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SpaceX launch webcast: Orbcomm-2 Mission [video] (spacex.com)
1284 points by clessg on Dec 22, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 426 comments

I join in congratulating SpaceX for this awesome achievement. It's like, holy fuck, they landed the rocket AND deployed 11 satellites, all in a single Pomodoro!

I also want to commend them for a few minor things:

- a real-time stream from landing (as opposed to holding it and releasing footage few days later, as before)

- a real-time stream from satellite deployment, with a camera placed so that we could see everything (as opposed to the typical low-quality stream of the engine nozzle)

- a launch timeline visible on the stream

This mission looked an order of magnitude better than anything they did before. It's like, before they were just playing around, and now they're doing serious business. Keep it up, SpaceX!

AIUI from /r/spacex last time, the reason we didn't have live video from the barges is that they simply did not have live video from the barges. They didn't have the bandwidth for it that far out to sea. If they could have provided it, they presumably would have. After all, they released the video of the Falcon Punch afterwards, and had this one blown up it would have done so live.

But they really upped the PR game this time, that's for sure. I assume somebody must have had a look at the viewer count numbers from the last few and put 2 and 2 together on the opportunity they were missing out on. A nice job of it overall.

LMAO "falcon punch"

Not mine, but irresistible.

Presumably the sting of the term is now entirely gone. Nothing succeeds like success.

Personally, the biggest laugh I had on /r/spacex was when the CRS-7 failure study came up and they had to remove the word "strut" from the list of terms that caused comments to be automatically put to moderation - it was banned because of all the KSP jokes, but suddenly the rocket really found itself in need of moar struts.

So, all these comments that they were moderating. They were right.

Not more, just better.

Actually, not better. Just "Not worse." The struts that were manufactured to spec were fine. The problem was with struts that weren't up to spec.

More would have helped too. But better is, uh, better.

Agreed. Loved the data feed on the video. The tension built up as the indicatior neared the "landing" hash mark.

I had to stay longer at work and was late to the event. My first question, even as the YouTube link loaded, was... "Did they land it yet?", followed by "When are they landing?". Lo and behold, a nice progress bar saying - grab your popcorn, we're about to land now!

It was also super cool to see the employee reaction. There aren't that many situations in business that warrant such a reaction.

It's amazing to me how much power SpaceX has to both re-activate so (comparatively) soon after a failure and to delay the launch by a day solely for its own purposes (perhaps it's launch client gets a discount?).

They probably just have a well-planned contract.

I think they finally had real time stream just because they were not landing on sea anymore; they just didn't have the bandwidth from the barge. Elon mentioned the reason they couldn't stream before was technical, not political/PR, and that they always wanted to stream it.

Agreed, though. It was masterly done. Loved the timeline.

When I read about Elon Musk including SpaceX I cannot help myself but think that he is like one of those comic book heroes from Marvel. :)

They want to reuse rockets similar to planes in the future. It's mind blowing and super exciting!

Tony Stark / Iron Man in the recent Marvel movies was actually modelled on Elon Musk. Elon even has a cameo in IM2 :).


I'm not implying that they were holding back on purpose, but I did not expect the quality of the whole streaming event to go up so highly. It feels different than before.

It does definitely... though they really drop the ball after the main event is over at least from a perspective of the news. the news would beat this to death and then after 3 days stop covering it. This was maybe 5 min after the mission was a success that they cut the feed. milk it for all it's worth and show some of the other successes and failures from past missions. It definitely feels like the mission pr was handled by engineers. (not trying to be a jerk as I am an engineer)

Really such a groundbreaking thing like this should be glorified in the media and put on loop for a while. simply amazing.

> show some of the other successes and failures from past missions

And confuse people that happen to be tuning in at the wrong time? No thanks. This is a live stream not a news broadcast.

you can always have a big flashing banner that says "previously recorded" or "prior missions" or something like that.

I can get the news from other places, I like that the live feed is just the live feed. Once it's done, it's done. Let's not fill it with shit shall we?

I agree, I don't need the perspective of an author over top of the launch audio feed. I liked the rougher but more authentic streams they did in the past.

I think the OP was simply saying this webcast was so phenomenal that the others pale in comparison. That's not so much a slight on the previous webcasts as is it a compliment of how great this one was.

Yes, that's exactly what I meant.

So, I've lived within earshot of the Cape since 1985, and I'm pretty used to hearing launches. Tonight, I had a new experience.

I was working on a signal distortion problem with a colleague when I heard the rumble of the launch. "Rocket just launched", I said. He was on Google chat with me and said, "It did?". He lives a few miles south of me and so he gets the sound waves a few seconds later ;).

A couple of minutes later I did a double-take. "THAT's a new sound!". I've heard rockets blow before, but I've never heard one come back to land.

Then I checked the internet to confirm what my ears had already told me.

Congrats to SpaceX and thank you for not landing it on my house!

This is so epically awesome that I feel like we orbited a human for the first time or something. Bezos whining aside, its a huge deal to return 9 engines from a workhorse booster back to the pad to be refurbed and re-used. If the $5M each costs are correct, that is $45M in cost savings right there.

But perhaps more importantly its the first "first" for SpaceX which has not been done by NASA or anyone else. Launch a payload in to orbit and recover the booster back to the launch site. The SRBs from the shuttle were essentially shell refurbs, SpaceShip 1 and Blue Origin sub-orbital hops. This was, in my estimation, the real deal. It has to be an amazing feeling being on the team that made this possible. Congratulations, that is one way to write yourself into the history books.

Edit: I was so excited I couldn't even multiply 9 by 5!

The whole Bezos/BlueOrigin thing is kind of sad. They are nowhere near a "club" with SpaceX.

One of the huge differences (and there are many) is that Falcon 9 was doing 6,000 Km/hr (~4,000 mi/hr) when the first stage separated and turned around to come back.

The path was not straight up, but rather one to launch the second stage into orbital flight (which reached 26,000 Km/hr and 600 miles of altitude).

Then Falcon9's first stage FLEW a curved return path; fired three engines to slow down from holy-crap miles-per-hour, shut them down and then, at exactly the right moment in time, fired one engine to land.

The Bezos rocket went straight up to zero velocity and came straight back down.

It's like throwing a bottle straight up in the air compared to throwing one in a parabolic path to the top of the Empire State building and having that bottle then turn around, fly that same parabolic path to return and land at your feet.

Not sure why Bezos feels the need to try to imply his effort (which IS significant) is on the same league as SpaceX other than to potentially try to leverage the fabricated parity for publicity and external funding.

Not only this, but the spacex grasshopper test was the first that I saw that had the rocket do a vertical takeoff, and then land.


get a load of this: https://youtu.be/wv9n9Casp1o?t=2m11s

1995, DC-X, and it's pyramidal

Yeah, I still have a newspaper clipping on my wall from Aug 21st, 1993 (San Jose Mercury News) showing it in the take off, hover, and landing stages. I really wanted to work on it then too!

TIL that the DCX was canceled by Nasa not for technical reasons - looks more like politics. The program was 21 months old and cost $60M.

Is that correct? Amazing that this was achievable 20 years ago. Why no other re-usable rocket since 1996 if this was doable?

You should read one of Jerry Pournelle's rants on the subject. There was a lot of bitterness from people who supported the program.

The problem with SSTOs, in general is that while getting them to take off and land isn't a big hurdle, getting them into orbit with more than a nontrivial payload is pretty difficult.


It's a concept with its supporters, but there's a pretty large program risk - the numbers are so tight you may get to the end of your development and realize your rocket works but can take only, you know, 25 pounds of payload to LEO. Or maybe a few tons. Or maybe you can't get to orbit at all.

SpaceX's plan to land each stage individually probably makes a lot more sense from the risk perspective.

   > Why no other re-usable rocket since 1996 if this 
   > was doable?
Economics, technology, motivation. All were in short supply in the 90's. One of my favorites was Rotary Rocket. It made great strides but didn't have the right team to get it into production.

This has been done a dozen times, from DC-X to JAXA's RTV to Armadillo's Stig. What makes the SpaceX effort different is it's part of a practical launch system and not an SSTO concept prototype like the others.

Bezos and Musk should NOT be on twitter for their sake. Imagine for a few decades no one tells you "no" or "you're wrong" and you have thousands of peons to kick around. Megalomania is 100% going to happen. Best just contain that behind closed doors.

I think it's great how Elon uses Twitter. It's better than him being a shadowy figure shrouded in mystery. Remember, he's doing this primarily for the passion, not money, and he wants to inspire others to join him. You don't do that by being a Mr ??? sat in the background.

Have you beenin twitter? There's plenty of people there, ready not only to tell you that you're wrong, but explain why and how in great excruciating detail

The only thing that can be explained on Twitter in excruciating detail is its obnoxiously short character limit resulting in no possibili

> excruciating detail

Sure in 140 characters.

Eh - I think a good bit of it is entertainment for public consumption. Competition keeps people interested. It's pretty neat how we've gone from two superpowers duking it out in a cold war to two rich dudes exchanging barbs on twitter.

Question: if what Bezos did was just launching straight up and then landing, why is it any better than this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwwS4YOTbbw

when SpaceX launched 1000m and landed? Just because it was higher? It seems like SpaceX has Bezos beat on both sides - they launched and landed a rocket before Bezos, and now theyve launched and landed a rocket higher than Bezos. So all Bezos did was launch his rocket higher than SpaceX's at the time. Is that right?

I am of the opinion that I don't give a damn, what both are doing is incredibly complex and from a nerd/geek perspective very cool. If there is some rivalry then so be it, but damn they are both working to make space accessible and for that we need to cheer them both on.

Still Elon is more geeky, technical, coder, not-care about money than Jeff is.

Stuck the landing! Congratulations! 10/10. Would land again.

Completely amazing! I'm sure I heard a "holy shit" or two there in the audience. :)

EDIT: One question for the rocket scientists here: exactly how reusable do they expect these returned first stage rockets to be? What is the process of certifying that a returned rocket is fit to fly, and what components are most likely to need repairing/replacing with each launch?

This is in the "to be optimized" bracket. If they can get any kind of consistency landing even heavily strained rockets, they can reframe/readjust/redesign as necessary (like adding more support in areas etc).

Exactly. Now that they got one back they can actually start the process of figuring out what needs to be done to make the first stage as reusable as possible. It's a long road, but they can finally make some headway now.

How reusable this first stage is? They'll have to study it meticulously to find out. But what they're aiming for is to be able to just refuel it, mount new payload on top, and relight it in the span of hours.

Would you fly passengers on the test flight of a new plane? Yet we do that with rockets. After they've done this a bunch of times to understand any fatigue and thermal degradation problems properly, it should be safer to fly a reused rocket than a new one.

That's an impressively ambitious goal. Has SpaceX mentioned any willingness to use returned first stage rockets to launch astronauts? That would be the ultimate expression of their confidence in this approach, though understandably it may be a long ways off.

It's funny, with most vehicles you want to avoid being on a completely new, untested one. Think about it: would you be comfortable flying on a brand new 787 that had never been flown before, not even once? I sure wouldn't. Before long, maybe rockets will be like that too.

Depends if the first flight almost destroys the vehicle. It'll be very interesting to see how well this rocket stood up to the flight. Since orbital rockets are within epsilon of just blowing up every time any way!

Incredible project. Reusable rockets. It's science fiction coming to life again, like the 1960s.

You know, that's a very good point. :)

Well you want to be in the middle of the curve - you don't feel particularly comfortable flying a 30-year-old plane either (at least I don't). It's just that so far the curve for rockets is more of a spike.

Can't find any direct quote about it, but I imagine they're thinking about it and considering it in not-so-far future, given that the new Dragon, which is going to be certified to carry astronauts, is designed to be capable to perform an abort at any time during the mission - which means it's supposed to be able to escape from the blast of an exploding first stage :).

A follow-up question to that would be - how much $$ do you save per launch by reusing the first stage?

The money quote:

> Musk said that a rocket's first stage accounts for three-quarters of its total price tag, so a vehicle with a reusable first stage can be produced at far less cost — assuming the hardware is fully and rapidly reusable.

~75% savings seems like a "best case scenario" number.

Good enough for me. Even if it is only 25% in practice they'll own the market.

They're already insanely cheap compared to most competitors. This should take them to being ludicrously cheap.

Let's see who tries to imitate them and do a re-use, some real competition is what's needed next.

Now for second stage re-use ;)

I think SpaceX is sufficiently motivated by their man at the top that they'll keep doing great things even in the total absence of competition. But it would still be great to see others go this way, to see different approaches tried and such. It sounds like some other launchers were looking at reusability plans before (Ariane had plans for some wacky thing that would fly back just the engines) but now that it's been demonstrated to work I imagine it will become much more serious.

And then for the crew capsule reuse... oh wait :).

Seriously though, now I'm just waiting for updates on BFR / Mars mission development progress.

ULA is already trying to imitate them with their announced 'Vulcan' concept, where the engines eject and parachute back, but that's (many) years away from actually happening.

The other important factor is how many times you get to re-use the stage, because that tells you the saving per launch. If you get to re-use it once, then on each flight you save 37.5% of the launch cost. If you re-use it again twice (3 launches of the first stage) you save 50% of the launch cost per flight (each flight costs you 1/3 of the first stage cost). And so on. That's not factoring in refurb and re-fueling costs, of course.

If I understand correctly, even if they can only reuse the rocket motors, that would still be most of the 75% figure.

Aside from the cost savings, the other goal of reusing boosters is to reduce the time between launches.

The challenge for SpaceX is to inspect the booster, integrate a new second stage & payload, and relaunch in a few weeks. With a few years of work, it should be almost like a cargo jet turnaround.

ULA's Vulcan plan is to parachute the engines and pumps back, catch the rope with a helicopter, inspect and reattach to a new set of tanks. That seems likely to be a little more complex to me.

The catching with a helicopter part is complex, but not time-consuming - either it works or it doesn't. The rest is probably if anything easier - I'd imagine SpaceX will have to tear down the booster entirely for inspection, at least for the first few hundred. These things are (or will be) built to be disassembled and reassembled, attaching engines and pumps to a new tank is not going to be a long and complex process.


There's really not a lot of costs that can add up for reuse of these stages. It'll require a bit of cleaning up, a few new bits and pieces replaced and added, and a lot of inspection work. But most of the cost of the stage is in manufacturing the engines and tanks, so it should add up to enormous savings, even if it's relatively costly to reuse each stage compared to the theoretical limits.

Edit: the flip-side is that the reliability and robustness improvements from reusability may be as big a win as cost. Currently it costs tens of millions of dollars to launch a rocket to orbit, which means it's almost never done except as part of a paid launch. Moreover, despite the seemingly high number of launches very few of those launches represent expanding the test-envelope much, every single launch is typically straight down the middle of the performance envelope, to maximize the chance of success. That results in learning very little about these vehicles despite how much they've been flown. By introducing reuse and dropping the cost of flight it may become possible to do real test programs, which would make it possible to determine the flight envelope characteristics of vehicles and help lead to improving designs over time.

And with the amount of redundancy built in they might even go with 'acceptable loss' in terms of engines that cut out early in flight. Which makes you wonder how many engines they could lose and still complete a mission.

Falcon 9 is designed to withstand losing one engine and still make it to orbit.

Reusability makes it more interesting. There's a lot of extra fuel on board now which could be used to make up for lost engines if you're willing to throw away the first stage.

Good point. Orbcomm already paid off the booster. Now SpaceX can take it up for a joy ride for only a few hundred grand of gas and really fly the fins off it.

I bet they relaunch this booster on their own dime as a demo.

I have no inside knowledge, but I'd suspect Orbcomm paid next to nothing for this launch.

Between "You'll be the first launch since the last one... You know, that one with a small anomaly..." and fact that this was the first launch of a new version of the falcon 9 (with slightly different engines, cooler/more pressurized O2), I know that if I were negociating for Orbcomm, I'd ask spaceX to cross the last digit on their bill (and probably have a much more expensive insurance policy in return).

And to delay a _commercial_ launch in order to accommodate weather for the _landing_ ? AFAIK, that's another world's first in history and I think that tells a lot on the underlying story.

Don't get me wrong, this is an amazing achievement, and the economics of it don't really matter when it comes to the technical prowess

Is was a substantial discount, but not "next to nothing". Something like $42 million for two launches, versus $65 million for one launch. And they've been patient with delays and such, which costs a lot of money too.

The launch service provider has the last say on the date of the launch. The customer provides orbital parameters, and the launch just needs to make sure that insertion happens. Delaying for weather is pretty common, and as long as the payload gets to where it's supposed to, everyone's happy. The Orbcomm contract wouldn't have had a launch date specified, except in terms of NET (no earlier than) or similar. The launch windows are decided by SpaceX based on the requirements, and are the other constraint, and there was a window on both days.

For this launch, Orbcomm paid a pittance. They paid Falcon 1 prices for a Falcon 9 launch.

Not quite. These satellites were indeed originally supposed to go up on a Falcon 1, but not 11 at a time. They got a pretty big discount, but not quite a pittance.

Total nonsense. They pay a lot. It's the Insurance company who covers the losses.

Depends on the procedure they ultimately decided to use for the prep. Originally the the shuttle main engines had to be taken apart, with every part inspected before the next launch. If they have to do something like that there's not much point.

But if they can get it to point where it's a matter of gassing it up for the next flight, that's a huge savings. Fuel is a few hundred grand for a rocket that costs sixty million dollars. It's nothing, basically.

Hopefully it won't be anything like the Shuttle. The Shuttle was bleeding edge in a dozen different ways. The engines were extremely high performance and that made them fragile.

SpaceX seems to build things a lot more low-key. They don't use fancy propellants, their engines aren't particularly efficient, and overall they seem to go more for robustness and simplicity.

(Simplicity doesn't really apply for a crazy-ass landing scheme. But aside from that....)

Obviously it remains to be seen, but I think it's likely to be a lot more gas-and-go than the Shuttle.

Yes, I expect you're right about that, and furthermore I expect SpaceX will be willing to make substantial design changes in support of that effort.

NARS but probably comparable to shuttle engines and body.

The shuttle's main engines were extremely high-performance. They were marvels of engineering but required a lot of work between flights. Just like cars can be optimized for performance or reliability (think Honda Civic versus Ferrari) rocket engines can be made more maintainable and tolerant to long use periods. Not saying Spacex engines are Hondas, but they are probably way less trouble than SSMEs.

Soyez has been flying nearly 50 years. It's the dump truck of space, with 1700 launches to date. Compare that to the much more elaborate Shuttle's 135. Elon would rather have the dump truck than the Ferrari.

The Shuttle engines operate on hydrogen which burns very cleanly. RP-1 will leave the engine dirty with coking, so they definitely need to clean re-assemble each engine.

On the other hand, the solid boosters of the Space Shuttle were severely damaged by the impact and corrosion of the sea water, after "recovery" they were essentially a source of parts for new boosters.

Overall, I really hope they can improve re-usability above what the Space Shuttle achieved.

FWIW, SpaceX has launched stages after full-length (3 minute plus) burns on the test stand, on a schedule that wouldn't allow time for that kind of teardown. They'll need to do something to clean the engines out eventually, but if several minutes of operation were enough to cause serious gunking, then between those test runs and the multiple runs of the grasshopper test vehicle for landing sequences, they've seen it and know how to deal with it.

(Incidentally, SpaceX is known for keeping some aspect of their operations trade secret, rather than patenting. So, if they had some solvent that dissolved the gunk and simplified the cleanup process, or some such similar trick, it's likely that no one outside the company would know about it.)

The first stage goes through at least one full mission duration burn and another ignition before finally launching. So they don't need to be reassembled completely between each firing. I assume they have been repeatedly firing engines for a while now to see how many relights they can get.

The hydrogen in the Space Shuttle Main Engine creates embrittlement in the alloys of the engine. [1][2] The launch sequence also involved running the engines at 104.5% of rated capacity. [3] Before Block II of the engines, the turbopumps needed to be disassembled and rebuilt between flights. [4]

I have no real idea how significant coking of the Merlin engine is, but the SSMEs were hardly "clean".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_embrittlement [2] http://www.tms.org/Superalloys/10.7449/1991/Superalloys_1991... [3] http://www.interspacenews.com/FeatureArticle/tabid/130/Defau... [4] http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/174534main_ssme.pdf

IIRC the 104% was additional performance they enabled through upgrades and design improvements beyond the original design not over-driving them.

That right. The 100% level was set at some point during the design process. Later they found ways to slightly increase the thrust. Rather than recalibrate all the numbers, they just kept using the original "100%" and called the new level "104%."

Basically, it's "104% of what the engineers circa 1975 thought the level would be," not 104% of what the hardware was rated for.

They did re-light the engines, curious how many times in a row they can pull that trick before contamination becomes a problem.

The first stage rocket doesn't go nearly as high or as fast as the shuttle though, no? AFAIK the shuttle had to have its heat shield replaced after each return trip, and it landed aerodynamically rather than via rocket power. I'd presume that the powered descent of the first stage means that it doesn't need any sort of heat shielding, at the expense of more stress on the engines, thus requiring a bespoke inspection process.

It doesn't have a heat shield because it simply doesn't go fast enough relative to the atmosphere to need one, it does not 're-enter' the atmosphere at nearly the same horizontal speeds the shuttle did (from full orbital velocity down to landing speed). Even so, the stresses from heating up, cooling down, launch and landing are such that they will likely magnaflux that whole thing from one end to the other just to be sure there aren't any defects, especially until they have more experience, they'll pick it apart and inspect each and every bit to see how well it performed. Later on when they have much more data they might decide to swap out parts only every so many launches if possible.

Got my daughter out of bed at T-5 to watch the launch sequence and possibly history being made. Thrilling to watch it with her, tried to give her an idea of how momentous this is. Wonderful. Congrats to all at SpaceX!

Humanity just made progress! Amazing.

Yup, congrats to the whole team. Damn amazing achievement!

I had the whole family watch. They'll remember this moment for a long time to come. Well done!

History is made!

Congrats! Massive step into the era of reusable rockets.



hah! Tears in my eyes here this is absolutely incredible to watch.

I stayed up for this, I hope I didn't wake up the neighbours and it will take days to wipe the grin of my face.

I had to stay late at work to finish last tasks before my vacation time; I was worried I'll miss it, but I managed to tune in just few minutes before the landing. I have a huge grin on my face that won't go off easily. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time, and I'm going to be an insufferable person tomorrow, yelling to everyone in the earshot about it!

EDIT: To quote my friend's reaction,


Let's Kerbal the shit out of Space."

We just witnessed a major moment in history. Unbelievable.

edit: haha, nice downvote, whoever it was. :)

Biggest step since man on the moon for me. Really, the cost of access to space just went down the biggest step since we started making rockets.

We've reached some amazing heights since then - the flyby of Pluto, intercepting 67P/C-G - but I have to agree. It might not be the biggest step up - but it sure seems like the biggest step forwards.

Government space missions are limited by taxpayer interest/funding, and the high cost of access to space has mostly limited commercial interest to things like communication and surveying satellites. I'm really looking forward to what new opportunities open up in both spaces when we can do so much more for the same cost.

I called this arguably the biggest thing in space travel since 1969. I was thinking about those remarkable missions to Pluto and such, and I really think this is a whole different level. It's a multiplier.

Those missions are remarkable partly because they're amazing firsts, and partly because of what they've been able to accomplish with huge limitations and cost restrictions. They're amazing because of finesse, and if this whole reusability thing works out, you'll be able to brute force them instead. Visiting a comet is amazing. Making launches so cheap that it becomes practical to visit fifty comets would be astounding.

It's a bit like the invention of the steamship. It doesn't take you anywhere new. Sailing ships got the job done. But it transformed the world just the same.

     "Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon's suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!"
Oy... someone needs to tell Bezos it's a whole different scale than what he did.


I have a vague feeling he's being snide to pay Elon back for those mildly snarky tweets back when Blue Origin landed their rocket.


Musk: "Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster"

Musk: "It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/"



NASAWatch: "Gee Jeff @SpaceX just put a bunch of stuff into orbit - again. Something you have yet to figure out how to do."


I'm not sure if they're all joking around, or are there serious ego issues at play here.

Actually, thinking about it, if they staged a faux-rivalry, it would probably get more public interest in space. People can choose their team and have someone to root for and someone to hate.

I've said it before: we need another space race. If we can't convince the superpower countries to do it, might as well be two billionaire CEOs.

Think we can get Gates or Buffet into it as well maybe?

Buffet no, but Paul Allen has invests in space (SpaceshipOne, and Vulkan)

They've been in a hiring war for talent too though, lending weight to a genuine rivalry.

your link works fine, the one above had a bad double quote at the end

>Gee Jeff @SpaceX just put a bunch of stuff into orbit - again. Something you have yet to figure out how to do.

That's not even fun banter. Just a squeaky voice trying to get a sucker punch in.

Your link has a little extra on it :)


Randall must feel pretty snide when even Elon is referencing his comics..

I've talked to both the director of DARPA and Charles Bennett (cosmic background explorer of "science it works bitches" xkcd fame), and both love the XKCD's referencing their relevant work. I've also met Randall himself a few times and he's incredibly humble and would pass anyone's "normal guy" threshold.

I don't think you meant to say "snide" [1] which means "derogatory in a nasty, insinuating manner" but I can't for the life of me work out what you did mean to say instead before autocorrect (or typo) took over?

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/snide

Gates, too. XKCD has arrived, even if the world doesn't know it yet.

So it's very strange to me that this comment made it all the way to -2. What makes this comment about an old billionaire liking XKCD different from the parent comment about a new billionaire also liking XKCD?

This is not a complaint; inquiring minds want to know.

He knows, but the public doesn't and he can say what he wants to twist the perception in his favor and give the impression that the feats were equally challenging.

Not to remove any merit to Blue Origin's achievement, but it's nowhere near what SpaceX just pulled off.

The public that cares about this achievement (or Blue Origin's) likely understands the difference.

I disagree. There are a lot of people out there who are interested in space but don't really understand it. Just one anecdote, I spent twenty minutes explaining the difference to my father after BO's landing, which he genuinely thought was beating SpaceX to the punch.

As does the public that might decide to host a bunch of stuff with AWS (or not). Really bad move on Bezos' part, not everything is economics.

I guarantee our ops team will not make infrastructure buying decisions based on the quality of their aerospace side-projects.

Can someone explain exactly what Bezos/Blue Origin did, and how it is different than what SpaceX did?

EDIT: Here's a video that compares/contrasts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8c7RUjNFDo

This video ain't bad, but it skims over the two most important points and skips one completely:

- SpaceX rocket goes really fast horizontally; it has to flip around and boost back, and then correct from horizontal to vertical orientation.

- Falcon 9 is an actual space launch system; it has different (i.e. much stricter) engineering constraints than a suborbital rocket. In particular, this affects the engine design.

- Most importantly, the first stage of Falcon 9 does what's known as "suicide burn" - it waits until the last possible second to fire back the engine, so that it reaches exactly zero velocity relative to the ground as it touches down. It does so, because it can't hover - even the single one one of the nine Merlin engines, throttled down to minimum, still generates more thrust than the now almost empty booster weights. On the other hand, Blue Origin's rocket can slow down to a hover, and then take its time to stabilize and land.

So, the falcon 9 could, in theory, do multiple attempts (given it has enough fuel)? If the first attempt doesn't work out, pull itself up a bit, correct, and then fall down again?

It doesn't have enough fuel, and keeping more in the booster would mean reducing the payload it could carry. I think most of the ways the landing could go wrong involve the rocket falling over, which wouldn't be recoverable (the fins do nothing at low speed, and the engine can gimbal but only a little bit).

In addition to fuel, the engines also can't restart an unlimited number of times. Starting the engines requires a special chemical charge to get the fire going, and it only carries as many as it actually needs.

On-pad airbags to cushion a toppling rocket that's had an otherwise near-perfect approach?

Sometimes the pictures lose the sense of scale - the stage they're landing is something like 20 stories high, and the engines alone weigh around 4 tonnes. Also anything you put on the pad has to survive being torched by a rocket plume as it comes in for landing - even the concrete is pretty scorched. So that kind of system would be pretty hard to implement - and even if it were workable, Musk is mainly interested in landing systems that will work on Mars too.

Why don't they put a smaller engine in the centre for landings?

It would make the rocket too heavy. To add another engine, they would have to make the rocket larger in diameter, increasing the weight by a fair amount (they currently have the 9th engine in the middle, so it would have to get moved to the ring with the rest). Reducing the power of the center engine would also reduce the amount of payload to orbit.

Rockets that can reach orbit have very bad weight to payload ratios (Falcon 9 is ~2.5% takeoff weight to LEO) so there isn't much room for dead weight.

It's actually more about complexity. They could simply replace the center engine with a lower power design and still get plenty of mass to orbit. The issue then is that you have to design a completely new engine and have 2 different engines in your first stage. More complexity generally equals more risk, and historically SpaceX has sought to maximize simplicity for the sake of reliability and rapid iteration.

And besides, it would be a waste. Landing with the engines they have is "just" a software problem. (Technically a control system problem.) Assuming they can make it work consistently, the save the added cost and inefficiency of a separate landing engine for all future launches.

And you suddenly introduce a single point of failure for the return part of the mission.

Can the first stage land with a failed center engine?

It has eight other engines to fall back on, and engine restarts are already normal part of the return flight. Centre engine failure before the final burn starts would certainly be survivable. It's just a question of the software using two or three engines in a symmetrical pattern for a 1/2 or 1/3 of the length of the 1-engine burn. I'm not sure if they could also fire one engine asymmetrically and use momentum and the secondary positioning system of cold thrusters to counter the asymmetry.

I don't think that the software is enabled yet -- SpaceX usually press forward with the main objective first, and flesh out the contingencies later (for example, abort hardware was present during the last failed launch, and it had been tested before, but the software wasn't enabled, and they lost the vehicle).

Landing is already severely constrained by the minimum thrust of the engine though. At a minimum using two would make the tolerances much, much tighter. Remember it wouldn't be double the thrust but rather several times the net thrust, since the downward thrust from gravity would stay the same.

Theoretically it would still have ample thrust but I don't know about the other factors like gimballing and asymmetrical thrust.

On a parachute maybe, but then it will still be damaged on landing.

What I meant was I don't think a different-model center engine would be any more of a single point of failure than it already is.

They're talking about the center engine of the first stage, not the single engine of the second stage.

Yes. How would making that a different engine "introduce a single point of failure for the return part of the mission" that wasn't there already?

Because the return part of the mission relies on nine identical engines right now. So if one fails it is not a problem. But if you replace the central one with a different one that becomes critical for the return mission then you have made matters worse.

> Because the return part of the mission relies on nine identical engines right now. So if one fails it is not a problem.

Is that true? Doesn't the landing have to use the center engine - any other single engine would be asymmetric, and multiple engines would have too high a thrust.

Yes, if the center engine fails, the landing fails. There's no way to recover from that.

But the great thing about SpaceX's system is that it starts with a cheap expendable rocket, then makes it recoverable. You lose one? Who cares, build another one. They could have a 50% success rate recovering the first stages and it would still make things amazingly cheaper.

For future reference, the return part is made up of 3 burns. The first two use three engines, and the landing burn uses just the one. Coming back, it's obviously much lighter without all the propellant and 2nd stage/payload weight, so it needs much less thrust to reverse course. See http://flightclub.io for more info.

The turbopumps that pump fuel into the main engines are basically mini rocket engines. They even contribute a small amount of thrust. So it's possible that the rocket could be redesigned so that the center return/hover engine could also be a fuel pump for the outer ring of main engines. However, this introduces a single point of failure for the main mission of launching payloads.

You won't be able to adjust thrust vector (and stabilize the landing booster) with just one engine.

The Falcon 9 does not rely on differential thrust - the center engine (and the others, I believe) can gimbal ("rotate").

SpaceX's Falcon lands with only one engine. The other 8 are off.

"Welcome to the club"? Wow, that was classless. What Blue Origin did was impressive, but it was utterly trivial compared to what just happened with this flight.

Someone should return the favor whenever he gets into orbit

Really, 'classless'? The achievement is landing a space-capable booster vertically, after an actual mission above 100km, which can then be reused. And, Blue Origin managed that first, no two ways about it. I think it's probably pretty classless to imply that what Blue Origin managed to do was 'trivial'. Just because SpaceX is the current hacker's favourite, doesn't mean you have to downplay everyone else. I think Musk's tweet about the difference between 'space' and 'orbit' was actually pretty pointless hair-splitting. Now, you can get technical and say that the achievement is landing a booster that is part of an orbital launch system but really, what the rest of the system does has no real part to play in the landing of the rocket stage, and I think everyone else understands that.

The achievement is landing a space-capable booster vertically, after an actual mission above 100km, which can then be reused.

Who said that was the achievement? What is important about that achievement?

The important achievement is dramatically reducing the cost of sending things into space (such that they will stay there). SpaceX's rockets achieve this, Blue Origin's don't even attempt to be in that league. Using your Everest analogy, Blue Origin was the first to climb some lesser peak nobody cared that much about (still, nice job), then SpaceX climbed Everest, and Bezos said "welcome to the tall mountain club."

"Who said that was the achievement?"

Anyone who understood what was being achieved. That doesn't mean that a single achieve or being first in itself is that meaningful, but it's still an achivement.

Just like anyone who understands mountaineering knows that climbing Everest isn't the greatest norvthe hardest achivement among tall mountains i.e. the eight-thousanders.

New Shepard is able to make several compromises that make landing _much_ easier. New Shepard doesn't have to get anywhere close to orbital velocity, so it can use a far less powerful engine. That means it can throttle down far enough to hover. That is a _huge_ advantage over Falcon 9, which must time the landing burn perfectly to hit 0 velocity at the exact moment it touches the ground.

They're in the same club like a general aviation pilot landing his Piper Cub on a giant runway and a navy pilot landing his F-14 on a carrier are "in the same club". While it's technically true, pointing it out would be pretty tacky...

But the F9 first stage doesn't get to orbital velocity, either, remember.

The achievements are comparable, despite the fact it makes SpaceX come second. Blue Origin was first with a VTOL rocket stage, as part of a space system.

> But the F9 first stage doesn't get to orbital velocity, either, remember.

It gets a whole lot closer (and is _much_ larger).

I really can't emphasize enough how much of a difference the ability to hover makes for New Shepard. SpaceX has been doing "New Shepard" type flights for a long time now (they didn't bother going that high, but 'high' isn't really that interesting, it's 'fast' that matters). However, Grasshopper (like New Shepard) was able to throttle down to a TWR less than 1. That makes landing so much easier (the rocket can 'stop' and get settled before it proceeds to land).

To give people an idea, this is the difference of scale:


Blue Origin's achievement is nice; just as older prototypes that achieved suborbital landing (Grasshopper, DC-X), but it's unclear yet what it meant for the industry (hope they keep going though, they're a good track). SpaceX's landing is a landmark for space travel, rapid reusability is now much closer. I'm much more confident now this will change the cost structure of the whole industry, seeing how launch is a dominant factor.

Sure, Bezos gets the "first rocket that went to 'space' and landed vertically" prize. It might even be cool sounding for the laypeople who really don't know what values 'space' can take.

But it's not what matters, in fact it's irrelevant, was not a disputed trophy, and won't be mentioned 50 years from now.

The huge difference is the Falcon 9 first stage is part of a system that puts a few thousand kilos in orbit, and it flys half a dozen times per year.

Getting to space is just getting high off the ground, its not very useful unless you can achieve orbit.

They're barely comparable. If at all. The F9 isn't at orbital velocity (although, much faster and on an orbital trajectory that has to be cancelled out). Sure. But the F9 was actually taking a payload to orbit. The Blue Origin never will, it's just a mega rich tourist toy.

Actually, I'm sure NASA managed that first a long time ago.

In fact, didn't they do it on the moon several times?

At any rate, John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace managed it long before Bezos did. But wait, he didn't get to space? Hair-splitting.


At the end of the day, you could do what Blue Origin did with a balloon. The practical aspect of actually being able to put something on orbit is what's special.

I guess it's like Hilary and Tenzing being the first to climb Everest, and then someone else (can't remember who it was) coming along and doing it without supplementary oxygen. Just because that was harder doesn't detract from the fact that Hilary and Tenzing were first and anyone else is just joining the ever-growing club of Everest summiters.

Now, if you want to invent an extra category of 'first VTOL landing for a first stage booster for an orbital rocket system that uses boost-back to change trajectory mid-course' or similar, they SpaceX are first with that, and of course it's an awesome achievement.

Ok, in that case, SpaceX was 'first' to land a VTOL rocket with Grasshopper... unless you want to invent an extra category of "first VTOL landing for a ground launched rocket that crossed an arbitrary altitude threshold before returning at terminal velocity".

Actually, that prize goes back as far as DC-X (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X), if not farther. Grasshopper and F9R-dev were evolutionary, in that they were larger than what had been done before, not revolutionary.

Landing the F9 stage is not even the first "reusable part of an orbital launch system", the Space Shuttle was that. It just wasn't very effective in terms of lowering the cost, which is where F9's true claim of being a game changer is going to be. Let's hope that pans out.

"what the rest of the system does has no real part to play in the landing of the rocket stage"

That assertion is ridiculous. The rocket is optimized to do one thing, push it's payload into orbit, this is a very strict restriction, especially on a two stage rocket. On the other hand, the designer of a suborbital vehicle has ample design space to play.

It's like comparing your practice free throw, in your back yard, with a slam-dunk in the NBA.

I think you underestimate the degree of difficulty between these two achievements. They are both very impressive but what SpaceX just did is many times more difficult than what Blue Origin did.

OK, explain how the landing of the SpaceX first stage was many times more difficult? They used different mechanisms, yes (suicide burn vs. hover-capable) and the purpose of the overall system was different, but they are both VTOL rockets.

Blue Origin was first, and Bezos can quite rightly welcome SpaceX to 'the club' as the second company to achieve this, without being accused of being classless, surely?

Because the Falcon 9 traveled at several thousand miles per hour horizontally when it did its flip and then the first retro burn. By contrast, the Blue Origin rocket went straight up, and straight back down. It never moved away from the launchpad in any appreciable amount and it never had to change orientation. From a space applications perspective it is not much more useful than a blimp.

Today, history was made. Blue Origin: not so much. Nice but nowhere near in the same league (or the same club, to stick with Bezos).

By contrast, the Blue Origin rocket went straight up, and straight back down...From a space applications perspective it is not much more useful than a blimp.

Actually, the "pop-up" 1st stage trajectory is interesting from a space applications perspective. You can think of it this way: a SSTO spaceplane is just beyond the cusp of possible for technology made out of normal matter and fueled by chemical rockets. But what if you could somehow cheat and launch an SSTO at very high altitude? Then it's just below the cusp of possible. So you wind up with a completely reusable TSTO craft.

So how is that more interesting than a high altitude blimp? You get the craft back faster, directly to the facility. Recovery is more straightforward. The equipment and technology is the same sort of equipment and technology as in the orbiter craft. Also, if you're able to get up to a "mere" 600 mph or so downrange velocity, due to the mathematics of the rocket equation, you're still saving a sizable chunk of vehicle weight in fuel.

Even for that application Falcon would be a lot more usable due to the increased payload compared to BO's offering.

True. But I'm not defending BO's craft. I'm just pointing out that the "pop up" first stage trajectory is indeed interesting. You wind up with a godawful huge 1st stage and a rather tiny orbiter, but lots of things are simplified, especially with 1st stage logistics.

History is being made wheter you like it or not.

If we downplay the difference between the landing modes and vehicle's missions, then SpaceX has beaten Blue Origin anyway - they had Grasshoppers doing VTOL years ago. After all, what's the difference between 700m and 100km, especially if in the latter case you're falling at terminal velocity for most of the way?


Because Falcon9 is a big launcher taking a serious payload into orbit. This means that the first stage has to have very large engines - so large that they can't be throttled down to hover, they have to kill velocity at the point of touchdown.

It's the difference between slowing your car down gently to stop at a red light, and having your car going at max speed and slamming on the brakes as hard as you can at exactly the right moment so that you will eventually stop at the lights. One is easy to do, the other will most likely get you killed.

How is BO's achievement different from what SpaceX did with their Grasshopper test vehicle years ago?

If you want to say it's about VTOL rockets, SpaceX was first by a long way. If you want to say it's about reusing an orbital launcher, BO is nowhere close. You have to torture the categories into uselessness to say BO did anything first.

Why is this downvoted? There is some serious tribalism going on in this thread. You all need to chill out and start thinking again.

Who cares whether BO or SpaceX was first, or whether China or America was first? We should be happy that humanity is closer to Mars.

>Why is this downvoted

I can't give the exact answer but if I had to guess, I'd say it's a consistently argumentative attitude under the guise of asking questions. The commenter has asked the same question "what makes this SpaceX thing so special?" at different points of this thread and has gotten many different answers providing a bunch of different view points. They're not trying to get clarity, they're trying to convince people that this isn't an accomplishment, and there seems to be a hint of accusation ("you only think this is better than BO because HN loves Musk and hates Bezos") in the questions.

That's my guess.

Sort of... I knew I would get downvoted, mostly because of my failure at SpaceX cheerleading ;)

I actually agree that SpaceX did an awesome thing, and really do understand that its more complicated, and difficult, and challenging, and so on, than what Blue Origin managed to do; yes. My point was more of a "HN loves SpaceX and cannot acknowledge that they might not be the best in the world at everything, ever" thing, rather than any technical breakdown. I would also maintain that the 100km altitude flight is important - it's the internationally recognised boundary of space - and that the 'first' that Blue Shepherd claimed was valid, since the SpaceX Grasshopper did not cross the 100km Karman line.

The important parts are that the flight is of a 1.) reusable, 2.) VTOL, 3.) rocket after a 4.) 100km altitude space flight. Since all four points are valid for SpaceX's Falcon 9 first stage booster, I think it's technically correct to place its landing in the same category as Blue Origin's New Shepherd landing. SpaceX's achievement is more technically interesting and useful, but that should not detract from what Blue Origin managed to do with a much smaller team and budget.

The key difference is, again, space vs. orbit, i.e. 4). 100km vertical hop is not meaningful for lowering costs of spaceflight. Comparable feats have been done before, as pointed out multiple times in this subthread. You can't just take New Shepard and use it as a first-stage booster; it's a rocket designed for the very easiest component of spaceflight, i.e. going high, and completely unsuitable for putting anything in orbit - which means going very very fast horizontally. OTOH, SpaceX landed an actual booster - a much bigger rocket designed to put payload into orbit - which again, means going very very fast horizontally, and then having to reverse that flight and navigate to a proper landing site. What SpaceX did impacts spaceflight significantly. What Bezos did (and SpaceX before him, and others before them) does not.

> I would also maintain that the 100km altitude flight is important - it's the internationally recognised boundary of space - and that the 'first' that Blue Shepherd claimed was valid, since the SpaceX Grasshopper did not cross the 100km Karman line.

Having a flight control mechanism that function outside the atmosphere is valuable/important. Landing a rocket without relying on atmosphere is valuable/important. Gluing those two things together is much less so - like being the first person to climb Everest and swim across the Channel.

Honestly the F9 landing isn't much of a "first" - landing a rocket vertically has been done, and landing the main engines of an orbital launch vehicle so that they can be reused has also been done. What makes it exciting is a) the technical difficulty b) the potential for making things there's actual commercial demand for (satellite launches) much cheaper - and in both those regards Blue Origin's landing isn't comparable.

I suspect the main region for the popularity is that SpaceX has done a lot of community engagement, webcasts and all the rest of it, while Blue Origin has done everything in secret. But I'm fine with that - if it encourages companies to be more open then that's all for the good.

This is not tribalism; those two achievements have an order of magnitude difference at difficulty and practical meaning, and Bezos wasn't first in his class either. I was very happy for Blue Origin then and I'm happy for everyone who pushes the boundaries of space technology (hell, I even start to like ULA), but those two landings are not comparable, and trying to do so diminishes what just happened.

It's not "tribalism" to understand that Blue Origin's landing was fun but irrelevant unless you want to play five-minute space tourist, while SpaceX's landing is a massively significant event for the future of space travel.

It probably wouldn't have come up if Bezos hadn't thumped his chest in Musk's direction, or if Musk hadn't taken the bait.

Competitive people are competitive. Film (and Twitter fight) at 11...

I for one think that giving credit where credit is due is an important thing.

Getting off this rock is probably the only thing that matters. Credit is irrelevant when Earth is no longer habitable and we never left.

People who compete want to get recognition for their accomplishments. "Getting off this rock" has so far been led closer to becoming true by cold hard competition. So sorry bud, people will always want credit for their success whether you like it or not. And hey, who said we won't get off this rock during the process of all that?

That, and I want to see an Epic Rap Battle of History between Musk and Bezos some day. It will take a lot of competition and a lot of progress before they have enough dirt to throw at each other.

Hahaha... Thanks, that cheered me up.

Someone should totally do rap battles while pretending to be some famous figure. The possibilities are endless. Faux Bill Gates vs Faux Steve Jobs.

If you're being serious, one of the most viewed Youtube channels is "Epic Rap Battles of History" which did exactly that.


It's a bit silly, but entertaining. It doesn't get too technical, but usually gets the generic facts right.

Best Christmas ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N_RO-jL-90 was hilarious.

Yeah, don't follow that link pnt12 posted until you have a whole afternoon to kill.

I agree the tribalism is not helpful on either side, but Blue origins is nowhere near getting off this rock, or even into orbit around it.

Didn't SpaceX go around the entire earth before landing? I don't think Bezos'did

No, but it lifted a second stage that continued on to orbit, delivering 11 satellites.



Could someone clarify the stage one path? Where did it launch, and where did it land, and where did it go horizontally in the meantime?

It flew 100's of kms away from the launch site, flipped around, flew back and landed a mile or so from the launchpad.


Actually 9KM from the launchpad I believe.


BO was not trivial, just as grasshopper was not trivial years before, but there is a significant difference. Going up into space can be done in a balloon or plane, but not orbit. The difference is qualitative.

F9 will significantly reduce the cost of putting things in orbit.

NS will reduce the cost of space tourism (momentary views of earth), but would require new engines and a different design and landing style to put things into space, something like F9.

Hence implying they are the same is a bit tacky and inappropriate as it will mislead lots of people.

What, exactly, did Blue Origin do that the X-15 didn't do 50 years ago? Other than the terrestrial launch, that's about all I can think of.

That's pretty much it. As I understand it, the difficult bit was landing your rocket safely after launching it 100km up.

Not really... terminal velocity is terminal velocity. There is a limit to how fast you can fall through the atmosphere, regardless of how far up you start falling from.

I don't think you understand the big picture. Musk = Good, Everyone Else = Bad. The Musk sycophants are peeing their pants in excitement over this achievement, and you are just not allowed to question any part of it.

That's pretty low.

and geohot

Dear Mr Bezos: people will care about your rocket when you offer free shipping to space for Prime customers

I think his remark was an ugly bit of ego, but I care about any endeavor to develop space travel technology.

I think it was all in good fun, and everyone is making way too big a deal out of it.

In a single moment, SpaceX earns itself more than $50 million dollars, right? That's a big bonus for everyone who made this possible and some well earned time off, and then back to work changing the world!

So from what I've read, the returns are immense; the amount of learning they can do from examining their own rocket is the real initial treasure. Their rocket design should advance considerably based on this trove, and I suppose the source of many papers, publications, and public-sourced patents. Reusable rockets seems not quite a glorious enough term? There's a massive dividend any time this actually works, and imagining the future of this tech is joyous.

We can guess how much this will bring down the cost. How much will it bring down the price? Say it's just following the supply/demand curve to get more customers. If landing was reliable and the rockets were durable, what would it really take to scale? If you actually got 10 of these going full-duty. How close can you back-to-back launches? The scale of that operation in terms of engineers to manage the workload... The return-on-automation (in other words, software) is immense the first few billion dollars you spend on it. That means they need to hire a fuck-ton of very good developers. Cool!

But what if it's more of a binary market and the only new customers are only at a much lower price point? In that case it's just serving the existing market at much higher margin. I believe this will make space more accessible -- cost savings ultimately flow through.

BTW, one of the advantages of pledging your patents for free use is you can really show off the right way to write a patent. The whole point is forcing disclosure in return for a benefit, so now make that disclosure top-notch. In theory, what if patent applications were examined by the top-of-the-field peers and only real advancements in the field which were fully and properly documented by the patent would be granted? I hope not all software patents are evil. The "provisional patent" is an interesting form of self-publication at least, but it does create a pesky 1-year ticking clock.

As a talent/recruiting event this is pretty much about as good as it gets.

I guess this would be a good place to point out that we are hiring! :-)


Wish I could. As a Canadian though seems ITAR would block me.

Don't let it stop you from applying. It might stop them from hiring you, but let them decide that.

Seriously, if a position interests you, apply. There have been plenty of ITAR exceptions.

I don't see any spots open for a nurse! Phooey. :)

Or a farmer. Guess I'll have to wait until Mars is ready for ploughing :)

I'm pretty sure they have hired at least one farmer at their Texas site.


They're going to need both you (a farmer) and me (a nurse) on Mars, that's for sure buddy! :)

Technically they only earn the $50m when they use this stage to actually launch another mission. Even then, you'd have to subtract any discount offered to the purchaser of the second mission. I'm not in any way trying to detract from this stunning, tear-inducingly great achievement, but that's the reality.

Why would they offer a discount? The rocket is not going to fly a second time unless it has the same reliability rating as the first.

They might end up offering lower cost launches, reducing the margin, but discounts on Nth-launches don't make sense.

It isn't just another launch, every future launch with this same rocket is now an experiment. It can't have the same reliability rating because a second launch hasn't been tested and these aren't freshly machined parts. Every piece in the rocket has experienced a level of wear and tear that previously launched rockets didn't have. Maybe it's exceeded the amount of cyclical stress it can handle? Who knows, but most satellite companies wouldn't pay the same for a re-used (never before been re-used) rocket as they would for a brand new rocket because of the increased risk. I would not be surprised if they did in fact give a discount to the payload of anyone who rides this same rocket. If they don't give a discount the only reason someone would purchase a spot on it is for the prestige.

Note: The never before been re-used part is probably the most important factor here. Once they have re-used rockets a few times they'll have a reliability factor for these situations.

At this point, they have the functional monopoly advantage of being able to set prices where they want them (in terms of having an exclusive technology their competitors do not have; they have competition, but if they can really slash their costs by 50% they have the capacity to set their price ten bucks below the competitions' prices and win).

... but if I understand correctly, one of the points of the reusable rocketry experiment is to be able to lower the price point to allow new customers who couldn't afford to launch at the previous per-pound cost. To give a terrible but not inaccurate analogy: Think similarly to how the Nintendo Wii found itself in entirely new markets of game players by droppping a $200 console onto the market alongside competition that was nearly double that price-point.

Opening up space to new markets must be an essential component of their strategy. If they charged say 90% of the cost for non-reusable launches but their rockets were reusable, they would only need to manufacture a dozen or so vehicles, plus a few a year as replacements. To maintain economies if scale in their factory, they need to have a sustained production line and that means at even a steady pace, with high re usability they will soon be awash with rockets. They will have to bring prices down just to keep their fleet operating.

They have competition - elsewhere in the thread it sounds like ULA are planning to start reusing engines. They'll get a few years of pseudo-monopoly rent while they have the monopoly on reusing launchers, but ultimately rocket launches are going to be commoditised, just like every innovation.

This is so exciting. Not quite a moon landing, but still feels like watching a significant moment in history.

Does anyone know what specifically changed to allow a landing attempt on land as opposed to barge? Was it just that they gained enough confidence with the barges that they would at least be able to hit the target (and not crash into a building or something), or was some regulatory clearance received or something? Or something about this launch (ie lighter payload?) made a return to land feasible?

It was three things. They had to get multiple government agencies to approve the landing pad and plan. They had to have a relatively light payload. And they had to "deep freeze" the fuel to squeeze in enough for a return.

I suspect even as this becomes routine most landings will still be on the barge. Every ounce of fuel you use to reverse your direction is an ounce you could have put toward a larger payload.

OTOH sometimes the payload just isn't that big.

The FAA did have to approve this. I'm assuming approval was much smoother since they demonstrated on the two barge attempts that they could successfully steer the rocket to a precise landing.

You guessed right with the lighter payload. They could afford the fuel to burn all the way back rather than landing downrange on the barge.

> Does anyone know what specifically changed to allow a landing attempt on land as opposed to barge?

I believe the main concern was not putting what amounts to an ICBM into Disneyworld. Hitting the barge (even though they hit a little hard each time) proved they could hit within a few feet of where they planned reliably.

They really poured on the PR, lots of people going "Hi, I'm lead mechanical engineer for this or that" and then delivering a perfect speech that would have taken a lot of prectice to deliver to a camera as smoothly like that.

It's nice to see a lot of the lessons from media training. :D

If you're referring to Trip's speech (guy with sunglasses and beard), that's one of my buddies and that's exactly what he's like. He's extremely personable and likely did that with very few takes.

I used to sell test equipment and software to SpaceX's launch ops, avionics, and calibration crews, starting between launches 2 and 3. It was touch and go back in those days. These guys have worked their tails off for over a decade and deserve every bit of congratulations they receive.

Walking into the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne was always a humbling experience. Instant "I am the dumbest person in this room" syndrome.

Congrats guys!!

Earlier today Tim Urban mentioned in his post that there were a few dry runs, even including high-fives.

Youtube link for people for whom livestream videos won't work. (I believe the embedded player is livestream).


Thanks! Here's the link about 9 minutes in when it begins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5bTbVbe4e4#t=9m20s

Thanks! Got a link to the replay for those of us tuning in late?

If you look carefully at the YouTube live streams, you'll notice you can scroll them back all the way to the beginning - the "live" part is always at the very end :).

EDIT: and here's just the landing itself: http://www.gfycat.com/WeepyCelebratedAfricanaugurbuzzard.

The YouTube link should be a replay now; working for me :)

That YouTube link is a replay too.

thanks, that was enthralling to watch

Falcon 9 First Stage Landing - view from helicopter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCBE8ocOkAQ

This long-exposure image is pretty awesome too: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/spacex...

Elon Musk posted an article "BACKGROUND ON TONIGHT'S LAUNCH" on SpaceX's website 15 minutes before the launch.

Link : http://www.spacex.com/news/2015/12/21/background-tonights-la...

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