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Space Science Technology

Hondas in Space 228

Posted by timothy
from the vs.-nasa-the-cadillac-dealer dept.
mikejz84 writes "Fast Company takes a look at SpaceX's attempt to challenge the high cost of space. This cost cutting philosophy includes buying equipment on eBay, looking to milk trucks for tank design ideas, and rummaging though junk yards. CEO Elon Musk remarks 'A Ferrari is a very expensive car. It is not reliable. But I would bet you 1,000-to-1 that if you bought a Honda Civic that that sucker will not break down in the first year of operation. You can have a cheap car that's reliable, and the same applies to rockets.'"
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Hondas in Space

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  • Rocket car (Score:4, Funny)

    by MarkRose (820682) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @06:56AM (#11581444) Homepage

    You can have a cheap car that's reliable, and the same applies to rockets.

    Or you can have a cheap car that is also a rocket! [wikimedia.org]

  • by Pecisk (688001) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @06:57AM (#11581446)
    ..but if it is relaiable. And guess what - those God damned expensive NASA rockets are most relayable ones. Strange, isn't it?
    If you have problems with your car, ups, rocket in the space, you are propably a gonner. There is no technical car service in the space. And I have big doubts if NASA can put out a resq. team specially for you :)
    • which NASA rockets are you talking about? Atlas? Initial rockets were bought from army, now produced by Lockheed Martin for anyone who's ready to buy. Titan II? Again borrowed from army initially (original contractor), now produced by Lockheed Martin. Redstone? Originally built by US army itself, under the guidance of von Braun.

      OK, let's look at the recent manned launchers. Which one shall we pick. Soyuz? Not a single manned launch accident in 20 years. Errm, that's not NASA and not even US. Russians got th

      • NASA did the development of the Centaur upper stage and pioneered cryogenic (H2 and O2) fueled rocketry. They also did much of the launch vehicle development for Atlas, Delta and Titan, in between their initial development for the military and their eventual privatization.
    • and here i was thinking that russians had the ball on both reliability and cost.

      the analogy sucks though, and who the hell would be stupid enough to bet that a new car wouldn't break, be it a honda, vw, mercedes-benz, jaguar or a ford.
      • by Spy Hunter (317220) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @07:27AM (#11581553) Journal
        The analogy also sucks because cars are mass-produced by the millions. If they only ever built 20 Honda Civics, they would cost a lot more than they do. The cost of developing the design of the Honda Civic is known only to Honda, but I could easily imagine it approaching the price of a typical space system; especially if you factor in the cost of its predecessors whose designs it borrows from (since that borrowing is not nearly as easy to do in a space system which is not merely a yearly update of a previous model). Only by selling hundreds of thousands of cars does Honda recoup that cost.
        • by Sique (173459) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @09:34AM (#11581968) Homepage
          Usually the price tag for developping a new car for mass production is estimated between US$ 2 and 2.5 billion. If a car sells 1 mio units during its production cycle, it's still between US$ 2000 and 2500 development cost per car.
          So if you build a rocket for X-Price with the hope to get 5 units running, and it would cost you about US$ 2 billion to design it, then the price per rocket will still be at 400 mio US$, much mor than the original X-Price is worth.
        • Keep in mind that with the SpaceX approach, a lot of the parts they're using aren't custom desgined - unlike what you might find in a traditional rocket. So they have proven reliability. Well, proven reliability on Earth without all that space radiation stuff, but proven relaibility nonetheless.

          Besides, the world's only mass-produced rocket [v2rocket.com] had some reliability issues, from what I understand. So mass production doesn't guarentee it'll be good.

          • V2 rockets did not have reliability problems. Not only were they designed in such a way so as to make assembly by prisoners possible - which also introduced defects in the process - but they relied on very, very primitive gyros for navigation. That fact alone accounts for the poor accuracy of the rockets. Otherwise, they were a great feat of engineering. Hell, the Canadian X-Prize team used a copy of the propulsion system because of its reliability!

    • Actually it just came out that they are preparing a standby shuttle for future missions. NASA Resume Story [newsday.com] Of course if you go up in your private rocket, they may expect you to foot the bill for the rescue.
    • by mcrbids (148650) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @07:13AM (#11581506) Journal
      If it costs $1,000,000 per pound to send somebody to space, virtually nobody goes to space, no matter how "safe". At that cost, it isn't worth it.

      However, when the cost comes down enough, SO WHAT if a few people die?

      Now, it sounds callous, but when you look at statistis, Motorcycles (AKA murder-cycles) are MIGHTY DANGEROUS.. [dot.gov]

      NOBODY IS BANNING THE KAWASAKI, ARE THEY?

      When you see somebody get on board a relatively cheap, fast, murder-cycle, do you tell them about the risks?

      See, when space travel is cheap and "good enough", people will use it, even if it's as dangerous as a (gulp!) murder-cycle.
      • Motorcycles (AKA murder-cycles) are MIGHTY DANGEROUS.

        Hm. Let's have a look at those statistics, shall we?

        Motorcycles: 22 deaths per 100 million veh. miles
        Railway: 1.6 deaths per million train miles
        - that translates to 160 deaths per 100 million train miles.

        Or, put it another way:

        Motor Vehicle, General Population Risk Per Year: 1 in 6,300
        Motorcycles, General Population Risk Per Year: 1 in 119,000

        The discrepancy is due to people in average traveling much shorter distances on bikes than

        • The discrepancy is due to people in average traveling much shorter distances on bikes than in cars per year. So which would you ban first, cars or trains?

          There's also fewer motorcycles on the road than there are cars. Also, in trains, there is a higher passenger density, which increases the number of victims per accident.
        • "So which would you ban first, cars or trains?"

          If it were up to me -- and I'm crazy, lets get that straight -- I'd ban anything powered and under human control (ie not including feet) from the road.

          When humans will gab on the cellphone while driving a truck around a sharp corner on a busy street, they demonstrate themselves incapable (as a species) of the sort of (self) control needed for safe operation of a vehicle. Period.
      • When you see somebody get on board a relatively cheap, fast, murder-cycle, do you tell them about the risks?

        If you did, you'd be putting your front teeth back in your jaw.

        Just sayin'.

        There's almost nothing that pisses off motorcyclists more than someone who doesn't ride one telling us how suicidal we are.

        p
    • "There is no technical car service in the space." You have not been to space have you?
    • I don't think that these missions are too serious enough and they are surely not sending people up there (FTA Five months later, Musk used some of his estimated $328 million fortune to fund Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), with the ambitious -- some might say absurd -- goal of building a rocket that would send small payloads into low-Earth orbit at one-tenth the going rate in the United States.).

      So maintainance is really not the prime concern. IMO the real concern would be to get the rockets into s

    • The fact is that the old Russian rockets with 60's electronics still work and reliably get people back and forth from space while shuttles stay grounded. You can still build stuff simple (not the same thing as cheap though!) and make it at the same time reliable, just need good engineers for that. I wouldn't say though that they built their stuff cheaply, at that time they probably funneled more resources into the space program than NASA, they just had a different design philosophy.

      The same is true about t
      • However, you forget that the R-7 rocket that was developed during the 1950's had to be extremely reliable due to the fact it was designed as an ICBM and it needed to carry the quite heavy Soviet-designed nuclear warheads of that period. It took them years to get that rocket to work reliably, given the number of launch failures of R-7 rockets during late 1950's; the Russians really crossed their fingers launching the early Sputniks given the failure rate of the R-7 back then. By the middle 1960's the R-7 des
      • the trade-off is not between cheap and reliable. it is between cheap and reliable, and cheap and functional. if you spend more money, or are willing to sacrifice reliability, you can make a vehicle that can do more. this has been demonstrated by the space shuttle orbiter time and time again. the design can do a whole lot, and is very versatile - and it has a zillion potential points of failure. there is also a tradeoff between functional and reliable, again because making the system more complicated makes i
    • Sounds like they will have a good SPACE product BUT their Sound BITE doesn't' hold water..

      The Ferrari vs. Honda is true in terms of reliability and the cost is clearly cheaper. But why?

      1 Is mass manufactured.
      1 Is basically Custom Made

      Also to consider is the PERFORMANCE Envelope.

      Forgetting the "rice bucket" mods that can be made (and would certainly LOWER reliability), one of these cars as very average handling, acceleration, braking, etc. The other has nearly race car performance levels.

      It's the extra
    • Furthermore, you can't price your rocket and ship out based on used parts, salvage and ebay stuff anyways.

      When do something like this for anyone to care it has to be all available/still made parts that anyone can get and priced at their actual price. In other words, if it works could you build them over and over and at what price.

      Saying "you suck nasa, look what we did" when you managed to find a main engine to a saturn V on ebay for 25 bucks, or bought some dented Russian rockets cheap doesn't really c
      • No used parts are actually going on the rocket, at least according to the article. The only used parts they bought are a theodolite (a surveying tool to help align the rocket) and an old rocket fairing (to run some tests on, not put on the rocket).
  • Yeah but... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 05, 2005 @07:01AM (#11581459)
    You can pick up way more hot chicks with a Ferrari than you can with a Honda. 'Nuf said.
    • Re:Yeah but... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Vampo (771827)
      That's only because chicks don't know you are driving a veeeery expensive FIAT.

      To be serious though, in terms of usability and reliability (poster's original point), the Honda still wins hands down.
    • Re:Yeah but... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pegasustonans (589396)
      That depends. And I'd say a Honda NSX is pretty nifty.
    • by tverbeek (457094) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @09:14AM (#11581902) Homepage
      You can pick up way more hot chicks with a Ferrari than you can with a Honda. 'Nuf said.

      Yeah, but what then? My Honda has a back seat.

      • Back seat? Well I have a double-bed. (Seriously, for anyone but kids with with nowhere else to fool about, the back seat of a car is a pretty overrated place to do so.)

  • by lpangelrob2 (721920) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @07:03AM (#11581470) Journal
    Well, seeing as they already make lawnmowers, snowblowers, ATVs. industrial generators, motorcycles, boats, scooters, jetskis, and tillers and trimmers... I for one look forward to greeting the new Honda Rocket division.
    • How about Mitsubishi Rockets, from the folks that brought you the Zero [aviation-history.com].
    • Hondas jets (Score:2, Insightful)

      by zogger (617870)
      honda makes airplanes now too, business jets, and has plans for a very cheap (compared to the competition) personal jet. link [forbes.com]

      I would say one day we'll see a variety of privately manufactured space travelling vehicles,at least intra solar system/near space variety, and probably sooner than most folks think, if they can keep production of fuels up at a reasonable cost over the next several decades, along with just general manufacturing, seeing as how that is so closely tied to oil as well. That is going to
    • Naturally, their top competition will be Canadian equipment manufacturer Bombardier, which makes bullet trains, snowmobiles, jet-skis, civilian aircraft, passenger aircraft, and fighter aircraft...
    • Don't forget aircraft [honda.com] and jet engines [honda.com].

      p

  • Honda Civic vs cheap? A Suzuki maybe.
    And since when are rockets mass-produced? Man you need mass-productive experience, to create cheap and reliable transport.

    However I do agree that costs can be surely reduced with an order of magnitude with careful planning, and keeping an eye on cost-effectiveness.
  • Stereotypes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OlivierB (709839) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @07:23AM (#11581535)
    Come on, although the poster might have a point in saying that Hondas are extremely reliable, he just cannot say Ferraris are not reliable and will break-down.

    I am the -lucky- friend of a Ferrari owner's son. He's had a Maserati cambiocorsa and now owns a 575 Maranello.
    Yes these things have un-satisfiable thirst.
    Yes they cost a shit load in insurance.
    Yes you will change the tires every 5000 Miles

    However,
    No they will not break-down as you go for a WE trip

    People will break-down with ferraris just a much as any other car when all you do is trash it at the green lights (kills the clutch, transmission and tires).
    A lot of these people go out on the tracks come bitching about brakes screaching and all is normal.

    Pretty much any car, will have reduced life expectancy if you abuse it. And I think there is a higher tentation trashing a Ferrari than a measly Civic LX.

    There is a good reason why Ferraris are the best selling super-sport cars (besides Porsche). And yes reliability is increasingly a reason for that.
    • Re:Stereotypes (Score:2, Insightful)

      by marat (180984)
      This is not an automotive site, but H12 have some issues against L4 or even V6 by design. And any work with H12 will cost you much more as well, even without Ferrary price tag. (I'm not talking about people buying used sport cars for a penny now.) Trying to make service more rare will once again make parts more expensive, there's no exit. So still design goals do mean something.

      To the rockets - think of mass production is always cheaper per unit, but more expensive in total. If you spend country budget it
    • Re:Stereotypes (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dourk (60585)
      I don't believe that he was claiming the Ferraris would break down, more along the lines of their high maintenance costs, such as your 5000 mile tire estimate. And what does a Ferrari tire cost? Maybe you can get one for $250. You could suit up a whole civic for that price, and drive 40,000 miles on them.

      Were I to win the lottery, or some other way become wealthy, I'd certainly buy a Ferarri. No question.
    • No they will not break-down as you go for a WE trip

      Did you mean WEEEEEEEE! trip?
    • Re:Stereotypes (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)
      I don't think you know as much as you think you do about cars. Ferraris are known to break down more often than other cars, because in order to achieve performance you must make compromises. One of those is reliability. When you are getting more horsepower per cubic inch, there are simply greater stresses involved. When you are trying to save weight, you typically create something that is less durable. Ferraris are no exception.

      My Nissan 240SX has over 263,000 miles on it and still pulls strong. The cost

    • Re:Stereotypes (Score:3, Informative)

      by danila (69889)
      I don't know about Ferraris, but I talked with a director of a Porsche dealership and he told that most repairs are cosmetic (scratched paint, a handle or something breaking off, etc.). They alsmost never need to fix anything under the hood. Expensive cars are built very well.

      Of course, I don't think you need to spend 500000$ on a car to make it reliable. It's just that you can't justify 100% reliability for a 20000$ car, so the manufacturers purposefully use slightly less reliable and much cheaper parts.
  • by Disperz (818430) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @07:24AM (#11581542)
    A Ferrari is a very expensive car. It is not reliable. But I would bet you 1,000-to-1 that if you bought a Honda Civic that that sucker will not break down in the first year of operation. You can have a cheap car that's reliable, and the same applies to rockets How can you compare automobiles to spacecraft? The reason those Civic's are so damn reliable is that they've been making them for years. It really is not feasible to mass produce rocket ships in this manner. Especially when they're talking about buying spare parts off of eBay! When a car breaks down everyone doesn't DIE. Rockets are not cars. They are ridiculously more complicated and there is too much at stake when an error occurs. These things should be left to NASA.
    • NASA, whose rockets blow up when they launch in cold weather? NASA, whose craft break up on re-entry just because they got smacked with some foam? What evidence do you have that NASA is better at this than anybody else?
      • "What evidence do you have that NASA is better at this than anybody else?"

        Well, your first example was a known (potential) failure mode (so don't launch in cold weather). In your second example, a rocket didn't blow up, now did it?

        To answer your question, when was the last time a manned NASA rocket blew up when it was launched during the proper weather conditions? Never. Of course, past events may not have a bearing on future reliability...
        • by HeghmoH (13204) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @09:02AM (#11581868) Homepage Journal
          When was the last time a manned rocket flown by a private company blew up when it was launched during the proper weather conditions?

          Your argument is basically, "NASA has experience, others don't". In fact, nobody has any idea whether NASA is better or worse than private companies because none of them have tried anything yet. You're just making a gigantic assumption based on the idea that if they have experience, they must be good at it.
      • NASA, whose rockets blow up when they launch in cold weather?

        You mean, NASA, who's bureaucratic administrators pushed for the launch (with I believe governmental pressure), against the objection of the engineers familiar with the system that failed. Don't dis all of NASA's engineering abilities and accomplishments because of PHB's and politicians.

        NASA, whose craft break up on re-entry just because they got smacked with some foam?

        Your statement here is so deceiving, I really hope you don't believe it

    • Except for that NASA has already been buying parts of eBay for years. Where do you think they get all their old computer hardware that is no longer sold in stores?
      • Except for that NASA has already been buying parts of eBay for years


        No, you're thinking of the FAA [washingtonpost.com]. Remember those stories in the 90's about the ATC system crashing and getting computer techs out of retirement to fix 'em (and frantic searches for tubes and old, no longer manufactured transistors)? I guess nothing has really changed. Your tax dollars at work.

    • by wowbagger (69688) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @11:27AM (#11582507) Homepage Journal
      Not just the fact that Honda makes many hundreds of thousands of cars, and has been doing so for years.

      A Honda does not push the envelope. A Ferrari does. That is why a Ferrari will break down more often, on a per-mile basis, than a Honda.

      Now, if you did NOT push a Ferrari to the envelope, it would not break down as much (but then, what would the point of owning a Ferrari be?)

      Now, when one day we can build a vehicle that can go into space with as much operational margin as a Honda has for its purpose, then the space vehicle will be as reliable as a Honda.

      However, in order for that day to come to pass, we will have to have some form of power plant that is several orders of magnitude more powerful than what we have now, in order to have the power to lift a vehicle into space slowly, and return it slowly. We will have to have some form of propulsion that is not limited by the rocket equation - reactionless thrusters, antigravity, or some other form of sci-fi doubletalk drive.

      We don't have them yet. We don't have them on the drawing board yet. We don't even have any good theories that would lead to such drives any time soon.

      Now, I agree with the concept of the article - make the rockets as simple as possible, and they will be more reliable. This means don't try for reusability as it is a false economy - every kilo of mass you add to the ship to support reuse is a kilo of cargo you cannot lift.

      Personally, I am in favor of what I call BPR's - Big Paper Rockets. Imagine a huge Estes rocket - cellulose exterior, solid fuel interior, that provides you with 90% of the delta-V to get into orbit. The last 10% is provided by a hybrid rocket - solid fuel, liquid oxidizer, so that you can throttle it and get precicely what you need to get into your target orbit.

      Most non-living cargos are launched with a system that is, say 99% reliable - and if you roll cloud-cloud, oh well, launch another - they are cheap.

      Man rated cargos go up in a Space Honda - a vehicle designed to go into orbit carrying just your crew, and come back with just your crew, and if it comes down to a choice between reusing it afterward and shaving a kilo off it, you shave the kilo.

      Now you have cheap to mass-produce boosters, expenive (but no where NEAR as expensive as the launch costs) to build crew vehicles, and cheap cargo pods.
      • A Honda does not push the envelope. A Ferrari does. That is why a Ferrari will break down more often, on a per-mile basis, than a Honda.

        Bullshit.

        The Honda S2000's engine is making more horsepower per litre of displacement than any other mass-produced normally aspirated engine on the market, including every single Ferrari engine. The Acura RSX engine also makes more HP per litre than every Ferrari engine.

        It has absolutely nothing to do with "pushing the envelope," and everything to do with volume product
    • Well, except that NASA doesn't actually build rockets either: that would be places like Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Orbital Sciences. Not only that, but SpaceX has managed to hire some of the most experienced and well-respected rocket builders in the US. So leaving it to NASA would really be leaving it to the B team at best.

      Other points to consider:

      1. SpaceX is building unmanned rockets - people won't die if it doesn't work
      2. Rockets do not have to be ridiculously complicated (which is part of SpaceX's approac
  • ...for guidance on the sly like this group did [geocities.com].
  • And the obvious statement of the year award goes to:

    A Ferrari is a very expensive car. It is not reliable. But I would bet you 1,000-to-1 that if you bought a Honda Civic that that sucker will not break down in the first year of operation.

    Ofcourse! A Ferrari is built to squeeze every last bit of performance out of the machinery, sacrificing silly stuff like economy, comfort and reliabiliy.

    A Honda Civic is built to be as cheap as possible, but without sacrificing reliability. If repairs ended up costi

    • Ofcourse! A Ferrari is built to squeeze every last bit of performance out of the machinery, sacrificing silly stuff like economy, comfort and reliabiliy.

      Very insightful: that's precisely why rocket ships are Ferraris, and will be for some time. Getting into space requires an immense amount of energy, and right now the best way to get that energy requires a whole bunch of heavy fuel which also has to be lifted.

      The thing needs to run close to tolerance just to get off the ground. It's going to take a lot
  • by Aphrika (756248) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @07:52AM (#11581641)
    It's not so much the cost part as the simplicity part or finding the right way to do something. He mentions this in the linked article but it seems to be missing from the story above.

    An AK47 assault rifle is more reliable than an M16 because it was designed to be simple and mass-produced, not designed to be cheap. A Honda Civic is more reliable than a Ferrari because it has less moving parts and is mass produced, ditto the Soyuz space capsule that the Russians use - on a per mission basis, it's had less failures than the shuttle.

    It doesn't mean the rocket is being made with bits from scrapyards and eBay, just that the ideas are being lifted from non-rocket science thinking, and some of the tools are secondhand. Either way, getting someone into space on top of a controlled explosion is not cheap however you look at it, and if they can cut down on the peripheral costs, then good luck to them.
    • The AK47 was designed to be reliable even if abused and neglected by its user. The M16 was designed to be reliable as long as it was properly maintained and kept clean. Two different design philosophies, with different objectives.

      The Honda Civic was designed to be reliable. That means that the safety margins in its design are much larger than that of a Ferrari. Engines in mass-produced cars are often intentionally detuned from peak performance by the manufacturer. They trade horsepower for reliability and

      • The AK47 was designed to be reliable even if abused and neglected by its user.

        Of course, it's always interesting how there is a fine line between what the engineers consider "abuse" and the users consider "normal usage." Some designers might consider it "abuse" to not constantly perform preventative maintenance on their product. While users don't consider it abuse to spend more time using their item rather than ready-ing it for more use. The more engineers can make their products less fussy, the better
        • The tradeoff is that if you design a rifle with generous tolerances for dirt and crud, you usually lose a noticable amount of accuracy.
          • Which doesn't matter so much when the maximum infantry effective range is 400m, and most combat involves indirect fire. That's why we don't use the M14 any more ourselves in the US (which was a VERY tolerant and VERY accurate weapon).
            It's silly to nitpick on the AK's accuracy when it's still more accurate than anyone holding it. Better things to nitpick would be the wood stock, the weight, the exposed gas system, the way it can't keep the bolt locked in the open position or the awkward safety. Those are
          • Indeed.

            And at the risk of making a major stretch of a comparison, I think accuracy with rifles is like horsepower with cars. To go back to before, a Civic won't give you tons of horsepower, but it will give you enough to merge into traffic (unlike, say the Insight) but also give you great gas milage on regular gas when commuting (unlike, say, a high-end Lexus with twice the hp running on premium). Most people, with some training, can hit some part of a man at 150 yards with an AK, using cheap definitely no
            • The Insight has as much acceleration as a standard Civic. The faster Civics accelerate slightly better, but not enough to matter. I mean, come on, they're all a joke compared to an actual fast car or a bike.

              Have you ever even driven a hybrid car? The Civic hybrid, for example, has better pickup and is more fun to drive than regular Civics.
    • An AK47 assault rifle is more reliable than an M16 because it was designed to be simple and mass-produced, not designed to be cheap.

      And because it's designed to be reliable. Development and testing of the AK47 and derived models usually involved dropping it from helicopters, dragging the same gun around in the mud and drenching it underwater. If the Russians are really intent on producing something reliable, they can.

      (Unfortunately, they don't always stick to these principles; as the owner of a Kiev 88 [kievaholic.com]

  • the russian approach (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rich42 (633659) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @08:26AM (#11581756) Homepage
    "A Ferrari is a very expensive car. It is not reliable. But I would bet you 1,000-to-1 that if you bought a Honda Civic that that sucker will not break down in the first year of operation."

    but I'll bet a honda civic costs more money to -develop- than a ferrari does...

    the russians have fairly reliable rockets - but they do fail. the reason they've done so well with safety is that they have great backup systems.

    the soyuz launch system has a mechanism that can eject the entire capsule if something goes wrong on launch. it's been used and it works.

    I suspect reasonable reliabilty + good backup systems is the way to go. oh, and -no- parts from the junkyard....

    • Parts from the junkyard are not a problem if they are inspected to the same degree as new parts. X-ray inspection, for example, can tell you the internal condition of a piece of metal. It is commonly used to inspect weld joints. The question then becomes whether it is cheaper to inspect the part this way, or just to make a new one, because sometimes they have to be inspected as they are built. Of course, the answer will go one way for some parts and the other for others.
  • What about a delorean ?
    That goes through both space AND time!
    two features for the price of one :-D

  • This brings a whole new meaning to the term "Rice Rocket". He does realize the flaw in his analogy right? You don't buy a Ferrari because it's reliable, you buy a Ferrari because you can hit 200 in it. If you try to bolt junkyard parts on a Honda in an attempt to go 200 in it, it will be far less reliable than the Ferrari.
  • I remembered watching this series back in the 70's: Salvage 1 [geocities.com]
  • by mrright (301778) <rudi@lambda-OOOc ... inus threevowels> on Saturday February 05, 2005 @09:18AM (#11581917) Homepage
    The reason falcons will be cheap is not because they use cheap components, but because they have a different approach than old defense contractors like boeing and lockheed.

    In fact they use very high quality materials such as a titanium thrust frame in the first stage. But they can afford that because the first stage is reusable.

    They also try to avoid any hazardous materials like explosive bolts and dangerous chemicals since that makes working with the rocket before launch much safer and thus cheaper. The falcon I is the first rocket that is allowed to fly without an explosive flight termination system because of redundant thrust termination systems. So there is no bomb on board.

    Take a look at the falcon launch complex [spacex.com]. It is basically just a simple concrete building and a flatbed truck. The satellite is integrated while the rocket is horizontal, so they do not need a huge building for satellite integration.

    The launch control center is a truck trailer, so they only need one for all launch pads and do not have all that expensive computer hardware sitting around idle.

    Now compare that with the launch complex for the boeing delta IV [boeing.com]. There is a vertical integration building for fitting the payload, a huge umbilical tower and all kinds of facilities to handle the huge quantities of liquid hydrogen that the delta IV needs.

    The only large rocket that has a comparably clean launch pad [astronautix.com] like the falcon is the russian/ukrainian Zenit (also used by Sea Launch), which is also the cheapest of its class.

    The falcon I will also have a very benign launch environment for the payload. The amount of vibration is much lower than with other rockets since the falcon does not use solids. See the payload users guide [spacex.com] for details.
    • The reason falcons will be cheap is not because they use cheap components, but because they have a different approach than old defense contractors like boeing and lockheed.

      In fact they use very high quality materials such as a titanium thrust frame in the first stage. But they can afford that because the first stage is reusable.

      Actually, the first stage isn't reusable. They hope someday, somehow, maybe, that they can make it reuseable, but that's far off in the misty future somewhere.

  • They've been trying to divorce themselves from DPRK Taepo No Dong boosters. Maybe they can buy a few rockets from SpaceX, modify them into IRBMs, plug a sub 1500Kg on top and become the first eBay nuclear power.

    Seriously, getting into near orbit is one thing. Getting where you need to be is quite another.
  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Saturday February 05, 2005 @09:57AM (#11582066) Homepage Journal
    SpaceX's philosophy of "test the crap out of it" is a good one if taken to the whole system level. This is essentially what John Walker's essay A Rocket a Day Keeps the High Costs Away [fourmilab.ch] is all about. In Walker's scenario the idea is to have the entire operation going through everything necessary to launch frequently so as to work the kinks out of the system, from manufacture of expendible rocket to actual flight operation. Now, Walker never actually did this but Walker did make his money developing and selling AutoCAD, which is a manufacturing industry staple, so he does have some credibility.

    In SpaceX's case, the reusability aspect with ocean recovery of parts means a single rocket is not going to be cycled through the entire launch operation in a day even though it is theoretically possible to do so with an ocean launch system. However, with a small fleet of vehicles, it might be feasible to get the whole system cranking out a couple of launches a week.

    That's when it starts to look like an aerospace "Honda" since you start applying Deming's statistical methods [signweb.com] to the operation.

  • by justanyone (308934) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @12:06PM (#11582768) Homepage Journal
    It seems no one is talking about experience curves here, and they are vital to the discussion.

    An "experience curve" is a way of explaining that the price per unit for any device decreases with the sum of the production repititions.

    This means that it's the area under the curve that matters, the total number of produced items. A Wikipedia article explains it here [wikipedia.org].

    The multiplier for how much it decreases obviously varies with the device. Any number of examples abound. For one, Photovoltaic cells are decreasing in per-unit price in good accordance with the sum of the cells ever produced. The idea of the government purchasing or subsidizing the purchase of items (examples: ethanol, PV-cells) fits in nicely to this function.

    Rockets have not followed the curve because artificial limits (trade secrets, military secrecy, launch licenses, technology transfer) and purchasing uncertainties (NASA defending their turf) has clamped down on information transfer. If info flows freely, everyone benefits from cheaper devices.

    This may not be what we want. Rocket tech = missle tech = N. Korea lobbing a nuke at us = maybe we'd better not publish the cheap rocket designs in Popular Science today, eh? (fearmongering).

    Check out the wikipedia article link above, you'll see it directly applies to this situation.

    --Kevin
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @01:29PM (#11583414) Homepage
    The Minuteman III ICBM [af.mil] was built for $7 million each. Launch facilities are simple; it sits, unattended, in a silo until launched. A recent engine test of a 30-year old solid booster was successful. Thousands were made. 500 are still deployed as ICBMs. Manufactured between 1968 and 1977.

    It's even outlived its successor, the MX "Peacekeeper" from the Reagan era. MX has been retired, but the Minuteman III lives on. They're "remanufactured" every few decades, on a slow upgrade cycle. The basic vehicle lives on.

    So the "cheap booster" is quite feasible, if you order a thousand at a time.

    • The Minuteman III ICBM was built for $7 million each.

      Back in the 60's, when $7 mill was pretty serious money. (But the factsheet doesn't tell you that.)

      Launch facilities are simple; it sits, unattended, in a silo until launched.

      Unattended except for the annual swap-out of birds for maintenance... And those silos while simple, are far from cheap. (Consider the size of the excavation, the amount of concrete, and labor, and the complex systems installed therein.) Those birds require regular testing

  • If anyone remembers Salvage 1 [imdb.com]... sounds like pretty much the same idea to me.
  • More info on SpaceX (Score:3, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday February 05, 2005 @04:23PM (#11584757) Journal
    I tried submitting a story on SpaceX a couple of weeks ago, but it was sadly rejected. Here's the text of the submission, along with some other interesting info:

    Spaceflight Now has an article [spaceflightnow.com] on SpaceX [spacex.com], a low-cost space launch company started by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk [hobbyspace.com] (he is no longer with PayPal). The article describes SpaceX's small-size Falcon I [wikipedia.org] rocket, scheduled to launch a military imaging satellite [skyrocket.de] on its maiden flight in March, and their medium-size Falcon V [wikipedia.org] rocket, scheduled to lift a prototype Bigelow inflatable space habitat [spaceflightnow.com] next year. Interestingly, the Falcon V has enough capacity to lift a Gemini-style capsule [space.com] with 5-6 people to orbit. Both rockets have per-pound launch costs [ghg.net] approximately one-fifth that of comparable [astronautix.com] rockets [astronautix.com]. Long-term plans call for evolving the basic design to heavy-lift and super-heavy lift rockets, assuming SpaceX survives its legal battles [pennnet.com] with defense giants like Northrup Grumman. Musk believes that ultimately a launch cost of '$500 per pound or less is very achievable' (compared to $10,000 per pound for the Space Shuttle). Elon Musk is a member of the Mars Society [marssociety.org], and started SpaceX after he realized that current launch costs would be a large barrier to his plans for a philanthropic mission to put an experimental greenhouse with food crops on Mars [spaceref.com].

    This radio interview [thespaceshow.com] with Elon Musk from 2001 is pretty neat, and has some information I haven't seen elsewhere.
  • NASA spacecraft intended to carry humans are much analogous to a Rolls Royce, with every part is made to exacting quasi-military specifications and assembled by hand.

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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