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SpaceX Gets Operational License For Cape Canaveral 133

Posted by kdawson
from the throwing-big-stones dept.
FiggyOO writes "For those of you who witnessed the launch of SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket, launch 3, you will be glad to hear that SpaceX has received a license to launch from space complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the Florida coast. This Launch complex is just south of launch pads 39A and 39B which have been used to launch the space shuttles, and will continue in that role for a few more years. This launch complex will enable SpaceX to launch the much-anticipated Falcon 9 rocket, which will eventually carry the Dragon capsule. In doing so, SpaceX hopes to fill the void between the end of the shuttle program and the coming of the Constellation. They have already begun moving into the launch complex, including moving a 125,000 gallon liquid oxygen tank on the back of a semi." We've been following Elon Musk's SpaceX for years.
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SpaceX Gets Operational License For Cape Canaveral

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  • by Spencerian (465343) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @02:47PM (#24950525) Homepage Journal

    There's a lot of good to this.

    One: NASA uses public property to allow private commerce, encouraging it in fact. (I remember they were quite impressed with SpaceShipOne.)

    Two: NASA keeps private rocketry from injuring themselves or others by using an wide, secure area intended for rocket flight

    Three: The location is a tourist area, giving the business an opportunity to gain needed funds from spectators.

    Robert Goddard hardly had any of this and was still working out the whole liquid-rocket thing as well. Good luck, guys. And no smoking by the LOX tank.

  • Re:holy damn! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:43PM (#24952051)

    You haven't been paying close attention on the highway. It gets shipped all over the place in semi tankers, a few thousand gallons at a time.

    It may not be "hard" to make, but it costs a lot of energy, and a fair amount of capital investment. The hospital here goes through quite a lot of it, but it's still cheaper to buy it than to make it.

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @06:33PM (#24953939)

    Because, in the absence of such complaints, reusing the shuttle booster system is incredibly *smart*

    It might seem that way at first glance, but remember that the parts of the shuttle were designed to work together when put together as the shuttle. For example, excess vibrations from the solid rocket boosters were negligible when attached to the large mass of the main fuel tank and the orbiter, but they become a problem when one attempts to perch a lighter vehicle in a top-heavy configuration on top of a single SRB. The shuttle designers never intended the SRB to be used in this way so they didn't add anything to the SRB to null out the excess vibrations, probably because they didn't need to in the context of the shuttle launch assembly. Now, there are proposals to add heavy counterweights or shock absorbers to the SRB to make it suitable for an Ares-1 launch as covered in a previous Slashdot article []. I too once thought that this was not a big deal, but reading the threads in that article changed my mind.

    While it is difficult to be certain in advance I feel that Ares program funding could have been better spent adapting either the Delta [] built by Boeing or the Falcon [] being built by Space-X to manned spaceflight standards rather than attempting to adapt shuttle SRBs. This has been done before when NASA adapted the Titan-II [] ICBM to carry astronauts during the Gemini program, but with just minor improvements (they used the Titan-II design basically intact from the ICBM profile) to improve safety and make it suitable for manned launches. The shuttle SRB, from the recent reports, seems to be less suitable to start out with and requires more extensive modifications to adapt it to the proposed new role in Ares-1.

    As far as I know there have never been manned rockets which employ solid boosters exclusively for the first stage (making the Ares a more radical design then either the Delta or Falcon rockets). In fact the shuttle was the first manned space launch vehicle anywhere to use solid rockets during the launch phase for primary thrust (not counting capsule escape systems used by the Russians on Soyuz or the Americans on Apollo). Solid rockets are powerful and accelerate quickly, but they vibrate and generate very high G forces (from the accelerations involved) whereas liquid fueled rockets produce a smoother acceleration and power curve and can be throttled up or down (much more suitable when soft and squishy humans are riding atop them instead of warheads). The SRBs were appropriate on the Shuttle because of the huge liftoff masses and the need for extra power to get the whole thing moving from a stationary start (the proverbial kick in the pants) but they seem to be less so on the Ares-1.

  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @06:48PM (#24954119) Homepage

    It might seem that way at first glance, but remember that the parts of the shuttle were designed to work together when put together as the shuttle. For example, excess vibrations from the solid rocket boosters were negligible when attached to the large mass of the main fuel tank and the orbiter, but they become a problem when one attempts to perch a lighter vehicle in a top-heavy configuration on top of a single SRB.

    Yeah, but that's a newly discovered fact. The shuttle program couldn't have taught them that. So your complaint that they haven't "learned their lessons" isn't supported by this particular issue. Had they known, a prior, that this was going to be a problem thanks to experience with the shuttle, then yes, absolutely I would agree with you, but since they didn't know that in advance, making use of the SRBs made perfect sense at the time the decision was made.

    So, do you have any other evidence that they haven't learned their lessons from the shuttle program?

    The SRBs were appropriate on the Shuttle because of the huge liftoff masses and the need for extra power to get the whole thing moving from a stationary start (the proverbial kick in the pants) but they seem to be less so on the Ares-1.

    On the Ares-1, perhaps. But the final goal, for which Ares-1 is only the first step, is a much larger launch vehicle with a much greater mass, in which case the SRBs may very well be a logical choice.

  • Re:holy damn! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @07:04PM (#24954325)

    More or less. Ours has a pair of really big (but not 125K gallon) LOX storage tanks (along with tanks for liquid nitrogen and, believe it or not, liquid nitrous oxide). Oxygen cylinders are large, bulky, heavy, and of limited capacity. Instead, the hospital sets up a big tank outside, along with a big set of heat exchangers, and pipes the gas throughout the complex.

    There's also an emergency oxygen hookup station where they can connect directly to a LOX tanker if something happens to both their storage installations.

  • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @07:11PM (#24954411)
    Don't get me wrong, I have great hopes for SpaceX with COTS and commercial opportunities and am quite impressed with their efforts and plans, but you're defining a modicum of success as three failed launches of a rocket that's just barely big enough to get one astronaut in a spacesuit into orbit (but not back again), and then ranking that history above an organization that has conducted 145 successful manned missions involving over 850 crewmen, and plus I don't know how many unmanned missions.

    Ares is not perfect. There is a lot of fair criticism that has been directed at the system. At the same time, however, it is better suited to NASA's plans than the Shuttle, which despite itself being often and fairly (and just as often unfairly) criticized has launched more people into space than every other manned system in the world combined. However, the shuttle was a jack of all trades (in LEO that is) and a master of none.

    I apologize for that digression. Back to why Ares (or perhaps Direct, but that's unlikely due to politics and differing capabilities) is what NASA wants for it's current plans. NASA has a stated and congressionally-supported goal to create a transportation system capable of returning to the moon and, if desired, going onward to Mars.

    SpaceX is very much an unproven operator. NASA is not willing to bank the success of Constellation on that when they have the know-how, technology, and foundational infrastructure to succeed with near certainty. This is not saying NASA isn't interested in SpaceX or that SpaceX isn't cheaper. They very much are, which is why NASA contracted them for under COTS. That alone is almost completely maxing out SpaceX's resources at the present moment. I doubt even Musk himself thinks they could realistically create a system equivalent to Ares 1/Orion by 2015. Yes, SpaceX could potentially save money, but they have a much greater risk of failing, in which case all the money spent on them is wasted. Some would argue that they just need the appropriate resources to succeed. That is delusional. At best, throwing money blindly at them would just lead to another Boeing, Lockheed, or ATK. They would probably succeed, but be no better than what we have currently.

    To be clear, the Falcon 9 is not capable of lifting the Orion capsule and the Dragon does not have the operational capabilities to replace the Orion. Orion has more delta-V, more life support capability, more interior volume, higher fault-tolerance, a much higher re-entry capability, and the ability to dock itself with the ISS as well as reside there for extended durations as a lifeboat.

    It can be pointed out that the Falcon 9 Heavy has about the same lift capability as the Ares 1. This is true, but it's a further development from an unproven rocket whereas the Ares will use shuttle-derived technology and benefit from NASA's technical experience. Furthermore, Ares 1 will develop many of the components used by the Ares V, which is a rocket nothing in SpaceX's current or proposed plans can come close to, and a key to NASA's plans to returning to the moon.

    Of course, others also criticise the whole goal of going to the moon in the first place, but that's another discussion. Suffice to say, the nation is fed up with stagnation in space.

    By the way, NASA has economists, accountants, etc. That wasn't why we ended up with the shuttle we have. Besides, economics is an arguably less precise endeavor than engineering.
  • There are so many lessons to learn about the Shuttle that I don't know where to begin. One of the problems with a study of the Shuttle and what went wrong is that due to the plethora of mistakes in setting up that launch system, I am afraid that the wrong lessons are being learned.

    Among them is a complete and irrational fear of re-usable manned launch vehicles for Earth to LEO spaceflight. While there may be some problems with the implementation of this idea in the Shuttle, this is IMHO one of the things that at least from a certain point of view that the Shuttle did right. Certainly the Space Shuttle has been able to get more people up into space and do useful things than any other manned space vehicle, including the Soyuz spacecraft (which is often mis-characterized as a "safe" vehicle).

    For myself, I think the problem with the Shuttle program is that it should have been treated like an X-project with the intention to try a series of successively improved spacecraft that built on the predecessor and became better over time. As it was, the Columbia (aka the "prototype") was treated as a production vehicle, and the earlier prototypes were pressed into service as improved versions when in fact they were the predecessor spacecraft. I dare any major vehicle manufacturing company to be able to get away with something like that unless they are under a government contract.

    There should have been a Shuttle 2.0 program some time ago, and unfortunately neither the U.S. Presidents over the past 20 years, the NASA administrators, nor Congress have had the will to get something like that built. And instead we have Apollo 2.0... and a bad rev of that by engineers who weren't even born when the original was under development.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @07:38PM (#24954681)

    What disturbs me is the notion that NASA does not know how to launch rockets (or ULA or Orbital Sciences Corporation) and that a man who knows nothing about rockets (Elon) is somehow smarter than the thousands that support the space program. To criticize NASA, who is responsible for one-of-a-kind missions that do not fail and cannot fail is laughable when you are referring to a startup garage-shop company that has ping-pong tables 10 feet from flight hardware. I support them FULLY. However, they are trading reliability and risk mitigation for cost. You cannot cheat the system longterm - maybe shortterm. But eventually, the very things that make a Delta II or an Atlas V reliable are the very things that will increase the costs of a Falcon to those levels. There simply are no free lunches.

    Additionally, the world is based on specialization, where I want a part machined I go to a place that does it for a living. I don't try to keep 10 machinists in house and try to make them experts - not cost effective. Our economy is based on the exact opposite of what Elon is trying to do. he wants to build his engines in house and magically have the reliability and performance of the big boys using what amounts to college kids / new hires and a few experts in their management.

    Grow up, space if the big leagues, and it will kill people and they will kill people if they aren't careful.

  • Re:holy damn! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @11:00PM (#24956633)

    Making liquid oxygen is very easy due to the fact that the boiling point of oxygen is a couple of degrees higher than the boiling point of nitrogen: get pressurized oxygen in a closed system and cool it down with liquid nitrogen until it liquefies. Congratulations, you're done.

    Yes, congratulations. Now, for the record, where did you get the pressurized oxygen? You probably bought it from Air Products, BOC, or the like. How did they get it? By fractionating liquid air.

    You can make liquid oxygen by cooling air with liquid nitrogen. In fact, if you just let LN2 sit out in an open-mouth dewar, O2 will preferentially condense into it, and it will gradually "turn into" LOX. But first it has to condense out the water vapor from the air, which generates a lot of heat, which evaporates a lot of LN2. Then it has to condense out the CO2, not that that's terribly significant. To collect a little bit of LOX, you end up boiling off an awful lot of LN2.

    It works out a lot better to filter air, then cool it enough to condense out the water, then maybe cool it enough to condense out the CO2, then filter it again, then cool it enough to condense it, then run it through a big, well-insulated fractionating column to separate the nitrogen (near the top), oxygen (near the bottom) and argon (nearer the bottom). When you start with thoroughly clean and dry air, the process can get pretty efficient. But to get good efficiency, you need a BIG installation, and that costs big bucks. It works out a lot cheaper to let BOC or AP build the facility, and then buy their products.

Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.