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SpaceX sticks 11th rocket landing after launching first used Dragon capsule (theverge.com)
240 points by smb06 on June 3, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments



Sometimes I think I'm smart because I can (mostly) get Webpack to work the way I want.

Then I watch a SpaceX livestream and realize, eh, not so much. ;)


To be fair, SpaceX's roadmap is:

1. Land rocket.

2. Reuse rocket.

3. Colonize Mars.

4. Get Webpack to work the way we want.


low hanging fruits.. Musk is defintely lazy


You are a smarty pants, and you know it. You're just not a billionaire with many, many, many subject matter experts in the field of rocketry working for you. No need to compare yourself to others :)


finding and getting these many subject matter experts to work for you and then get productive results from them also takes a lot of smarts


Getting webpack to work is hard. Quite a bit of domain specific knowledge required. Do not underestimate yourself.

Regarding rockets I think ULA management was probably just sucking our tax money and putting some rockets up every now and then.

I really wish we can replicate Elon's way of vision and execution in many different fields. How awesome would the world be if we could scale Elon?


It's already become routine, soon people will expect rockets to be reusable. If they keep up the launches every two weeks and begin even accelerating the pace of launches I do not see how any rocket company will be able to compete for business.


I was just thinking that hey, here we are where a SpaceX landing has only 46 points in 2 hours. It's really cool to see it become routine.


There is a tiny part of me that is starting to think Yay! Are we becoming a spacefaring civilization? We are tentatively close.


The real test is what happens after a ship explodes. Musk himself has said that you can't really improve the reliability that much. Cost is the only vector, and SpaceX is making spaceflight cheap.

It's still risky. If it's true that reliability hasn't changed at all, then it's even more likely that we're going to see a string of failures rather than a single isolated incident. That will be the true test: can we take that in stride, or will others get the last word?


I expect reuse to result in much better reliability in the long term. The engineers will have a much better picture of which components fail and in what way if they can look at flown examples.

So far, SpaceX's reliability is not great, but they keep going.


That Space Shuttle was reusable, and it still had catastrophic failures.


The Space Shuttle was incredibly unsafe design, and it evolved fairly little during it's life. Mixing unthrottable and unstoppable solid rockets with liquid rockets was never a good idea. The massive external fuel tank was vulnerable. The tile system was an achilles heel, and extending the wingspan to force air force payloads on the shuttle made reentry even more dangerous. Finally carrying a huge space plane every flight eliminated more than 80% of its payload capacity.

Falcon 9s and Dragons are an evolution of tried and true rocket engineering principles, even capsules are much safer at reentry than the shuttle. Delta showed that type can be launched with a high degree of safety. SpaceX has the advantage of getting returned equipment back from space to learn from and improve.


Completely agreed, but let's be honest: we're going to see SpaceX shuttles explode, and people will probably die. I hope not, but the things you're saying now are exactly the same kinds of things people were saying the last time space travel was fashionable. It's just incredibly risky to try to ride an explosion into space, no matter how you do it.

Going forward, it might be to our advantage to own it rather than hide it. Yeah, it's dangerous. So let's risk the danger! We courageously do our best and launch ourselves into orbit, and some of us die, but progress marches forward.

I'm not sure if that type of message would have a better or worse impact than shielding everyone from the idea that disaster will strike till it happens. It could go either way.


SpaceX Dragon 2 will have a fail-safe and should easily escape any explosion, even during Max-Q.

With the ITS this will be a much bigger problem, because the ITS will not have such a lunch escape.


Designed correctly, there is potentially a whole spectrum between "complete success, desired orbit" and "fire-y ball of death". As other commenters here have pointed out, one of the Space Shuttle's fatal flaws is that it severely narrowed that spectrum (even one of the supposed "abort modes" probably wouldn't have been survivable).

So far, everything SpaceX has done is working to greatly expand the window of "survivable failure". Remember on one of the early Falcon 9 flights when one of the 9 first stage engines literally disintegrated and the rocket kept flying? How many other rockets flying today can do that?

So, no, I don't expect we'll see people die in a SpaceX capsule. When was the last time someone died in a Soyuz?


Well, yeah. But they'll surely beat that 1.5% failure rate of the sts. They're at a 3% total failure rate right now, but they'll have (I hope) a long run of success, maybe hundreds, before they put people on the falcon.


There's not going to be hundreds. The first crew flight is supposed to happen next year.


Agreed, rockets are and will be dangerous for a while. Astronauts are brave to be willing to risk it. Let's hope the Draco escape system will get them out of the next emergency.


Both Shuttle accidents were preceded by numerous nonfatal failures which were completely ignored. Experience won't let you improve if you won't react to it.


We have airplane accidents every year, a great many if you include private planes, but people keep flying them.


The speed at which they develop, implement and successfully use this technology is mind-boggling. Congratulations to everyone involved with this.


Wow. Does anyone know what sort of control they have during the final burn? Do they modulate it in closed loop to track the landing profile or is the control via some other actuators? It just blows your mind that you can get this sort of accuracy with these speeds/distance/time. I also wonder how they get real-time accurate positioning. GPS?


It's mostly GPS and inertial navigation. Probably integrated together with some kind of Kalman filter.

The very last few seconds add in data from a radar altimeter. Per the post-launch press conference, this time they added some special paint to the landing pad to give a better radar return. I imagine the steel deck of the ASDS already gives a pretty good radar return.


There are cold gas thrusters, grid fins, and the main engines are gimballed.


Can someone explain why the "Stage 1 speed" at the top right on the technical broadcast stream jumps from 6,000 km/h to 24,000 km/h right after the separation?

https://youtube.com/watch?v=PFoOqqSIYpw around 22:28 mark

In fact, the speed settles at 18,000 km/h after the landing.


that was a bug


That headline makes no sense to me. What does "sticks" mean here?


It's a turn of phrase borrowed from judged sports with a jumping/dismount component, especially gymnastics. If a gymnast dismounts from a balance beam and lands without stumbling or bending the knees too much, one would say he has "stuck the landing". In the headline, OP is saying that, by virtue of the landing being near-flawless, SpaceX "stuck" the landing. This is used quite commonly in aviation/aerospace, but colloquially.


If they can find customers for the recovered stages at 80% of normal price, it will be like printing money. Wow.


Whats interesting is that even if they command 100% of the launch market, The launch market is currently less than 6% of the roughly $200B USD global space industry. That is probably still not enough to fund a Mars colony fleet.

As it happens, most of the profits in space are in communication satellites, which is why SpaceX is attempting to launch its own LEO constellation.

Some have speculated that if SpaceX can't launch their satellite constellation then they will have bet the farm and lost. However, I think people underestimate what may happen to demand when the cost of access to space drops to dollars/kg from tens of thousands of dollars/kg.


The problem I always thought there was with the Mars colony stuff was that there's too little infrastructure on the way, and going straight from Earth surface to Mars surface with essentially no infrastructure in between is a recipe for expensive disaster. We have 3 expensive and difficult steps between the two - Earth surface to orbit, Earth orbit to Mars orbit, and Mars orbit to Mars surface. If anything goes wrong anywhere, it's almost impossible to fix or send help when it can only come from Earth Surface.

It's hard to figure anyone being motivated to build much infrastructure in Mars orbit, so I'd like to see some real infrastructure in Earth orbit. Meaning hundreds of semi-permanent residents, rotation for artificial gravity, capturing asteroids and comets to have bulk raw material, setting up some limited manufacturing there of pure space craft. All in a place where help from or escape to Earth is fast and relatively easy. Get to where sending a colony fleet to Mars is a modest stretch of existing capabilities, not a wild reach involving inventing dozens of new fields.


I did not see what infrastructure in Earth Orbit, or Mars orbit, adds though. It would be like installing a tethered zeppelin in Siberia to help service airliners between Europe and Japan. There really isn't much point. Unless a space station happened to have almost exactly the same orbit as an outgoing ship, you're much better off launching a rescue mission from Earth directly into a rendezvous trajectory to the stranded ship.

Likewise at Mars, once we have a base there we should permanently keep a fuelled return ship on standby anyway. If there's a problem with a launching or incoming vessel, it would be available to help.


I may not know as much as I would like about orbits, but I would think we can find an orbit compatible with interplanetary journeys that we can service from the Earth without too much difficulty. Wouldn't any realistic Mars transport ship for Humans have to be assembled in Earth orbit anyways? I'm thinking it'd be nice for whoever is doing that assembly to have a nice station to live in instead of some kind of tiny disposable capsule.


The system Musk has published about and released a CGI movie of is not assembled in Earth orbit, only refuelled there. I recommend looking it up, it's well worth it.


Its a chicken-egg problem. We can not start with expansive infrastructure. When going west people did not build the rail roads first, they just went and eventually it made sense to build the rail road.

Musk has build the ITS so that it is a transport ship that can reliable establish surface to surface transportation. Maybe eventually it will make sense to have tugs and refueling stations in orbit. This will only happen if there is a reason to fly very often.

Elon is building the cheapest possible thing that can get the job done.

> anything goes wrong anywhere, it's almost impossible to fix or send help when it can only come from Earth Surface.

The idea is that multiple ITS will fly at the same time, they will be able to exchange people before landing on Mars if one of the ITS has problems.


> Its a chicken-egg problem. We can not start with expansive infrastructure.

That's true, but I had always figured that the infrastructure construction would need to be an actual profitable business outside of a planned colonization of Mars. Perhaps it would make sense to build or assemble satellites, or mine asteroids for rare earth metals or something like that.


I believe this sentiment is spot on. Musks myopic focus on Mars has always been puzzling to me. There are vast fortunes to be made in many areas, the easiest, most immediate in my view is orbital tourism to inflatable habitat destinations. Current falcon, not even heavy is sufficient, lift here.

Also, when dream chaser becomes operational, there will be a strong sense of REAL progress.

Edit to clarify, I'm referring to the drastic cost reduction reusability gives to reaching orbit, as the parent of this post says. I am saying there are a lot of other desirable, profitable ventures, other than settling Mars, that cheap access to space makes achievable.


He's not doing Mars for the money, he's doing it because he thinks it's important and nobody else is pushing it hard enough.

If he was in it for the money he never would have started a rocket company.


> Elon Musk: "Did you hear the joke about the guy who made a small fortune in the space industry?" Obviously, "He started with a large one," is the punchline. And so I tell people, well, I was trying to figure out the fastest way to turn a large fortune into a small one. And they'd look at me, like, "Is he serious?"

https://www.ted.com/talks/elon_musk_the_mind_behind_tesla_sp...


That's presumably a variation on the airline joke of the same form. I've heard it about Richard Branson, but don't know if that is the original source.

The claim is that Richard Branson wa asked how to become a millionaire after he'd start Virgin Atlantic, and answered "you become a billionaire and start an airline".


The general form dates back to at least 1984:

https://books.google.com/books?id=0pJVAAAAMAAJ&q=%22make+a+s...

The way it's put there, it sounds like it had already been around a while. It's possible Branson was the first person to apply it to airlines. I see a lot of people attributing it to Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines, but can't find anything actually quoting him on it. He did say, "A lot of people came into the airline business. Most of them promptly exited, minus their money," which is pretty similar in spirit.


> Musks myopic focus on Mars has always been puzzling to me. There are vast fortunes to be made in many areas

That's easy. Musk is not your run-of-the-mill average predatory capitalist - he seeks profit for the sake of humanity and not for his own coffers.

(No, that does not excuse ripping off his workers)


Good thing he doesn't rip off his workers then.


I kinda think he's a zealot. Super committed to a cause. People buy in to the cause. Some burn out and some thrive. I think it's unethical, but those recent grads are pretty enthusiastic about their 80 hour weeks.

True believers thrive. I wish there was a way to find true believers without burning out a bunch of kids.


It's not unethical. If you want to build something great working 80 hour weeks gives you the best chance possible.


myopic? it's the only current feasible other planet we might be able to live on.


We could live in space stations. Hook up a few inflatable habs in a ring, give it a spin and get 0.5 or 0.7 gravity.

Got your human backup population. Much closer to Earth so if something goes wrong (asteroid) they can just wait it out and pop back down when it all settles down.

Living on Mars? Seems too tricky. Got to get back up the gravity well if you want to leave.


I'm sorry but anybody that has studied this comes to the conclusion that Mars is easier. Where are you gone get your resources for the space station, where are you gone get water, fuel, food and so on? You would need constant delivery of all kinds of stuff, they could never be independent.

On Mars you have an atmosphere that gives you unlimited CO2 and Nitrogen. Plants can grow in compressed atmosphere. Mars has dirt that can be cleaned to grow plants. Mars has tons of H20 that means you can make rocket fuel and you have enough water for the people living there.

On mars you have the materials need to build radiation resistant living quarters (lots of dirt). Doing the same for a space station is incredibly difficult and expensive.

Mars gravity is pretty easy to overcome, specially because you can produce rocket fuel on mars. Ships can land, drop people and cargo, refuel and fly back.


What about distance of Mars and lack of food.


Food can be grown quite easily. The technology exists, there is basically everything you need on Mars. Some stuff you need to bring, but not much.

What about the distance? Its not really a huge problem. Are you talking about time delay?


Think people on Mars that find they enjoy the independence of being 4 to 20 light minutes from Earth will spread the word and that distance will be seen as a positive, not a negative.


Well if they have enough food/can survive for 39 days for a resupply then great.


You're exposed to too many of the same risks as Earth. Warfare, engineered plagues, rogue AI. Mars orbital distance from Earth gives it a safety gap LEO doesn't have, and an independent source of raw materials including fuel. Also orbital facilities are exposed to additional risks such as solar flares and Kessler Syndrome. He has actually thought this through.

That's not to say orbital habitats are a bad idea as such. We're going to need them. Its just that on their own they don't really solve the problem.


I don't know the ins and outs, will an orbital be self-sustaining enough to last for the years/decades/centuries? until earth is habitable again?


Requisite mention of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.

He doesn't seem to think much of Mars settlement.


To be fair, it's not too enlightening to learn from fictional evidence.


True. About Mars, it's just an expression of his opinion.

But I gather that he did research the stuff about orbital habitats and such.


I'd consider it, absolve me of my debt, worlds data in a database sent to mars, and a person of the opposite sex that likes me-vise-versa. I'd consider the possibility of dying there. Easy to say though not sure.

I imagine they'd send helpful/scientists that would be worth something.


As launch costs go down more space businesses become profitable. The market will grow.


Why would you want your expensive cargo on a rocket's test flight - much safer to fly on a nice reliable "launch proven" rocket. We've not quite reached this point yet, but I'm sure it's coming.


You can watch the recorded live stream landing at https://youtu.be/PFoOqqSIYpw?t=37m19s


The time in the video changes after SpaceX removes all the filler waiting for the intro... just FYI. Here's the updated link: https://youtu.be/PFoOqqSIYpw?t=26m8s


What happened with the cheering? It's like watching a comedy without the recorded laughter.


As the description notes, that is the technical stream. Here's the stream with commentary (and cheering :) )

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URh-oPqjlM8


Does it start firing the rockets on descent not so much to slow down but as a shield for reentry? I don't know if that makes sense. Maybe the rocket isn't high enough to burn up on re-entry? I'm not sure it's not exactly coated in heat-resistant ("cliche-black-colored") tiles.

To me maybe when you fire a plume of exhaust like that it forms a shield around the rocket... not sure.


I think that the 1st stage separates at ~6000kmh; that's nowhere near the speed of orbit - which is around 28000kmh. I think that explains the ability of the first stage to pass through the atmosphere without a heat shield - it's not the high up, more the speed, I think.

From (again, not definitive) knowledge, the rocket fires to slow down (boostback), a re-entry burn, then a landing burn. Indeed, there's info from the horse's mouth here:

http://www.spacex.com/news/2015/06/24/why-and-how-landing-ro...


horse's mouth haha

thanks


I wonder if SpaceX will throw a big party after their 100th booster Earth landing.




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