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posted by martyb on Wednesday May 23 2018, @09:57AM   Printer-friendly
from the Spaaaaaaaaaace! dept.

Ariane chief seems frustrated with SpaceX for driving down launch costs:

[...] chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the US government. [...] Even as Charmeau decries what he calls subsidies for SpaceX from the US government, he admits that Ariane cannot exist without guaranteed contracts purchased by European governments. To make the Ariane 6 vehicle viable, Charmeau said Ariane needs five launches in total for 2021 and eight guaranteed launches for 2022.

[...] Charmeau said the Ariane rocket does not launch often enough to justify the investment into reusability. (It would need about 30 launches a year to justify these costs, he said). And then Charmeau said something telling about why reusability doesn't make sense to a government-backed rocket company—jobs. "Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'" This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can't make a reusable rocket because it would be too efficient.

China's first private rocket reaches 127,000 feet on maiden flight:

OneSpace Technology Co., a Beijing-based aerospace company, has successfully launched a suborbital rocket. This was the first flight for China's commercial launch sector.

[...] The mission was designated OS-X0 as it was the first test launch of OneSpace's OS-X rocket. During the flight, the launch vehicle reached an altitude of 127,106 feet (38.74 kilometers) and had a top speed of more than 5.7 times the speed of sound. This was confirmed by Shu Chang, the company's founder and CEO.

[...] OneSpace is not the only Chinese private company developing launch vehicles. Last year, Link Space, another Beijing-based startup, presented the design of its New Line 1 reusable rocket. That company is targeting 2020 for the first orbital flight of its booster.

Although the Space Launch System's promoters are focusing on the vehicle's payload capacity to trans-Lunar injection orbit, NASA now claims that the SLS Block 1's payload to LEO may be greater than the 70 metric tons originally estimated. This comes as the SLS project has been negatively compared to SpaceX's Falcon Heavy:

While a comparison between NASA's SLS Block 1 and SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is often made, the gulf between the two has actually widened. As the Block 1 design has matured, the agency has refined the vehicle's capabilities by a significant amount. Though NASA prefers to position SLS as a deep-space rocket, [Spaceflight Insider] sought a clarification of the vehicle's capabilities to a more common destination for rockets: low-Earth-orbit (LEO).

NASA replied: "Now that the SLS design has matured and the program has more data as a result of progress with hardware manufacturing and testing, our current analysis shows the Block 1 configuration of SLS can deliver an estimated mass of 95 metric tons (209,439 pounds) to low-Earth orbit based on a 200 by 200-kilometer orbit with a 28.5 degree inclination, which is a commonly used orbit in the industry for estimating performance."

See also:

Here's China's plan to compete with SpaceX and Blue Origin:

How China plans to challenge SpaceX with reusable rockets: State contractor says its first reusable rocket could come in two years

Union votes to end ULA strike

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Wednesday May 23 2018, @11:44AM (9 children)

    by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <> on Wednesday May 23 2018, @11:44AM (#683061) Homepage Journal

    I hear your pain.

    We have what were once called space age materials such as graphite epoxy

    The Saturn 5s computer was in a cylinder that was 17 feet in diameter and 3 feet high

    A few years ago I read that one pound launched to LEO cost ten grand

    Photovoltaics are much more efficient so they don't have to weigh as much

    There was a time when only military coders practiced unit testing.

    Faster denser memory. Oodles of new algorithms

    Flash and optical storage

    Diode lasers

    Blue leds so lamps weigh far less and use very little power

    The blockchain

    US astronauts launched atop Russian rockets

    Many American rockets have Russian engines

    Yes I Have No Bananas. []
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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday May 23 2018, @12:04PM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday May 23 2018, @12:04PM (#683071) Journal
  • (Score: 0, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23 2018, @12:29PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23 2018, @12:29PM (#683081)

    Ten years ago, even smart people like Niel Tyson deGrasse were saying things like that space was impossible for non-government entities and I so wanted to punch him in the face and yell no you fat fuck (apologies to Ave), space is not that hard. It's a myth that is propagated to keep people out and prices high. It's no more difficult to build a Falcon 9 than it is to build a B737. 737's are produced at a rate of about 2/day and 40% more cost.

    Also, like the rocket equation, there's a similar rocket cost equation -- as long as you are spending $150 million on a lanch, you'r going to want to spend 300million to make sure your satellite is going to work. And since you're spending $300 million to make sure it works, you'll spend $400million to doubly make sure it works, then $450million to triply make sure and so on. This is why every gram counts. If a launch cost were $100/kg, there's no way a satellite would cost a billion $.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by takyon on Wednesday May 23 2018, @01:05PM (2 children)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday May 23 2018, @01:05PM (#683090) Journal

      It would be neat to see BFR come well under the cost of Falcon 9, and then see how many small satellites can be deployed in one launch. If the rocket doesn't carry much mass, it will have more fuel to adjust into different orbits and still return for full reuse.

      There are small launch providers that are offering a relatively cheap dedicated ride for small payloads, but they use expendable launchers that keep the price into the millions. SpaceX is hoping to prove that it can rapidly reuse a Falcon 9 within 24 hours or so. Yet there's no clear need for them to do so at this point (even at 50 launches a year, that's less than one per week, and that's out of 3-4 launch sites). It seems like a way to test the techniques needed for rapid reuse of the BFR. SpaceX is on track to create space capabilities so cheap that the market will have to adjust to take advantage of it (you'll see smaller companies and universities launching spacecraft and robots built with off-the-shelf parts to low-Earth orbit or the Moon).

      Conversely, BFR could allow a heavy, "dumb" payload that does not need to be made from the lightest components possible or employ origami-like folding. There have been problems with the JWST related to folding []. If you can fit up to 150 metric tons into a huge fairing, you can send up a cheap but large telescope.

      As for Neil deGrasse Tyson, he has made a career of talking a lot, and sharing opinions/predictions alongside some science facts. So there is no doubt that he will crash and burn on some subjects. He was also describing the situation as it was at the time (minimal commercial interest in space, with Beltway bandits being overfunded by the U.S. government) and probably coming from a place of trying to defend NASA (the public may incorrectly blame NASA for problems that are better blamed on Beltway bandits, Presidential administrations, and Congress). Has he admitted that he was mistaken about commercial spaceflight?

      Is it really no more difficult to build a Falcon 9 than it is to build a B737? You could probably cut some corners or make mistakes with the B737 without killing anybody (on the maiden flight) whereas the Falcon 9 has to endure much more stress.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by frojack on Wednesday May 23 2018, @07:59PM (1 child)

        by frojack (1554) on Wednesday May 23 2018, @07:59PM (#683246) Journal

        Is it really no more difficult to build a Falcon 9 than it is to build a B737?

        No. Its a LOT simpler.

        F9 is an incredibly simple rocket, as rockets go. It is levels of magnitude less complex than a 737,
        even though it weighs 20 times as much.

        These days your middle of the road 737-800 costs about $96.0 million.

        F9 - Empty 549,054 kg (1,210,457 lb) Cost about $62 Million per launch.

        However, SpaceX has a 40% profit margin on each launch, so the rocket direct
        costs are about $36.7 million. 1/3 the cost of a new 737-800.

        (First stage is estimated to cost $27 Million, or about 75% of the entire rocket.)
        Figures from here []

        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday May 23 2018, @08:51PM

          by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday May 23 2018, @08:51PM (#683275) Journal

          So it costs less, sure. But if a major mistake is made, the aircraft might still be able to land without killing all of the passengers. The Falcon 9 might be able to explode a little further from the ground.

          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23 2018, @01:24PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23 2018, @01:24PM (#683096)

    And what new algorithms had to be developed? The control theory and dynamics were understood in the early 1900's.

    Control of a rocket is the classical inverted pendulum problem ( Many propulsive rocket landings had been done in the 60's and landing something like the LEM is in many ways more difficult than landing a tall rocket because of its small phase margin (imagine pushing a bicycle backwards from its seat). They're not that computationally difficult (as in requiring billions of calculations/sec)

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Wednesday May 23 2018, @01:55PM

      by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <> on Wednesday May 23 2018, @01:55PM (#683103) Homepage Journal

      I expect better algos and faster computers ultimately reduce consumption of fuel. Consider the jitter: would reducing jitter result in a lower LEO price?

      Just blowing smoke here, I'm just a physicist and consulting software engineer [].

      Yes I Have No Bananas. []
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by frojack on Wednesday May 23 2018, @08:39PM

      by frojack (1554) on Wednesday May 23 2018, @08:39PM (#683268) Journal

      landing something like the LEM is in many ways more difficult than landing a tall rocket

      Not so sure of that.

      LEM is quite wide, higher percentage of outboard mass and inertia help stabilize the platform, the pendulum was much much shorter, and the LEM was quite hover stable. Watch video of Apollo 15 LEM landing, [] - not a hint of attitudinal instability - (and still riveting all these years later).

      A small tilt induced a lateral motion, but the central descent engine [] could gimble very fast, and the LEM had upper body thrusters that could have also be used (although they weren't used that way until Apollo 13 life boat mode).

      Remember Armstrong manually landed the LEM, on the first moon landing. There weren't all that many calculations going on per second, although the pucker factor must have been high.

      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday May 24 2018, @02:44AM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 24 2018, @02:44AM (#683383) Journal

    this could not have been done in the 70s

    I strongly disagree. The rockets of the 70s wouldn't quite have the performance of modern ones, but they were sufficiently advanced to get the job done. The key problem has always been launch frequency not performance margins.

    NASA has done much over its lifetime to kill demand for orbital launch services, first with a Shuttle monopoly on commercial launch that lasted almost ten years to 1984 - a commercial launch provider simply couldn't exist before that point, followed by a stagnant launch cartel (where five launch providers, including NASA's Space Shuttle, each maintained their own niche monopoly in the US market). The Department of Defense was the organization that finally brought that tumbling down with its Evolutionary Expendable Launch Vehicle program starting in the 90s.

    As a result, SpaceX couldn't have started much before it did and still have a launch market to sell to.