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posted by martyb on Saturday January 22, @04:54AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the good-and-fast-so-not-cheap dept.

SpaceX signs a deal to rocket military cargo around the world:

The US Air Force is enlisting Elon Musk's help in developing a way to deliver military supplies and humanitarian aid via SpaceX rockets.

The company has signed a contract with the US Department of Defense worth over $102 million to provide point-to-point transit for cargo via space.

[...] The contract, awarded Friday, falls under the Air Force Research Laboratory's rocket cargo program, which aims to take advantage of the falling price of heavy launch capabilities that SpaceX and other companies have brought to the market in recent years.

Program manager Greg Spanjers told SpaceNews earlier this week that the military is "very interested in the ability to deliver the cargo anywhere on Earth to support humanitarian aid and disaster relief."

The contract doesn't specify which SpaceX rocket or vehicle the initiative will utilize. SpaceX has used its Falcon 9 rocket and Falcon Heavy (which is made up of three Falcon 9 boosters) for military missions in the past, but Musk has made clear that he views Starship as the vehicle of the future.


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  • (Score: 1, Redundant) by takyon on Saturday January 22, @05:12AM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Saturday January 22, @05:12AM (#1214712) Journal
  • (Score: 0, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @05:33AM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @05:33AM (#1214715)

    i wonder how many moab's a starship can deliver?
    maybe, rename it to moahig-ship (mother-of-all-holes-in-(the)-ground-ship)?
    really? going to the stars but taking money from military?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @07:01AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @07:01AM (#1214732)

      Do Eskimos make icy BMs?

    • (Score: 2) by pvanhoof on Saturday January 22, @10:30AM

      by pvanhoof (4638) on Saturday January 22, @10:30AM (#1214754) Homepage

      Here is a great idea: SpaceX to deliver humanitarian bunker busters on dams that hold back massive amounts of water that would when destroyed flood tens of thousands of people:
      ttps://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/20/us/airstrike-us-isis-dam.html

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Saturday January 22, @10:56AM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Saturday January 22, @10:56AM (#1214756) Journal

      Been under a rock? They have already been taking money from the military. They launched a bunch of payloads for the Air Force and even sued the Air Force to get access to more contracts [industryweek.com] back in 2014.

      As for the payload, it could easily become the delivery system for a 1 gigaton hydrogen bomb. Maybe that can put a dent in an asteroid.

      https://soylentnews.org/~takyon/journal/8477 [soylentnews.org]

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      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by khallow on Saturday January 22, @01:27PM (1 child)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday January 22, @01:27PM (#1214775) Journal

      going to the stars but taking money from military?

      Is there supposed to be a problem here?

      I'll note that for purposes of delivering ordinance, the SpaceX rocket just isn't that impressive. Sure, you can deliver a decent amount of bang in an hour or two once launched, but the vehicle isn't designed to be launched at a moment's notice. That is, it has to be fueled. Due to LOX (liquid oxygen) boil off, it's very hard to keep fueled. Running out of LOX has scuttled SpaceX launches before. My thinking here is that SpaceX would have to put a rocket on a pad with the explosive payload, and keep sending truck after truck of LOX to the rocket until the target is acquired and the rocket can be launched. It's tremendously expensive and high logistics.

      And the US has long had relatively cheap, ballistic missiles capable of delivering said explosive power anywhere in the world. It's just not worth the price when you can get a plane or cruise missile on target in a moderately longer length of time.

      Here, I don't know that there is a market for emergency supplies due to the restrictions of the Falcon 9 and Superheavy. SpaceX probably could work such emergency flights into their schedule easily enough, but if their launch tempo isn't frequent enough (like a rocket-a-day frequent), then you're still left with a lag that makes it noncompetitive with the usual ways. Really the only thing going in favor of the scheme is that you don't have a launch window any more (though flights can still be scuttled due to bad weather).

      Testing such a system could be done on a Falcon 9 or the like since you're not interested in meeting a schedule at that point. But if you really want such a delivery system, use an existing ICBM or other stable propellant rocket for it. That way, you can have the rocket in a silo ready to go. This starts getting into some MAD problems since the rocket could be interpreted as a nuclear weapon launch, but I think it's not insurmountable.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Immerman on Saturday January 22, @03:33PM

        by Immerman (3985) on Saturday January 22, @03:33PM (#1214795)

        >Is there supposed to be a problem here?

        Agreed. Military spending has been responsible for developing virtually all our launch technology to this point, its hardly shocking to have them continuing to play a part. And where Starship is concerned they'd be one of a very few customers paying for landing gear development and usage - commercial suborbital flights are likely to all rely on the launch tower catching arms, and a single moon-lander rocket seems to be the only demand from NASA within the next couple decades. They'll need the landing gear well tested for Mars, but currently there doesn't seem to be any considerations given to making that megaproject economically viable.

        The problem with ICBMS for suborbital launches appears at the destination. They're just *really* not designed to survive landfall, or even slow down - in fact, doing so would completely defeat the point.

        I suppose you could potentially just eject the payload with parachutes - but you've still committed to a large explosion somewhere downrange. Plus hypersonic parachutes are a real challenge, and you have no other way to slow down. Not to mention landing via trans-sonic parachute flight is going to introduce *huge* margins of error in the landing zone, which is... suboptimal.

        And then there's the expense - throwing away an ICBM with every deliverly gets expensive fast - Google suggests at least $70 million as a bare minimum per launch for a small fraction of a Starship payload. Considerably more expensive than a Falcon 9 launch, and Starship is supposed to be dramatically cheaper. (I would assume that long-term the "default" plan would be to land at the destination with enough excess fuel to then fly, empty, to the nearest commercial launch tower - with greater payload capacity if refueling at the destination is an option. Judging from the hop tests they should have a pretty impressive range even with only a fraction of a tank.)

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @06:59PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @06:59PM (#1214841)

      The military already has efficient ways of delivering large quantities of high explosives on demand, even from around the world. What Starship offers is a new tier of rapid response for the supply chain. That is much more valuable than a new weapon. Weapons win battles, but logistics wins wars.

  • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @05:43AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @05:43AM (#1214717)

    aristarchus has been cancelled. Is no one going to do anything about it?

    • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @06:49AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @06:49AM (#1214730)

      I guess no one is going to do anything about censorship, since it is modded -1 Offtopic. What would be on topic, for a site dedicated to free speech?

      • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @07:57AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @07:57AM (#1214738)

        Not just offtopic once, but freeze peaches on Soylent is offtopic twice? Oh, dear!!

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Saturday January 22, @08:24AM (7 children)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Saturday January 22, @08:24AM (#1214741)

    Whenever a US company does anything cool, at one point or another, they get a military contract and the company becomes more profitable but less cool.

    Because if there's one thing every company in the US wants, it's military money. Because it's taxpayer's money and there's a lot of it flying around, since it's not theirs.

    • (Score: 2) by corey on Saturday January 22, @08:39AM (4 children)

      by corey (2202) Subscriber Badge on Saturday January 22, @08:39AM (#1214743)

      Yeah, though this is a new capability. It’s made possible by the relatively “cheap” cost of rockets by spaceX. I think it’s interesting, you can get cargo to the other side of the world within minutes, I guess it’s like paying a bit more for air mail or express post over the standard mail (ie. cargo ships, trucks, loading/unloading etc. ). I wonder how it (rocket freight) compares in cost to a diesel boat plus diesel forklifts plus diesel freight trucks and all the loggies manpower in between. Maybe that’s in the article, I should read it.

      Another use case is getting cargo too difficult places (Himalayas for example). Or behind enemy lines.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @09:23AM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @09:23AM (#1214747)

        Or to... oh I dunno maybe Tonga?

        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Immerman on Saturday January 22, @03:45PM (1 child)

          by Immerman (3985) on Saturday January 22, @03:45PM (#1214796)

          Interesting idea. Planes can't approach until the ash settles, otherwise it melts inside the engines and gums up the turbines. Not good.

          A rocket though doesn't suck ambient material into its engines, quite the opposite in fact. At first glance at least Starship shouldn't have any problem landing or launching through an ash cloud.

          • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @07:26PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @07:26PM (#1214847)

            Starship also doesn't need a runway, just a relatively flat patch of hard ground. The biggest issue is guidance since volcanic ash tends to interfere with radio signals.

      • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @07:20PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @07:20PM (#1214846)

        The cost per tonne will be higher than current shipping methods, but should still be comparable to long haul air freight. The advantage is that they can reduce costs by consolidating a lot of infrequently used but time critical supplies to depots in the US, while at the same time increasing coverage from 'withing airdrop range of a military base' to 'anywhere'.

    • (Score: 2) by crafoo on Saturday January 22, @09:49AM

      by crafoo (6639) on Saturday January 22, @09:49AM (#1214749)

      Even better, the government now is just creating money out of their asshole, causing inflation, but hey you're right that's really just a flat tax. Anyway, taxes do not even begin to cover spending. Government is on a real tear these days, doubling the circulating money supply in less than 2 years is quite a feat of stupidity. Votes cost money though.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday January 22, @11:02AM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Saturday January 22, @11:02AM (#1214757) Journal

      https://www.industryweek.com/the-economy/regulations/article/21962698/spacex-sues-air-force-protests-lack-of-competition-in-satellite-launch-contracts [industryweek.com]

      They have been launching payloads for the Air Force (now Space Force) for years. The 3rd Falcon Heavy launch (June 2019) was for the Air Force (with a bunch of cool secondary payloads) [wikipedia.org].

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
  • (Score: 0, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @01:12PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @01:12PM (#1214773)

    how is this not going to be miscontrued as a first strike.
    1) russia annex donbass,
    2) us orders delivery of mre by rocket
    3) russia retaliate with delivery of hot pockets to kyiv or similar tactical target.
    4) mic...profit

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by sgleysti on Saturday January 22, @04:33PM

    by sgleysti (56) on Saturday January 22, @04:33PM (#1214816)

    Welcome to Intercontinental Ballistic Mail!

    Please check the box on the form to indicate that your parcel does not contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous, including lithium batteries and perfume.

  • (Score: 2) by bradley13 on Saturday January 22, @04:46PM (5 children)

    by bradley13 (3053) Subscriber Badge on Saturday January 22, @04:46PM (#1214818) Homepage Journal

    As far as I know, none of the rockets are capable of landing, and then taking off again without refueling. Military contracts are likely to send goods into areas not...well suited to high-tech refueling operations. This implies that the rockets would then be abandoned. That makes for incredibly expensive deliveries.

    Of course, the US military is not know for being sensible, when it comes to spending money. There's a reason that the US spends more than the next X countries combined, and it's not that the US military is that much larger. It's just that much more expensive.

    --
    Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday January 22, @06:40PM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Saturday January 22, @06:40PM (#1214833) Journal

      Depends on where they want to land these things. They won't be going to Afghanistan anymore.

      For the refuel, they might be able to get away with very little in the tanks. They can send it back with no cargo and it's not reaching orbit.

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      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @08:02PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @08:02PM (#1214857)

      It all depends on the mission profile, and Starship is expected to be cheap enough to be expendable for deep space scientific missions. Field refuelling can't be too onerous either, since they will need to be able to refuel on Mars for the return trip. They aren't going to be flying into hot zones, so any landing zone with road access should be able to truck fuel in at leisure. Consider Tonga: A dozen Starships could deliver 1200t of personnel and relief supplies within hours, and then they can easily wait for a couple of weeks while things to clear up enough for fuel to be shipped in.

      • (Score: 2, Interesting) by khallow on Sunday January 23, @12:27AM (2 children)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday January 23, @12:27AM (#1214893) Journal
        Or the rocket could be shipped back via normal channels. That seems a lot less complicated, particularly given that for a while more stuff will probably be shipped to a disaster area than will be removed from it.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 24, @05:37PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 24, @05:37PM (#1215298)

          At 9m (30 ft) diameter and 50m (160ft) long, Starship is pretty much the definition of an oversized load. Moving one on surface requires heavy equipment and a wide, flat, paved road with no overhead obstructions all the way to the pier, but fuel can be delivered anywhere an 18 wheeler can get to. Most of the world already has access for trucks, but very little has roads capable of handling something three lanes wide. Refuelling seems to be the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to move one any significant distance.

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday January 25, @06:38AM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 25, @06:38AM (#1215508) Journal

            Refuelling seems to be the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to move one any significant

            I still think it's way easier to move something three lanes wide and half a football field long by road than to refuel it and move it that way. After all, you need to inspect the engine first, hope the stage didn't collapse from days of underpressurization, and then you're fueling with cryofuels in a random location. I wouldn't be surprised if the only thing that actually can be moved are the rocket engines with the rest left in place as exotic litter. Those engines definitely are small enough to be moved by road with normal clearances.

            The thing is light enough that they could move it with a cargo helicopter like a Chinook (assuming very low wind).

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