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Second SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Now Being Assembled 65

Posted by timothy
from the sweet-musk-of-success dept.
FleaPlus writes "Six weeks after the first launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, the first stage of the second rocket has finished production/testing, and has arrived at Cape Canaveral for a launch as early as September, depending on the pace of a methodical review of the Dragon capsule systems and minor rocket modifications/fixes being made based on data from the inaugural launch. The rocket will launch the first operational unmanned Dragon cargo/crew spacecraft into orbit, where it will perform tests and then reenter off the California coast. CEO/CTO Elon Musk made the intriguing remark that Dragon's heat shield is strong enough to enable a return not only from Earth orbit, but also lunar orbit or Mars velocities as well."
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Second SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Now Being Assembled

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  • Stories today (Score:4, Insightful)

    by instagib (879544) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @08:52AM (#32936288)

    I see 6 great aircraft & space related stories on /. at the moment, but the single Apple story has way more comments than all these combined. Go figure ...

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @08:53AM (#32936292)

    Because they cannot control what SpaceX does, or where it spends its money, Senators are throwing temper tantrums, screaming hysterically and jumping up and down like their assess were on fire. Live from the Senate:

    "Dirty, dirty, dirty! I want spending for my state! Bad, bad, bad! Darn, darn, darn!"

    Senate staffers hope to placate them with a large supply of Happy Meals. Unfortunately, when they do calm down, they will immediately consider legislation that will put SpaceX under their thumb.

    I'm sure NASA could do some really amazing stuff . . . if it wasn't for those meddling kids in the Senate . . .

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Don't you mean "Dirty, dirty, dirty commies and socialist plans for space!"?

      PS. But seriously, they still have quite a bit of control - aren't rockets a munitions, etc., with restrictions on cooperation with overseas companies? That's where large part of launch contracts, to sustain an inexpensive launcher, would come from. Or they might just go with Soyuz rocket or Zenit, in the same price league already.

    • by Loadmaster (720754) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @11:13AM (#32936924) Homepage

      You forgot where they chant, "The government can do nothing right. The government can do nothing better than private industry." Then turnaround and declare, "Only NASA can build rockets. The private industry sucks balls on space."

      I will never understand, other than pork and earmarks, why some in Congress see SpaceX as bad. I, for one, am really excited by the possibilities opened if SpaceX can wrest some control of space away from the government for private industry. The government has put up the ISS which is great, because it shows us what can be done in space and why. But Bigelow aerospace is already building inflatable habitation modules and has contracted SpaceX to take them to space. Private industry is ready to open up earth's orbit.

      • by gad_zuki! (70830)

        You're surprised that you are seeing through GOP bullshit? "Government cant do anything right" == "Get rid of social programs and get rid of business regulations." They will also continue to beg for more pork because it brings in money. This party represents the business owning class, little else.

        I love how the "liberal" party is the one finally trying to privatize space while the GOP is whining about the antiquated shuttle system.

    • It was just 15 ppl of which ALL benefited from the pork/jobs bill that it was. The good news is that the rest of the Senate has to vote on it. Now is the time for all good Americans to write their Senators/Congressman and push back against this white elephant bill.
    • by shnull (1359843)
      and i thought my little shitty country had the worst of it , seems like kindergarten mentality in the senate is more common than i thought. It's a sad fact how these people keep bickering for years over stuff that doesn't even relate to what they should be doing or to the promises they got elected for. Global warming? Global warning is in order.
  • Next launch after this one was apparently outright rescheduled [spacex.com] to 2011; first one had its share of delays, we'll see how the 2nd goes.

    That said, I wouldn't be really surprised if they manage their first cargo sortie to ISS in 2011.

    • Supposedly due to money. SpaceX IS getting tight on money, so they are spreading out the tests. If Bill Gates/Warren Buffet, or even George Soros really want to help America, now would be the time to invest money in spacex, perhaps just by buying future launches and paying the money for it NOW.
  • reusability (Score:2, Interesting)

    by strack (1051390)
    heres hoping they can recover the first stage this time. i mean, if they cant have a reusable first stage, the only new thing spacex would be doing to reduce costs is assembly line manufacturing of rocket engines, and the ability to have a engine fail on the first stage and still complete the mission. while those are neccessary and excellent steps to take, my bet is being able to fish 9 barely used rocket engines and avionics system out of the sea, hose it down, pop another upper stage on it, and launch it
    • Re:reusability (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tibit (1762298) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @09:29AM (#32936452)

      They don't only reduce costs in assembly and manufacturing. Their whole corporate culture is, AFAIK, built on achieving understandable goals and working towards the end result, not towards placating external or internal politicians. All of their costs are lower, across the board -- sometimes by as much by an order of magnitude. That includes R&D, facility management, you name it. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure their employee morale beats any government bureaucracy hands-down, and also should be beating that of other government contractors.

      SpaceX's immediate future may be mostly funded from government checks. Yet their long-term future in absence of another brilliant startup is pretty much destined to be global market takeover for launch services. That's my opinion at this point. On one hand I wish they went public sometime, on another hand part of their success is their independence...

      • Re:reusability (Score:4, Interesting)

        by trout007 (975317) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @09:45AM (#32936518)
        I saw a great interview with Musk and he said the way he cuts costs is by building everything they can't buy off the shelf. This is directly opposite to what most major defense contractors do. The reason is simple. If it's off the shelf you can buy it because the development costs were already paid for and there is an existing market. If there isn't a off the shelf product available you may as well design and build it yourself to cut out the middleman. This isn't rocket science it's rocket engineering. Elon isn't breaking any scientific ground with the Falcon which is why it's so cheap. He learned the lessons of the past and spent his money trying to make it cheap.
        • Actually, my understanding is that there were plenty of other items that they could have bought COTS wise. The problem was that many of the suppliers were used to selling to L-Mart/Boeing and had high prices. So, they brought those in-house as well.
        • by Teancum (67324)

          One of the reasons why SpaceX isn't "breaking any scientific ground" is also because getting into orbit isn't exactly something new to accomplish either. It should be a solved engineering problem, similar to trying to figure out how to span a large distance (under 1 km) with a bridge. That doesn't necessarily make it cheap by itself, but you can build a structure or examine designs that have been used in the past and see what works and what doesn't. It also means that you don't have to repeat the same mi

    • Re:reusability (Score:4, Interesting)

      by trout007 (975317) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @09:43AM (#32936504)
      You are missing a very important reason for recovering the stage. It is a great for engineering to see what the engines/ect look like after a flight. You can get a lot of data on a test stand but nothing beats flight testing.
    • by daveime (1253762)

      but the merlin engines on the falcon 9 have been shown to be infinitely more reusable and reliable

      Hate to be pedantic, but does that mean we'll still be using the same engine when the universe implodes ? Infinite is a very long time after all ...

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        Infinity times 0 is still 0. The space shuttles engine is reusable 0 times without a complete and total dis-assembly and rebuild.

        It can be infinitely more reusable and still not be reusable.

        • Just because it requires a total disassembly and rebuild doesn't mean it isn't reusable. A rocket engine is not something you want to have fail.
        • Re:reusability (Score:4, Informative)

          by glitchvern (468940) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @12:10AM (#32940896) Homepage

          The space shuttles engine is reusable 0 times without a complete and total dis-assembly and rebuild.

          This hasn't been true in a long time. It was true for the first major version of the Space Shuttle Main Engine, but they are on at least the fifth major version of the SSME now. They are taken off the orbiter for inspection every two flights now and taken off for rebuild every four flights. An SSME costs about 75 million to build. A delta IV rocket engine, which is made by the same company and is roughly comparable to an SSME, costs about 25 million. I've never been able to figure out the maintenance cost on an SSME. The SSME has a very excellent safety record. One of the reasons for this is because being reusable they can test the hell out of it. It is one of the best rocket engines ever. The shuttle taken as a whole may not be very good, but most of the parts are fantastic, and the SSME is definately a fantastic part and an example of one of the things they got right with a reusable vehicle. The shuttle is the first and only reusable launch vehicle ever built and we have learned many things on how not to design a reusable launch vehicle. The shuttle is a sample size of one and should not be taken to mean reusable launch vehicles are inherently bad, expensive, or impossible to build.

          • by Teancum (67324)

            I've never understood why NASA has abandoned the shuttle concept completely and instead went back to the Apollo architecture. Certainly there could have been an incremental improvement of the concept (perhaps reducing/separating the cargo section or other "tweak") and eliminating some of the compromises made in the 1970's to make it the one and only vehicle for everything, but there is some value to the concept of what there is to the Shuttle, and having 100+ flights as a record is something most launch sy

  • Sweet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tibit (1762298) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @09:08AM (#32936344)

    I think that SpaceX are really in business of making affordable LEO deliveries. Their low costs are an indication of what we should really be expecting from corporations. Many people have raised the non-issue of lack of bureaucracy somehow making their efforts less safe. That is quite laughable -- NASA's illogical bureaucracy for its own sake (papers and presentations without real content) and internal isolation are some of the factors pointed out by Feynman as contributing to a culture that's set up for failure.

    Just think of the bills you'd be getting had Elon Musk founded a major hospital and medical center somewhere. I'm pretty sure some procedures would cost about as much as some people are paying in "copays".

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Many people have raised the non-issue of lack of bureaucracy somehow making their efforts less safe.

      Given the trends so far (though granting that even by the abysmal standards of rocket science there is only a small sample) - I wouldn't exactly be praising SpaceX as paragons of safety just yet.

      I think that SpaceX are really in business of making affordable LEO deliveries.

      And Pets.com [wikipedia.org] was really in the business of selling fifty pound bag of dog food over the internet back before they collapse

      • Government contract money in the space industry IS long term profit.

        • Well, that's true... But it's not the route to cheap commercial spaceflight as a government contractor has limited incentive to lower costs - especially once he's got lock in.

          • If SpaceX was a gov contactor similar to Boeing/L-Mart/Ratheon, I would agree with you. OTH, Musk is pushing for PRIVATE space and using the federal contracts as a spring board (similar to how he used F1 to springboard to the F9).
            • If SpaceX was a gov contactor similar to Boeing/L-Mart/Ratheon, I would agree with you. OTH, Musk is pushing for PRIVATE space and using the federal contracts as a spring board (similar to how he used F1 to springboard to the F9).

              If he had used government contracts, as opposed to goverment grants and loans, for the F1... you'd have a point.

              The market is also radically different in that there actually is a private market for the Tesla, and there isn't for the Dragon and may or may not be in the reaso

          • by Patch86 (1465427)

            How so? If the government says "we will pay $100 million for a LEO payload launch", and you can do it for $90 million, you make $10 million profit. If you can do it for $80 million, you make $20 million profit.

            Sounds like an incentive to lower costs to me. Exactly the same incentive as there is to lower costs in all other business, too.

            • You forgot about the part where lowering costs actually costs money - if it costs $80 million to reduce your costs $10 million (which is in the ballpark), then there is little to no incentive to reduce costs because you'll likely never recoup your investment. (Likely never because of the uncertainty of government contracting and the low flight rate.)

              Even in the commercial world, where there is a great deal of pressure to reduce costs via competition, the same calculations take place. Prices only drop when

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by queazocotal (915608)

        Paragons of safety - certainly not.

        There are some good reasons why they are potentially safer than some ohter designs though.

        For example, the fact that the engines are runup and develop full thrust while the vehicle is still tied down, and can be shut down if they do not perform to spec removes a large slice of hazard.

        • There are some good reasons why they are potentially safer than some ohter designs though. For example, the fact that the engines are runup and develop full thrust while the vehicle is still tied down, and can be shut down if they do not perform to spec removes a large slice of hazard.

          Applying best practices widely in use on other vehicles for decades makes them 'safer'?

          • by tibit (1762298)

            Citation please. Since you know about this stuff apparently more than I do, how about a list of currently used commercial launchers, with some indication of how much launches/year they see, and a yes/no for a hold-down?

      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        It's interesting how the truth gets moderated as trolling.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        SpaceX has been profitable for a couple of years now. Where did you get your data from?!

    • by Teancum (67324)

      The problems in medicine in regards to spiraling costs getting out of control have to do with the fact medical patients are no longer the customers (from the perspective of the doctors and hospital administration). That instead is the health insurance companies, which are increasingly consolidating or even becoming a part of the government in various forms, so you have less competition due to fewer potential customers that will demand anything different. Market principles that keep costs down simply don't

  • Several thoughts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @11:57AM (#32937196) Journal

    Once the dragon is flying cargo AND has flown living samples UP and DOWN, it seems to me that we should send a dragon up as a lifeboat. The reason is that 3 of the sleeping quarters are on the other side of the station. As such, it makes sense to have one lifeboat on the US/Western side. Lose the middle, or even the entire russian side, and you still have an ability to get ppl to safety.

    If Musk gets this flying in Sept, then it should be possible to push back against that recent jobs fair bill being pushed by the Senate panel, that masquerades as a NASA bill. In fact, BA, OSC, etc should be pushing hard for getting Bolden/Obama's plan moving fast. One idea is to offer up X-Prizes to really push commercial space. These should start high and descend in value over time.

    For example, offer up a 1 billion X-Prize for a Tug/Fuel Depot that delivers in 2013. Then have it drop by .25B yearly after that. Give requirements for docking (such as using CBM).

    Another useful one would be for human launches. Offer up 5 guaranteed human launches in 2013; followed by one less each year. The idea being is that the first craft will have more launches then those that arrive to the scene later. Why do it that way? To encourage groups like SpaceX to get funding, or for Boeing/L-Mart to invest their own money and build out human rated systems QUICKLY.

    Finally, it will costs a great deal of money for NASA to get to the moon. So, why not offer up an X-Prize of 10B to put a base there. It would run until 2016, and then decrease by 1B each year.

    Now, why do these and in this fashion? To get private space moving QUICKLY. In particular, this would encourage ppl like Gates, Allen, etc to chase these prizes. The sooner that you develop, the larger the pay-out. Require that the work be in America, or amongst those nations that also contribute to the X-Prize (it allows the possibility for UK, EU, Canada, Australia, Japan, etc to jump in as well).

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      Re "Lifeboat Dragon", see the first two "back up" slides here:

      http://www.spacex.com/20090617_Elon_Musk_Augustine_Commission.pdf [spacex.com]

      There was also some blog discussion of delivering a lifeboat Dragon [flightglobal.com] in the Shuttle cargo bay. But since then, the Shuttle life has shortened and SpaceX's schedule has stretched to the point where that's probably impossible.

      Finally, it will costs a great deal of money for NASA to get to the moon. So, why not offer up an X-Prize

      Finally, screw the moon. The moon is a trap.

      • First, if the dragon is launched via falcon as a cargo mission and working, then there is no issue with sending one up as a lifeboat. In fact, it is actually MUCH cheaper to do it this way, then via the shuttle.

        If we spend only 10 billion on getting a base on the moon, with LOADS of commercial backing, I would say that was a GREAT DEAL.
        • by goodmanj (234846)

          I'm not saying the idea of a Dragon in the shuttle bay makes any sense at all: personally it baffles me too. But the idea is out there.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      One idea is to offer up X-Prizes to really push commercial space. These should start high and descend in value over time.

      Why have it decrease over time? I see you're trying to accelerate commercial space development by decreasing it, but it's not like it costs anything if no one can or wants to accomplish it.

      Jerry Pourelle has long advocated X-Prizes for various commercial space developments, for example (offering prizes for second and third place helps ensure that competitors don't stop development once t

      • The decrease encourages the money ppl to get into the game early rather than later. If do not decrease it, then the money have ZERO incentives to get in early. In fact, they have every incentive to not add money. The reason is they will hope that somebody like Musk will do it and be stretched too thin. Then they swoope it up for a fraction.
      • by Nutria (679911)

        To the first American company to put not fewer than 31 Americans on the Moon and keep them there continuously for a period of three years and one day

        What the hell do you *do* on the Moon for 3 years, besides get cancer and have your equipment get abraded to shreds by the lunar dust?

    • by khallow (566160)
      What's the point of prizes with hard deadlines like that? We've done it before with very mixed results. For example, the Cheap Access to Space prize (which paid $250,000 for an amateur group to put a rocket up to 100 km) didn't pay out. A key part of the problem was that the US government refused to issue launch approvals for most CATS contestants in the half year or so prior to the expiration of the prize. If they had added a few years to the prize (or got rid of the deadline altogether), then we'd probabl
      • The reason for the decreasing amount is that it PUSHES the money ppl to jump into the game as fast as possible and get there. It also pushes the various players to form teams to things off the ground quickly. And by starting it higher than the costs of the RD, then it means that everybody has a VERY large incentive to get it done. Now, as to the denied access, well, CATS was ran by the Space Foundation. Now, we are talking about the Feds doing the prize. There is a bit of a difference here.
        • by Teancum (67324)

          While I get the reasoning you are suggesting here for reducing the prize over time (which inflation does on its own anyway, so a fixed prize essentially does the same thing), I'm not convinced that this is necessarily something good for scientific research to have some sort of time-limited option on a prize.

          The Kremer prize [wikipedia.org] is an example of something that has at least been partially claimed that took nearly twenty years and some basic materials science advancement in order for it to happen. That kind of ba

          • So, you are comparing a science advancement prize to a simple exploration prize? We have already been to the moon. We have had 50 years of science and engineering associated with space.
            The two prizes are VERY different items and concepts. As such, it makes TOTAL sense to have an advancement prize be at a set amount. But building of fuel depot/tugs, private space stations, or even a moon base is NOT new science. It is simple engineering. That is why you want it these to DECREASE with time. It forces the mon
            • by Teancum (67324)

              Neither the orbital fuel depots, private space stations, nor a moon base has ever been built, so I would dare say that all of that is indeed new science and engineering. I would dare say that the comparison between the Kremer prize and something like the Ansari X-Prize is a very apt comparison.

              As far as getting to the Moon and building a base there, I have huge doubts that any such prize could be privately funded, and the notion of public funding for such an endeavor has not ever been done on that scale.

  • by ridgecritter (934252) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @01:14PM (#32937632)
    Has there been any commentary or explanation from SpaceX about the increasing roll rate that showed in the on-board video towards the end of that video? I've looked, haven't found any. Just curious.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      You didn't look very hard then, its in TFA. My very first slashdot post and you're making say RTFA. Shame on you *grins*. Quoted from TFA:

      A few minutes later, the second stage began a dramatic spin as the rocket reached space. The roll was captured in views from an on-board camera.

      "The roll on the second stage was also a non-fatal situation. We think the actuator may have overheated due to radiative heating from the nozzle," Musk said. "This is speculative, but we can trace the problem down to the roll actuator itself."

      More insulation will be added around the actuator to prevent the same problem on the next launch.

    • I don't have a source, but I seem to remember them say that the roll was unexpected, and that they'd be investigating the cause.
  • > CEO/CTO Elon Musk made the intriguing remark that Dragon's heat shield is strong enough to enable a return not only from Earth orbit, but also lunar orbit or Mars velocities as well."

    I wonder if, assuming all goes well with their orbital crewed flights, SpaceX would be able to perform a near-term circumlunar mission with Dragon (i.e. the sort of mission Apollo 8 performed). A few years ago a company sought to do something similar with the Russian Soyuz (whose launcher is similar in capability to the F

  • I suspected Dragon was capable of lunar returns due to Spacex's choice of PICA which has been used on the highest speed Earth reentries such as Stardust. Being able to handle a Mars return is a real surprise. Lunar reentry BTW supposedly was why Spacedev went from the X34 shape to the HL20 on their vehicle so the new space companies have been thinking about beyond earth orbit for some time.

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