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posted by cmn32480 on Monday July 25 2016, @11:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the cheaper-is-not-better dept.

From the (Kansas City) Daily Star Albany :

Recent moves in Congress to restrict the use of Russian rocket engines on national security missions sparked a revolution in the U.S. commercial space program. Private businesses such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as Aerojet Rocketdyne, are lining up to offer homegrown rocket engines to NASA. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin just abolished his country's own Federal Space Agency, replacing 'Roscosmos' with a new corporation that "will design new spacecraft and implement new projects by itself."

But before you assume that Russia has been bitten by the Capitalism bug - don't. In contrast to SpaceX, which is a private venture, Russia's new-and-improved Roscosmos will be wholly owned by the Russian state.

Asserting complete control over the space effort is, to Putin's mind, a way to control costs and prevent corruption, such as when certain persons at Roscosmos famously embezzled or wasted as much as $1.8 billion in 2014. Whether the restructuring will also make space travel "cheaper," as [deputy prime minister] Rogozin hopes, remains to be seen.

SpaceX publishes a price of $61.2M USD for a Falcon 9 launch. Can Roscosmos compete with that? The Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture ULA finds that price hard to beat. So do the French and Chinese. From the article:

[...] California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez described a conversation she had with France's Arianespace a few years ago: "They were telling me that their launch costs about $200 million equivalent. They said they weren't worried about UAL [sic] but could I get rid of SpaceX? Because they were going to drive them out of business!"

And over in China, officials interviewed by Aviation Week recently lamented that "published prices on the SpaceX website [are] very low." So low, in fact, that with China's own Long March rockets costing $70 million per launch, "they could not match them."

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  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:04AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:04AM (#380125)

    I'll suggest that SpaceX is cheap because they have actually put a production line in place. Not ones & twos, but a real line. The Dragon 9 first stage uses 9 engines + one for the second stage. When I toured the Hawthorne plant (a mechE friend works there) in March they were on schedule to turn out 250 engines per year -- 25 launches. Each engine is built on a special pallet and is moved from one assembly station to the next every day. This kind of production takes production planning, to make sure that operations and supplies are all balanced and available when needed.

    Each engine is the same, with one set of options if it's going to be used for the upper stage. Otherwise, no "specials" to upset the production flow. These engines are also cleverly designed and are nearly self-contained with local computing for engine control, sensor monitoring, safety, etc (just one network connection to the flight computer), plus power & fuel/oxidizer connections of course. So assembly into the booster is simplified, minimal wiring, and if a problem occurs during preflight, another engine can be swapped in quickly.

    Similar production lines are also in place for the other major systems (but they were not included in my nickel tour).

    Some of this is covered in this article from Feb 2016, []

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