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posted by martyb on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:11PM   Printer-friendly

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) believes that SpaceX will realize significant cost savings with reusable boosters (archive) without needing to launch them ten times each — as bitter SpaceX competitor United Launch Alliance asserts:

Gerd Gruppe, a member of DLR's executive board and responsible for DLR's space program, said the agency has concluded that SpaceX is on the verge of realizing the savings it has promised from reusing first stages. "With 20 launches a year the Falcon 9 uses around 200 engines, and while their cost of refurbishment is unknown, we think SpaceX is well on the way to establishing a competitive system based on the reusability" of the rocket's first stage, Gruppe said here Oct. 24 at the Space Tech Expo conference.

Not everyone is so sure. Leslie Kovacs, executive branch director at United Launch Alliance (ULA), said ULA has concluded that SpaceX needs to refly Falcon 9 first stages 10 times each to make reusability pay. "The question of reusability is not a technical problem. It boils down to an economic problem," Kovacs siad here Oct. 24. "Our internal analysis shows that if you are going to do that [reuse the first stage], the break-even point is about 10 times. You have to bring back that first stage 10 times for it to be economically beneficial for you."

Meanwhile, SpaceX has thrown the future of the European commercial launch provider Arianespace into doubt. Although Arianespace plans to launch its cheaper Ariane 6 rocket in 2020, it may not be able to compete with SpaceX's reusable rockets even with European subsidies (which Germany is reluctant to provide):

In what was likely an unexpected question during a Nov. 19 interview with Europe 1 radio, French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire was asked if SpaceX meant the death of Ariane. "Death? I'm not sure I'd say that. But I am certain of the threat," Le Maire said. "I am worried." Le Maire cited figures that are far from proven — including a possible 80% reduction in the already low SpaceX Falcon 9 launch price once the benefits of reusability are realized.

SpaceX has raised an additional $100 million, valuing the company at $21.5 billion. This is not much different from the valuation in July.

One analyst has joked that Elon Musk will reach Mars before Tesla, which has been burning cash and struggling to meet production targets, becomes profitable:

"Tesla stock is an extreme bet on the future," said [Frank] Schwope. "The share development depends on the transformation of the company from a small premium manufacturer with five-digit sales figures to a mass manufacturer with figures in the six-digit or millions range. We don't see Tesla as a tough competitor of the established automakers, but rather as a trailblazer that will push long-established companies to boost their performance."

Lastly, a former SpaceX intern thinks that Musk is Satoshi Nakamoto, inventor of Bitcoin. Musk denies it.

Original Submission

Related Stories

SpaceX Valued at $21 Billion 4 comments

SpaceX is now one of the most valuable privately held companies in the world, joining the likes of Uber, Airbnb, Palantir, WeWork, and Xiaomi:

SpaceX, the rocket maker founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has raised up to $350 million in new financing and is now valued at around $21 billion, making it one of the most valuable privately held companies in the world.

[...] With the latest funding round, SpaceX joins an elite club of seven venture-backed companies valued at $20 billion or more around the world, according to research firm CB Insights. Investors have poured money into the companies, many of which operate capital intensive businesses such as Uber and Airbnb, even as smaller start-ups have gone public and have seen their valuations waver.

[...] SpaceX's latest funding nearly doubles the valuation of the company, which was pegged at around $11 billion when it raised $1 billion from Fidelity and Google in 2015. Previous investors in SpaceX include venture capital firms Founders Fund and DFJ.

Also at SpaceNews, Ars Technica, The Verge, and CNNMoney.

Original Submission

Tesla Burns More Cash, Fails to Meet Production Targets 16 comments

Auto production is hard:

Having racked up its first quarter of burning through more than $1 billion of cash in the three months ending in June, Tesla topped that with $1.4 billion of negative free cash flow in the third quarter. In the past two quarters, therefore, Tesla has burned through more cash than the previous six combined. More importantly, it has burned through roughly four out of every five of the $3.2 billion dollars it has raised since late March through selling new equity and convertible debt and its debut in the high-yield bond market.

Consequently, debt has soared. Even just using debt with recourse to the company, on a net basis it has almost tripled since the start of the year to $3.36 billion.This would matter less if the primary objective of sucking in most of that external funding -- mass production of the Model 3 -- was fast approaching. Instead, it has receded further.

When Musk first talked about production targets for the Model 3 in 2016, they implied Tesla would be producing roughly 3,800 to 7,600 a week in the second half of 2017. By July of this year, Musk was guiding toward production hitting about 5,000 a week by the end of December. I estimated at the time that this implied a second-half average of maybe 1,400 a week.

Now, Musk estimates production might hit 5,000 a week by the end of the first quarter of 2018. As for this year, it might be in "the thousands" by the time New Year's Eve rolls around. He refused to say what the current run rate was. But I would estimate Tesla will be lucky to produce 10,000 Model 3 vehicles in total this year, or an average of 400 a week for the second half -- roughly 5 to 10 percent of the original guidance. As for the earlier target of 10,000 a week in 2018 ...

Also at NYT and MarketWatch.

Previously: Tesla Adds Lots of Certified Pre-Owned Model S Vehicles for Under $40,000 with New Warranty
Time to Bash Tesla Model 3
Tesla Reportedly Teaming Up With AMD for Custom AI Chip
Tesla Fires Hundreds of Employees

Original Submission

Boeing CEO Says His Company Will Carry Humans to Mars Before SpaceX 43 comments

Who will make it to Mars first?

It was about a year ago that Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg first began saying his company would beat SpaceX to Mars. "I'm convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket," he said during a Boeing-sponsored tech summit in Chicago in October 2016.

On Thursday, Muilenburg repeated that claim on CNBC. Moreover, he added this tidbit about the Space Launch System rocket—for which Boeing is the prime contractor of the core stage—"We're going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we're going to do a slingshot mission around the Moon."

Unlike last year, Muilenburg drew a response from SpaceX this time. The company's founder, Elon Musk, offered a pithy response on Twitter: "Do it."

The truth is that Boeing's rocket isn't going anywhere particularly fast. Although Muilenburg says it will launch in 2019, NASA has all but admitted that will not happen. The rocket's maiden launch has already slipped from late 2017 into "no earlier than" December 2019. However, NASA officials have said a 2019 launch is a "best case" scenario, and a slip to June 2020 is more likely.


Also, the next SpaceX flight is an ISS resupply mission and is scheduled for this coming Tuesday (December 12, 2017) at 1646 GMT (11:46 a.m. EST) from SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The plan is for the booster to return to landing at Landing Zone-1, also at Cape Canaveral.

Previously: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
Elon Musk Publishes Mars Colonization Plan
SpaceX Appears to Have Pulled the Plug on its Red Dragon Plans
SpaceX Putting Red Dragon on the Back Burner
SpaceX: Making Human Life Multiplanetary

Related: VP of Engineering at United Launch Alliance Resigns over Comments About the Space Launch Industry
ULA Exec: SpaceX could be Grounded for 9-12 Months
Commercial Space Companies Want More Money From NASA
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
SpaceX Unlocks "Steamroller" Achievement as Company Eyes 19 Launches in 2017
Trump Space Adviser: Mars "Too Ambitious" and SLS is a Strategic National Asset
SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News

Original Submission

SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s 16 comments

The United Launch Alliance's CEO Tory Bruno has been making his case for the upcoming Vulcan rocket and Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage. The system could compete against SpaceX's Falcon Heavy and BFR in the mid-2020s:

The maiden flight of the Vulcan currently is targeted for the middle of 2020. Two successful commercial launches are required as part of the government certification process, followed by a required upper stage upgrade to improve performance, either moving from two to four Centaur RL10 engines or using a different set of engines altogether. If all goes well, ULA will introduce its new upper stage in 2024, the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, or ACES, that Bruno says will revolutionize spaceflight. "This is on the scale of inventing the airplane," Bruno told reporters during the media roundtable. "That's how revolutionary this upper stage is. It's 1900, and I'm inventing the airplane. People don't even know what they're going to do with it yet. But I'm confident it's going to create a large economy in space that doesn't exist today. No one is working on anything like this."

The Vulcan will stand 228 feet tall with a first stage powered by two engines provided by either Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, or Aerojet Rocketdyne. Blue Origin's BE-4 engine burns methane and liquid oxygen while Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR-1 powerplant burns a more traditional mixture of oxygen and highly refined kerosene.

[...] ULA plans to begin engine recovery operations after the Vulcan is routinely flying and after the ACES upper stage is implemented. Bruno said the engines represent two-thirds of the cost of the stage and getting them back every time, with no impact on mission performance, will pay big dividends. SpaceX, in contrast, must use propellant to fly its Falcon 9 stages back to touchdown. Heavy payloads bound for high orbits require most if not all of the rocket's propellant and in those cases, recovery may not be possible. As a result, SpaceX's ability to recover rocket stages depends on its manifest and the orbital demands of those payloads.

"Simplistically, if you recover the old booster propulsively then you can do that part of the time, you get all the value back some of the time," Bruno said. "Or, you can recover just the engine, which is our concept, and then you get only part of the value back, about two thirds ... but you get to do it every single time because there's no performance hit. So it really turns into math."

ULA expects to fly at least 7-8 more Delta IV Heavy rockets between now and the early 2020s, with some Atlas V launches happening concurrently with the beginning of Vulcan launches in the mid-2020s.

The U.S. Air Force has just awarded ULA a $355 million contract to launch two Air Force Space Command spacecraft, and SpaceX a $290 million contract to launch three GPS Block III satellites.

In addition to testing BFR with short hops starting in 2019, SpaceX plans to send BFR into orbit by 2020. The company is leasing land in Los Angeles, reportedly for the construction of BFR rockets.

Related: SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News
Boeing CEO Says His Company Will Carry Humans to Mars Before SpaceX
Zuma Failure Emboldens SpaceX's ULA-Backed Critics; Gets Support from US Air Force [Updated]
SpaceX to Launch Five Times in April, Test BFR by 2019

Original Submission

Europe Accepts the Inevitability of Reusable Rockets 22 comments

Previously, the EU-propped Ariane Group's CEO scoffed at the idea of pursuing reusable rockets (the upcoming Ariane 6 is fully expendable) due to Europe having a small market of 5-10 launches per year, as well as the potential effects on rocket-building jobs:

[Chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain] Charmeau said the Ariane rocket does not launch often enough to justify the investment into reusability. (It would need about 30 launches a year to justify these costs, he said). And then Charmeau said something telling about why reusability doesn't make sense to a government-backed rocket company—jobs.

"Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'"

This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can't make a reusable rocket because it would be too efficient. For Europe, a difficult decision now looms. It can either keep subsidizing its own launch business in order to maintain an independent capability, or it can give in to Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. Charmeau seems to have a clear view of where he thinks the continent should go.

Now, the attitude has changed:

Europe says SpaceX "dominating" launch, vows to develop Falcon 9-like rocket

This month, the European Commission revealed a new three-year project to develop technologies needed for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, "tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe."

This new RETALT project's goals are pretty explicit about copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships. The Falcon 9 rocket's ability to land and fly again is "currently dominating the global market," the European project states. "We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe."

Ariane Group isn't one of the five companies, but then again, €3 million isn't a lot of money.

Even a fully reusable rocket is on the table:

[...] attitude of the new RETALT project appears to have indicated European acceptance of the inevitability of reusable launch vehicles. Engineers will work toward two different concepts. The first will be a Falcon-9-like rocket that will make use of seven modified Vulcain 2 rocket engines and have the capacity to lift up to 30 tons to low-Earth orbit. The second will be a more revolutionary single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that looks like the Roton rocket developed by Rotary Rocket about two decades ago.

They should mine Elon Musk's Twitter for clues. Try making the rocket out of stainless steel.

Previously: Full Thrust on Europe's New Ariane 6 Rocket
SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:39PM (2 children)

    by frojack (1554) on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:39PM (#603689) Journal

    SpaceX can save even more money if they just follow the Rat Rod [] crowd, and forget about repainting everything every time, and just paint what has to be painted for metal protection. (Some paints are ablative or corrosion protection and serve a purpose other than looking good).

    Probably customers want to see a pretty rocket if they are going to launch something. Nobody cares how much graffiti or rusted paint is on a boxcar hauling their precious stuff but nobody wants to see a rocket looking shabby.

    Still, I'd be interested in exactly just what does need to be refurbished between flights. Other than the fuel tanks and pump systems needing purge and reset, there isn't much in a booster besides the engines that seems to the untrained eye something that might need a look.

    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Thursday November 30 2017, @11:04PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Thursday November 30 2017, @11:04PM (#603708)

      Considering the weight added by painting such a big surface, I would bet the paint has a good reason the be there.
      With RTLS, they may save a bit on the corrosion compared to the barges, but they're still right on the ocean, loading super-cold stuff under bright southern sun.

      The refurbishment bill will drop a bit if they find a way to avoid having fires on landing, as was clearly visible in the last two.

    • (Score: 1) by ElizabethGreene on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01PM

      by ElizabethGreene (6748) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01PM (#603941) Journal

      The Blue origin guys didn't repaint their recycled (sub-orbital) rockets, so the idea has at least some merit. It was cool to see the rocket a little banged-up and dirty from being to space a half-dozen times.

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:41PM (7 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30 2017, @10:41PM (#603691)

    They says it is not a technical issue. It is an economic issue and the break even point is at least 10 reuses.

    Seems like ULA is scrambling.
    The real story may be that reuse may result in more reliability with tested vehicles and the break even point may not matter if the reusable is cheaper on the first launch anyway.

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30 2017, @11:26PM (6 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30 2017, @11:26PM (#603717)

      Yeah, I can see how ULA would rather say that SpaceX is bad at business decisions rather than saying they have solved an important technical problem. But the opposite also holds, and SpaceX wants people to think their finances are good (without showing evidence).

      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @12:56AM (5 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @12:56AM (#603749)

        Could be.

        The plan of losing a bit on every launch and then trying to make it up on volume usually doesn't work out.
        Hopefully that isn't the case for X.

        • (Score: 2, Interesting) by khallow on Friday December 01 2017, @03:14AM (4 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 01 2017, @03:14AM (#603780) Journal
          There is a lot of economy of scale to rocket launches at current launch frequencies. Even if reusability had turned out to be a bust, SpaceX would see substantial declines in cost per launch from higher launch frequency.
          • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01AM (3 children)

            by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Friday December 01 2017, @04:01AM (#603793) Journal

            SpaceX already dominates on price so they will be able to set the prices going forward. Initial customers using reflown boosters probably got a 10% discount. 30% is possible, and the article mentions 80% reduction in price. That will probably require landing of the second/upper stage [], which is more difficult []. They also want to save a few million by recovering the fairing, and I don't think that is close to routine [] yet.

            There are some smaller launchers [] in the market like Rocket Lab and Vector Space Systems who could be challenged by an 80% cheaper Falcon 9. Although these vehicles would still be cheaper ($2-3 [] and $4.9 million []), they have less payload and are unproven. If a Falcon 9 flight declines from $62 million to maybe $12-15 million, suddenly more universities could think about launching a satellite. The fully reusable flights will be the ones with less payload anyway (compared to "full thrust/expendable mode"), since fuel needs to be carried up for the purpose of landing the booster, second stage, and fairing.

            [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @04:58AM (1 child)

              by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @04:58AM (#603801)

              SpaceX already dominates on price so they will be able to set the prices going forward.

              Let's see how that theory holds when the business cycle turns down and investors demand positive returns.

              • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @03:16PM

                by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01 2017, @03:16PM (#603922)

                Good thing SpaceX is privately held, then.

            • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Immerman on Friday December 01 2017, @05:16AM

              by Immerman (3985) on Friday December 01 2017, @05:16AM (#603806)

              Not to mention that a single launch will quite often deliver several payloads to different orbits. If a Falcon can launch 10x the payload for 5x the cost, then there's a fair chance they can find at least 6 small-scale customers with compatible launch profiles to "carpool" to their desired orbit and beat the small-scale launch price. In fact such "carpooling" is already common, though usually there will be a large primary payload and several "hitchhikers".

              Where small-scale launches shine is when you want to reach an unconventional orbit, so that it's difficult if not impossible to find anyone to "carpool" with.

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday December 01 2017, @03:04PM

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 01 2017, @03:04PM (#603915) Journal

    SpaceX has thrown the future of the European commercial launch provider Arianespace into doubt.

    Uh, no.

    The future of Arianespace is not in doubt.

    1. Increase government subsidies to any level that seems necessary to prop it up.
    2. Once it is shut down, universal basic income for everyone laid off.

    I have no doubts whatsoever. What do they mean the future is in doubt.

    With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.