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posted by martyb on Saturday October 27 2018, @02:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the big-payload-needs-big-rocket dept.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket seems to be a hit with satellite companies

When the Falcon Heavy rocket launched for the first time in February, some critics of the company wondered what exactly the rocket's purpose was. After all, the company's Falcon 9 rocket had become powerful enough that it could satisfy the needs of most commercial customers. One such critic even told me, "The Falcon Heavy is just a vanity project for Elon Musk."

[...] Last week, the Swedish satellite company Ovzon signed a deal for a Falcon Heavy launch as early as late 2020 for a geostationary satellite mission. And just on Thursday, ViaSat announced that it, too, had chosen the Falcon Heavy to launch one of its future ViaSat-3 satellite missions in the 2020 to 2022 timeframe.

[...] In explaining their rocket choice, both Ovzon and ViaSat cited the ability of the Falcon Heavy to deliver heavy payloads "direct"—or almost directly—to geostationary orbit, an altitude nearly 36,000km above the Earth's surface. Typically, rockets launching payloads bound for geostationary orbit drop their satellites into a "transfer" orbit, from which the satellite itself must spend time and propellant to reach the higher orbit. (More on these orbits can be found here).

[...] The demonstration flight of the Falcon Heavy apparently convinced not only the military of the rocket's direct-to-geo capability but satellite fleet operators as well. The Falcon Heavy rocket now seems nicely positioned to offer satellite companies relatively low-cost access to orbits they desire, with a minimum of time spent getting there in space.

See also: SpaceX heading to two to four Falcon Heavy paid launches per year

Related: How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
Falcon Heavy Maiden Launch Successful (Mostly)
SpaceX Confirms it Lost the Center Core of the Falcon Heavy
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Could Launch Japanese and European Payloads to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway

Original Submission

Related Stories

How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently 56 comments

Howard Bloom has written a guest blog at Scientific American addressing the Trump Administration's plan to return to (orbit) the Moon. That mission would use the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, which have cost $18 billion through 2017 but are not expected to launch astronauts into space until around 2023. Bloom instead proposes using private industry to put a base on the Moon, using technology such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (estimated $135 million per launch vs. $500 million for the Space Launch System) and Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable habitat modules:

[NASA's acting administrator Robert] Lightfoot's problem lies in the two pieces of NASA equipment he wants to work with: a rocket that's too expensive to fly and is years from completion—the Space Launch System; and a capsule that's far from ready to carry humans—the Orion. Neither the SLS nor the Orion are able to land on the Moon. Let me repeat that. Once these pieces of super-expensive equipment reach the moon's vicinity, they cannot land.

Who is able to land on the lunar surface? Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk's rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready.

[...] In 2000, Bigelow purchased a technology that Congress had ordered NASA to abandon: inflatable habitats. For the last sixteen years Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, have been advancing inflatable habitat technology. Inflatable technology lets you squeeze a housing unit into a small package, carry it by rocket to a space destination, then blow it up like a balloon. Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious—an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules. What's more, Bigelow has been developing a landing vehicle to bring his modules gently down to the Moon's surface.

[...] If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow's landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX's Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.

An organization that Howard Bloom founded, The Space Development Steering Committee, has been short one member recently (Edgar Mitchell).

Original Submission

Breaking News: Falcon Heavy Maiden Launch Successful (Mostly) 103 comments

Update: Launch seems to have been successful. The two side boosters landed nearly simultaneously. Footage from the drone ship was cut off. The car made it into space; but the third stage will need to coast through the Van Allen radiation belts for around six hours before it makes the final burn for trans-Mars injection.

Update 2: The middle booster of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket failed to land on its drone ship
Falcon Heavy Post-Launch Media Briefing - Megathread

SpaceX's newest rocket, the Falcon Heavy, is set to be launched at around 1:30 PM EST (6:30 PM UTC) today. The launch window extends to 4:00 PM EST (9:00 PM UTC).

SpaceX will attempt to recover all three boosters during the launch. The two previously-flown side boosters will attempt to land nearly simultaneously at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zones 1 and 2. The center core will attempt to land on a drone barge hundreds of miles off the coast of Florida.

The dummy payload for the Falcon Heavy is Elon Musk's personal 2008 Tesla Roadster. It is carrying a mannequin wearing SpaceX's space suit flight suit that will be used when the company begins to send astronauts to the International Space Station. The car will be launched into a heliocentric orbit that will bring it close to Mars (and back near Earth) periodically, and is equipped with three cameras. Its stereo system will be playing David Bowie's Space Oddity.

If the launch is successful, the Falcon Heavy could be flown within the next 3 to 6 months for a customer such as the U.S. Air Force, Arabsat, Inmarsat, or ViaSat.

Falcon Heavy will be capable of launching 63,800 kg to low-Earth orbit (LEO), 26,700 kg to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), 16,800 kg to Mars, or 3,500 kg to Pluto (New Horizons was 478 kg). It will supplant the Delta IV Heavy, which is capable of launching 28,790 kg to LEO or 14,220 kg to GTO. Space Launch System Block 1 will be capable of launching 70,000 kg to LEO (Block 1B: 105,000 kg to LEO, Block 2: 130,000 kg to LEO).

Musk has suggested that an additional two side boosters could be added to Falcon Heavy (perpendicularly?) to make a "Falcon Super Heavy" with even more thrust. This may not happen if SpaceX decides to focus on the BFR instead, which as planned would be able to launch 150,000 kg to LEO while being fully reusable and potentially cheaper than the Falcon 9 (or capable of launching 250,000 kg to LEO in expendable mode).

The webcast can be seen here or directly on YouTube.

Original Submission

SpaceX Confirms it Lost the Center Core of the Falcon Heavy 17 comments

SpaceX pulled off quite the feat today when it launched the Falcon Heavy rocket. What's more, it landed the two flanking boosters in perfect synchronized formation. But the fate of the core booster was unclear; now it appears that the center booster, which was supposed to land on a drone ship, was lost.

Elon Musk said on a conference call with reporters that the launch "seems to have gone as well as one could have hoped with the exception of center core. The center core obviously didn't land on the drone ship" and he said that "we're looking at the issue."

Source: Engadget

Elon has stated during the post launch Press Conference (aired live by ABC ) that the center core ran out of TEA-TEB ignition fluids. These are used to restart the Merlin 1D engines in flight. The central engine relit, but the outer two failed to reignite. The resultant loss of thrust cause the center core to hit the water at 300mph/500kph and explode. Elon reports two drone ship thrusters on OCISLY were damaged or destroyed.

Source: Reddit.

TEA-TEB is a reference to triethylaluminium-triethylborane.

takyon: Instead of becoming an Earth-Mars cycler, it appears that the car has overshot its intended orbit and will reach far into the asteroid belt:

Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster, which launched on top of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy earlier today, is going farther out into the Solar System than originally planned. The car was supposed to be put on a path around the Sun that would take the vehicle out to the distance of Mars' orbit. But the rocket carrying the car seems to have overshot that trajectory and has put the Tesla in an orbit that extends out into the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. [...] SpaceX CEO Musk tweeted out a map of the Roadster's final orbit after the burn, showing just how far out the car will travel. And it looks like it's going so far into the asteroid belt that it will get relatively close to the orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres.

Previously: Falcon Heavy Maiden Launch Successful (Mostly)

Original Submission

After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System? 57 comments

An op-ed written by Lori Garver, a former deputy administrator of NASA, suggests cancelling the Space Launch System in favor of Falcon Heavy and BFR:

SpaceX could save NASA and the future of space exploration

The successful launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is a game-changer that could actually save NASA and the future of space exploration. [...] Unfortunately, the traditionalists at NASA — and their beltway bandit allies — don't share this view and have feared this moment since the day the Falcon Heavy program was announced seven years ago.

The question to be answered in Washington now is why would Congress continue to spend billions of taxpayer dollars a year on a government-made rocket that is unnecessary and obsolete now that the private sector has shown they can do it for a fraction of the cost? [...] Once operational, SLS will cost NASA over $1 billion per launch. The Falcon Heavy, developed at zero cost to the taxpayer, would charge NASA approximately $100M per launch. In other words, NASA could buy 10 Falcon Heavy launches for the coat of one SLS launch — and invest the remainder in truly revolutionary and meaningful missions that advance science and exploration.

While SLS may be a "government-made rocket", the "beltway bandits", also known as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, are heavily involved in its development. The United Launch Alliance (Boeing + Lockheed Martin) have also shown that they can build their own expensive rocket: the Delta IV Heavy, which can carry less than half the payload to LEO of Falcon Heavy while costing over four times as much per launch.

NASA's marketing of how many elephants, locomotives and airplanes could be launched by various versions of SLS is a perfect example of the frivolity of developing, building and operating their own rocket. NASA advertises that it will be able to launch 12.5 elephants to LEO on Block I SLS, or 2.8 more elephants than the Falcon Heavy could launch. But if we are counting elephants — the planned Block II version of SLS could launch 30 elephants, while SpaceX's BFR could launch 34. Talk about significant.

Wait, what? 70 metric tons (SLS Block 1) / 63.8 metric tons (Falcon Heavy) = ~1.09717868339. 1.097 * (12.5 - 2.8) = ~10.6 elephants lifted by SLS Block 1 versus 9.7 for Falcon Heavy.

NASA documents list 12 elephants for SLS Block 1 (70 metric tons), and 22 for SLS Block 2 (130 metric tons). The author might have lifted some numbers from a Business Insider article that (incorrectly) estimates that 12.5 elephants can be lifted by Falcon Heavy, while SLS Block 2 can lift 30 elephants, and 34 for BFR. Perhaps we are dealing with a mix of adult and juvenile elephants?

NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station 43 comments

NASA chief explains why agency won't buy a bunch of Falcon Heavy rockets

Since the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in February, NASA has faced some uncomfortable questions about the affordability of its own Space Launch System rocket. By some estimates, NASA could afford 17 to 27 Falcon Heavy launches a year for what it is paying annually to develop the SLS rocket, which won't fly before 2020. Even President Trump has mused about the high costs of NASA's rocket. On Monday, during a committee meeting of NASA's Advisory Council, former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale raised this issue. Following a presentation by Bill Gerstenmaier, chief of human spaceflight for NASA, Hale asked whether the space agency wouldn't be better off going with the cheaper commercial rocket.

[...] In response, Gerstenmaier pointed Hale and other members of the advisory committee—composed of external aerospace experts who provide non-binding advice to the space agency—to a chart he had shown earlier in the presentation. This chart showed the payload capacity of the Space Launch System in various configurations in terms of mass sent to the Moon. "It's a lot smaller than any of those," Gerstenmaier said, referring to the Falcon Heavy's payload capacity to TLI, or "trans-lunar injection," which effectively means the amount of mass that can be broken out of low-Earth orbit and sent into a lunar trajectory. In the chart, the SLS Block 1 rocket has a TLI capacity of 26 metric tons. (The chart also contains the more advanced Block 2 version of the SLS, with a capacity of 45 tons. However, this rocket is at least a decade away, and it will require billions of dollars more to design and develop.)

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy TLI capacity is unknown, but estimated to be somewhere between 18 and 22 tons (between the known payloads of 16.8 tons to Mars and 26.7 tons to geostationary orbit).

Does the SLS need to launch more than 18 tons to TLI? No. All of the currently planned components of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (formerly the Deep Space Gateway) have a mass of 10 tons or less due to flying alongside a crewed Orion capsule rather than by themselves. Only by 2027's Exploration Mission 6 would NASA launch more massive payloads, by which time SpaceX's BFR could take 150 tons to TLI or even Mars when using in-orbit refueling.

Related: NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort

Original Submission

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Could Launch Japanese and European Payloads to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway 17 comments

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy eyed by Europe/Japan

According to RussianSpaceWeb, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is under serious consideration for launches of major European and Japanese payloads associated with the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (formerly the Deep Space Gateway).

[...] The first payload considering Falcon Heavy for launch services is the Japanese Space Agency's (JAXA) HTV-X, and upgraded version of a spacecraft the country developed to assist in resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). HTV-X is primarily being designed with an ISS-resupply role still at the forefront, but RussianSpaceWeb recently reported that JAXA is seriously considering the development of a variant of the robotic spacecraft dedicated to resupplying the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOPG; and I truly wish I were joking about both the name and acronym).

[...] Regardless of the LOPG's existential merits, a lot of energy (and money) is currently being funneled into planning and initial hardware development for the lunar station's various modular segments. JAXA is currently analyzing ways to resupply LOPG and its crew complement with its HTV-X cargo spacecraft, currently targeting its first annual ISS resupply mission by the end of 2021. While JAXA will use its own domestic H-III rocket to launch HTV-X to the ISS, that rocket simply is not powerful enough to place a minimum of ~10,000 kg (22,000 lb) on a trans-lunar insertion (TLI) trajectory. As such, JAXA is examining SpaceX's Falcon Heavy as a prime (and affordable) option: by recovering both side boosters on SpaceX's drone ships and sacrificing the rocket's center core, a 2/3rds-reusable Falcon Heavy should be able to send as much as 20,000 kg to TLI (lunar orbit), according to comments made by CEO Elon Musk.

That impressive performance would also be needed for another LOPG payload, this time for ESA's 5-6 ton European System Providing Refueling Infrastructure and Telecommunications (ESPRIT) lunar station module. That component is unlikely to reach launch readiness before 2024, but ESA is already considering Falcon Heavy (over its own Ariane 6 rocket) in order to save some of the module's propellant. Weighing 6 metric tons at most, Falcon Heavy could most likely launch ESPRIT while still recovering all three of its booster stages.

Previously: NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station

Related: NASA and International Partners Planning Orbital Lunar Outpost
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
This Week in Space Pessimism: SLS, Mars, and Lunar Gateway

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Runaway1956 on Saturday October 27 2018, @04:19PM (14 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday October 27 2018, @04:19PM (#754472) Homepage Journal

    wondered what exactly the rocket's purpose was

    Auto analogy? For years, people got around with 4 cylinder, and maybe 6 cylinder engines. When the first 8 cylinder engines came out, people were probably asking, "What's it for?"

    Invent it. Develop it. Build it. If it's worth anything, there will be customers. If it's worthless, you might sell a few as novelties, but the customers won't line up at your door. In this case, there is a need for it. Falcon Heavy can take the satellite where it needs to be, and the satellite can save it's propellant for any possible future maneuvering. Need to dodge some space debris? No problem!

    Through a Glass, Darkly -George Patton
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by sgleysti on Saturday October 27 2018, @04:35PM (7 children)

      by sgleysti (56) on Saturday October 27 2018, @04:35PM (#754474)

      When the first 8 cylinder engines came out, people were probably asking, "What's it for?"

      There are very few cars made with 8 cylinder engines anymore. Strangely, this rocket seems much more practical than a sedan with a V8.

      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Saturday October 27 2018, @05:49PM (5 children)

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday October 27 2018, @05:49PM (#754484) Homepage Journal

        True - but today's larger 6 cylinders generate more power than the early 8 cylinders. If/when the day comes when rocket science can use engines half the size of today's engines to generate more power, more economically, then we can expect some downsizing to take place.

        Unless of course, the space elevator comes first.

        Through a Glass, Darkly -George Patton
        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday October 27 2018, @06:16PM (1 child)

          by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Saturday October 27 2018, @06:16PM (#754494) Journal

          BFR, assuming it is completed, will surpass Falcon Heavy in every way. Both stages fully reusable, reusable fairing, more payload to orbit than Falcon Heavy. It can be reusable in part due to packing more units of a more powerful rocket engine, Raptor, which is slightly larger but at least two times more powerful.

          The interesting part is that BFR looks like complete overkill until the reusability goal comes into the picture. The whole BFR is more than 3 times more massive than Falcon Heavy. It's possible that a lot of missions using the BFR/BFS would be wasteful. With the rear cargo pods and a lot of extra fuel, maybe it could be inserting smallsats into a different orbit than the primary payload on most missions and still have enough propellant left to land.

          From what I hear, Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine surpasses Raptor, and it has a higher thrust. But if you really want to make an improvement, maybe nuclear is the answer [].

          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
          • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Saturday October 27 2018, @06:27PM

            by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday October 27 2018, @06:27PM (#754498) Homepage Journal

            Please don't use the N-word.

            inB4 some greeny cites space weaons agreements, and ecology concerns.

            Through a Glass, Darkly -George Patton
        • (Score: 2) by edIII on Saturday October 27 2018, @11:27PM (2 children)

          by edIII (791) on Saturday October 27 2018, @11:27PM (#754558)

          Space elevator might be coming soon. If China isn't bullshitting about their breakthrough, that new carbon-nanotube fiber they created is upwards of 45 times stronger than a steel cable. IIRC, it was like 1 gram of cable could hold 160 elephants. Certainly sounds like it could at least handle its own weight if you made a cable from the ground to space with this new material.

          The space elevator is by far the best idea for us to seriously start working in outer space.

          Technically, lunchtime is at any moment. It's just a wave function.
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28 2018, @04:06PM (1 child)

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28 2018, @04:06PM (#754690)

            A Space elevator doesn't have an advantage over a rocket. You have to expend more energy to get to the top, not counting the two weeks to get there.

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday October 27 2018, @05:50PM

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Saturday October 27 2018, @05:50PM (#754486) Journal

        This rocket would be made totally obsolete by the BFR, and may not be flying in 10 years. Not that it is a big problem. For the most part, Falcon Heavy is just a nice way to reuse the accumulating Falcon 9 boosters, the company's real workhorse, although the center core is modified. If it is overengineered for most of its missions, then it could land the boosters more often, and possibly even the center core.

        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 2) by driverless on Sunday October 28 2018, @06:12AM (5 children)

      by driverless (4770) on Sunday October 28 2018, @06:12AM (#754599)

      One such critic even told me, "The Falcon Heavy is just a vanity project for Elon Musk."

      Did the sentence continue:

      because everyone knows the SLS will be doing everything anyone needs by the time Falcon Heavy is ready?

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday October 28 2018, @06:45AM (4 children)

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 28 2018, @06:45AM (#754605) Journal

        In some ways, Falcon Heavy is a bit of a distraction. It might have 2-4 launches per year in the upcoming years, which is not a lot. This number could go up, but it will probably require a government or military contract. There's no reason we couldn't use Falcon Heavy to build the LOP-G [], except for pork politics. Maybe JAXA or ESA will use it for that purpose [].

        BFR will entirely replace Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy eventually, but some customers will opt for the proven Falcon 9 for at least a couple of years. But Falcon Heavy could bite the dust.

        There's some speculation here [] that the mostly reusable Falcon Heavy could be discounted, to discourage customers from picking an expendable Falcon 9 option. This could allow SpaceX to reuse more boosters and stop new Falcon 9 Block 5 booster production, saving some cash and shifting more focus onto BFR.

        As it compares to SLS [], Falcon Heavy originally compared well, but the capability of SLS Block 1 has been revised upward to 95 tons to LEO, from 70 tons to LEO. That doesn't make SLS cost-effective, but it probably means that SLS Block 1 and 1B are politically secure if the program does not face additional huge delays. In particular, Congress will say that the power of SLS is crucial for the Europa Clipper mission. I still think that Block 2, scheduled for 2029, will never fly, particularly if SpaceX's orbital and manned BFR demonstrations are successful and mostly on time.

        Falcon Heavy could become more useful if BFR faces unexpected delays. And if Musk was not kidding about the "Falcon Super Heavy" [], which would strap on two additional boosters, then that could act as a last ditch option to lift some payloads that would otherwise only be suited for the BFR.

        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
        • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Sunday October 28 2018, @06:55AM (3 children)

          by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday October 28 2018, @06:55AM (#754608) Homepage Journal

          Well, when SLS shows us what they've got - maybe. But, they may not take any business from the competitors because of cost. Sure, they probably get government stuff, despite cost, but not so much foreign and corporate business. First, they have to put a vehicle on the launch pad.

          Through a Glass, Darkly -George Patton
          • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday October 28 2018, @07:36AM (2 children)

            by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 28 2018, @07:36AM (#754615) Journal

            SLS is a money hole. The backers know what Falcon Heavy can do, and know what BFR will do (as planned). They know that Falcon Heavy can take up LOP-G payloads (without crew). They know that fully reusable BFR is a complete SLS killer. They know that people are calling for SLS to be cancelled.

            What Congress has been doing lately is accelerating the flow of money into SLS. You can get a sense of what's going on from these stories:

            Leaning Tower of NASA []
            NASA Gets Money it Didn't Ask for to Fund Second SLS Mobile Launcher; WFIRST Mission Receives Funds []
            NASA Could Scale Down First Manned Flight of the SLS []
            House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted []

            Having that mobile launcher sooner could shave off a year of delays (first two stories above). Launching payloads and astronauts on the Block 1 version instead of waiting for Block 1B (third story) gets SLS operating sooner. Mandating a speedy mission to Europa (fourth) gives SLS something to do other than build the LOP-G, and makes it harder to kill since Congressman John Culberson has been heavily evangelizing Europa Clipper. More on that here [] and here [].

            The goal here is to enrich the military-industrial complex as much as possible before the SLS inevitably gets cancelled in light of reusable BFR (remember that SLS costs $500 million to $3 billion per launch, depending on how you figure it, while BFR would cost substantially less than $100 million per launch, with development costs not paid by the U.S. government). And they've found a great way to do that: throwing money at the problem in hopes of shortening the delays. If it works, they get to build more fully expendable SLS pork rockets before time is up. If it doesn't work, at least they tried, and still got to spend billions of dollars in the preparation phase.

            SLS is not SpaceX's main competitor. But if SpaceX can kill SLS with public pressure, it can access lucrative NASA contracts, potentially tapping billions that would otherwise be going to the usual suspects, namely Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

            I say that SLS Block 2 is uniquely vulnerable because if you look at the schedule [], the first Block 2 mission is planned for 2029. That's years after SpaceX hopes to have BFR operating and even sending cargo and people to the surface of Mars.

            Keep in mind that the very first mission on that schedule, the unmanned EM-1 test, is likely to be delayed beyond June 2020 according to the NASA Inspector General [].

            [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
            • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Sunday October 28 2018, @09:27AM (1 child)

              by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday October 28 2018, @09:27AM (#754626) Homepage Journal

              I agree on the motivations for SLS: Making the military industrial complex richer. I wonder, though, if there is a tangential motivation. You can keep more secrets aboard a ship run by the government, than you can keep on a ship run by civilians. I suspect that if Musk's ships were involved in building a kinetic weapons platform, word would leak pretty quickly. A ship under government control might develop leaks, but they would probably take longer. I could come up with more scenarios requiring secrecy, but they would become more and more preposterous - right up to and including making contact with the Galactic Monitor crew hiding in the asteroids.

              Through a Glass, Darkly -George Patton
              • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday October 28 2018, @10:15AM

                by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 28 2018, @10:15AM (#754638) Journal

                I suspect that if Musk's ships were involved in building a kinetic weapons platform, word would leak pretty quickly. A ship under government control might develop leaks, but they would probably take longer.

                SpaceX is authorized to launch national security payloads. What more could the govt. want? The contractors behind SLS are companies as well. Publicly traded ones, in some cases, unlike the still-private SpaceX.

                SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has said [] that the company would launch weapons for the U.S. So it's a bit different than the Google situation [] you might be thinking of, where Google's cooperation with the Pentagon seemed to go against the company's culture.

                SLS isn't a great choice for secret launches. It's launching very infrequently, its entire roadmap is known, and it will be launching with astronauts in many cases. It will probably build the LOP-G, an international project in cooperation with the Russians, EU, Japan, and Canada. Several of the LOP-G payloads would launch with astronauts. What are they going to do, drop a secret payload into low-Earth orbit before continuing to the Moon? Maybe that's why SLS is so massively overprovisioned for the job of delivering ~10 ton LOP-G modules. But nah, the Russians would notice and cry foul. Even wrench-sized objects are tracked in orbit. So if a secret payload comes out of the SLS, it will be noticed.

                The better option is to just do a secret national security launch with ULA or SpaceX. The Air Force also has the X-37B which they can use to get secret payloads into orbit. You do one of these launches. You can lie to SpaceX, and say that it is a spy satellite. You can make it outwardly appear like a spy satellite, although you don't even have to show it to SpaceX employees, because you get to implement it into the fairing however you see fit. The Russians look at the thing, and it appears to be a spy satellite. But it is actually a rod dropper.

                [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by el_oscuro on Saturday October 27 2018, @06:38PM (1 child)

    by el_oscuro (1711) on Saturday October 27 2018, @06:38PM (#754502)

    That maiden flight proved that FH can deliver a 1.5-2 ton payload into Mar's sphere of influence at a minimum, and that is with full reuse. Of course that payload would need some delta-v to get into orbit. Aerobraking and gravity assists could help.

    That has to be useful to someone.

    SoylentNews is Bacon! []
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Saturday October 27 2018, @07:37PM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Saturday October 27 2018, @07:37PM (#754509) Journal

      *Partial reuse. []

      The upper stage and fairing were not recovered, as is usual with Falcon 9. There is talk of attempting to recover the upper stage [] but it is pretty much just a wild idea. Fairing recovery has been unsuccessful so far. They recovered two side boosters, but not the center core, which crash landed on the water and exploded. Musk said they will fix this by including more ignition fluid on future FH launches.

      It's possible that missions will choose to deliberately expend the center core to get more payload to orbit.

      If you want full reuse, you want BFR. It's possible that BFR will never be deliberately expended, since it will be able to be refueled in orbit. Maybe for a very massive payload, they could go into an extremely low orbit, refuel, and then take it higher. []

      In 2017, a very-low LEO orbit began to be seen in regulatory filings. This orbit, referred to as "VLEO", requires the use of novel technologies for orbit raising because they operate in orbits that would ordinarily decay too soon to be economically useful.

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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday October 28 2018, @11:34PM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 28 2018, @11:34PM (#754828) Journal

    Space: Russian Decline Unstoppable []

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    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []