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SES-10 Mission (spacex.com)
1094 points by traviswingo on March 30, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 355 comments

History was being made today. Super, congratulations to all of SpaceX. Now let's see the landing :)


Apologies to my neighbors who I surely woke up.

Hah :) Incredible! Now, will they fly this one again?

That cut to black nearly gave me a damn heart attack haha. Satellite connection lost because rocket exhaust is basically a giant ionized cloud of noise.

Elon looks like he hasn't been getting enough sleep or showers, and like he's about to back flip and start happy crying.

My heart attack moment was during the launch when I started seeing flame flickering around the tops of the engines... and then I thought to look at the altitude indicator, and realised they were at about 10km, and it was just the plume expanding as the atmospheric pressure dropped.

The flames around the top of the engines is normal, it's the exhaust from the turbo pumps feeding the main engines.

Check this page, the Merlin uses an open cycle, where fuel/oxidizer used to fuel the pumps is just dumped overboard.


This picture clearly shows both exhausts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin_(rocket_engine_family)#...

Yeah, it's normal, and it usually ends up getting sucked backward, presumably due to the turbulent airflow in the space between the end of the vehicle and the engine nozzles:

Echostar: https://youtu.be/zEfEBJfD_RE?t=18m23s

JCSAT: https://youtu.be/QZTCEO0gvLo?t=17m38s

CRS-9: https://youtu.be/ThIdCuSsJh8?t=17m45s

For some reason that effect was much more pronounced during this flight (at least in the video) than in previous launches that I watched. Maybe it was because of the camera angle looking more at the side of the rocket when usually you are looking more at the bottom.

I got extremely worried when I saw that happen too. I didn't even think to look at the altitude indicator.

I got extremely worried as well and it wouldn't have made a difference looking at the altimeter because I have no idea about how rocket engines behave.

You could see the flicker of the rocket exhaust reflecting on the panel at the back of the drone ship in the split feed so it was at least extremely close when it cut off. Probably the rocket exhaust interfering with the transmission as well as the blast simply pushing the platform out of alignment.

Bit worried myself, One of those grid stabilisers on the first stage was definitely melting on the way back (@26mins on Youtube) just before first stage camera went on the fritz.

It just got covered in soot from the ablative protection (okay, probably some Al2O3 too, from the subsequently burning grid fin) on the grid fins burning off. GTO/GEO missions come in _really_ hot!

> Apologies to my neighbors who I surely woke up.

Of Course They Still Love You ;).

Nicely done there! Gotta love that a company turning science-fiction into less fiction and more science would name their drone ships after the Culture series. Pretty sure Elon Musk is far for the only person there finding these books inspiring.

> Now, will they fly this one again?

Probably not. For starters, Elon has said they only intend to get a few flights out of the Block 3 rockets. Additionally, the CTO of SES said Gwynne promised them some bits of the rocket for posterity.

The Block 5 rockets (to fly later this year) are the ones Elon expects to fly more or less indefinitely, with regular servicing and part replacement.

Elon gave more details regarding reusability during the post launch press conference:

10 launches without maintenance

100 launches with moderate maintenance

They are aiming for 1000 launches for their upcoming ITS.

In the Post-Mission Press Briefing [1] Elon Musk said SpaceX will gift the stage to "the cape" (so either NASA Kennedy Space Center or the CCAFS) because it's historic. Also, they don't need to keep the Block 3 cores, they want to transition to Block 5 as soon as they can to get the 7 flights of a frozen configuration of Block 5 to get certified for flying people.

1 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC3LQFpuzqs

My Dad who is his seventies calls me every time they launch and tells me how the landing went. I get the feeling he might be waking the neighbors too. I honestly think my nephew dreams of rockets because of his grandpa.

And they caught it again. Truly amazing.

Wonder if they will be able to launch it a third time, though, since it seemed it did get a bit more damage on entry this time around. Either way, impressive.

Btw, does anyone know how reusable these things are expected to be in the near term? As in, would a perfected Stage 1 be expected to be able to fly 10 missions? 100? 1000?

I'm pretty sure the plan is to put this one in a museum. Later variants are supposed to be easier and more reliable to re-fly.

Something to think about: pretty soon there will be nothing strange about a rocket that has flown before. Contrast it with the feeling you have for a 737 that has done 2500 starts and landing prior to you going on board, it's a sign of confidence that it did that. Now it will be many many years before there will be boosters with numbers of take-offs and landings > 20 or so but at some point insurance premiums for unflown hardware will be higher than for hardware that has been flown before.

Huge game changer this, also in the frequency of launches.

>737 that has done 2500 starts and landing

You can probably add another zero there. 737 airframes don't even need a special inspection and maintenance program until they hit 60,000 takeoff/landing cycles. [1]

[1] http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgFAR.nsf...

"Flight tested" rockets is an interesting spin on this

As is, on the other end of the spectrum, "lithobraking" :)

Headed to a museum, probably, after some testing.

This comment was very informative https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13999791

This comment was very informative https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13999791

On the prelaunch video, they suggeste a try for at least 10x.

... for Block 5, which is the next version after this one. They've learned stuff since they started landing and examining them. First Block 5 launch is perhaps the end of this year.

They covered it in the webcast, they said they expect 10 cycles. Not sure which block/version they are talking about though.

Sitting here smiling ear to ear :) Also interesting how many references there were to the Mars mission in the lead up to the launch.

Amazing. But the video seemed to cut out right before landing.

They warned that would happen, the real time coverage is a good show of confidence.

It always happen right after you can barely see the fire reflecting on the barge. The vibrations from the rocket screws with the satellite connection.

We don't have the technology yet to have internet in the middle of the ocean without satellites.

Why not have a small secondary ship parked about a mile away, that can act as a satellite relay? Should be able to maintain a good link over that small distance.

That's adding a lot of extra cost just to keep a live feed for going for the missing ~15 seconds around the landing.

Ultimately they're a space launch company, not a TV channel :)

Fantastic!!! Being able to watch a reusable rocket land perfecty, from my mobile phone while casting to a TV, over a computer network​, while located in southern Brazil makes me SO PROUD to be human!

It just depresses me seeing how many people don't have the slightest clue why this is something incredibly remarkable - the complexity behind each and every component, process, research and engineering making this possible - and then start bitching about the new Emoji set on their smartphone

And when, say, an amazing archeological artifact is uncovered, we probably won't appreciate the complexity that went into that, and the folks at ArcheologistNews will be pissed.

There are so many fields and so many complex processes. I can assure you that any one of: the world of power transmission, or offshore oil drilling rigs, or commercial shipping, or chemical process design and optimization, or tons of other stuff, is enough to warrant an entire "HN".

So don't expect people to appreciate it all. But what we can appreciate is the fact that you and I don't need to understand archeology to contribute to society ;)

For me one of the amazing miracles is the supermarket. The logistics to get all those products there in time year round are astounding. A supermarket can only exist because of a planet-wide system of incredible complexity.

This is definately off topic but I also have thought about supermarkets a lot lately but mostly how they are a regression of the prvious thing which was "the bazaar" - because you limit competition "within the supermarket" - and hide the externalities, you get much worse quality of foods. Individually competing independent producers, put in very close prodimity so you can easily judge their output with a glance is incredibly effective. You can also direclty influence the producers themselves with your cash. Yes its usually "messier" but works gets you so much healthier food in the end. Just market forces at work.

In my experience, archaeological finds get highly upvoted on HN.

I've always pondered that I'd love to read in on these other fields, see what they find interesting and new.

You should read the pleasures and sorrows of work by alain de botton. He does a deep dive in several industries to understand what drives the people there.

Yeah, I think it's not that you're focused on your one field, just that some people have the curiosity to look into things and appreciate the work being done; some people have that for their field only; and some people just don't give a crap at all about things that don't directly affect them.

Well, not understanding such topics deeply doesn't preclude one from appreciating the complexity. You can't expect everyone to be even interested in everything, but a little bit of intellectual curiosity, as a character trait - is that too much to dream of people?

All due respect I find little evidence among these posts that people on HN really understands what's going on nor that they can put it in context of the history, current developments or future of the field. Between the tangible nature of launching things into space and the hype of the company, every launch becomes amazing. Which is of course okay, it's good to be excited about things.

But don't come dragging with how "people don't understand" when the majority of people here spend much of their time much closer to pushing Emojis than engineering rockets. Next week there's will be about as much amazement here for the world changing potential Amazon changing their packaging to a different colour.

"People" will realize that it's amazing when they see the results, but they will also ask the obvious questions like "How many times can you reuse a rocket?", "How much cheaper will it be to put things in space?", "Is that a good thing, a bad thing or both?" i.e. the interesting parts that remain unanswered. At least if there's still decent documentaries around and not only "top 10 extreme mega things".

But if all that stuff's possible, I should have the new emoji set, but I don't, because I bought my phone off the grey market so it doesn't get OTA updates.

Time to grab Odin again I guess.

> It just depresses me seeing how many people don't have the slightest clue why this is something incredibly remarkable

Because some people don't actually know much / care about rocket science?

Recycling a rocket isn't anywhere near as interesting as building the first rocket. Rockets are oooold technology; the rest is automated control systems, whose most interesting breakthroughs came when enabling oddities like stealth planes to fly when they should tumble out of the sky under purely human control.

In short, this is more an iteration than a breakthrough. Not to take away from the effort of course.

It is an iteration than it seems many experts thought impossible.

For everyone else's benefit the F-117 was that stealth airplane, it was like trying to fly bricks in the shape of an airplane and needed constant computer adjustments because it wasn't very aerodynamically stable: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_F-117_Nighthawk

I always wondered why the F-117 looked like a low-poly CG model. It turns out that's because it was: shaping a stealth airframe takes a hell of a lot of math, and the computers available could only handle it for a small number of flat surfaces.

Amazing! I genuinely think that this is a bigger deal than the moon landings.

The moon landings were pretty awesome in their own way, but at the end of the day, with the way they were done, it was basically a stunt. None of it put any infrastructure for the long-term access of space into place, or anything to make future moon landings easier.

This paves the way for the costs of space flight to be cut in half, or even a little further. This has the potential to set off an exponential chain of growth of space travel. The further they cut prices, the more customers and launches there are. The more customers there are, the more profit they make, to be plowed back into better, more reliable, and more reusable rockets. And the more incentive their competitors have to come up with their own reusable rockets. The more reusable they are, the further they can bring prices down. Every step reinforces the next, and in 30-50 years, the price of a launch may well be a tenth of what it is today. Maybe closer to a hundredth.

What will we build when access to space costs 1% of what it does today? Maybe a huge space station, or a moon colony, or asteroid mining, or all of the above. The more traffic we have to space, the more infrastructure we build, and the cheaper and more reliable it all gets. Off-world colonies might become about as practical as a trip to and colony in Antarctica is today - still tough and hazardous, but well within the budget and vision of any developed nation. This is freakin' awesome for the future!

> None of it put any infrastructure for the long-term access of space into place, or anything to make future moon landings easier.

This is not entirely fair. The actual landings (which did teach us a lot about the moon) were just the tip of an iceberg. Consider project Gemini [1] for example. A dozen missions and several astronaut-weeks of space time to get hang of such consepts as rendezvous and docking of two spacecraft and extra vehicular activity, all of utmost importance in modern space exploration. Much of the hardware developed for the Apollo program was also very versatile, as demonstrated by, for example, the Skylab program [2]. A lot more mileage could have been extracted from the investment by means of the Apollo Aplications Program [3] had it not been killed to make way for the STS (I'm simplifying the history somewhat on this point).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Gemini

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylab

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Applications_Program

Just a note that the USSR space station program completely outpaced the US with Salyut & had automatic docking procedures for unsupervised unmanned resupply missions in the 70s. The core module for Mir2 became the core of the ISS.

Also the Buran could and did fly totally automated. NASA refused to allow the Shuttle to, because they didn't want it to be used for unmanned missions.

We did learn a lot, but that's kind of the problem. All of the capital that was created was intellectual - knowledge and experience, mostly in the heads of the few hundred or however many people that were the core of the team. Very useful while you have it, but also very easy to dissolve as soon as the funding goes away and all of the people with that knowledge scatter.

That's also the problem with Government funding of things like this. You can accomplish some pretty awesome things with a blank check from the Government, but those only get created for political reasons, and are subject to disappearing for political reasons as well. Businesses have their own problems, but once they put together a system they can turn a profit with, they have the incentive to keep doing it and improving on it indefinitely.

> The moon landings were pretty awesome in their own way, but at the end of the day, with the way they were done, it was basically a stunt.

It was a pissing contest between the superpowers.

That doesn't mean there's less merit in that. In fact, what they did in the '60s was a heck of a lot harder, achieving so much with less tech, and hewing a new path through a virgin jungle.

It simply means - and explains why - those achievements didn't last. We put in a humongous effort to reach so far, but once the initial impetus died out, we had to scale it down.

Well, now we're back.

Just need a pissing contest between SpaceX and Blue Origin now and everyone will benefit

Blue origin isn't even in the same league. Their rockets go straight up, stay there for a bit and down again. Spacex achieves magnitudes higher velocity, altitude and actually delivers things to orbit.

BlueOrigin is Bezos' pet project akin to taking a heli tour around the city while SpaceX is doing a transcontinental flight half way around the world.

GP said we need a contest – not that we have one. And when New Glenn starts flying in a few years, we'll definitely have that contest. You're right that New Shepard doesn't compare to what SpaceX is doing at the moment, but Blue Origin is working on much, much bigger rockets...

I'd expect one of the current other launch providers to add re-use to their line-up long before Blue Origin manages to achieve orbit.

ULA is relying on Blue Origin for it's next engines, so my bet is they rely on BO for re-use as well.

That's true, but I'd still root for a pissing contest between them. IIRC, SpaceX started out like this as well. They're like a decade ahead or so, but maybe Blue Origin can catch up faster with SpaceX having shown that it's possible and economically feasible. The more companies that can do this, the better off we all are.

That's true.

It's also true that BO are not standing still and their plans look good overall. I think it's inevitable that the industry will explode with competition at some point not too far from now.

The space program of the 1960s, culminating with the moon landings, seems like a far greater achievement to me than what SpaceX is doing, adjusted for the state of the art.

Nasa was spending close to 5% of the federal budget back then, about $35-40 billion per year in today's dollars. The space program cost hundreds of billions.

spaceX has done it by raising less than $1.5 billion total

It helps drive the costs down when you're not inventing the entire field basically from scratch. Not saying what they've accomplished isn't impressive but it's very much a 'standing on the soldiers of giants' situation.

*shoulders of giants. :)

Pretty sure Elon Musk is going to breed an army of giants to colonize Mars.

> spaceX has done it by raising less than $1.5 billion total

NASA has itself given SpaceX more than that. Wikipedia says SpaceX has taken $5 billion from NASA, with over $1 billion more from US defense contracts.


yeah, but that's revenue, not the same thing.

"A small thrust for a rocket, a big boost for mankind"

I am super happy for this achievement.

Ya know the Pintle injector that Merlin engines use came from the Apollo program.

Just one example why I consider the Apollo program to be one of our greater achievements.

But SpaceX has done a lot on their own too. I'm just glad to be alive to see this.

I can't wait until I have a talk with my kids when they realize the significance of this day:

Kid: Daddy, ou mean when you were growing up, they threw away rockets each time?

Me: Yes

Kid: Doesn't that make them expensive?

Me: Yes.

And then not long after will be the other talk:

Kid: Daddy, you mean people used to be in charge of driving themselves in cars?

Me: Yes

Kid: Did people ever die?

Me: Millions

Good job Elon and SpaceX, get some rest, and then focus on the Model 3!

Elon: We have proven what can be done, that many said was impossible. drops mic after SpaceX lands flawlessly

>I can't wait until I have a talk with my kids when they realize the significance of this day


My four year old daughter, watching the launch with rapt attention.

When we watched the Echostar 23 launch two weeks ago, she asked why it didn't land... Crazy that rockets landing is already totally normal for her.

As a child, I thought it was weird that spaceships didn't land... supported by science fiction covers showing them landing. e.g. Tintin https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/7c/The_Adventure...

I mean, a regular ship doesn't discard part of itself to set sail... as a child, I didn't understand the need for multi-stage rockets.

That image is totally iconic for me. Rocket equation be damned, I still think there should be SSTO (Single Stage to Orbit) ships.

Either move to a smaller planet, or invest heavily in nuclear propulsion.

Your backyard is a forest? Looks awesome :)

btw, I suggest disabling sharing geo location of photos (https://photos.google.com/settings - Remove geo location in items shared by link).

Yeah, it's pretty awesome (I actually grew up in the house across the street, and that large wooded area is a big part of why we picked this neighborhood when looking to buy a house).

Fair point about the geo location (I actually assumed Google would have stripped all metadata by default, like any real image sharing service...), I'm not super concerned about it though. I use my real name on HN, my employer and other details are pretty trivial to find. If someone wanted to find me, they wouldn't have to work too terribly hard as it is. If they do... well, I'm an American who likes to spend time in the woods. Draw whatever conclusions from that you will...

Awesome answer.

It made me smile.

My daughters have watched almost all Falcon 9 launches with me, and we still cheer when they land and stay upright. Some fathers watch basketball with their kids who then grow up and aspire to be a basketball star. I hope that your daughter meets my children in the engineering lab!

Priceless :)

I was 4 when the Apollo launches happened and I still remember them today, they're probably my oldest memories (others I can't date so accurately so that may be off by a bit).

Very beautiful picture, thank you for posting.

Wow. That's my first memory too. I was almost 3.

Kudos for Doing Parenting Right.

So many 'parents' dump their kids in front of Cartoon Network, and ignore them for 18 years.

We are very fortunate to be in a position where we have the opportunity to invest in our kids. I don't have a commute, and make enough that my wife is able to focus her efforts on our household full time. However, I am quite proud of the fact that if someone asks her what she wants to be when she's older, half the time it's "a ballerina", and the other half it's "a mommy scientist". If she grows up continuing to believe both of those are valid courses to pursue, _then_ I'll agree we did something right.

Also, Stavros is right, the twins were playing in the other room with Caspar Babypants YouTube videos playing. ;)

You sound like you're living the life my wife and I aim for. We'd like to homeschool full time as well to get the best possible education when we start having little ones.

I'm still in the very early stage of my career (web developer currently), but I'm lucky enough to work remotely most of the time and live in a beautiful forested area of NC. What general field do you work in? If software, where within that?

I'm a senior developer for Silent Circle.

Not shown in the photo: The twins watching Cartoon Network.

Heh, the dangers of an inside joke on a public forum...

For those downvoting, Stavros is a friend, and based on the number of kids songs videos I send him on IM, he is pretty well informed about what my kids watch ;)

Relatedly... Elmo and Ricky Gervais make a great comic pair:


> Kid: Daddy, you mean people used to be in charge of driving > themselves in cars?

A few generations will pass till this question will be asked. There might be self-driving cars sooner than that, but it will be a looooong time till manual driving is a very rare thing.

Also, why wait for fully self-driving cars to prevent fatalities? Why not to implement collision-avoidance subsystem into the cars which are controlled by humans. In any case, most deaths on the road are because of stupid and deliberate actions by drivers (or pedestrians): insane speeding, overtaking where is limited visibility, crossing on red, etc.

Most everything in capitalist societies is based on economics. If you consider less accidents and fatalities due to self driving cars as an inevitability, then you should consider insurance premiums to reflect that once they're out in the general population. Given enough level 4-5 autonomous vehicles on the roads, you can also eventually expect premiums for non-autonomous vehicles to rise. Then you'll see a shift towards them that continues exponentially.

Thinking the shift towards autonomous vehicles happens linearly is a mistake.

> Why not to implement collision-avoidance subsystem into the cars which are controlled by humans.

It's already seeping into production cars. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collision_avoidance_system

"What do you mean, cars were allowed drive faster then 60 MPH, when the speed limits were all 60 MPH?"

"Yes, they were. You could drive a car as fast as it could go."

"Did people ever die from going too fast?"

"Oh, yes."

"And you could start your car without breathing into a breathalyzer?"

"Yes, you could."

"Did people ever die from driving drunk?"

"Oh, yes."

We don't need to wait for the distant future to save millions of lives. Breathalyzers and speed regulators already exist. For some reason, though, they aren't mandated on our roadways...

The real-time streaming made me really excited for the future. Elon is truly a genius... SpaceX will save so much money. I can't wait to see what comes next. Honestly, the rate at which technology is growing is truly absurd if you think about it.

I think a lot of it comes from the fact that (almost) every literate human being can communicate (almost) instantly around the planet with (almost) every other literate human being, and the fact that with machine translation, language is less of a barrier all the time.

Illiterate people can too using Skype and such. Instant planetwide communication between any party of humans sharing a common language is now pretty much a given.

While you are correct for the most part, I would point out that text services have wider distribution even if only for bandwidth reasons. But there are other reasons, there are good (enough) and widely distributed text standards (SMS), but not yet for video.

But maybe we are both over thinking it, does the old voice network reach even further?

Writing is reusable and presumably most of the learning going on behind rapid technological expansion requires literacy. Even just to navigate around Khan Academy.

Audio-only is a little better that way.

You can use Skype and similar services without video.

You can but it doesn't fundamentally change my points. The old analog audio network and the text systems have much larger reach.

Laying out enough digital network fabric to have skype and its kind everywhere is an admirable goal though.

Totally agree on this. I can video and audio chat with my grandma since apps like WeChat are designed for illiterate usage. Photos of participants, easy audio button, inline small videos.

If you think about it, rapidly reusable suborbital rockets are like a physical version of the communication you describe here. It's plausible to physically be anywhere in the world (if you burn enough fuel) within 30 minutes. Ditto up to 10 tonnes of cargo.

I pretty much have this conversation with my students. I love it when a teacher is observing me so I start with 'do you ever remember a time before the internet?' of course none of them do, but the teacher does. Then I ask 'do you remember a time when you couldn't talk to a computer' nope, all of them have grown up being able to talk to computers. Haha. Makes me feel old.

People drove busses?! What? And flew aeroplanes?! With other people in them? What if a pilot went mad and flew one out over the sea? Would it disappear forever?

Which is obviously quite a sad footnote.

For nostalgia's sake, here's Elon's speech to employees after the first successful launch of Falcon 1 (flight 4), in 2008 at Kwajalein Atoll:


(speech begins at 32:30, in case link doesn't work)

He's definitely matured a ton as a speaker. I mean, he isn't smooooth now, but there are far fewer pauses, to the point where it's just another striking feature about him instead of making his words hard to follow.

Also, the kid being held aloft at 34:20 was a very cute touch. https://youtu.be/8FQhtMrUQlE?t=34m20s

Why does this video look like it was shot in 1990? Camera quality can't have been that bad in 2008, can it?

Might have been an early mobile phone camera.

I don't think the video was shot with a mobile camera, but probably a DV camera typical of the day – Canon XL1 was pretty popular if I recall. These days you can record HD video on your cell phone, but a decade ago (and recall, the original iPhone was released just in the year prior to this video) you had to get dedicated equipment that would run in the thousands of dollars.

Camera quality has absolutely exploded in the last decade, when compared with how much they've shrunk, and Apple certainly had a role to play in that transformation. I'm not at all surprised that video from a decade ago looks so dated compared with video today.

SpaceX is an amazing company that is moving innovation forward in leaps and bounds. I love this because it does bring people together and gets humans to look up, above problems and fighting and gets us realizing we are in this together.

I still cannot get over the reverse landing on the drone that first time[1] it was almost unreal and took them a while to get there [2]. That image is seared in my brain like the moon landing probably is for people who lived through that.

It was about a year ago and SpaceX is already, in less than a year, performed the reverse landing on the drone and successful relaunched. Amazing moment in human history and SpaceX continues to lead the way.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPGUQySBikQ [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oa_mtakPlfw

The launch video is amazing! How are they able to get clear video with stable tracking of a rocket >10km away? What sort of lens and camera makes that possible?

As an untrained person my first response to that picture was "yeah that looks like it would do the trick"

As an amateur photographer, my first response was "what in the fuck is that?"

Tracking is the hard part. The optics are relatively simple (if you do astrophotography as an amateur, you have the optics already). I have at least two optical systems at home that could do that, I just don't have the fancy tracking rig.

While they probably use something much more serious, you could technically use something like Nikon P900, which is 2000mm equivalent, and is very affordable.

Could actually be one of those. SpaceX uses lots of off-the-shelf hardware. For example, the cameras mounted on the rocket are (at least mostly?) GoPros

Do you have a source for this? I own a GoPro and I love the little thing, but I had no idea they were able to withstand this kind of stress.

Flight instructors like to share this quote: a good landing is when nobody gets hurt. A very good landing is when you can re-use the plane.

Looks like SpaceX had (yet another) very good landing!!

Technical webcast here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfNO571C7Ko

Edit: Okay everyone can breathe now!

So they are supposed to be trying to recover the two fairing halves this time around - any news of that?

I haven't heard anything about it. They were also going to be testing the 'Roomba' robot contraption on the recovery ship. Best place I know of for news is probably the reddit r/SpaceX subredit.

They apparently did recover the fairings successfully.

It sounds like the test was successful. They weren't planning to catch them, but wanted to demonstrate soft landing in a targeted area (much like the early Falcon 9 landing tests).

Don't ever let anyone tell you that something is impossible.

I have to say that to doctor this afternoon.

Yep! Never tell me the odds! Great moment in human history.

I've noticed that during the webcast they talked much more about their planetary colonisation project than they usually do. I guess it makes sense since today is the first time they actually implement the re-usability plan they believe is the key to this colonisation.

But frankly, is the cost of going to mars really that important for its colonisation? I mean, I wouldn't move to mars even if going there was free. For one, there's no breathable air, for Pete's sake. They are talking about building a city on a place where there isn't even breathable air. That's insane.

This whole thing is very conflicting to me. On one hand I can appreciate the technological achievement and I acknowledge that re-usability will be extremely useful for space exploration, but on the other hand I can't help thinking that those people who get excited about building a city on mars are completely delusional.

I'm ok with aiming high and en-passant solving cheap access to orbit. Anything else is gravy, imagine if that dream did not exist this whole saga would not have happened.

Dreams are good, they allow people to expend energy chasing that dream and the spin-offs from that may be worth as much or more to humanity than the original dream, even if we may not be able to figure out what path that might take today.

I'm certainly not complaining, hope they dream a lot more and will produce many more useful milestones, and if they don't end up achieving their dream I'll feel sorry for them but thank them for their incredible service anyway.

Think of that dream as a very powerful motivator for a lot of extremely smart and talented people. It's the fox to a whole pack of hounds that would very much like to gain ground and as such it seems to be doing a very good job.

It's a bit disappointing to me that poverty, human trafficking, addiction, habitat destruxtion, cultural erasure, genocide, torture, extinction, etc aren't very powerful motivators for such people.

I feel such pressure to use our new skills to solve these problems, but I know 10 years ago they were a combination of invisible/impossible to me. If I hadn't been aggressively pushed by smart feminists to examine my life more closely I might still feel the same way. If I hadnt been intellectually curious enough to stick with them, despite their worldview seeming so alien and wrong, I would probably be working in VR now instead of housing.

Maybe it's just that such challenges are too dark for some people... Mars is all optimism, no need to struggle with the realities of evil. Maybe some people just cant handle the pain of working on poverty and violence. I totally understand the desire to avoid fields where evil plays a daily role in your job. I grew up in an alcoholic household so pain seems sort of normal, although I have an intense desire to dismantle its causes. I accept that a more emotionally healthy person might just nope out of such challenges.

I guess it's also a little like the video games vs life choice: Mars is a clear goal, with all the players in a clear sandbox. Poverty is a messy mindfuck of a problem. That makes it more intellectually challenging, but also scarier. Failure hurts worse: a rocket that doesn't launch is one thing. Watching your friends die is another.

Still, it puzzles me that so many smart people need something like Mars to feel like they have a hard problem that's worth solving. I see so many around me. Easing violence seems like such a bigger win than getting off planet.

The understanding of climate change was born out of the study of planets in our solar system. It is reasonable to expect that the investigation of the human condition would greatly benefit from its study away from the planet that humans evolved from.

There are insights into ourselves that we are simply unable to even conceptualize that would be possible. Humans living (not just surviving) on another planet, will change us

They're not really comparable. You can engineer your way to Mars. You cannot engineer your way to a solution for addiction or violence; unless you want to launch a full-blown dystopian eugenics program.

That's a bit disingenuous. There are people are trying to engineer solutions to those problems, both with and without technology. They've also been around longer than rocket scientists. For every 1 SpaceX engineer, say there's 10 other humans working solving violence, addiction, homelessness using data and science. What if they just don't show up in TechCrunch.

hehe i think you can engineer a solution for addiction

Things like space-flight can be solved by relatively small teams without having to convince billions of people from different cultures to change what they are doing.

In terms of global development, things have improved greatly over the last 50 years, say.

So it depends what kind of person you are. Do you like sitting in committees? Do you like, or can you tolerate a great deal of convincing other people to do things? How many cycles of that have you been through? How many otherwise good projects have you seen fail due to (human) factors entirely outside of the participants' control.

Although it may seem that way sometimes, hard engineering problems aren't really an adversarial game. Hard human problems typically are.

Do you have an equation for easing violence? There is an equation that tells us how to get to mars - we only need to design a machine that meets the requirements.

Human nature does not lend itself very well to engineered solutions. If you can so much as put a minor dent in that problem that does not involve cures worse than the disease that would be an engineering feat much more impressive than anything that SpaceX has done to date.

The thing about Mars is that it does not solve any problem. It just give us time to solve the problem. It mulitply the chance of humanity surviving a problem that kills our only "capsule", Earth.

And that dangerous event could be external to humanity. So Mars is a part of a solution for all that : buy all the rest of humanity time to solve that problem and making sure enough humans can be born and live so that at least one find a solution. It is the only thing engineers can do. Give us the chance.

There are no plausible scenarios where survival of the species is easier on Earth than on Mars. Even in the worst runaway climate change scenarios or the worst nuclear war scenarios, Earth is still more habitable than Mars.

I never said easier. You just add a bit of redundancy for some events. This is not a "safe" system.

Everything today is better then yesterday and tomorrow everything will be better then today (on average on a global a scale for all the issues you pointed out). Progress is being made all the time. But the news/media mostly just reports the failings/problems/issues (sells better) so it feels like everything is getting worse.

(There are some looming issues on the horizon like climate change etc. which might change this course in the future.)

My morality doesn't work in terms of averages. "Better on average" doesn't equate to "good enough" to me. It's a way for people to make themselves feel better about doing violence. I am responsible for countless murders due to living a normal American lifestyle. The fact that previous Americans were responsible for a higher number of murders doesn't make that go away.

There are quite possibly more slaves today than there have ever been. The fact that there are more non-slaves too doesn't cancel that out for me.

We are the first generation with the information processing tools to cut these problems down by orders of magnitude in a couple decades. The faster we do the more lives will be saved. If we make the same incremental improvements our parents generation did, we will have failed.

> My morality doesn't work in terms of averages. "Better on average" doesn't equate to "good enough" to me....

Nobody is expecting it to. But do you know why poverty, disease, hunger and slavery are at far lower levels compared to historic norms? It's because at the global scale we are enormously richer than we have ever been before. We can afford multi-billion dollar programs to fight diseases such as Ebola, HIV, Malaria and the many others we have actually eradicated. We have huge reconstruction and investment programs for developing countries. Space technology, including satellite communications systems, GPS and weather monitoring are revolutionizing third world agriculture and market economies as well as saving lives.

A richer and more prosperous world is also a world better able to tackle the problems you quite legitimately raise.

Easing violence is harder than getting to mars.

The way I think about this is: if not SpaceX, some govt or company will one day establish a base on another planet. Something like the stations we have in Antarctica. So SpaceX taking a shot at this isn't totally absurd - over-ambitious, sure, but not so ridiculous as to be out of the question. Maybe it won't happen for a few decades, or a century - but IMO it's very likely it will happen some time. And that's what ultimately matters. It doesn't have to be Elon Musk's company that does it.

Cities on Mars - it's not productive debating this at such an early stage, though it makes for an interesting discussion.

I think who gets there first is going to have a huge impact on what kind of society is established on Mars (the economy, the legal system, the culture, how infrastructure is managed, government, etc...). SpaceX may change its culture over time, but as things stand now I would rather live in a society established by SpaceX than one established by, say, Boeing.

> They are talking about building a city on a place where there isn't even breathable air.

Yet. As far as I know, the plan is to create some generators and a basic colony that can terraform the land to try and create an atmosphere on the planet. It's not unlike what they were planning in "Total Recall" but, at least in this case, there's more science to it than fantasy.

> I can't help thinking that those people who get excited > about building a city on mars are completely delusional.

That's what they once said about walking on the moon.

Well, there is probably a reason why nobody thought it was worth doing it again ever since.

More seriously though, just because many projects were wrongly considered foolish in the past, does not mean one can not point at a new one and call it foolish. History tends to remember those who turned out to be brilliant, and forget all those who genuinely were foolish.

The example I like is Franz Reichelt [1]. People around him were watching as he prepared to meet his death. Nobody said "don't do that, you'll kill yourself". Why? I guess because they were not sure, and they did not want to be the person who dissed someone who might be remembered as say the Wright brothers were.

I guess I'm not comfortable being the guy who says nothing as he watches people being foolish or delusional.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBN3xfGrx_U

Was he really foolish or just ahead of his time and willing to brave the risks?

OK, that one guy was foolish he should have started small and worked his way up. Perhaps a death defying leap onto a mattress, would have been better. But there are plenty of others who were close to a variety of successes and them not succeeding doesn't mean they were foolish.

There must have been hundreds or thousands of potential aviators, but we remember the brothers at Kittyhawk because of their success. This doesn't make the others fools, likely they were successful in some of their other plans or iterated on designs more like the flyer afterwards. From all of their perspectives as long as they minimized danger, unlike Franz, they would live to see another day and keep attempting High risk High reward situations.

This is much the same with startups today. Plenty made their fortunes in tech startups and while history might call all but a few failures, many are relaxing with their millions or even just comfortable enjoying their backup plan of a high tech job and settling down with a family.

EDIT - Grammar, wording and spelling.

Franz Reichelt clearly failed in his approach, but his idea was not crazy -- today we have wingsuits that can fly.

Yet as of today nobody has ever landed with just a wingsuit. You need a parachute.

That's an argument of semantics. I mean people can jump onto giant airbags without either parachute or jumpsuit from very high heights. I wouldn't call that landing, and in any case that's not what Franz Reichet was attempting.

There are several reasons: adventure, incentivize cheaper space travel, drastically improve humanity's chance at survival.

Waitbutwhy has an amazing explanation of the how's and why's.


I'm familiar with this article.

First, "adventure" is a reason to go there, not to settle.

Second, I'm not buying the "drastically improve humanity's chance at survival" argument. There have been several mass extinction events in the past, so in order to survive one that might be coming, we should move to a place where there is likely no life at all? That does not make any sense to me.

If we can survive on mars, we can survive on Earth no matter what can plausibly happen to it.

Mankind will likely survive the next mass extinction[1], and we don't have to go to mars for that.

1. http://io9.gizmodo.com/why-humans-will-survive-the-next-worl...

> If we can survive on mars, we can survive on Earth no matter what can plausibly happen to it.

Exactly. So going to Mars and staying there long-term will require us to develop many solutions that can be applied here on Earth. Both under current conditions and conditions that would currently be civilisation-threatening.

So the whole thing is nothing but an exercice in survivalism? That is ludicruous. There is no need for that.

It is one of Musks stated goals to secure better survival ability for humanity. Many others involved have other goals.

It seems prudent to avoid keeping all the eggs in one basket by staying only on this one spacerock.

For the individual, survivalism does not make too much sense to me. Our days are numbered anyways, no-one lives forever.

However as a civilization, which spans many generations and may go on forever, the situation is a bit different.

You don't need to send a live person to ensure the survival of the species. I agree, it's not about that.

Its a reach. For comparison, lets start a city on top of Mt Everest? Better air, better weather, lots easier to get to, and help is only days away instead of months. Yet we haven't begun to do things even that ambitious yet.

There's no special humanity wide significance to having a city on Mt. Everest. And there is also no new science that such a city would enable. Lastly, it wouldn't teach us anything about our place in the universe.

Talking about trial runs for Mars, which of course will be far less exciting. But can we imagine doing even that much? It seems preposterous to put a city on a tall mountain - but we're already talking about another planet.

I can imagine it :)

It's hard to say when and how, of course. It might not happen in any serious fashion until asteroid mining and space tourism became real industries, which should result in improved tech and much lower costs for building Mars colonies.

If people can get rich from colonizing Mars, it will be attempted. I don't think there is any financial incentive for mt Everest however.

Interplanetary trade will be a huge business. Think of the old east India trading companies only bigger.

> Think of the old east India trading companies only bigger.

There is no spice on mars. Even if there was, it would not make sense to transport it to Earth[1]. It's not clear what would be the business model. The only thing I see is tourism : hotels, casinos, etc. So basically like Las Vegas, but on mars. Just as in Futurama [2].

Could be cool, but probably not exactly the romantic image Musk's supporters might have in mind.

1. "Well, I think any natural resource extraction on Mars would be - the output would be for Mars. It definitely wouldn't make sense to transport Mars stuff 200 million miles back to Earth. Honestly, if you had like crack-cocaine on Mars, in like prepackaged pallets, it still wouldn't make sense to transport it back here. It's be good times for the Martians, but not back here. Resources would be for a colony to use." http://shitelonsays.com/transcript/elon-musk-at-mits-aeroast...

2. http://futurama.wikia.com/wiki/Mars_Vegas

> There is no spice on mars.

Sounds like zero supply of something a colony might want to pay for. Trade goes both ways. I never took a guess at time frames this could happen in.

Even if large deposits of a rare mineral were discovered on Mars, surely a business would send robots to retrieve it -- not humans.

Everest isn't really better weather. Parts of Mars get up to 70 F in the summer day, and the thin atmosphere means even a big storm doesn't have much impact even on someone walking around (the events that start The Martian simply can't happen as depicted).

I'd build an bioshpere 3 in Antarctica or deep sea rather than Everest. Build sustainable ecosystems on hostile places on Earth will help bootstrapping Mars. Colonising Mars is still an important goal for headlines (and funding), and to have something great for kids to aspire for.

We have no reason to start a city on Mt Everest. We would not do it just for training, if we are going to do it, there must be a good reason.

How about, so we learn how? So everybody doesn't die the first week on Mars?

For all Spaceflight of getting to Space is huge, no matter what you are trying to do.

I'm not sure why it is conflicting for you. Even if they are delusional, you profit from cheaper access to Space no matter why they are going there.

One thing I don't like is that Musk stated that he expects that colonization project to be a public-private partnership. That means that the government will put money into it, and I'm not OK with the State investing in what is to me nothing but an extraordinarily exotic real-estate project. Going to mars for science is ok. Going there and build insanely expensive accommodations, just for the sake of living there, is not, unless you do it with your money.

I think the stated reason for building a sustainable city on Mars--to ensure that a disaster on Earth doesn't end the species--is a damned good one. The science and other technology that will come as a result of the colonization is just bonus.

> I think the stated reason for building a sustainable city on Mars--to ensure that a disaster on Earth doesn't end the species--is a damned good one.

It's stupid. If we can live on mars, we can live on Earth no matter what happens to it. I don't see anything that could turn Earth into worse a place to live than mars.

Learning to survive on Mars is what will enable us to survive on earth.

>I don't see anything that could turn Earth into worse a place to live than mars.

How about a major asteroid strike?


Will future SpaceX clients now want to put their payloads in orbit on a "flight proven" booster, instead of one that hasn't flown before?

I think it'll be sometime before we get to that point. We just need a much larger sample size before I think they can put together an accurate bathtub curve (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bathtub_curve) for their rockets.

I think once Block 5 gets off the ground, and we see maybe 20 flights on re-used rockets, and a couple of rockets used 5+ times, you'll start to see increased demand for "flight proven" hardware.

If it's cheaper then yes.

They're not talking about cheaper, they are talking about more reliable.

Well, you can combine cheapness and reliability by looking at total cost after launch insurance.

That's not really a fair comparison. The amount of money you lose if something bad happens is more than just the cost of replacing your payload (which is what insurance covers)

Why wouldn't they obtain insurance for the total cost of the mishap?

Losing a payload can have a domino effect of bad things that insurance doesn't cover. Kind of like how your car insurance won't pay for your lost income if you get in an accident and then get fired for missing work. Maybe the car analogy is a bit of a stretch, but look at Spacecom, whose Amos-6 satellite blew up during a static fire back in September (this wasn't actually covered by launch insurance, but Spacecom had separate insurance for anything that happens before the launch).

Beyond the cost of a new satellite (covered by insurance) and a new launch (SpaceX is giving them one for free) Spacecom still has to provide coverage for their customers. The solution is to lease someone else's satellite for 4 years, which cost them $88 million [1]. On top of that, they were in the middle of selling the company for $285 million. The deal was contingent on the Amos-6 satellite being fully operational. Supposedly, the buyer only wants to pay $190 million now. They may also end up backing out.

Someone else's launch going badly can also be bad for your company. The explosion that took out Amos-6 also damaged the pad and threw off SpaceX's schedule (which was already oversubscribed). Inmarsat was required by the EU to start using their spectrum by a given deadline, which they ended up missing. Theoretically, the EU could take away their spectrum allocation (although they probably won't). Inmarsat did end up having to buy a launch with another provider though, which probably cost them a ton of money[3].

[1] http://spacenews.com/spacecom-begins-service-with-a-borrowed...

[2] http://spacenews.com/spacecom-reports-lull-in-talks-with-chi...

[3] http://www.theverge.com/2016/12/8/13883640/spacex-satellite-...

You can likely get car accident coverage that will cover anything you want, if you're willing to pay whatever premium your insurer decides is appropriate given your desired coverage amount and probability of a payout. These companies aren't buying off-the-shelf mass market insurance plans; it's up to their risk management people to figure out what the true cost of an accident is and negotiate appropriate coverage if they don't want to eat the risk themselves.

I have a hard time believing this "flight proven" argument, seems more like marketing.

It looked like one of the grid fins got toasted. Will they still be able to stick the landing? fingers crossed

edit: and they did it! I was pessimistic for a minute there!

The grid fins are painted with ablative paint that's supposed to burn away while protecting what's underneath. Same with the legs. But they do suffer damage during re-entry as could be seen on photos of them from previous landed boosters. I'm fairly sure that's all expected and accounted for.

The legs are only flown once and are replaced in their entirety, they take the brunt of the impact from landing and may suffer non-elastic deformation.

I didn't say the legs were going to be re-used. I just said they were painted in a way that the paint can burn away, just like the grid fins. If you're coming down through your own exhaust you don't want to risk damaging the things you land on a few meters above the ground.

Someone on reddit said it was an ablative coating. This was also a heavy launch, so it's not surprising they'd be hitting the atmosphere faster.

Musk has said SpaceX is working to replace the material with titanium and a new redesign.

Specifically, in the post launch press event, he mentioned titanium cast grid fins a number of times.

The video I saw [1] didn't have great audio and I was in transit while watching, but I believe he also said something about how it would be the largest single titanium cast in production.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC3LQFpuzqs

Haha everything is better in titanium.

I saw that! I wonder if it was from the entry burn. I was worried because as I saw the fin get toasted, the video cut out, but that was because stage 1 went trans-sonic.

The video cut out because the stage fell below the horizon (from the perspective of the tracking station on the Cape).

Without SpaceX and Tesla the world would have been really depressing.

The obvious question: how much cheaper will a reusable rocket make it, per pound, to put a payload in orbit?

Well, if you go to the extreme case (the entire rocket is reusable with _no_ refurbishment) the cost of rocket fuel is $200,000 while the approximate cost of the hardware is in the range of $60M. So, in the extreme case it would be _massively_ cheaper. On the order of 99% savings.

At the moment, SpaceX is only reusing a portion of the rocket (the first stage, not the second stage or the fairings). And that re-used portion requires some refurbishment. SpaceX estimates it's 30% cheaper per launch right now.

Over the next few years SpaceX will probably bring that cost down (though they won't necessarily pass that cost on to the consumer — they could very well just enjoy the extra margins). I'm guessing they can realistically get to 50-70% cost savings per launch over the next few years.

though they are working on recovering the fairing, and attempting something related to that today.

I honestly don't think they'll _have_ the chance to enjoy the margins. There will likely be a lot more competition in the future.

The Chinese, Russians, Indians, blue origin, vector space systems, and United Launch Alliance finally getting their shit together, trying to do a redesign to better compete.

Certainly in the long term they won't be able to enjoy their margins.

However, they are already one of the lowest cost launch providers available at the moment. Others have work to do just to catch up with SpaceX today. And _nobody_ is just around the corner on reusability. I don't know of any other provider that will have a reusable launch in the next 3 years.

Even then, those other providers will just be dipping their toes in reusability.

I suspect, if reusability starts going well for them SpaceX will have 4-6 years to enjoy the benefits of being the only major provider on the market with a reusable first stage booster. It won't last forever, but there are some good times coming up for them in the near-term if they can keep things running smoothly.

The stakes are colossal too. Ultimately we're talking about owning transport infrastructure for the solar system. I think Bezos see's it this way too. Musk is all about settling gravity wells, while Bezo's is about O'Neil type space colonies. Interesting dichotomy.

Under 5 years, Ariane VI could do it probably. 3 years, i don't think so.

One could believe the Russians could match this achievement, with enough development effort, if they chose to make that effort, which they won't. All of the other parties you list have many challenges to meet before they attempt to land their rockets on tails of flame.

I agree it's unlikely. However, they did privatize Roscosmos, so who knows. They might get their shit together.

Russians no chance the degree of corruption makes any serious project a guaranteed failure

You're underestimating Russia ridiculously.

Would you care to provide an example to the contrary? Look at Rosnano, Scolocovo or any other multi-billion dollar project with 0 ROI.

I don't doubt that Russia is swimming in corruption and that it makes a lot of things more difficult. But to say that they're incapable of a major engineering project, even if Putin takes a personal interest? I think you'll need to justify that.

Well if you are aware of a major successful project bring an example. It would be hard to argue that Putin is not personally interested in any of the major military projects yet from Armata to fighter jets that even long term customers like India are abandoning due to horrible quality does not look like his personal interest helps much.

It seems silly to not include recovery costs, refurbishment, testing, transport to launch, etc. Those significantly eat into the '99%' savings.

I estimate those costs would be $20-25MM; still, a big savings on a brand-new rocket each time!

Apologies if I wasn't clear. When I said the "extreme case" I meant some kind of future scenario where rocket launches operate similarly to commercial aircraft flights (doing launching and landing to fixed infrastructure, minimal refurbishment and operations between flights, hundreds of launches per core, etc). So, the '99%' savings wasn't intended to be anything approximating where we are now, but more like the limits of the possible cost savings if everything else is nearly perfect.

As I mentioned, I think _today_ SpaceX is saving about 30% per launch by doing reusability (which, in my mind translates to ~20M). So I actually think we're probably in good agreement.

Oh yeah, I agree with you. Just wanted to point out what's stopping SpaceX from hitting that level.

> though they won't necessarily pass that cost on to the consumer — they could very well just enjoy the extra margins

Good point; it depends on how much they could expect demand to grow if the prices were lower.

I've run through this calculation here before, but it's always interesting to rehash:

Both LOX and kerosene are about the price of milk. If we assume that a gallon of either weighs about 7 lbs, then it takes, at 1% mass fraction, 99 lbs, or about 14 gallons, of fuel and oxidizer to put a pound of payload into orbit. At a 2% mass fraction, it's only 7 gallons. Call it $3.50 per gallon, so the fuel cost for a pound of payload is only about $25-$50. It's truly negligible compared to the cost of the rocket, whose costs are tied mainly literally to paperwork, due to the very tight margins on the factors of safety.

The rest of the equilibrium cost is going to be amortizing that rocket over as many launches as is responsible.

Musk has often said that the first stage is 70% of the cost. And that the fuel cost are negligible.

Even less than that for ITS. The tanker version of ITS is supposed to (eventually) achieve about $9/kg to orbit, with $4 of that being the cost of the propellant. Or, about $2 per pound for the propellant (if you want to use barbarous units).

Not much at first. 30%, perhaps. But as reuse is tweaked, more things are recovered, less refurbishment needed, things can get really cheap.

Ultimately, SpaceX wants to get the cost to orbit for propellant down to about $9/kg. From the current $10,000 to $2000 per kg. For propellant launches on ITS, which will be larger and will have the booster land on the launch cradle and have the upperstage be fully reusable: http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/mars_presentation.p... (based on figures given on page 36 and 41)

$9/kg is ridiculously cheap ($4/pound). 3 orders of magnitude cheaper than current costs. More general payloads will cost more (due to processing requirements), but that gives you an idea. The idea is you reduce the cost of the launch to about twice the cost of the propellant. The only way that's feasible is rapid reuse and by launching a lot.

Also, ITS will use the cheapest source of energy today: methane. Can also be synthesized from air, water, and sunlight as SpaceX is planning on Mars.

The energy costs of achieving orbit is about the same energy costs as flying around the world, for the same payload. So it's not, in principle, absurdly expensive (relative to current per-person energy usage) just from an energy point of view to fly stuff to orbit.


As dictated by the market monopoly holder.

What? Prices are only dictated if you dictate to somebody else. They are just setting there own price. Also, there is no monopoly situation.

They have a monopoly on reusable orbit-class rockets (for now).

Fortunately the market is about putting stuff into orbit, not about putting stuff into orbit with reusable rocket. ULA also has monopoly in Hydolox rockets. That however is not relevant and its not a useful use of the word monopoly.

You're missing the point. It's perfectly relevant to point out that SpaceX is now able to charge much more for reuse than the marginal cost, effectively being able to charge monopoly rent for being the only player on the field with a reuse capability. Of course, it's not a total monopoly on launch period, but that's missing the point. A 30% reduction in price doesn't represent the ultimate lowest cost of reuse because currently there's no competition for reuse.

Indeed, they are limiting the discounts to 10% [1].

> What is your current thinking on the savings for customers using a reused Falcon 9 first stage? Is a 30 percent discount realistic?

> We are not decreasing the price by 30 percent right now for recovered and reused vehicles. We’re offering about a 10 percent price reduction. I’d rather fly on an airplane that’s flown before as I’d feel more comfortable with its reliability.

> At this point that is a reasonable reduction and then, as we recover some of the costs associated with the investment that we put into the Falcon 9 to achieve that, then we might get a little bit more. But in general, it’s about 10 percent right now.

[1] http://spacenews.com/spacexs-shotwell-on-falcon-9-inquiry-di...

Makes up for the rocket they lost. Actually, now they're ahead if you count the insurance payout. People should stop saying we need to spend X trillions to get to Mars. They should instead say we can't get to Mars until technology is good enough that it will cost less than X billions or even millions.

Does SpaceX have any real competitors in the private sector? Would be a bummer if people decided they were a monopoly of some sort and demanded a break up.

One could argue whether they're truly private sector, but they still haven't quite displaced ULA. In 2016 there were 12 ULA launches, 8 SpaceX launches, and 2 by Orbital ATK. Looking at other countries, there were 20 Chinese launches, 18 Russian launches, 9 European launches, and 7 Indian launches.


You can not compare all launches. Most of these launches are not competitive. SpaceX mostly competes with Arianspace for the truly commercial launches. SpaceX has captured around 50% of that market and the share is increasing.

ULA competes mostly on the Air Force launches. They still have capabilities that SpaceX does not have (large fairings) and some that SpaceX will not have for a long time (vertical integration). For these cases, ULA will still have a market, plus the Air Force always needs to have two providers.

SpaceX will however take quite a chunk out of ULA as we have already seen with the bidding for the GPS flights.

Orbital ATK will have hard time in the commercial market but they might be happy with just flying the COTS contracts.

The main issue SpaceX has to solve is flight rate, that is most of the reason others can still be on the commercial market at all. SpaceX is now so far away from everybody else on price, everybody else is still in the "developing a new vehicle and we have some ideas about reversibility, maybe" stage.

SpaceX can now launch a reusable core for around 50 million, and still make a nice profit. The target price for both ULA Vulcan and Arian 6 are 100 million. For Arian that does not even include the massive amount of development cost. Arianspace will survive because of the political imperative.

> plus the Air Force always needs to have two providers

Source? Wasn't ULA the only provider for years as Boeing and Lockheed argued it would be cheaper to merge.

The EELV program doesn't actually require two different providers to guarantee access to space. It requires two different families of launch vehicles. ULA had the Atlas V and Delta IV families.

... and Delta IV Medium is being retired, because it's expensive and no longer needed as the second medium launch vehicle.

Also, they want Vulcan to replace both Delta and Arian family. Thanks to SpaceX they don't need two anymore.

That's why this is so big, dropping the costs significantly could easily pull a significant fraction of those other launches to SpaceX. Pretty soon the ability to re-launch the same booster will be considered a must-have feature if you want to be in the rocket business, unless you fly missions so close the maximum payload or trajectory that recovery is impossible.

SpaceX is still struggling with launching frequently and reliably. I'm hopeful that they will solve those problems, but until they do, other launch providers will have a leg up for customers who really need their payload not to be destroyed and really need it to be launched on time. Keep in mind that some of these satellites being launched cost hundreds of millions of dollars, so paying a few tens of millions extra for a more expensive launch provider isn't necessarily a big deal.

That's true, but overall their failure rate is really not all that bad. Only the Russians are doing better and they're doing better because they are not innovating at all.

I could 3 out of 33 as failures, one of those is a partial failure.

The only area where SpaceX really can't compete yet is manned flight, everything else looks quite rosy.

10% is pretty bad. ULA has launched over a hundred times with no failures. The much-maligned Shuttle had two failures in 135 flights (and, strictly speaking, only one of those failures would have prevented a payload from getting to orbit). I'm pretty sure the Russians are the only ones doing worse right now.

But you'd have to compare their first thirty launches with these to compare. Anyway, notice has been served today I think, now let's see what it leads to.

For comparison:




Of course the beginnings of what is now ULA were much more innovative than what SpaceX is doing because we simply had not launched any rockets of that size at all and so there were many more failures.

It probably won't be the last SpaceX failure either because they plan on making fairly big changes soon and those will come with new failure modes, the best way to get to very high degrees of reliability is to stop making changes other than to fix problems but that does not square with SpaceX's way of doing business.

Well no, you don't have to compare to the first thirty launches with those when we're talking about competition for launch services. Somebody choosing a launch provider for their satellite today doesn't care what the reliability of the Atlas was in the 1960s, they only care what it is today.

If I was arguing that "SpaceX sucks and they deserve to fail because they're so unreliable" then you'd have a point, but I'm not.

I think I covered that with:

"Of course the beginnings of what is now ULA were much more innovative than what SpaceX is doing because we simply had not launched any rockets of that size at all and so there were many more failures."

So of course the situation is not 1:1 comparable. But given that it is a new platform some failures were to be expected, it doesn't take a lot in rocketry to have a failure. How many launch failures would you consider to be acceptable over the course of the first 30 launches for a new platform?

You're confusing my comment with some sort of value judgment. I'm not saying it's good or bad. I'm just saying that some customers care more about reliability than cost, and those customers will provide a steady stream of revenue for ULA and friends until SpaceX improves in this area.

I have no opinion about what is "acceptable" or not, but my opinion doesn't matter. What matters is the opinion of the customer. There are enough customers out there which find SpaceX's ~10% failure rate to be too high to keep ULA around for now even at a hefty premium.

Yes, that makes good sense.

So then the race is on in a way: will SpaceX be able to get their next platform stabilized before the competition catches up to being able to re-use their first stage? If they can there might be some actual competition which should drive down prices even further.

Sounds right to me. Other launchers are probably living on borrowed time at this point. ULA and others should have many more years to capitalize on their advantages, but it won't last forever. They'll either sit there, reap short-term profits, then fade away, or innovate. I'm hopeful it'll be the latter. Tory Bruno, ULA's CEO, occasionally comments on SpaceX discussions and seems to be quite with it.

> It probably won't be the last SpaceX failure either because they plan on making fairly big changes soon and those will come with new failure modes

My understanding is that they are now producing and flying Block 5 Falcon 9's which means no more changes to the hardware.

Falcon heavy is obviously a different kettle of fish but the chat around SpaceX on Reddit has been that things are settling/reaching maturity with Falcon 9

There are Block 5s in the pipeline, but they have not flown yet and will only fly at the end of this year.

Even worse than the expense of the payload is the time: some payloads take several years to build and some literally can't be replaced (e.g. Webb telescope, though it could be replaced it probably wouldn't get funded).

SpaceX would still have to deal with scheduling: making enough upper stages and having limited launch/landing pads they share with NASA/ULA/ATK. So those with less cost-sensitive payloads (governments) would probably still pay a premium to launch their payloads sooner rather than cheaper.

That doesn't add up: SpaceX will be able to use a chunk of their savings to outbid their competitors for launch capacity. So any premium paid by a competitor would have to be passed on to their customers to stay afloat whereas SpaceX would merely give a slightly lower discount.

SpaceX really caused some sleepless nights today with the executives of other rocket companies they are several years away from being able to begin to play catch-up. This was one very long bet SpaceX made and it paid off today and will continue to pay off for years to come.

I agree with you: everyone else will be playing catch-up, probably for a decade.

But what I mean is say I have a payload I want to launch. I go to spaceX and they say they can put my payload on their manifest for 2019 for $60 million. I go to another provider and they say they can get me up into orbit in 2018 for $120 million. If I'm a government and don't care so much about the cost, but do care about getting my payload into space, I'll go with the 2018 date.

So, there will still be other non-reusable providers out there. For example, European governments want to keep Ariane around regardless of the cost to keep the launch capability around (for national security issues).

Yes, but those launches would be subsidized, so technically loss leaders which you should not even want to compete with. SpaceX is in business with first mover advantage of a kind you can only dream of.

SpaceX did all of their landing/reusability testing with disposable rockets. When they started all rockets were thrown away, so adding a bit of fuel or grid fins was a small price to pay for the development. Once reusability becomes common any competitor would have to test by sacrificing rockets where failures will be very expense - I mean who would throw away a rocket right?

At least in the US that is not possible anymore. The wild inconsistency (arbitrary enforcement) of Anti-Trust Law has been replaced by a consistent definition thanks to the activities of many judges and legal theorists. The new definition is basically that one needs to prove abuse of consumers to make Anti-Trust law effective.

I don't think SpaceX is in danger of being accused of that.

They really don't have any competition on price anymore, but they are yet unable to actually do as many flights as they need to. To solve that they are building even more launch sites and thanks to the re-usability they will be able to do more flights without further increasing their engine output.

Bezos's Blue Origin is on track to have a very similar system in a few years, and perhaps even better eventually with the possibility of a reusable second stage. ULA still has plenty of contracts and could compete if its parent companies wanted to spend the money to do so. Arianespace is vaguely commercial, is currently cost-competitive, and could also choose to develop a reusable vehicle, if its parent companies/countries can stand the expense. There are also plenty of small-launcher outfits currently working that could also scale up given a contract and/or investment, just like SpaceX did from Falcon 1 to F9, were SpaceX to leave any room in the market by overpricing.

> Bezos's Blue Origin is on track to have a very similar system in a few years

That's on paper, not anything they've flown has come close to what SpaceX is demonstrating as a matter of some routine now.

(1) never been to orbit

(2) never been to orbit and then back down to a landing

(3) 6 flights vs 33

(4) payload < 2 Tonnes vs 5.5 for Falcon 9 re-usable (and 8 expendable).

At this point in time Blue Origin to me looks like a slightly more serious version of Armadillo Aerospace and SpaceX looks like the company that will put the majority of tonnage into orbit in the next decade.

It's easy to confuse Blue Origin with other companies with paper plans, but they're the real deal. Besides having demonstrated clear competence with New Shepard (with an LH2 engine no less), the orbital version is well underway. They've leased the pad, are currently building the factory, and are testing the engine. And Bezos definitely has the money. They may not be flying the New Glenn yet, but they will.

Yeah. Blue Origin is probably at least 4 years behind, but Bezos has more money than God and Blue Origin's approach is technically sound, so yeah. I don't think SpaceX will indefinitely be the only reusable launch provider, and I don't think anyone would want that anyway.

We are a decade away from even knowing the reliability rate for BO orbital rockets.

As far as I can tell, Blue Origin is taking their time to ensure the reliability and re-usability of their rockets before they take a shot at reaching orbit. Different strategy that's way less flashy, but I think they end up with a better track record and and a more clearly proven reliability (compared to SpaceX).

There is no substitute for launching. Whether or not Blue Origin will have a better track record and more clearly proven reliability is a complete unknown at this point and if they wait another 3 years before they start launching they'll be roughly a decade behind SpaceX.

The Russians are doing more private launches with Soyuz and the Indians are also likely to do the same.

From what I can tell, that's not true. Last year, SpaceX did 5 commercial launches (i.e. non-government) with Falcon 9 while Soyuz only did 2 or 3 (depending on how you count "commercial").

They wouldn't have a monopoly since there are plenty of other launch services out there (ULA,Russians,ESA,etc). The fact that SpaceX will probably be able to do it for much cheaper doesn't factor into it.

Arianespace is their biggest competitor, they are the de facto rulers of the commercial launch market, with SpaceX hot on their heels. The Ariane 5 launches twin payloads about 7 times a year, for a total of about 14 total spacecraft launches per year. SpaceX is about at a similar cadence but has yet to hit the overall schedule and mission reliability figures that Arianespace has achieved so it's still a bit of a race. Launching on Ariane is the easy, safe choice. Launching on the Falcon 9 is still considered to be a little bit risky, more so from a schedule perspective (which is still a big deal in the industry).

SpaceX is increasing its launch cadence and reducing its prices substantially (through reusability) so they are becoming more competitive by leaps and bounds every moment. If they can follow through on their cadence increases (right now they are around an average of 3 weeks between launches and a minimum of 2 weeks) and cost reductions (see recent flight) no one else will be able to keep up with them. Their internal cost reductions on reuse are unknown but their current price reductions are around 30%, which is off of their already incredibly aggressive low launch prices. If SpaceX can provide launches at around $45 mil and can launch often enough to satisfy demand reasonably then they'll end up with the majority of the commercial launch business eventually. If you can put your satellite in orbit reliably and save on the order of $50 million then you'd be insane not to do so. There's a bit of an insurance premium with launching on SpaceX currently but that should even out after a while and the huge cost reductions swamp that difference regardless (even if, for example, SpaceX were to blow up another rocket tomorrow).

The only realistic competitor for SpaceX in the near term is Blue Origin, once they develop their orbital launcher which will also have VTVL first stage reusability. The timeline on that is sometime before 2020, but that's likely to be the soonest any real competition for SpaceX's business model shows up. Once it becomes commonplace for launches to involve first stage reuse (which will probably happen over the next 5 years or so) I'd expect a lot of the other rocket companies (like Boeing and LockMart) to come out with similar designs (or go out of business or be relegated to national payloads only). It's a lot easier to put forward some hypothetical "better" design for your next generation rocket when everything is on paper, it's a lot harder to pretend your rocket is still better when you're getting your face pushed in by the competition on price by huge margins on a regular basis.

Once SpaceX has the Falcon Heavy running (which will be even more reusable since the upper stage is a smaller proportion of the rocket) they'll be able to launch nearly anything anyone else can, and at dramatically lower costs. Once they're able to launch GPS satellites (which they've already got orders for) as well as the big national security birds (on the FH) for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars less than ULA then almost all of that business is going to flow to them and LockMart/Boeing are going to have some tough times.

They will not do Vertical Integration, neither will Blue Origin. It looks like ULA Vulcan will survive on a few specialized launches.

Arian will still have non competitive flight that SpaceX can not take away. They will probably survive.

SpaceX will be doing vertical integration on pad 39a for national security launches.

The one part of the market where they will continue to see competition is for those payloads/trajectories where there is no way to land the booster.

Firstly, even without reusability they still have an industry leading cost-competitive launcher.

Secondly, it's my understanding that with the performance upgrades from the Block 5 iteration that will become the dominant configuration later this year there will no longer be a need to fly the booster in expendable mode. And with the ability to launch much heavier payloads on the Falcon Heavy for extremely low prices, there won't be much of any performance window anywhere that competitors could wiggle through.

And remember even a booster with a 10-launch lifetime can do a reusable-priced expendable launch on the final flight before "retirement" :)

> Does SpaceX have any real competitors in the private sector?

They do, such as Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, and others I can't think of off the top of my head.

However, Musk appears to have a major advantage: At least two major investment banks [0][1][2] and many other observers and investors [3][4] believe a major advantage Musk has over competitors is his relationship with President Trump. They claim it has greatly increased investment in Tesla (and investment indeed has greatly increased since Musk embraced Trump after the election, but of course the cause is impossible to prove and U.S. stocks in general have rallied). If you doubt this is an issue, not only see the cites but search a news index for "musk trump" - it is widespread outside HN.

I don't know about the effect on SpaceX (are they public?), but the space business is highly dependent on government contracts, project funding, and regulation; you can imagine what the appearances are. Compare that with competitor Jeff Bezos, for example, who owns a major newspaper that regularly criticizes Trump; will the competition for government contracts and other benefits be free and fair?

It would be bad for the space industry, the economy, the U.S. as a nation, and the fight for the free market and against corruption if that relationship decided or even appeared to decide the winner in this competition. Appearances are reality on the public stage; if people merely perceive corruption helped him, the (many) unscrupulous people will try to use that tactics themselves and many others will doubt Musk's legitimacy.

I think he has what it takes to win on his own; the other stuff could undermine him unnecessarily, and be bad for everyone else.


[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/business/elon-musk-donald...

[1] http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/20/technology/elon-musk-trump/

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/16/ubs-analyst-says-he-cant-und...

[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-26/musk-s-su...

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/elon-...

[Mods: Last time I mentioned Musk's relationship with Trump, you objected but the problem wasn't clear to me; I responded and asked, but probably too late to for you to see it. ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13880838 ) If this post is somehow objectionable, please tell me the problem so that I can avoid it in the future. This seems like many other posts on HN, except its content criticizes a very popular figure and includes a controversial one; hopefully popularity doesn't preclude criticism and the POTUS can be discussed. I am speaking plainly and documenting it very well.]

Blue Origin does not currently belong in the list of competitors. They are (not yet) in the same class (and may never be).

Blue Origin doesn't count /yet/, but they almost certainly WILL. Bezos is the second richest person in the entire world, and the only thing he really cares to use that wealth for is space.

Does Blue Origin count?

I'm not sure how valid it is, but i read somewhere that Blue Origin and SpaceX are both shooting for the same target, but taking different paths. Blue Origin is doing Reusability first and orbital second. SpaceX went Orbital first and Reusability second. although to me it seems spacex is clearly ahead.

The difference between launching something to space and to orbit is roughly the difference between a bicycle, and a motorcycle.

Blue Origin can go to space. They are nowhere close to going to orbit.

We've sent things to space and back a long time ago. We call them airplanes. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_X-15

Blue Origin isn't as far back as it may seem.

They're new engine (BE-4) that will power New Glenn is going through test firings now. Additionally, they're angling to get BE-4 sold into other launch stacks than just their internal hardware.

If they are able to get BE-4 out into other launch stacks in the next year or two, it's very possible that New Glenn will launch it's first mission before 2020.

New Glenn will be comparable to the Falcon Heavy in terms of lift. The Falcon Heavy won't have it's demo flight until later this year.

I'd agree that Blue Origin is behind SpaceX. Still, though, I think they are on a pretty good track to take second place in the reusable launch stack to orbit.

SpaceX Merlin 1C completed its first full duration firing in 2007, a decade ago. Blue Origin is trying to go straight to a large engine with more than twice the thrust of the Merlin 1 AND using a fuel that has never been used in rocketry for an engine this size. I'm impressed that Blue Origin has come this far, but they are most likely 5 years behind SpaceX, and probably more.

They are still a ways off from having something comparable to SpaceX. New Glenn might have a test launch in 2020.


No: SpaceX is launching satellites into various orbits, which Blue Origin cannot do yet (and cannot do with their current rocket).

No. Not even close to this.

I believe they are currently doing sub-orbital flights while they are working up to re-usable orbital flights.

Please correct me if i misremembered.

This is correct. Their current launch stack is and will remain sub-orbital hops above the Kármán line.

They are actively working on their next gen launch stack (New Glenn), which is set to have its first launch before 2020. New Glenn will be a reusable launch stack capable of inserting payloads into orbit. It will be roughly similar to the Falcon Heavy in terms of mission capabilities.

You know there is absolutely no reason for you to "believe" anything about Blue Origin, right? Google, Wikipedia and Blue Origin's own website is 3 seconds away.

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