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posted by mrpg on Tuesday March 20 2018, @01:30AM   Printer-friendly
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."

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

Related Stories

SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News 12 comments

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):

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

Zuma Failure Emboldens SpaceX's ULA-Backed Critics; Gets Support from US Air Force [Updated] 17 comments

[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 to Launch Five Times in April, Test BFR by 2019 15 comments

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.

Also at USA Today, MarketWatch, and SpaceNews.

Original Submission

Blue Origin to Compete to Launch U.S. Military Payloads 1 comment

Blue Origin's orbital rocket in the running to receive U.S. military investment

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.

Previously: U.S. Air Force Awards SpaceX $40.7 Million for Raptor Engine Development
Aerojet Rocketdyne Seeks More U.S. Air Force Funding for AR1 Rocket Engine

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

Original Submission

SpaceX to Begin BFR Production at the Port of Los Angeles 17 comments

The Mayor of Los Angeles has announced that SpaceX will begin production of the BFR at the port of Los Angeles:

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 [150] 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.

The massive cylindrical body of the BFR's fabrication mold has been photographed at a tent at the Port of San Pedro (compare to this earlier photo of the main body tool):

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.

Related: SpaceX to Launch Five Times in April, Test BFR by 2019
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
SpaceX Valued at $25 Billion... and More

Original Submission

NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview 4 comments

Rocket Report: Japanese rocket blows up, NASA chief ponders purpose of SLS (and other news)

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.[8][9] 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.[5]

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

Original Submission

Blue Origin Wins Contract to Supply United Launch Alliance With BE-4 Rocket Engines 5 comments

Jeff Bezos's rocket company beats out spaceflight veteran for engine contract

Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rocket company just scored a major contract. His company's BE-4 engines will power United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur, a new suite of rockets that will aim to better compete with Elon Musk's SpaceX on price. Its first launch is slated for 2020. The contract award with ULA marks a high-profile vote of confidence for Bezos's space startup.

"We are very glad to have our BE-4 engine selected by United Launch Alliance. United Launch Alliance is the premier launch service provider for national security missions, and we're thrilled to be part of their team and that mission," Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said in a statement announcing the award on Thursday.

[...] Blue Origin's win does not come as a huge surprise. The BE-4 is further along in development than the comparable Aerojet engine, dubbed the AR1, and is expected to be less expensive to make. [ULA CEO Tory] Bruno previously expressed his preference for Blue's BE-4 over Aerojet's AR1.


Also at Ars Technica.

Related: Blue Origin Will Build its Rocket Engine in Alabama
NASA Opens Door to Possibly Lowering SLS Cost Using Blue Origin's Engines
Aerojet Rocketdyne Seeks More U.S. Air Force Funding for AR1 Rocket Engine
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
Blue Origin to Compete to Launch U.S. Military Payloads

Original Submission

ULA's Vulcan Rocket Design Nearly Complete 4 comments

Boeing-Lockheed's Vulcan rocket design 'nearly fully mature'

A joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp will conduct the final design review for its new flagship Vulcan rocket within months, it said on Wednesday, as the aerospace company heads for a showdown with Elon Musk's SpaceX and others in the launch services market.

The final design review is a crucial milestone as the company, United Launch Alliance (ULA), tries to move into full production ahead of a first flight in spring 2021 after slipping from its initial 2019 timetable.

"The design is nearly fully mature," ULA systems test engineer Dane Drefke told Reuters during a tour of Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

[...] ULA has started cutting and building hardware and has begun structural and pressure testing at its Decatur, Alabama factory. Engineers were also modifying the Florida launch pad and tower to accommodate Vulcan.

Previously: SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
Blue Origin Wins Contract to Supply United Launch Alliance With BE-4 Rocket Engines
The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built for the Next Decade

Original Submission

ULA and SpaceX Awarded NSSL Phase 2 Contracts 5 comments

The U.S. Air Force Space Force has awarded National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 contracts to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX:

During a video call with reporters, William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said that United Launch Alliance will receive approximately 60 percent of the launch orders and SpaceX will receive the other 40 percent. Two other bidders, Northrop Grumman with its Omega rocket, and Blue Origin with its New Glenn vehicle, will not receive awards.

"The ability to meet our technical factors to do the mission is the most important thing," Roper said, in response to a question on the Air Force criteria. Secondary factors included past performance, the ability to work with small businesses, and total evaluated price. The military has nine reference orbits for large and complex payloads that these rockets must meet.

A tertiary factor: bidding a launch vehicle that has already been flown.

From 2022 to 2026, Roper said the Air Force expects to award a total of 30 to 34 contracts for missions. Assuming the 60-40 split in total contracts, this likely will result in contract values of about $3.5 billion for United Launch Alliance and $2.5 billion for SpaceX—but these are rough estimates and the US Air Force has not released specific amounts. These awards ensure that ULA and SpaceX will continue a long-running rivalry.

As part of Friday's announcement, the Air Force said ULA has been assigned the USSF-51 and USSF-106 missions scheduled for launch in second quarter fiscal year 2022 and fourth quarter fiscal year 2022, respectively. SpaceX has been assigned USSF-67, scheduled for launch in fourth quarter fiscal year 2022. Task orders for the launch service support and launch service contracts will be issued to ULA for $337M and SpaceX for $316M for launch services to meet fiscal year 2022 launch dates. (This latter value suggests the SpaceX mission will likely fly on the Falcon Heavy rocket.)

The large initial award to SpaceX could also include funding for an extended payload fairing and vertical integration.

See also: News Analysis | With Pentagon award, SpaceX joins the establishment

Also at Space News and Teslarati.

Previously: SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
Blue Origin Urges U.S. Air Force to Delay Launch Provider Decision

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by eravnrekaree on Tuesday March 20 2018, @03:10AM (7 children)

    by eravnrekaree (555) on Tuesday March 20 2018, @03:10AM (#655251)

    If SpaceX hadn't upped the ante, this would not be happening. It would still be business as usual at ULA, since they would have no incentive to change, charging the US government $200 million per launch and letting the commercial market go to the Russians. SpaceX deserves all the credit for this, therefore, and deserves to be a major part of the future space program. I would suggest cancelling the SLS now and continueing with SpaceX, Blue Origin, Orbital Science, ULA's proposal, etc, so that we can have multiple, very affordable launch platforms instead. It is very clear with NASAs limited budget it cannot afford SLS. NASA should focus on the payload and use these new COTS platforms instead. NASA with the shuttle seemed to be focused on the launch vehicle far too much rather than what you are launching into space. Thus the launch vehicle itself is not the space program itself, but the means to the end which is the science missions etc you want to do. Because of that the Shuttle used up so much money on that boondoggle, it set back the US space program decades, and the SLS would do the same.

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20 2018, @05:08AM (6 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20 2018, @05:08AM (#655271)

      The congressional lackeys of the Military Industrial Complex would never free NASA of the politically imposed "investment" in future launch vehicles. If anything, they'll lock a whole bunch of unrelated budgetary items behind the precondition of investing in SLS so they can wash their hands of the blame when NASA is de-facto forced to accept the terms: "Hey look, it's NASA who wants to sink money into SLS, not us!"

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by takyon on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:03AM (5 children)

        by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:03AM (#655278) Journal

        If BFR flies at $50-100 million a launch, it could be game over for SLS. SLS may not have its maiden flight (no earlier than December 15, 2019, but likely delayed again to 2020 []) before SpaceX begins initial testing of BFR. If they delay the SLS maiden flight some more, BFR could actually reach orbit first. SLS Block 1B with 105 tons payload to LEO doesn't fly until around 2022. The final version of SLS, Block 2, doesn't fly until around 2029, and will still carry less payload than BFR.

        But if/when BFR starts to fly under the $5-6 million Falcon 1 cost, it's a revolution and even the United Launch Alliance could be in some serious trouble. The SLS will just be totally killed off. Even the military industrial complex can't justify a pork rocket that costs 100 to 600 times more to launch a smaller payload.

        ULA's best defense against SpaceX is government and military's desire for redundant capabilities. If the upstart SpaceX fails, we aren't crippled by it because top secret payloads can still be launched by a U.S. (Beltway bandit) company. But SpaceX isn't ULA's only competition. There's also Blue Origin [] (New Glenn [] rocket, which looks like it can match ULA's Vulcan) and other new players. Blue Origin doesn't have to match SpaceX on price; it can compete with ULA instead. And the small launchers can undercut SpaceX BFR on the smallest payloads (some schemes target as low as $500,000 per launch []).

        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday March 20 2018, @05:45PM (4 children)

          by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday March 20 2018, @05:45PM (#655515)

          > if/when BFR starts to fly under the $5-6 million Falcon 1 cost, it's a revolution

          What's the profit margin and ROI at that price ?
          That will never happen. Get over it.
          You can't finance Mars (and beyond) by giving away your launches at cost. You're at least an order of magnitude off, and that would already be an amazing price I wouldn't be on.
          $100M per BFR would still crush the competition in that weight class, while actually turning a nice profit for the rest of Musk's ambitions. Tell me why they should go any lower.

          • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:25PM (3 children)

            by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:25PM (#655539) Journal

            The fuel cost could be less than $1 million []. Cheaper liquid methane and liquid oxygen propellant is being used by the Raptor engines in BFR, compared to RP-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen used by the Merlin engines in Falcon 9/Heavy. The need for constant refurbishment can be eliminated by improvements to the rocket. Newer variants of the Falcon 9, such as Block 5 which is launching in April, are simpler and cheaper to reuse.

            The development costs can get covered by selling initial launches for closer to $100 million, and the price can be brought down over time until even smaller companies and universities can buy a launch, expanding the launch market and frequency.

            If almost all customers launch in reusable mode, which is likely since 150 tons to LEO is the largest payload capability ever, then a single BFR could fly a payload, land, and fly another payload in a day or two. In practice, they will probably want to keep at least 2-3 BFRs at every launch facility they own or lease. That way you can launch your payload from either Florida, California, or Texas. The U.S. government can lease its own dedicated BFR launchers.

            Not sure what you mean by "financing Mars". While Musk has talked about plans for what to do on Mars, SpaceX is primarily a launch provider and not a colonization company. SpaceX might attempt to land some payloads or humans on Mars with its own capital, but it will be cooperating with governments and other partners if it wants to send a million people to Mars. And even then there may be a ticket price paid by each colonist.

            One way SpaceX plans to finance itself is with StarLink satellite Internet service [], which it expects to generate billions in revenue a year.

            [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
            • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:42PM (2 children)

              by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:42PM (#655551)

              > The fuel cost could be less than $1 million

              Right, and my car uses less than ten cents of gas per mile. For 5 times that, I could totally sustain a few thousand people lobbying for and taking delivery orders, specifying, receiving and checking payloads, mounting them, getting permissions for drives, designing, maintaining and moving the return boats, repairing and insuring my car, renting my startup point and the giant parking hangars at three separate facilites, monitoring my every move with a full set of cameras and sensors, designing and testing my next custom car while dealing with suppliers of my current parts, and pay back the people who lent me cash to build it all.

              300 launches a year at 5M gross margin 1.5 Billion dollars. The math just doesn't work.
              And it doesn't have to. Give me a good reason why it should. $50M would already be a revolution and utterly destroy the competition. In which universe would anyone just set their price an order of magnitude lower than what is an assured hit ?

              • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:53PM (1 child)

                by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:53PM (#655559) Journal

                In which universe would anyone just set their price an order of magnitude lower than what is an assured hit ?

                Musky's universe:


                As an example, Musk compared the cost of renting a 747 with full cargo (about $500,000) and flying from California to Australia to buying a single engine turboprop plane, – which would run about $1.5 million and cannot even reach Australia. In short, the BFR relies on the principle that it costs less for an entirely reusable large spaceship to make a long trip that it does to launch a single rocket on a short trip that would never return.

                “A BFR flight will actually cost less than our Falcon 1 flight did,” he said. “That was about a 5 or 6 million dollar marginal cost per flight. We’re confident the BFR will be less than that. That’s profound, and that is what will enable the integration of a permanent base on the Moon and a city on Mars. And that’s the equivalent of like the Union Pacific Railroad, or having ships that can quickly cross the oceans.”

                [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
                • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday March 20 2018, @07:05PM

                  by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday March 20 2018, @07:05PM (#655572)

                  > "That was about a 5 or 6 million dollar marginal cost per flight"

                  I see. We're having a terminology confusion between SpaceX's "marginal cost" and the customer's price.
                  Hence my list of extra expenses, which must be covered by charging somewhere between a hundred points and a 20x premium over cost, depending on the customer and payload.

                  Ain't gonna be no $5M BFR launches, even in constant dollars.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Virindi on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:22AM (7 children)

    by Virindi (3484) on Tuesday March 20 2018, @06:22AM (#655279)

    "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.

    So what you're saying is, marketing decided how 'revolutionary' this product had to be and that's how 'revolutionary' it is.

    Just like is standard in modern startups, make all the claims about how great your product is going to be and then let someone else figure out the details later. Except here, someone else has ALREADY FIGURED OUT THE DETAILS AND IS FLYING IT. Falcon Heavy is an incremental upgrade, this thing is a new as yet nonexistent design.

    We seem to live in an era of huge, baseless promises.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Immerman on Tuesday March 20 2018, @04:57PM (6 children)

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday March 20 2018, @04:57PM (#655483)

      I don't know about baseless promises - no reason to expect they won't deliver unless BFR drives launch prices so low so that the profit margins no longer justify finishing it. Baseless self-aggrandizement on the other hand...

      • (Score: 2) by Virindi on Wednesday March 21 2018, @10:09AM (5 children)

        by Virindi (3484) on Wednesday March 21 2018, @10:09AM (#656008)

        I was referring to ULA in that comment, but honestly, BFR is also in the "big promises" stage right now. I still do not find Big Promises trustworthy; BFR sounds really great, but I'll believe it when I see it.

        Which is the same thing I said about Falcon stages landing on a barge. The idea seemed ridiculously difficult, but hey, they solved it. Great job and an amazing accomplishment, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should assume they will accomplish the next amazing feat. That remains to be seen. The BFR design right now falls into the "doing this economically would be ludicrous" category, but I will be happy if they prove me wrong again.

        • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday March 21 2018, @05:26PM (4 children)

          by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday March 21 2018, @05:26PM (#656222)

          I can't say I disagree, though it's worth noting that in many ways the BFR is an incremental promise atop what SpaceX has already delivered. Admittedly SEVERAL non-trivial incremental improvements combined, but nothing to make their plans seem particularly spectacular except the intended dramatic increase in re-usability. But when you get right down to it the BFR construction costs are projected to cost only several times as much as a Falcon 9 to build (10-20x as I recall), and thus should be able to economically replace the Falcon 9 if its reusability is improved enough to deliver a comparable level of savings. And depending on how well the extra payload capacity can be leveraged, the necessary "break even" increase in reusability may be much lower - For example if a BFR can use its 6x greater maximum payload to instead deliver just 3x the number of satellites to different orbits as an F9 in a single launch, then it need only achieve about 3-7x the level of reusability cost savings. to break even.

          That certainly won't be enough to bring the revolution of $5M launches and affordable Mars missions he hopes for, but it would be enough to justify its replacing the F9, and thus provide a solid economic foundation for pursuing further refinements.

          • (Score: 2) by Virindi on Thursday March 22 2018, @12:05PM (3 children)

            by Virindi (3484) on Thursday March 22 2018, @12:05PM (#656559)

            It seems like using one rocket to launch a large number of satellites would demand more deltav from each satellite to reach its final orbit?

            I'm guessing this value is calculated in to how much a satellite owner is willing to pay for a launch?

            • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 22 2018, @12:58PM (2 children)

              by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 22 2018, @12:58PM (#656572)

              Not necessarily - if you only launched with half the max payload you'd still have 3x the payload of an F9, while having a lot of fuel left over after you reached LEO to visit multiple different orbits and deploy satellites individually, depending on just how different those orbits are. Alternately, you could simply dramatically loosen the size and mass constraints on the satellites so that they could easily propel themselves to their final orbit. Or even develop mini-rockets - orbital boosters designed specifically for that "last mile" orbital insertion. The long-term ideal might be deploying a fleet of refuelable "orbital tugboats" that would rendezvous with the launcher for the purpose, as well as also retrieving and refueling satellites. Heck, it'd be inefficient overkill, but leave a few BFR Spaceships in orbit, equipped with robot arms and refueled with all the excess fuel every launch can carry. Or alternately, probably easier, use the cheaper, larger-tank BFR tankers to store excess fuel from some launches to refuel those that need more delta-v. Why launch with less than full fuel tanks? That fuel will be valuable in orbit.

              • (Score: 2) by Virindi on Thursday March 22 2018, @01:29PM (1 child)

                by Virindi (3484) on Thursday March 22 2018, @01:29PM (#656583)

                Those ideas require that stuff be launched into similar orbits, large additional complexity, or added capacity on the part of the thing being launched. Sure that's all possible, but it's not as simple as just slapping multiple satellites on the same rocket.

                Too bad real life isn't like KSP, where every launch goes to an equatorial orbit :D

                • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 22 2018, @02:19PM

                  by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 22 2018, @02:19PM (#656597)

                  Similar orbits certainly makes things easier, but how similar they need to be would depend very heavily on how much available delta-V the Spaceship has remaining after reaching orbit. And transferring fuel to/from an orbital tanker would actually be an excellent way to perfect what they hope to make a routine process for lunar and interplanetary missions.

                  Meanwhile, added satellite capacity is relatively trivial - a bigger "gas tank" is no great challenge, especially given much more generous mass and size constraints for the same launch cost.