won't dock with the station until Sunday.

Re:And again in English please? (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 6 months ago | (#46794099)

Do you expect a Slashdot headline to make sense?

Re:And again in English please? (1)

Livius (318358) | about 6 months ago | (#46794293)

I'm going to guess 'launches' then 'lands', but I could be wrong.

Re:And again in English please? (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 months ago | (#46795777)

Worse, the editors at Slashdot thought it was a separate flight rather than the same thing. That this 1st stage also performed a landing attempt is what makes this news. The "also" of what SpaceX did last week was to take yet another Falcon 9 launch core and do a point to point hop at their test facility in McGregor, Texas.

The engineers at SpaceX have been very busy this week, and I doubt any of them are on vacation except for family emergencies or because they are in the hospital for an illness themselves.

Grasshopper Flew Thursday (1)

DrElJeffe (741629) | about 6 months ago | (#46794527)

FYI. The newest version of their grasshopper test vehicle flew on thursday at their facility in Texas. This one is as tall as the F9R that launched to the ISS and sports the same landing legs. But it only has 3 engines instead of 9.
F9R First Flight Test | 250m [youtu.be]

Cost breakdown (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about 6 months ago | (#46795555)

So, is NASA currently paying a nearly 3x premium to SpaceX just to get their technology off the ground or what? Not that I object to such long-term thinking, quite the opposite in fact, but I could swear the SpaceX contract was marketed as a cost-saving maneuver.

It says here [nasa.gov] that it currently costs $10,000 to get a pound of payload into orbit, but from TFA SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 launches, and if the current ~5000 pound payload is typical that works out to ~$27,000 per pound. Granted, assuming SpaceX perfects the reusable F9 that stands to potentially reduce launch costs 5 to 20-fold, easily making it one of the cheapest options available, even assuming that the current contract strictly covers launch costs and profit and without any R&D budget. But it's hardly a cost-saving maneuver in the short term.

Also, gotta love the phrasing in the summary "In another win for the company, as the L.A. Times reports, SpaceX also has launched a re-supply mission to the ISS." As though completing the mission that's actually paying the bills was just an added bonus.

Re:Cost breakdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46795693)

It says here [nasa.gov] that it currently costs $10,000 to get a pound of payload into orbit, but from TFA SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 launches, and if the current ~5000 pound payload is typical that works out to ~$27,000 per pound.

Uh, Dragon alone is nearly 10,000 pounds, plus fuel and cargo. You can't just throw a stack of frozen pizzas into orbit and have the astronauts grab them as the space station goes by.

If I remember correctly, the shuttle could deliver about 30,000 pounds to the space station for about $1,500,000,000. So even only taking account of the actual cargo mass, this is still significantly cheaper.

Re:Cost breakdown (1)

fgodfrey (116175) | about 6 months ago | (#46795851)

I think the difference is that the $10k/pound is likely the cost for launching a satellite. The 5000 pounds that NASA is launching is inside a pressurized container (according to Wikipedia, the dry mass of a Dragon is roughly 9300 pounds) so the total mass that NASA is paying for is probably closer to 15,000 pounds per launch. Plus they're getting back about 3500 pounds from orbit, which is also good because it allows for return of experiments (Soyuz can return a little, but not anywhere near that much). Also, I seem to remember that the $10k/pound figure was for the Space Shuttle, not Falcon and that article probably hasn't been updated in awhile.

In the end, by the time you include the various payload prep and recovery services, NASA is probably getting quite a good deal from SpaceX. The reverse is also true since NASA signing the contract gave other SpaceX customers confidence in their ability to get the job done and gave SpaceX an assured funding source to continue development. These are all good things!

Re:Cost breakdown (1)

bledri (1283728) | about 6 months ago | (#46796151)

So, is NASA currently paying a nearly 3x premium to SpaceX just to get their technology off the ground or what? Not that I object to such long-term thinking, quite the opposite in fact, but I could swear the SpaceX contract was marketed as a cost-saving maneuver.

It says here [nasa.gov] that it currently costs $10,000 to get a pound of payload into orbit, but from TFA SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 launches, and if the current ~5000 pound payload is typical that works out to ~$27,000 per pound. ... .

That $10,000 number does not include the price of the spacecraft/satellite (that you are trying to put into orbit). The $10,000/lb refers to the scenario where the spacecraft/satellite is the payload. NASA never sent anything to the ISS for $10,000 per pound, as missions to the ISS require a spacecraft to contain the actual cargo. The shuttle supposedly used to cost around $20,000/lb to deliver cargo to the ISS even though it use "reusable" (really it was refurbishable.)

Furthermore, the $10,000/lb is just to get something into orbit. SpaceX also returns cargo from the ISS back to Earth. So for the money NASA gets a launch vehicle and a spacecraft capable of carrying cargo to and from the ISS. All at a lower price than anyone else can offer. It really is a deal, and they really are not paying 3x the "going rate." As a matter of fact, the closest competition is Orbital Sciences and the are more expensive and can't return cargo to Earth. SpaceX is the only company that can do that for more small amounts of cargo.

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