Here's their handout, from one of the reporters there:
Playing politics a bit, Elon's claiming a ~ 75% reduction in launch costs by using Falcon 9 rockets instead of the block buys allocated to ULA, so he's filing a lawsuit to give his company access to this market.
He even goes into details of how some of ULA's engines are manufactured in Russia, and given the festivities in the Ukraine our legislators would rather be less dependent on Russia for space access. He even whets the politicians' appetites with his blurb at the bottom describing how $1B per year could instead pay for operating a fleet of A-10's, or 15 Marine Corps battalions, or 12 F-16 squadrons ... or it could instead pay for purchasing 10 F-35's, 2 LCS's, or 50 UH-60 Black Hawks.
Politicians (and Beltway reporters) definitely respond to money dangled in front of their face.
Here's how he arrives at the ~75% reduction, btw:
• ULA annual cost: $3.0-3.5B
• ULA cost per launch: ~$460M
• Falcon 9 cost: "under $100M"
This forum has tons of live-blog style commentary leading up to and during the press conference.
(edited to clarify about ULA engine sourcing; thanks physcab)
Also to match costs, you have to look at the payloads and the distance to space.
Falcon 9 - $56M - 4.8 metric tons to GTO
Falcon 9H - $135M - 21 metric tons to GTO
Atlas IV/V - $160M - 7 metric tons to GTO or 21 tonnes to LEO
Ariane V - $200M - ? metric tons to GTO
These other companies justify the higher price because they have a better track record. If you're a military customer and your payload needs to get to space, you probably will choose the "safe" bet. Its a catch-22. SpaceX needs more flights to prove their record, but they can't get more flights because of their record.
In response to your edits:
>but they can't get more flights because of their record
The Air Force required 3 successful flights in the exact configuration the Air Force would fly. SpaceX provided the "record" as stipulated by the Air Force, which nevertheless committed to a large block-buy contract with ULA. By the Air Force's own standards, the billion-dollar subsidy is not necessary for their needs-to-get-to-space payloads.
Also, "the other companies" is just a single supplier, ULA.
But sometimes we would see unimaginative stuff like a specification of the LED layout on the front panel or very specific weight restrictions that happened to fall between our hardware and the preferred vendor.
In the government's defense, though, the system is set up to combat this tendency, at least for smaller contracts. When I was on the other side (having left the vendor to work for our civil service customer) we would routinely get pointed questions from the purchasing people regarding this or that line of the RFP - was it really required, or were we trying to wire the contract?
and my understanding that this supply is limited to the what had already been manufactured long time ago. Beside the inventory issues, one can easy imagine Putin saying "bad Americans, no more gas ... err... rocket engines for you"
NK-33 - from which AJ-26 are made - aren't manufactured today. It's a question if the manufacturing will restart. There are a few tens of them in US. Orbital Sciences has that question in the middle of their table, or close to it.
Russian-American relationships in space trace back to at least 1975, deep Cold War. We're not at that state of affairs just yet. As somebody mentioned on The Space Review, ISS is a front-runner for Nobel peace prize, so let's not jump the gun too early. It doesn't seem to be too desirable for Putin to close that particular relationship.
I used to intern for a company trying to break into aerospace software---not hardware, just tracking and modeling. At the time, they faced a nearly-vertical climb into the market to get around the big names in aerospace; they couldn't sell to them directly (the people involved in the purchasing decisions were the people who would be getting downsized if the software proved to be as good as advertised) and they couldn't sell to the Air Force (it's basically nearly impossible to get into an AF contract cycle if you haven't been in an AF contract cycle).
Their break-in point was the US Army; at the time, the Army had a relatively small air asset capability (relative to the other branches), but a sudden need to know what was up with the GPS constellation AT ALL TIMES relative to their land and air deployments. The company was able to get face-time with the Army reps because the regular aerospace names wanted to sell them software that came at a price-point that usually bundled a shiny new fighter jet or stealth asset with it, and they weren't willing to drop their prices because they didn't want their regular Air Force customers asking "Why is the Army getting this software for a tenth of the up-charge you quoted us when we closed this whole contract last year?"
Sadly, that was years ago and I have no idea of the shape of the market now. My only other data point is the portrayal of the aerospace industry in the movie _The Aviator_ and the observation that it hadn't changed much between then and the early-21st century. ;)
I guarantee there will be a congressional committee hearing about this very soon. Reminds me of what Howard Hughes had to go through to break Pan American Airways' legal designation as the United States' sole international carrier. Most portray Elon M. as a the new "Steve Jobs"; wrong I live in Nevada and an early study was of Howard Hughes. Elon M. is a modern day Howard Hughes. Once you understand that, things fall into place.
These are the relevant rockets and their first stage engines that fly from US soil:
1) ULA Delta IV: US made RS-68 (new).
2) ULA Atlas V: Russian made RD-180 (new).
3) SpaceX Falcon 9: US made Merlin-1 (new).
4) Orbital Sciences Antares: Soviet made NK-33 (decades old, now refurbished in USA).
Suing the government for mismanagement of a procuration process is a short-term path to selling more of the same.
Demonstrating landing ability, then refueling and launching within a day is a medium-term path to completely changing space flight.
[added] When I say short-term vs medium-term, I mean it wrt strategy. I wouldn't bet on the short-term issue being solved first...
The RD-180 argument is definitely weaker. Cost & reusability are much stronger arguments for canceling/recompeting the ULA block buys.
That said, I can't wait until we have genuine competition in the space launch sector, especially with lightning fast turn times. It would be a genuine revolution in space access—even if money were no object, there's no one in history that has had the technology to support continual launches to orbit.
See PDF page 17 of http://www.gao.gov/assets/520/511460.pdf
When we'll be a "space race", I doubt it will matter much whether those sent into space are Americans, or Russians or Chinese or Germans.
Maintaining good relations between NASA and the RKA is valuable for everybody. SpaceX/RKA relations are less important however.
Your "Fuck the Russians" comment upthread was another bad one. It derailed the conversation into an off-topic, indignant subthread. These are the thistle patches of HN.
Please don't post any more comments like these to Hacker News.
However the collaboration with the ISS is something that forces communication and trust on a joint project at a high level. It is not just that it is important for space research, it is even more important for soft diplomacy. It forces the governments into situations where they have to talk about something other than sabre rattling on a regular basis.
Of course the way Russia took Crimea wasn't very good, and was just to secure naval base, but they did it without bloodshed, which wouldn't be possible if people there wanted to stay with Ukraine.
The main problem imho is that the last time destabilization and military [threat] was used to steal land areas around Europe, it was by guys in mustasches... And the motivation was similar -- "protect" Russi... German speaking populations.
And right now the same methods are used in another area. Just like the 1930s, too.
That second area will hardly be the last, if it works again. "Peace in our time" failed last time...
As an European, this is just scary and everything really needs to be done to stop this before there is another big war.
He's certainly not making friends in Russia today. That said, I feel like the ISS is too important to be left to the whims of the US Congress. IIRC NASA plans to deorbit the American part of it within the next decade, while Russia keeps the rest aloft and turns it into a waystation for planetary missions.
So he's probably got a grudge or two.
> the Russians spiked the price at the last minute
What's the source for this part?
They had two more trips scheduled to Russia; now Ressi
decided, as he says, "I didn't like dealing with Russians,"
and told Musk he wasn't going back. Musk went anyway. On
the second trip, Musk brought his wife, Justine — "I think
that's the trip when the lead Russian designer started
spitting at us," Cantrell says — and on the third and final
trip he brought his money. He was ready to buy three Russian
ICBMs for $21 million when the Russians told him that no,
they meant $21 million for one. "They taunted him," Cantrell
says. "They said, 'Oh, little boy, you don't have the money?'
I said, 'Well, that's that.' I was sitting behind him on the
flight back to London when he looked at me over the seat and
said, 'I think we can build a rocket ourselves.'"
It's a great article.
The U.S. government, especially its intelligence agencies, have many potentially grave flaws for a democracy. Putin and the Russian government, however, are decidedly worse leaders for freedom, and no friend of the US government or its citizens. Therefore, it's not unreasonable to look to be less dependent on their honesty, integrity and goodwill.
So stop being so F*ing judgmental.
- Seas were too rough for a quick recovery
- Rocket subsequently destroyed by wave action
- Will attempt recovery of the next Falcon 9 launch
- A Falcon 9 recovered on land could be re-used the next day (!)
- SpaceX is lobbying to allow private competition for National Security launches (eg GPS satellites)
Two big issues with sea landing: transport (tug, crane, huge truck, etc.), and corrosion/contamination from saltwater.
They'll still need to verify all systems and components before a second launch, but that's way easier to do when the vehicle is sitting empty on the pad next to all your people and equipment.
The Falcon Heavy's 2 side boosters, on the other hand, will separate much earlier in the flight - they are likely to be much more practical to land at the launch site, particularly for direct geosynchronous payloads that allow a lot more vertical / near-vertical burn time in relation to horizontal.
Elon's been pretty explicit that F9 stage 1 will land back on the pad, or very close by.
It costs about 8km/s to get into low orbit from an atmosphere-less Earth. From our planet it costs about 9.4-1.0km/s because of aerodynamic and gravity losses. Those aerodynamic and gravity costs, and the Hohmann Transfer from groundlevel to orbit (trivial for LEO, more for GTO) are the only parts of the equation one can address while burning vertically to stay over the launch site.
Assuming 10, If the first stage only has to contribute 2km/s, it can address aerodynamic and gravity losses (while thrusting vertically), and then leave the second stage to boost for the horizon and achieve full orbit all on its own.
At 4-5km/s first stage contribution, it doesn't look like this is possible unless the payload is very undersized, leaving the second stage with enough dV to go from 'rising out of the upper atmosphere vertically' to 'circular orbit' all on its own.
The mass is a free variable, a greater vertical component is practical in GTO (and I don't have the modelling skills to say how much), and the second stage may launch fully fueled for F9R contra to the existing pattern, so I can't be 100% sure whether F9R will be a practical return-to-launchsite option for lightweight GTO payloads.
That. You need to re-qualify the engine after each launch. The cost of labour far exceeds the cost of materials, you need to strip and re-build the thing, and you ask yourself just how much money you can save through re-using the first stage. I don't think it's much.
But the Merlin engines have been designed from the start to be reusable and dependably reignitable, whether at sea level or upper atmosphere. They're pretty amazing-- essentially the pinnacle of +50 years of engine design. Tom Mueller is a huge badass. :) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin_(rocket_engine)
And check out that bad boy roar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkdReoxGHG8
I don't have a link on hand, but Elon has said multiple times that the majority cost of the Falcon-9 is the raw material. One of the reasons they've been able to drop the price significantly is by using more efficient manufacturing techniques, requiring less material and creating less waste. (e.g. stir-friction welding)
It's also worth noting that Falcon-9 can still complete a mission with one (and perhaps two?) engine failures, which gives quite a more comfortable margin of error. There's a big difference between "perfect" and "near perfect" when it comes to engineering these things. ;)
SpaceX disagrees. They expect to cut the cost of launch by 1 order of magnitude
That's how politically-designed boondoggles like the shuttle work. It's not inevitable, if you actually spend the engineering effort on reliability and repeatability.
If NASA operated an airline, they would probably be tearing down and rebuilding every jet engine after every flight, and a ticket would cost $100,000.
Sure - for human payloads I'd want to be damn sure my process is good, like, hundreds to thousands of missions deep before I trusted it.
But that's totally unnecessary for an unmanned payload! If the cost of launch drops enough, you can fully justify launching 2x the payloads if you expect maybe 1 in 10 failures due to the mode of launch.
I suspect it's possible to do a damn site better then that, but for NASA its never been an option. If it's reusable, they can't let a mission fail because they'll only get punished and funded according to the failures, even if they specced everything expecting 1 mission to possibly not go off right.
Space-X is great for the sub-set of things that don't require insurance, and don't therefore need to use corner-case mil-spec stuff with the corner case pricing.
For others, the cost of losing a $1-2B bird on top of a $100m/cheap rocket is shitty math. Nobody is going to insure the top of it, so ultimately the "waste" is akin to a form of insurance.
Everybody knows this already, so I'm not sure how sympathetic a hearing it is going to get. It will be great PR though to hopefully spurn <designs> that fit the new framework...and thus expand the market for space-x and hopefully limit the superflous use of corner-case technology for mundane/run-of the mill applications (at the tax payer's expense).
That calculus changes if your rocket launches start to get cheaper. It changes by a lot if your rocket launches have reasonable but predictable failure modes - which is something you get from volume.
As it is, rocket launches are relatively infrequent and expensive - which means its impossible to figure out the amortization of costs, and its not worth building a 10m satellite if your launch costs 100m (since if you can raise the latter, you can almost certainly get more for a better satellite too).
And the two expenses buoy each other: if launches were inexpensive, you could spend a lot less on fault-tolerance in the payloads, because you could just launch a lot more payloads or even support on-orbit repair infrastructure.
Now the Falcon 9 is an all-new design, and their track record isn't all that shiny - there is a history of missing the target orbit by a fairly significant margin. It's going to be downvoted, but it had to be said.
I wouldn't be surprised if this flight went without insurance.
Or having their failsafe system activated after one of their engines blew up on a single mission, causing them to be in position to release the small secondary payload (which the customer did not particularly need in free flight apparently) slightly late, in a zone in which NASA had veto rights on due to proximity to the ISS. Rather than adjusting their orbit to deposit the secondary payload in the proper orbit, as is technologically feasible, NASA exercised their contractual veto and told them to drop it early.
You should send them this post of yours so they stop wasting all that money! I bet they never thought of what you said.
I don't know whether SpaceX has fitted their boosters with sea anchors yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this addition after the present loss. In windy conditions, a sea anchor provides some drag and keeps the boat (or booster) pointed perpendicular to the waves, thereby minimizing the force expended on the object.
> Surely sea conditions are something they'd take into account when planning and executing the mission.
Ocean experts are constantly preparing for extreme conditions, then discovering they didn't prepare for conditions that were extreme enough.
> Wouldn't you have to launch that into space, too?
Yes, which is definitely a drawback -- every ounce that isn't payload is regarded as a serious waste, because it all has to be launched at great cost (the ratio of payload to fuel is often greater than ten to one).
On the other hand, the SpaceX people report that the booster was destroyed, so this well-tested idea is very likely in their minds right now.
I'm sure there are safety concerns that have prevented this until now. The successful retro-file to zero velocity over water may help resolve those concerns.
Sea conditions were too rough for recovery. Their options were to wait for better weather, annoying the customer and possibly losing the launch (they had one more launch window after the one they used before the payload went to another launch company), or go for it and still accomplish a great deal of testing even though they probably couldn't recover the rocket. Total no-brainer to choose the second option.
It goes beyond NASA as well. If SpaceX can demonstrate that their reusability testing doesn't impact the launch, that increases the odds that their other customers will allow it on their launches too.
Their next attempt will be to target a smaller radius, to prove their aiming accuracy. Finally, after a couple more ocean landings (with possible recovery for analysis purposes), they will attempt to land on dry ground. To do this, they need to prove they can set down within a 1-mile radius. But they believe they should have the same precision of a helicopter.
After this, they are aiming for same-day reusability.
I'd expect maintaining pressure in the tanks not to be a significant problem, though it would need to be addressed -- pressure needs to be maintained reasonably constant during the whole burn, and it's done by admitting helium from compressed helium tanks. If the fuel/oxidizer tanks don't leak too much, the same mechanism could be used after the rocket has landed.
(2) Musk revealed the potentially "revolutionary" news on Friday during a hastily organized press conference
(3) "What SpaceX has done thus far is evolutionary, not revolutionary," Musk said.
(4) "If we can recover the booster stage, the chance is there for revolutionary."
What was announded today was a critical first step. But there is nothing seemingly new in the press conference report, beyond what Elon had tweeted on the day of the soft-landing itself. The only new news is that the vehicle was lost, which doesn't really seem to be a "breakthrough" in the context of Musk's own explanation.
The bigger step here will be getting the recovery because the need to confirm empirically what kind of shape the engineered pieces come back in. Many problemes like the icing on the shuttle (which de-laminated and caused projectile damage) are not going to be discovered without such an inspection.
Also: Chances are higher that you're able to recover useful wreckage (like data loggers) when you crash into water.
(Flight paths are not an issue; they eventually expect to recover boosters from other space station cargo runs, which will follow the same trajectory.)
Anyways, kudos again to Musk and SpaceX.
So you need some serious hardware to hold it down till release, and to deal with all that exhaust.
So you kind of have to have it in the current configuration. And since you have to use a prepared range and pad, it's not that much additional infrastructure.
One could perhaps design such a rocket, with storable propellants (liquid oxygen boils off, which is why they keep supplying it for as long as possible) and ground-level power connections. And on Mars the wind isn't really a problem. But that's a different rocket.
- FL, 39a: the NASA launches
- FL, 40a: the DoD launches
- TX: the GEO launches
- CA: the polar launches (Vandenberg)
It is interesting, that by bringing the lawsuit, Elon is essentially saying "hey! how come the block buy deal magically appeared only now that a viable competitor exists?"
What if the Russian tug boat, that was chilling outside of Florida, stole the booster? That would be an interesting turn of events.
Edit: For the record, www.telsamotors.com redirects to www.teslamotors.com
Bloggers who write for free and contribute to HN have more pride, and care more about their articles than most professional journalists.