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NASA Space Science

World's Most Powerful Rocket Ready In 2012, SpaceX Says 251

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-love-that-name dept.
Velcroman1 writes "Elon Musk, the millionaire founder of private space company Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX for short) said the long-planned Falcon Heavy vehicle would be ready for lift off at the end of 2012. The rocket, which he called the most powerful in the world, would be capable of taking men to the International Space Station, dropping vehicles and astronauts on the moon — and maybe even cruising to Mars and back."
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World's Most Powerful Rocket Ready In 2012, SpaceX Says

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  • Re:Leave it Fox.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by usul294 (1163169) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:31PM (#35722472)
    I don't see how it's Fox's fault, all TFA said was that Elon Musk said the craft could be used to complete the Mars mission. Summary was way off from reality, but the article seemed to be done without hyperbole or bias.
  • Re:Leave it Fox.. (Score:4, Informative)

    by ravenspear (756059) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:44PM (#35722618)

    That is the first launch from Canaveral.

    The first launch will be from Vandenburg, which he stated would likely be in early 2013.

  • I'm glad someone else noticed this. The Saturn V had a payload capacity of 260,000 pounds and peak thrust of at least 7,500,000 pounds. They may be saying that this is the biggest thrust and payload among operational rockets, but I'd still like to see the ratio of (thrust/payload)/cost. That is where I'd really like to see improvement.

    Estimated to be around $1,000/ton to orbit. Nothing comes close at this point to that figure, and it's all down-hill from there once it's reached. The Saturn V was/is a beautiful machine - but it was rather inefficient.

  • Re:Leave it Fox.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:46PM (#35722638)

    Apparently you didn't read the article.

    The rocket will be ready by late 2012 from Vandenberg (which is California), Canaveral (which is Florida) launches by late 2013.

  • by alispguru (72689) <bane.gst@com> on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:48PM (#35722660) Journal

    Urban legends aside, NASA did not throw the plans for the Saturn V [wikipedia.org] away.

    Falcon Heavy is cool, but it's still a factor of two away from the LEO capacity of a Saturn V.

  • by ravenspear (756059) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:48PM (#35722670)

    $1000/lb not $1000/ton.

    But yes this is MUCH cheaper than the Saturn V, Shuttle, or anything else really.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:49PM (#35722678) Journal

    The Fox article is a little sparse on info, so for the curious, there was some pretty good liveblogging (live-foruming?) of the press conference here [nasaspaceflight.com]. You can see official details (and a neat video) on SpaceX's site here [spacex.com].

    Looking through the forum and the website, here's a summary of all the most interesting stuff:

    • Falcon 9 (F9) able to lift much more than estimated with engine upgrades, Falcon Heavy (FH) estimates upgraded
    • FH: 3 nine-engine cores attached to each other
      paying development costs internally, strong commercial + gov customer interest
    • FH will arrive at Vandenberg pad in 2012, launch in early 2013
    • testing upgraded engines now at McGregor facility
    • estimating 117K lbs (53mt) to orbit for FH, possibly >120K lbs
    • double payload of Shuttle and Delta IV Heavy
    • launching from Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral
    • once in full operation expecting ~10 F9 flights a year, ~10 FH flights a year
    • increasing rate of engine production to 400 each year (currently 50/year)
    • FH price sets new world record at $1000/lb
    • first rocket in history to feature propellant crossfeed, allowing for earlier separation of emptied side boosters (== much more efficiency)
    • multi-engine-out capability for more reliability
    • meets published NASA human rating standards, not sure yet about "unpublished" standards
    • lower cost than current EELVs could save DOD alone $1.7B-$2.2B each year
    • could do Mars sample return mission in a single flight
    • payload to Mars 1/4 LEO payload, so 30K lbs to Mars
    • could go to Moon or NEO with only 2 launches
    • could do lunar flyby with a single launch of Dragon capsule
    • in response to Q&A, mentioned follow-up design capable of >150mt (Saturn V was 119mt)

    As an aside, it'll be quite fascinating to see what impact this has on the heavy-lift debate currently going on in Congress. For those unfamiliar with it, Congress is currently trying to pressure NASA to spend several billion dollars of its funding over several years into building a 70mt rocket from shuttle-legacy components/infrastructure. It's now looking like SpaceX will build a rocket with nearly the same capability using its own funding, which will be ready to launch several years before the Congress-mandated rocket. Hmm.

  • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:00PM (#35722782)
    This is about half a Saturn V class rocket in terms of payload. Development costs are likely to be remarkably low, around a few billion dollars (Elon Musk has claimed $2 billion before to develop a Saturn V class rocket which would be larger than the SpaceX Heavy). What is interesting is that they seem intent on developing the vehicle using the current Merlin engines rather than than a new F-1 class engine (the rocket engines used on the Saturn 5, five on the first stage and one on the second stage). A cluster of 27 engines (!) will power the first stage. This technique of small rocket clusters is known to have caused trouble [wikipedia.org] for the Soviets when they tried it (four launch failures in a row). With modern technology, the odds are probably better, both because an engine failure that is about to wipe out some of its neighbors can be detected and a shutdown attempted. Second, control systems are much more sophisticated. One can design a system with random engine outs (that is, engines that aren't firing for some reason) that can still fly. We'll see if that's good enough.

    The interesting thing from a development perspective is that this means a good portion of the testing is already done since the Merlin engines have been successfully flown on four flights (two Falcon I and two Falcon 9). They already claim that they are the top manufacturer of rocket engines by number (though I don't know if they are by total thrust). They also have some success firing Merlin engines in clusters and on the successful Falcon 9 flights. They'll probably have to make a more sophisticated avionics and control system, plumbing/pumping to supply the much larger engine cluster, and the vehicle frame, but I suspect that they won't have to do much more than that. My guess is that the 27 engine cluster and its plumbing will be fairly tricky as will the control system (which has to be able to handle several engine outs), but the rest won't be.

    Now compare it to the Shuttle derived Space Launch System (SLS) that Congress wants NASA to research. For one or two years of funding of the SLS (and incidentally, about the same amount of funding just to maintain the current Shuttles!), SpaceX probably can develop the SpaceX Heavy. It doesn't have quite the capability that the SLS would have (at least on paper!), payload is a bit over 50 metric tons to LEO (low Earth orbit) while even a minimal SLS design is required to be able to carry 70 metric tons (at least as NASA read the Congressional directive) to LEO) Yesterday, there was gnashing of teeth because the last Space Shuttle was coming up with a possible end to the US's space program in the works. Now we have a rocket that not only would be vastly cheaper, but capable of carrying far more payload than the Shuttle. This may be our chance to get our space program back on track from when it derailed in the 70s.
  • Re:Leave it Fox.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ravenspear (756059) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:01PM (#35722790)

    He stated that the rocket will be ready i.e. ready to launch by the end of 2012.

    But the actual launch would probably be in 2013 depending on final regulatory hurdles plus any final technical issues encountered with the pad integration.

  • by Confusador (1783468) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:12PM (#35722890)

    What you're looking for is not a capability of the Falcon Heavy, but their Dragon spacecraft which launches on the Falcon 9. They recovered it from orbit in December, so I'll let them show it to you: Specs [spacex.com], Mission update [spacex.com]. Short version is that it's your basic capsule design with water landing, they're hoping to have the next version be a rocket landing on ground, using the abort motors.

  • by Confusador (1783468) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:14PM (#35722912)

    And then they promptly refused to fund it.

  • by IICV (652597) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:25PM (#35723036)

    ...but NASA also needed $12 billion and a decade to make a pen that worked in 0 gravity... and the Russians just used a pencil, classic.

    There's pretty much nothing true in that statement besides the claim that "the Russians just used pencils" - NASA did too, until after Fisher developed the space pen [wikipedia.org] (without government funding) and asked NASA to try it. In fact, after NASA adopted the space pen, so did the Russians.

    And there's problems with using pencils in space - wood pencils are flammable, and the graphite in mechanical pencils can snap off more easily and damage vulnerable equipment (it's conducive, after all) or the astronauts themselves, if they accidentally inhale it.

  • by edremy (36408) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:27PM (#35723068) Journal
    You're making the mistake of assuming that all high tech equipment improves at the same rate as microprocessors.

    The basic physics of rocket engines hasn't changed much at all, and can't given the limitations of the chemical fuels they use.

    • The F-1 engine on the first stage of the Saturn 5 had a specific impulse of 263 seconds, burning kerosene and LOX
    • The Merlin 1C engine on the first stage of the Falcon 9 has a specific impulse of 304 seconds, burning kerosene and LOX
    • The Space Shuttle main engine? 363 seconds, but it uses hydrogen and LOX

    That's not a lot of improvement in 40 years. Sure, there are some materials improvements and better, lighter avionics, but that doesn't buy you the massive improvement you see in other high tech areas

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