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posted by n1 on Monday April 10 2017, @10:13PM   Printer-friendly
from the what-goes-up dept.

The US Air Force is open to buying rides on previously flown SpaceX rockets to put military satellites into orbit, a move expected to cut launch costs for the Pentagon, the head of the Air Force Space Command said on Thursday. [...] "I would be comfortable if we were to fly on a reused booster," General John "Jay" Raymond told reporters at the USSpace Symposium in Colorado Springs. "They've proven they can do it. ... It's going to get us to lower cost."

SpaceX has so far won three launch contracts to fly military and national security satellites - business previously awarded exclusively to United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. All those flights will take place on new Falcon 9 rockets.

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SpaceX is seeking US approval to deploy up to 1 million Earth stations to receive transmissions from its planned satellite broadband constellation.

The Federal Communications Commission last year gave SpaceX permission to deploy 11,943 low-Earth orbit satellites for the planned Starlink system. A new application from SpaceX Services, a sister company, asks the FCC for "a blanket license authorizing operation of up to 1,000,000 Earth stations that end-user customers will utilize to communicate with SpaceX's NGSO [non-geostationary orbit] constellation."

The application was published by, a third-party site that tracks FCC filings. GeekWire reported the news on Friday. An FCC spokesperson confirmed to Ars today that SpaceX filed the application on February 1, 2019.

If each end-user Earth station provides Internet service to one building, SpaceX could eventually need authorization for more than 1 million stations in the US. SpaceX job listings describe the user terminal as "a high-volume manufactured product customers will have in their homes."

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  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Monday April 10 2017, @10:38PM (5 children)

    by kaszz (4211) on Monday April 10 2017, @10:38PM (#491982) Journal

    ULA, feeling the pressure? :p

    Makes one wonder if this will give US a advantage that will make a difference towards other countries. Sure they can spend more to compensate to keep up. But if the US military can send 5x more satellites for the same price as other countries spend on one. It ought to make a difference.

    It might also push Russia or China to make sure they have the same technology.

    • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Monday April 10 2017, @11:26PM (3 children)

      by mhajicek (51) Subscriber Badge on Monday April 10 2017, @11:26PM (#492009)

      SpaceX is a private company. Will the US force them to turn away foreign contracts?

      The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Grishnakh on Monday April 10 2017, @11:33PM (1 child)

        by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday April 10 2017, @11:33PM (#492013)

        They certainly can, and have done that in the past. Defense contractors are only allowed to sell certain technologies or products (like fighter planes) to certain countries, for instance. The US government has many times stepped in to prevent the sale of sensitive technologies to foreign customers.

        Also, SpaceX doesn't sell rockets anyway. They sell launches. You give them your cargo and a pile of money, they launch it for you, from the US. They're not giving away their technology to anyone, just making it available for their use. This can be curtailed at any time, and its use can certainly be limited. If the government wants, they can certainly decide to inspect any foreign cargo being launched to make sure it really is just a communications satellite and not a spy satellite, or they can simply prevent SpaceX from accepting that customer's cargo in the first place.

        • (Score: 3, Funny) by kaszz on Tuesday April 11 2017, @01:07AM

          by kaszz (4211) on Tuesday April 11 2017, @01:07AM (#492046) Journal

          Guess we won't see Space-X expand into China. Could become some really cheap rocket.
          India which supposedly is a H1-B nirvana could perhaps be a workable solution?

          Musk: Why won't the rocket fire?
          China: Rocket engine very expensive.
          Musk: WTF!?
          China: See, it looks just like yours.
          Musk: But it doesn't work!
          China: Looks very nice, very cheap.

      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Tuesday April 11 2017, @04:07PM

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 11 2017, @04:07PM (#492323) Journal

        The US might WANT SpaceX to launch foreign satellites.


        You can't place a bug or sabotage device on a foreign satellite if you can't get your hands on it.

        Scissors come in consumer packaging that cannot be opened without scissors.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11 2017, @10:00AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11 2017, @10:00AM (#492203)

      ULA, feeling the pressure? :p

      Never mind ULA. The Russians are feeling major pressure here! Just over a year ago there was a story on talking about SpaceX and how they are wasting resources on trying to land their rocket. It was right after SpaceX booster crashed onto the landing platform after a geostationary launch. The article talked how Musk must be crazy and how he's financially sinking SpaceX by wasting resources on impossible adventures :)

      Reusable boosters are the greatest thing in space launch systems since Gagarin orbited Earth for the first time or when Apollo actually landed on the moon. But this is even more important. Reusable rockets, if they can actually be used for 100x before they disintegrate, are vital for the orbital fuel depot. If you can keep launching cheap rockets with cheap fuel to put fuel in orbital depot, that opens up the solar system for our little ape creatures. The cost for 1L of fuel to orbit could drop from $10,000 to $200-$500 -- the military paid as much to get fuel to remote operating bases *on earth*!

      So yes, this is huge huge huge. It actually makes colonizing Mars a possibility instead of an improbability (even without any new super rockets)

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 10 2017, @11:40PM (8 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 10 2017, @11:40PM (#492018)


    Over time, flight statistics will make folks will pay extra to fly on a proven but lightly used booster.

    Hopefully, ULA will decide to enter the game that they thought they owned.

    (I still want to know the state of the He tanks on the reused boosters.)

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday April 10 2017, @11:58PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Monday April 10 2017, @11:58PM (#492028) Journal

      If you mean slightly extra, but still less overall than what is paid today, then maybe.

      That satellite customer of SpaceX's reportedly got around a 10% discount, and that is expected to increase to 30%, and maybe a lot more in the future..

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11 2017, @12:13PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11 2017, @12:13PM (#492227)

        The prediction was that this is not just about cost, it's about launch success odds.
        Right now folks have to be paid extra to fly on a used booster.
        I predict that will be shown to be backwards.

        The cost model I was thinking about was:

        B = cost to launch a one use booster
        B/10 = cost to launch with a reusable booster
        B/8 = cost to use a reusable rooster in it's most likely success range (tested, but not worn out)

        Over time, the success records are going to make folks prefer to use a slightly used booster.
        The point is we are talking about a service that ULA can't provide even at their old school cost.
        The younger (not ready for retirement) folks at ULA need to get with the program while they still have the opportunity.

    • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Tuesday April 11 2017, @01:11AM (5 children)

      by kaszz (4211) on Tuesday April 11 2017, @01:11AM (#492049) Journal

      I don't think so. Because the cost reduction is so drastic that even a few losses can still make the bottom line beat the one time use rocket. And Space-X is working towards another 10x cost reduction to achieve the goal of Musk target of 100x cost reduction.

      Perhaps one can make cheap rocket fuel in space using solar energy and send back with returning rockets?

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by takyon on Tuesday April 11 2017, @01:38AM (3 children)

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Tuesday April 11 2017, @01:38AM (#492060) Journal

        Send rocket fuel to Earth? No, I think it will be used at refueling stations in space or to launch from lower gravity wells like the Moon.

        Imagine launching a payload to the Moon, attaching it to a set of rockets there, and then relaunching, achieving a greater velocity than could be done from Earth. New Horizons was the fastest launch at an escape velocity of 16.26 kilometers per second. With the lower gravity and lack of drag, you could launch faster from the Moon. So going from Earth to Neptune, Pluto, Planet Nine, whatever would benefit tremendously from the pit stop on the Moon, as long as you have the capability to manufacture rocket fuel using the water there.

        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
        • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Tuesday April 11 2017, @04:09AM (1 child)

          by kaszz (4211) on Tuesday April 11 2017, @04:09AM (#492122) Journal

          The idea would be to manufacture fuel from scratch in space on the cheap (moon ice + solar panels + accelerator?). And then send it with empty rockets returning back to earth. Kind of cabotage for space.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11 2017, @05:29PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11 2017, @05:29PM (#492372)

            Yeah, but Earth is at the bottom of a hole, and it costs energy to climb down the hole without lithobraking at the end. Because you have to burn more fuel to land with fuel, you only get to sell a fraction of the fuel if you return it to Earth -- and then you're competing on price with locally-produced fuel. You can sell all the fuel (or, if the fuel's generated at the bottom of another hole, e.g. lunar surface, at least more of it) if you establish on-orbit fuel depots -- and now you're competing with fuel lifted to orbit, so you get a much higher price.

            Until you have enough manufacturing capacity to fulfill all current and foreseeable fuel needs in space, it makes no sense to ship any of it to Earth, or to the bottom of any hole where fuel can be produced locally.

        • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Tuesday April 11 2017, @04:59AM

          by mhajicek (51) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 11 2017, @04:59AM (#492142)

          I also predict launching rockets from the moon through electromagnetic mountain guns, so they escape with considerable velocity before burning any fuel. Hyperloop technology will help with that.

          The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Tuesday April 11 2017, @04:25PM (1 child)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 11 2017, @04:25PM (#492335) Journal

    Is this (or is it not) possible?

    If launches become significantly cheaper, could this cause payloads to become cheaper?

    If the cost to put up a satellite becomes way cheaper, then maybe you don't put quite so much money into a payload? It still needs to accomplish its mission and design lifetime. But you can start to consider that it is not so out of the question that a satellite could be replaced.

    Also, as more and more payloads are built, experience in building them, and volume leads to less expensive payloads. Imagine, sort of like computers. Especially micro computers. When micro computers first took off, starting about 1975, memory capacity, for example, rapidly expanded. I don't think it was a significant technology advance. It was simply that the demand and economics were to make higher and higher density memory chips. Even if 64K of memory took up an entire board. Before long it was a single chip for 64 K and you had a bunch of those on a board. In only a few years computers had a megabyte of memory -- if you can imagine that much! My point: as far as I know (please correct if I'm wrong) no significant new capability was magically discovered that caused memory density to increase and micro computers to explode with memory and speed. It was just economics. There was demand. Computers were cheap enough to cause more demand -- in a feedback cycle.

    Could this happen with launches and payloads?

    If you are a company that builds satellites, and you build one satellite, what happens if you now have demand for 100 satellites? Can you build them more cheaply? What if you start to see demand for 500 satellites?

    Does more demand for launches drive the price down further?

    Scissors come in consumer packaging that cannot be opened without scissors.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11 2017, @09:11PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11 2017, @09:11PM (#492458)

      X has another division up in the NW figuring out how to make check sat's for a world wide comm network.