from the to-infinity...-and-low-orbit dept.
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."
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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
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):
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
[Updated: 2018-01-23 @ 00:58 UTC --martyb]
A more recent article at Ars Technica notes SpaceX gets good news from the Air Force on the Zuma mission:
A little more than two weeks have passed since the apparent loss of the highly classified Zuma mission. Since then, SpaceX has publicly and privately stated that its Falcon 9 rocket performed nominally throughout the flight—with both its first and second stages firing as anticipated.
Now, the US Air Force seems to be backing the rocket company up. "Based on the data available, our team did not identify any information that would change SpaceX's Falcon 9 certification status," Lieutenant General John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, told Bloomberg News. This qualified conclusion came after a preliminary review of data from the Zuma launch. That's according to Thompson, who said the Air Force will continue to review data from all launches.
[Original story follows]
Ars Technica has described how "far-right" critics of SpaceX (such as The Federalist) have attacked the company following the apparent failure to deploy a secretive "Zuma" spy satellite payload for the U.S. government. Northrop Grumman could be responsible for the failure of the payload to separate from the Falcon 9's second stage, but nobody will confirm that officially. During a recent hearing about commercial spaceflight, one Congressman brought up the claims of a Forbes hit piece written by the COO of an institute backed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA):
SpaceX will attempt to launch five Falcon 9 rockets in April. This includes an International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission and a mission to launch Bangabandhu-1, Bangladesh's first satellite. The Bangabandhu-1 launch is planned to be the first to use SpaceX's Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, which may be the final major iteration of Falcon 9 before replacement by BFR.
At a South by Southwest (SXSW) panel, Elon Musk said that SpaceX could test the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) "spaceship" as soon as the first half of 2019. The spaceship is the second stage of the complete BFR rocket, would be capable of reaching orbit without the first stage booster, and alone has over 50% more thrust than an entire Falcon 9.
The initial tests would likely be similar to the Grasshopper vertical takeoff and landing tests.
SpaceX can start building its "Big Fucking Rocket," now that it has officially found a home in LA. Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced on Twitter that the private space giant "will start production development of the Big Falcon Rocket (the spacecraft's tamer name, apparently)" at the port of Los Angeles. SpaceX designed the 348-foot-long behemoth to fly humanity to the moon, Mars and beyond. It will be able to carry up to  tons in payload, whereas Falcon Heavy can only carry [63.8] tons. "This vehicle holds the promise of taking humanity deeper into the cosmos than ever before," he added, along with an illustration of the company's massive interplanetary spacecraft.
Finally, it's worth noting just how shockingly busy the BFR tent was on both April 13th and 14th, as well as the 8th (the first day Pauline visited the facility). With upwards of 40 cars parked at the tent, it's blindingly clear that SpaceX is not simply using the tent as a temporary storage location – alongside the arrival of composite fabrication materials (prepreg sheets, epoxy, etc) from Airtech International, SpaceX undeniably intends to begin initial fabrication of the first BFR prototypes in this tent, although they will likely eventually move the activities to the Berth 240 Mars rocket factory. That's certainly not a sentence I ever expected to write, but it is what it is.
The BFR's height may be elongated from its planned total of 106 meters.
NASA Administrator ponders what to do with the SLS rocket. During a Q&A with Politico, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was asked about how the space agency views commercial launch vehicles. His response: "As we move forward, we're going to have to maybe rethink... at what point do we start taking advantage of those commercial capabilities to the extent that they drive down cost, give us more capability, and what do we do with SLS?... We're not there yet, but certainly there's a horizon here. Is it 10 years? I don't know what the answer is, but what we can't do in my view is give up our government capability, our national capability, when we don't have an alternative."
Speaking of timelines ... NASA doesn't exactly have the "national capability" of the SLS rocket yet in the heavy-lift class, either. We've heard rumors of a slip to 2021 for the first launch date, in which case Blue Origin's New Glenn has a fighting chance to fly first, as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has already done.
Blue Origin targets Moon landing by 2023. Blue Origin's business development director, A.C. Charania, said at a conference that the company's Blue Moon program is "our first step to developing a lunar landing capability for the country, for other customers internationally, to be able to land multi metric tons on the lunar surface." The company has not said what role its large orbital rocket under development, New Glenn, would play in a mission to the Moon.
BFR is a privately funded next-generation reusable launch vehicle and spacecraft system developed by SpaceX. It was announced by Elon Musk in September 2017. The overall space vehicle architecture includes both launch vehicles and spacecraft that are intended to completely replace all of SpaceX's existing space hardware by the early 2020s as well as ground infrastructure for rapid launch and relaunch, and zero-gravity propellant transfer technology to be deployed in low Earth orbit (LEO). The large payload to Earth orbit of up to 150,000 kg (330,000 lb) makes BFR a super heavy-lift launch vehicle. Manufacture of the first upper stage/spacecraft prototype began by March 2018, and the ship is projected to begin testing in early 2019.
Related: First SLS Mission Will be Unmanned
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station
NASA Could Scale Down First Manned Flight of the SLS
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Serious About Returning to the Moon
Jeff Bezos Details Moon Settlement Ambitions in Interview
This Week in Space Pessimism: SLS, Mars, and Lunar Gateway
Blue Origin submitted a proposal late last year in what's expected to be a four-way competition for U.S. Air Force funding to support development of new orbital-class rockets, a further step taken by the Jeff Bezos-owned company to break into the military launch market, industry officials said. The proposal, confirmed by two space industry sources, puts Blue Origin up against SpaceX, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance, which could use Blue Origin's BE-4 engine to power its next-generation Vulcan rocket. It also sets up the New Glenn rocket, in development by Blue Origin, to be certified by the Air Force for national security missions.
Blue Origin received funding in an earlier phase of the Air Force's initiative to help companies develop new liquid-fueled U.S.-built booster engines in a bid to end the military's reliance on the Russian RD-180 powerplant, which drives the first stage of ULA's Atlas 5 rocket. The Air Force's money supported development of the BE-4 engine, which was designed with private money, and is still primarily a privately-funded program. The Pentagon funding announced in early 2016 for the BE-4 program was directly awarded to ULA, which routed the money to Blue Origin's engine program.
SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne also received Air Force funding in 2016 for propulsion work. SpaceX used the Air Force money for its methane-fueled Raptor engine, which will power the company's next-generation super-heavy BFR launcher. Orbital ATK is developing its own launcher for national security missions, which would use solid-fueled rocket motors for the initial boost into space, then use a hydrogen-fueled upper stage for orbital injection. Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR1 engine is a backup option for ULA's new Vulcan rocket.
Related: Jeff Bezos' Vision for Space: One Trillion Population in the Solar System
NASA Opens Door to Possibly Lowering SLS Cost Using Blue Origin's Engines
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s