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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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  • Leave it Fox.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Necron69 (35644) <{jscott.farrow} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:22PM (#35722388)

    What an amazingly inaccurate summary. The rocket will be left to fall back into the ocean/atmosphere, while it has enough cargo capacity (2X that of the space shuttle to LEO) to launch something that could, conceivably, go to Mars and back.

    Personally, I'm expecting Bigelow to be the first customer.

    Necron69

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

      by usul294 (1163169) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:31PM (#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.
      • by 517714 (762276) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:40PM (#35722572)
        Title: "World's Most Powerful Rocket Ready in 2012, SpaceX Says"

        Last Sentence: ""First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014,” Musk said."

        Apparently their reporters have a very short attention span.

        • Re:Leave it Fox.. (Score:4, Informative)

          by ravenspear (756059) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:44PM (#35722618)

          That is the first launch from Canaveral.

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

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Wyatt Earp (1029)

          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 RM6f9 (825298)

          Rocket may be ready well in advance of available launch schedule dates/permits/etc..., - ?

          • by sznupi (719324)
            OTOH schedule dates/permits/etc. also depend on the demonstrable readiness of the rocket, progress of preparations... Anyway, if history is any guide, causes related to the rockets themselves tend to cause very large part of delays.
        • by DrJimbo (594231) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:59PM (#35723940)

          Always better to have the rocket ready *before* the first launch rather than after.

    • Of course, for it to not be "most powerful", Angara (even more modular... much more late) would have to be on time, also with its heavy variant, at the least.

      Anyway, such payloads aren't even strictly necessary for Mars sample return - not with our automatic rendezvous & docking capability (which we've done in the 60s, making the Shuttle obsolete before it seriously made its way to drawing boards)
      At least those new launchers take an approach of very high modularity & semi mass-production - seem
  • by tulcod (1056476) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:24PM (#35722420)
    How can one not know whether his/her rocket is capable of making it to Mars? Are we talking superpositions here or what?
    • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:28PM (#35722454) Journal

      Maybe part of his team is using metric, and another part is using imperial?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by osu-neko (2604)

      How can one not know whether his/her rocket is capable of making it to Mars? Are we talking superpositions here or what?

      No, we're talking about reality. In reality, unlike in theory, it takes a lot more to get a rocket to Mars than engineering and sufficient power and fuel. It takes massive funding, political will, and the sustained support of both for several years. There's no engineering equation you can use to calculate if you'll make it to Mars -- the equation will only tell you whether you can do the easy part...

      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:00PM (#35722780) Journal

        No, we're talking about reality. In reality, unlike in theory, it takes a lot more to get a rocket to Mars than engineering and sufficient power and fuel. It takes massive funding, political will, and the sustained support of both for several years. There's no engineering equation you can use to calculate if you'll make it to Mars -- the equation will only tell you whether you can do the easy part...

        Actually, SpaceX's first demo launch of the Falcon Heavy in 2013 doesn't have a customer and they're self-funding it, so if they want to they can send it to pretty much anywhere in the inner solar system that they want. Heck, Elon Musk could even get part of his team to assemble his old Mars Oasis [spaceref.com] greenhouse project and try to land it on Mars if he wanted. Since it's self-funded, it's purely an engineering problem (perhaps with some PR thrown in for good measure).

      • by GooberToo (74388)

        No, we're talking about reality. In reality, unlike in theory,

        Right there you just lost many a slashdot reader. I'll say no more else their heads may explode.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:36PM (#35722526)

      Because it depends on the engineering of what goes on top of it. The Falcon Heavy wouldn't actually go to Mars, it just has the heft to potentially launch a vehicle that could go there and back again in one shot.

      However, since no such vehicles exist or are far enough along in planning to have really believable numbers for mass and capabilities, its hard to say for sure.

      Add in that uncertainties in practical engineering for the launch vehicles certainly exist and its a very reasonable statement.

    • by Surt (22457)

      Well, you can think your rocket is capable, but you can't know until you arrive.

    • Maybe the government will send it to Mars, maybe they wont. Even the space shuttle could have gone to mars, they just never sent it.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:25PM (#35722434) Homepage Journal

    Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V. Yes I know they say this will cheaper but still I expected us to be much farther along than we are.

    • by avgjoe62 (558860) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:38PM (#35722536)

      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.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        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.

        • by ravenspear (756059) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:48PM (#35722670)

          $1000/lb not $1000/ton.

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

          • by sarahbau (692647)

            I thought that seemed off by a few orders of magnitude. lol. $1,000 a ton would be pretty good for shipping freight on a truck.

            • by TheEyes (1686556)

              Choose your shipping method:

              [ ] Ground
              [ ] Air
              [X] Semiballistic

              When you need it halfway around the world in less than an hour, choose SpaceX Freight!

          • by hey! (33014)

            It'd be interesting to hear the number of launches they need to make a profit at that price. I'm assuming the price is based on an average price, which in turn is calculated by assuming the fixed costs of development can be spread over some minimum number of launches.

            If the number of paying launches were, say, *1*, I doubt very much they'd be able to make money at that price.

            • by FleaPlus (6935)

              It'd be interesting to hear the number of launches they need to make a profit at that price. I'm assuming the price is based on an average price, which in turn is calculated by assuming the fixed costs of development can be spread over some minimum number of launches.

              If the number of paying launches were, say, *1*, I doubt very much they'd be able to make money at that price.

              If I recall correctly, the break-even number stated during the press conference was 4 Falcon Heavies (and presumably 4 Falcon 9's) a y

        • by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:01PM (#35723376) Homepage Journal

          The Saturn V was produced in small numbers and using 1960s cost was no option development. Using modern production methods the cost should be much lower if they produced it today. Frankly the only parts I would keep from the old Saturn program would be the F-1A which they never flew and the J-2 which we just developed new versions of. Use LiAL for the tanks and user modern electronics and it could cost a lot less.
          The Falcon 9 Heavy is really cool. It is the hype that is rubbing me the wrong way.

      • "Musk also claimed the Falcon Heavy would cost a third per flight than the Delta IV rocket, and sets a new world record for the cost per pound to orbit of around about a thousand dollars." Not an apples to apples comparison, but if he's claiming a new record, then it is pretty impressive. Any direct comparisons to the Saturn V would also need to take into account inflation, as the 1965 dollar was about six times as valuable as today's dollar. Ah, Wiki says: " In 1969, the cost of a Saturn V including la
        • I don't think you can use standard inflation rates for high tech equipment. Consider how much you could accomplish with $1000 of computer time in 1969 with what $1000 of computer time will get you today.

          • by edremy (36408) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:27PM (#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

            • I'm not assuming anything. I was just saying you can't assume that the Saturn V would cost 6x today what it cost in 1969. In fact, one of the main points of the article is that we should now be able to get stuff into orbit for about $1,000 / lb. I don't have Saturn V number, but I bet it was more than $170 / lb in 1969. So, while the physics haven't changed, the economics certainly have. I'm guessing a respectable chunk of that decline is related to advances in hardware and software.

            • by LWATCDR (28044)

              True but the cost of the Saturn V was spread over very few launches and they where produced at a very low rate. With modern manufacturing methods like 3D CAD systems, modern materials like LiAl, and modern electronics there are some savings to be had. You are correct that it will be no where near what we have seen in microprocessors but even there are savings that could be had. The other thing is I didn't say we should build Saturn Vs just that this wasn't bigger than the Saturn. Now parts of the Saturn lik

        • by goodmanj (234846)

          I don't think you get to claim a record until your rocket gets off the pad and delivers payload to orbit.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Why? We're much better at orbital assembly now so we don't need the giant, all-the-eggs-in-one-basket rocket anymore. Cheap is MUCH more impressive.

      • by holmstar (1388267)
        The Falcon Heavy is cheap (or is expected to be) at $1000/lb. For comparison, it cost about ten times that to launch a payload on the Space Shuttle.
        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Uh, yes, which is why the Falcon Heavy is more impressive than a Saturn V even though it can lift less.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      Why do you need something bigger than a Saturn V? Who's to say, smaller vehicles with on-orbit refueling aren't a better approach?

      We're at a point now where we really are making real progress. We're moving past the command-and-control approach to exploration taken in Apollo (and proven to fail without extremely high funding levels by the post-Apollo era) and getting to a place where we can do interesting things with sustainable budgets.

      The great thing about this concept is that it is not a one-off design.

      • The great thing about this concept is that it is not a one-off design. Even if there is only a demand for one of these every three to five years, the fact that it is mostly built from Falcon 9 parts (for which there is a proven market) means that it can be available to be built-to-order without much extra overhead.

        There would be significant overhead for that low a flight right.

        Musk stated in the announcement that to meet the $1000/lb figure it would have to launch at least 4 times per year.

        • GP is still right about saving overhead that's shared with the F9, as opposed to building something like the Ares V that you have to support in it's entirety. You've hit on my pet peeve about SpaceX, though, which is that they quote things based on what they are capable of, not what there's a market for.

    • by timster (32400)

      If the price listed on the SpaceX website ($125M) is accurate, "we" are making progress, if by "we" you mean the people who actually work on this stuff rather than posting on Slashdot. Saturn V launches cost in the hundreds of millions each, in 1970 dollars.

      • by GooberToo (74388)

        If the price listed on the SpaceX website ($125M) is accurate, "we" are making progress, if by "we" you mean the people who actually work on this stuff rather than posting on Slashdot. Saturn V launches cost in the hundreds of millions each, in 1970 dollars.

        Someone above calculated the Saturn V launch costs, adjusted for inflation, is roughly $1.1 billion per launch. Even if the $125M per launch number is off by a factor of two, that means they can still launch four rockets for everyone one Saturn V. That provides for what, a 4x-8x improvement in efficiency? So yes, that's a big step forward, even if it takes multiple rockets to achieve what previously could be done with a single Saturn V launch.

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        In 1969 we expected Pan Am to be flying passengers to the moon. In 1975 they where talking about O'Neil colonies at L5 with 10,000 people living in them and also at that time they where talking about 100 shuttle launches a year...
        Sorry but we are so far behind what was expected when I was a child that it is just depressing.

        • by timeOday (582209)
          Don't measure progress relative to "what was expected" - that's completely arbitrary. (At least until you get as far as investing money on a specific capability).

          Dreamers and sci-fi authors are just that, fiction.

    • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:05PM (#35722830)

      Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V. Yes I know they say this will cheaper but still I expected us to be much farther along than we are.

      Why? The Space Shuttle sucked the oxygen out of the room for large rocket development and Griffin, the previous NASA administrator, followed up with an incompetent, underfunded attempt. As I see it, 53 metric tons to LEO at SpaceX prices is a far better deal than making some ludicrously expensive Saturn V class rocket.

      Keep in mind also that SpaceX's designs scale quite nicely to Saturn V class level. I'd rather give them the chance to prove themselves with smaller rockets first than get pouty because SpaceX doesn't meet somebody's overblown expectations.

    • by lennier1 (264730)

      Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V. Yes I know they say this will cheaper but still I expected us to be much farther along than we are.

      You don't even need to aim that high. They're gunning for the Delta IV Heavy, which is said to manage a payload of roughly 13,500 lbs into GSO.
      They want to reach more than twice of that. Let's assume 30,000 lbs.
      That would still place them well below the 44,000 lbs the over 20 years old Energiya could handle (even if you don't update the blueprints)

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        I agree but the the hype they are using ticks me off. If they had just said that they where going to launch their largest rocket ever or even the Falcon 9 Heavy. I am more anti hype then anti Space X. I actually think this is really very cool but I want my nuclear powered Orion class shuttle with Pan Am markings! It is 2011 and I have been lied too.

    • Call me when we have something that can out lift the Saturn V.

      That'll probably be never - and that's a good thing. Big heavy payloads costs in the billions-to-tens-of-billions range, which means that they are hard to get funded, which means we end up spending more billions keeping the heavy lifter on standby for the once-in-a-blue-moon heavy payload. Smaller rockets are cheaper to design, build, and operate* - and since they'll fly more often those costs and their fixed [annual] costs can be amortized ove

    • How about the Soviet Energia? It launched Polyus and Buran.

      35,000 kN at lift-off versus 34,000 kN for a Saturn V. 100 tonnes to LEO.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:49PM (#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 Terwin (412356)

      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.

      That project is about jobs in some congress-critters district.
      If this is seen as a threat to those jobs then the congress-critter will probably change the criteria just enough so that this is not suitable.
      Hopefully the fact that it is privately funded will prevent having this project interfered with as one method of making it unsuitable.

      • Hopefully the fact that it is privately funded will prevent having this project interfered with as one method of making it unsuitable.

        Well, there are those mysterious "unpublished standards"...

        Unpublished Standard #1: Components must be built by companies that contribute to politicians on the committee to decide the standards.

        • by harperska (1376103) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @05:00PM (#35725400)

          Unpublished Standard #1: Components must be built by companies that contribute to politicians on the committee to decide the standards.

          Unpublished Standard #1: Components must be built by ATK.

          Congress doesn't really care about 'shuttle derived technologies' and costs are a straw man. But ATK in particular, who makes the shuttle SRBs, holds some pretty strong sway over certain congress-critters. That's why the Ares 1 first stage was just a scaled up shuttle SRB even though SRBs are a pretty dumb idea for a human-carrying rocket and completely idiotic as the sole first stage, as they can't be effectively throttled or shut off after being lit.

    • meets published NASA human rating standards, not sure yet about "unpublished" standards

      Because there are known knowns and there are known unknowns... :^D

    • by Strider- (39683)

      meets published NASA human rating standards, not sure yet about "unpublished" standards

      That's when the weight of the paperwork associated with the rocket matches the weight of the fully fueled rocket itself.

      In all seriousness though, the concept of "man rating" a rocket is a bit of a red herring. There's no real difference between a rocket used to launch humans vs one used to launch other payloads to orbit. Humans just happen to be a bit of a squishy, wet payload. The only real caveat is that we tend to limit the g-forces for human spaceflight to 3 to 4gs, while equiment launches can handl

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      After reading a little more, apparently the numbers they announced today assume that the second stage uses their existing kerosene-based "Merlin Vacuum" engine, and not the high-energy hydrogen-based "Raptor" engine/stage [wikipedia.org] they have under development. Combining the Falcon Heavy with the Raptor could potentially push the payload into the 70+mt range that Congress wants for the super-heavy rocket they want NASA to build.

  • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:00PM (#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.
    • 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.

      There's another important reason their odds are much better. They do extensive test firings of all the engines. With those soviet

      • by kaiser423 (828989)
        That crossfeed is really where they get a good chunk of their performance numbers from. I expect 15-20% increase from doing that....but it does make the plumbing pretty expensive and complex :)

        For those whom aren't familiar with crossfeed, the outer-tanks keep the main tank topped off during flight, so that at liftoff you get thrust from all engines, but when seperation time comes, the stage seperates, but your main core is still full of fuel. It's almost like launching a Falcon 9 from halfway outside yo
        • by trout007 (975317)

          The Shuttle Cross Feeds. The engines are on the Orbiter and the fuel is in the External Tank. It's not exactly the same because you aren't switching the engines from two different tanks which is what will have to happen on the Falcon 9 Heavy. It's the switch that may be tricky.

    • by Behrooz (302401)

      I don't think it's reasonable to compare the difficulty controlling clusters of independent rockets using Soviet tech from the 1960s with modern materials science and computerized engineering.

      They're spending a metric assload of their own money. That's likely to produce a much more reasonable assessment of capabilities and failure modes than centralized planning in the framework of a mega-bureaucracy. We'll see how it goes, until proven otherwise I expect some pretty impressive advances.

    • They've been planning the 3 core configuration for a while, and their already flying the 1 core design, so I don't think the complexity of multiple engines will be a problem. The news today is 1) the upgraded engines and 2) the propellant crossfeed, which combine to double their projected capability. They've hinted at a Merlin 2 (F1 class) that could replace all 9 Merlin 1s on the Falcon 9, and provide a Saturn V class Falcon X with a cluster of 5, but there is no realistic timeframe for it yet, whereas F

    • by khallow (566160)
      I forgot to mention that even if we completely ignore NASA, and frankly it's not that significant, it still remains that a private US business has gone from nothing in 2002 to proposing building a rocket with a considerable fraction of which is already flight proven and twice as much payload as anything else flying today. That's pretty good for less than ten years!

      A single US company is blowing by everyone. As Musk said, if he can get the flight rates he wants for the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy, then
      • "it still remains that a private US business has gone from an initial investment of $100M in 2002 to proposing building a rocket with a considerable fraction of which is already flight proven and twice as much payload as anything else flying today. That's pretty good for less than ten years!"

        $100M is hardly nothing.

        It's a magnificent achievement, yes.

        • by khallow (566160)

          $100M is hardly nothing.

          It's less than one thousandth what they spent on Apollo, adjusted for inflation. When you're developing rockets in the world of NASA and its prime contractors, $100 million is nothing.

        • by holmstar (1388267)
          In terms of what they are accomplishing with that $100M, it IS practically nothing. NASA would spend that much just doing feasibility studies. SpaceX has actually delivered two functional rockets and a space capsule, and soon another rocket. AND, not only have they done all that, they've also managed to create designs that are significantly more efficient than the competition. It's very impressive.
    • SpaceX is working on other engines. The Merlin 2 would be capable of around 1.7 million pounds of thrust (the Saturn V F-1 was capable of 1.5 million pounds of thrust), reducing the number of engines used per vehicle, especially for the Falcon 9 Heavy and the Falcon X/XX series of SHLLVs.

      • by khallow (566160)
        The point is that the Falcon Heavy doesn't require successful development of the Merlin 2.
    • by sconeu (64226)

      Just a minor nitpick. The Saturn V S-II second stage did not use an F-1. It used 5 J-2s. The S-IVB third stage used a single J-2. The F-1 was only for the first stage.

      • by khallow (566160)
        Darn, you're right. I must have been thinking the number of rockets on the second and third stages.
    • 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).

      Saturn V had five F-1 on the first stage, five J-2 on the second, and one J-2 on the third.

      That being said - using smaller, existing, engines is a way to cut development costs and to bring the booster to market early. (I.E. pretty much standard corporate behavior,

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @02:36PM (#35723704) Homepage

    I'm impressed that the Falcon-9 rocket can lie on its side, supported at only two points. Many large US rockets don't have enough strength in torsion for that, and must be assembled vertically.

    This reduces cost. The thing can be built in a factory bay of reasonable size, then barged and/or trucked to the launch site. There's no need to do final assembly near the launch pad.

    This is a good sign. One of the big problems with US rocketry has been that fanatical weight reduction resulted in overly fragile vehicles. This thing looks tougher.

  • SpaceX stated it was the most powerful rocket since the Apollo era. They also said a larger rocket would be needed for a Mars mission. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12975872 [bbc.co.uk]

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