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Elon Musk Shows off the Dragon Capsule, Back From Space (Video) 106

Posted by Roblimo
from the recycling-our-way-to-the-stars dept.
Elon Musk appeared Wednesday at SpaceX's testing facility in McGregor, Texas — not far from Waco — along with NASA administrator Charles Bolden, to show off the recovered Dragon capsule that recently launched from Cape Canaveral to the ISS. He says the SpaceX Grasshopper reusable lift vehicle will start testing in a few months, and that once it's in service the cost of a flight to orbit may cost as little as 1/100 as much as it costs today. According to Musk, fuel is only a tiny part of what a space launch costs; boosters and other expensive items that currently only get used once are the main budget-busters. (Note that the Scaled Composites Space Ship Two also relies on a reusable first stage — and that theirs saves both fuel and wear & tear by using aerodynamic lift, AKA wings, for the first 50,000 feet.)

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Elon Musk Shows off the Dragon Capsule, Back From Space (Video)

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  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @05:19PM (#40328707)

    Not sure why TFS includes the comment about Spaceship Two having wings, since SS2 is not intended to reach orbit.

    Nor is it intended to lead to an orbital vehicle.

    • by Roblimo (357)

      Scaled Composites people have said for many years that their end goal is reusable orbiters with aerodynamic first stages.

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @05:34PM (#40328887)
        That may very well be their goal.

        But SS2 isn't leading in that direction. I can't even see any technology developed for SS2 being of any relevance to an orbiter with an aerodynamic first stage.

        Note that an aerodynamic booster for an orbiter will require either:
        a) a hypersonic booster, or
        b) a VERY LARGE orbiter.

        Can't see any part of SS2 that points in either of those directions...

        • by Roblimo (357)

          I'm happy to say, "You're right." Makes you feel better and costs me nothing.

          However, please realize that if you had said that you couldn't see SS1 leading to SS2/Virgin Galactic, I wouldn't have argued with you then, either.

          • by osu-neko (2604)
            Indeed, there's nothing to argue with. He said he can't see it. Presumably, he's being honest about his lack of vision. The fact that this does clearly lead in that direction doesn't alter the fact that he can't see it, so his statement is accurate. ;)
          • by regularstranger (1074000) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @06:10PM (#40329239)
            The point is that SS2 has no chance of making orbit after a few modifications, while SS2 is the next iteration of SS1. SpaceX is putting things into orbit. Comparing anything that SpaceX is doing with anything scaled composites is doing as far as reusability is concerned is stupid, done only by those who don't understand the difference between orbit and just touching the edge of the atmosphere for a short time. The fact that Scaled Composites is reusing their plane with attached rocket engine really isn't relevant. Besides, even if they do put things into orbit, they will only be able to put very small things into orbit. The concept of dropping a rocket from a plane doesn't scale well. SpaceX is making things to go to space and stay there. Scaled Composites is making interesting airplanes, with one that can go to space briefly.
            • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @07:24PM (#40329897) Homepage

              Besides, even if they do put things into orbit, they will only be able to put very small things into orbit. The concept of dropping a rocket from a plane doesn't scale well.

              That concept (realized via a Pegasus rocket) put NuSTAR in orbit, so it may not scale well, but it's enough to be useful.

              Rockets in general don't scale well (which is why you quickly get one much too big to be carried by a plane). That's why what SpaceX is doing -- attacking the cost of launches to earth orbit -- is so important. Once that's a relatively cheap commodity, we can use earth orbit as the launching point to the rest of the solar system.

              • Rockets in general don't scale well (which is why you quickly get one much too big to be carried by a plane).

                Heh - very true. The air-launched rockets might be cheaper for small satellites when these technologies have matured (this woudn't surprise me at all), but using such a system to put humans and anything much over a couple tons into orbit seems unlikely. Below someone pointed out Stratolaunch, which is a reduced Falcon 9 carried under an aircraft with a ~400 foot wingspan to get ~14,000 lbs into orbit. Of course it's not reusable unless the Falcon 9 is reusable, and I would be surprised if the added compl

            • by Ken_g6 (775014)

              Besides, even if they do put things into orbit, they will only be able to put very small things into orbit. The concept of dropping a rocket from a plane doesn't scale well. SpaceX is making things to go to space and stay there. Scaled Composites is making interesting airplanes, with one that can go to space briefly.

              Actually, it looks like a company called Stratolaunch Systems [wikipedia.org] appears to be working with both SpaceX (for a vehicle called Falcon 9 Air) and with Scaled Composites (for the carrier aircraft [wikipedia.org].) "And once it is established as a reliable system, a human-rated version will also be explored. [wikipedia.org]"

              • Is it reusable (the Falcon 9 Air)? If it is reusable, is it because of the efforts of SpaceX, or Scaled Composites? It if does become reusable, does the added complexity of designing, building, testing, and maintaining this giant plane cover the cost of fuel savings over a pad launch (which is a small part of launch costs) that uses almost the same launch-to-orbit platform (a Falcon 9 - which can put a lot more material into orbit)? I'd put my money on the pad-launched version being economically successf
            • by F34nor (321515)

              Did you read the Popular Mechanics article about building a Scale Composites White Knight larger than the Spruce Goose to carry a SapceX rocket to 50K for launch?

              • And this being reusable is entirely dependent on SpaceX making their Falcon 9 reusable. Scaled composites is providing a plane, which of course is reusable. Most planes are. I express my doubts about the viability of this method in my other comments - at least for larger payloads. If I have a large payload, why not just use a pad-launched Falcon 9? Why go to the added trouble of using the giant plane - especially when its payload to orbit is limited to less than that of a regular Falcon 9. As the arti
        • I think that using "wings" to provide lift is a clever idea, they could be variable geometry for the different speeds and atmospheric thickness, or what about "disposing" wings that could fall away at a certain height after providing some lift? The Russian Energia was designed to be a a reusable first stage with some lift yes?
      • by multi io (640409)

        Scaled Composites people have said for many years that their end goal is reusable orbiters with aerodynamic first stages.

        All first stages are "aerodynamic". I think the correct term you wanted to use is "air-breathing".

    • It's partially reusable...

      That said, the first thing that came to mind when watching the simulations of Grasshopper was "was that the primary buffer coupling".

      I need to get outside now....

    • by Thud457 (234763) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @05:33PM (#40328873) Homepage Journal
      "Elon Musk" is a much better Bond villain name than "Richard Branson". The rest of your argument is superfluous.
      • by dkf (304284)

        "Elon Musk" is a much better Bond villain name than "Richard Branson". The rest of your argument is superfluous.

        We don't need to worry until he hires a giant with steel teeth...

        • by F34nor (321515)

          What, what, what? Maybe by name alone but Branson looks like a Bond villain, lives like a Bond villain (private freaking island and a space port), is well um, British. Plus all this over the top shit is just a ruse clearly he is real name is Dr. Virgin, a respectable villain name for sure. Elon Musk looks like the guy from accounting. He's only a villian to Detroit and anyone who has sunk more than 5 billion into launch vehicles that SeaLaunch made obsolete and SpaceX made laughable. Also the fact that he w

      • Richard Branson is more of a "Lethal Weapon" type.
      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        I saw him on the news last night talking about this; he's balding but not bald, doesn't have an eyepatch, and there was no white Persian cat anywhere to be seen. Either the "Elon Musk" they put in front of cameras is a clever decoy, or he's not actually up to any world-domination schemes at all. Which doesn't make any sense.

      • Musk sounds (smells) like a villain from that other other secret agent [wikipedia.org] series.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Elon Musk... wasn't he the scientist that raised Odo? It sure sounds like a Star Trek name, far more than a Bond villian name.

    • That's true, however, it's carrier the White Knight2 is quite likely to continue to be used for more than just the SS2, such as it was for the X-37 tests. It is more than probable that it will be used for or evolved into a first stage of an orbital vehicle as a cost savings measure over traditional pad launched vehicles. It's also common for people to erroneously speak of the White Knight 2 and/or WK2, Space Ship 2 pair as just Space Ship 2.
  • Wait, what? (Score:1, Flamebait)

    ...and that once it's in service the cost of a flight to orbit may cost as little as 1/100 as much as it costs today.

    Considering that the current cost is "We can't do it, we retired the space shuttles", I'm not sure what comparison you're making. Between this and what the Chinese are putting into orbit? Or the Russians? Or that other startup group that Slashdot seems to ignore?

    • by Shatrat (855151) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @05:28PM (#40328797)

      At no point were space shuttles the only way to get something in orbit, even if you exclude countries other than the USA.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Hmmm, back when I was in the rocket biz I seem to remember a several month long period where there was no way to orbit - our deltas were failing inexplicably, the Japanese vehicle wasn't ready, Arianespace lost a bird... it's all kind of fuzzy now.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        Yep, space shuttles were the only way for the US to bring something intact from orbit back down to earth (they had other ways to get stuff up). AFAIK that's one of the features that the US military wanted. That feature is rather expensive, despite all the talk of reusability.

        You only save money with reusing stuff if your reusable components are reliable enough so that you don't have to do very extensive and expensive checks and certifications on them after each flight. Otherwise it's actually cheaper to thr
        • Yep, space shuttles were the only way for the US to bring something intact from orbit back down to earth (they had other ways to get stuff up).

          That's not technically correct. We have long had return capability from spy satellites sending down film canisters and some of them are still operational, and there were a few sample return missions -Genesis in 2004 and Startdust in 2006. To be sure, Genesis didn't make it back entirely intact.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ColdWetDog (752185)

      Cost per kg to LEO:

      This has been discussed many, many times. A handy reference [wikipedia.org] for the [citation needed] crowd.

      Cost per kg to LEO is, of course, the holy grail for SpaceX and other commercial companies. Drop if far enough and you open up LEO to more commercial activities.

      • Re:Wait, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bing Tsher E (943915) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @05:40PM (#40328939) Journal

        Actually, what it sounds like is that the cost of hurling more space junk up there will go down by a factor of a hundred. For better or for worse, humanity doesn't seem to have it's act together yet for it to be cheap to drag more litter up into orbit.

        • by Nutria (679911)

          Exactly.

          By common courtesy (yeah, I know, ROTFLMAO) or new law, rocket "bits" must be designed with drag-inducers of some sort to get them to fall quickly back to earth.

        • Re:Wait, what? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by SomePgmr (2021234) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @05:57PM (#40329131) Homepage

          I know this is a problem, and I imagine smart people are trying to figure something out.

          That said, I can't help but marvel at the shrinking cost-to-LEO. Just a year ago I was talking to someone at a company that does tubeSat launches for $8,000. That's the launch and the satellite. And I heard that SpaceX does CubeSat launches on their Falcon 9 rockets.

          Now I don't know if the cost reductions would translate directly to that kind of mission, but if they can get the cost down to anywhere near 1/100, putting a satellite up will be easily within reach for an individual tinkerer. To me, that's just amazing... that you can put your own little satellite in space (for a short time), and not even be crushed if something goes wrong.

          Found the $8k one...
          http://interorbital.com/TubeSat_1.htm [interorbital.com]

          • I believe individual tinkerers are already putting there little satellites in space. See http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zacinaction/kicksat-your-personal-spacecraft-in-space [kickstarter.com] .
            • by SomePgmr (2021234)

              That's cool and at $1,000 that's much cheaper than the other ones. Though by the look of it, it seems you get what you pay for. ;)

              I know some amateurs have done cubesats and tubesats, it's just that those pricetags are all still in the pretty-serious tinkerer range. I'm going to cling, desperately, to that 1/100th number. Because at $80 or $100, I have a list of projects I'd love to cram into one of those and send up.

              And I figure Elon Musk has got a pretty impressive track record, so there's hope.

          • I know this is a problem, and I imagine smart people are trying to figure something out.

            We already have. Orbital scoop mining for fuel supply:

            http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Space_Transport_and_Engineering_Methods/Resource_Extraction#Scoop_Mining [wikibooks.org]

            Use the fuel for electric tugs to collect orbital debris, salvage dead satellites, or repair/refuel ones that can be fixed. Anything that cannot be recycled/reused gets brought down to air mining altitude, where it will quickly de-orbit. The problem until now was debris was in such scattered orbits you could not afford to go collect it. The combinatio

          • No, you can't. Interorbital will gladly take your money, but they will not launch anything. The keep throwing new launch dates, but no actual hardware flying. See this thread for details: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=18780.0 [nasaspaceflight.com]
            • by SomePgmr (2021234)

              Interesting. I called them last year (just inquiring) and they were telling me they had launches scheduled for a couple months ahead of when I called.

              It's a little disappointing to see that IOS specifically hasn't managed it yet, but I know others have and my overall excitement stands! :)

        • by GPS Pilot (3683)

          It costs a significant amount of fuel to deorbit a satellite at the end of its useful life, and pre-Elon, it was very expensive to launch that fuel to orbit.

          Despite that cost, all low-earth-orbit satellites launched by the U.S. Government in recent years have the ability to deorbit themselves.

          With reduced launch costs, the rest of the world will have no excuse to not follow suit.

  • Comparing Space Ship Two with the Dragon capsule is not an even comparison. Putting a craft into orbit and retrieving it safely are not equally hard. Putting something into orbit requires much more energy than a sub-orbital flight. Recovering something that travels through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds is also tough, especially if you want to man-rate it, and to make portions of it recoverable.

  • "AKA wings" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's not quite that simple though. That method doesn't hand over the ballistic momentum that a rocket first stage does.

    For those curious about 'wing launch', don't skip over the shuttle freighters. 747 are a massive piece of kit, originally designed as freighters. The big load of the shuttle limited their ceiling to only 15,000'.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuttle_Carrier_Aircraft [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:"AKA wings" (Score:4, Informative)

      by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @07:39PM (#40330055)

      No, but Air Launch does reduce several of the losses a regular rocket has at ground level, and approximately doubles the payload to orbit:

      * Reduced gravity loss, when the rocket is flying vertical. Only horizontal velocity gets you in orbit. Horizontal launch avoids most of this
      * Reduced aerodynamic drag on the rocket because it starts above most of the atmosphere
      * Increased thrust, because at sea level rocket engines lose thrust due to fighting air pressure
      * Velocity of the airplane takes about 3% off what the rocket needs to do
      * Altitude of the airplane gives some potential energy

      Those are in about the order of relative importance. The vertical part of a standard launch is incredibly inefficient. If you take off at a typical 1.5 gees, 2/3 is wasted simply fighting gravity.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Another thing is aircraft are actually bloody expensive to maintain. All of their bits have set use-lifetimes measured in hours of flight, some of which are quite short. Designing, producing, and then maintaining a launch aircraft is a significant cost. It's reusable, much of it, but you better have an awful lot of uses lined up to make it worthwhile.

      Whereas a rocket first stage has the ballistic handover, and you design everything for a lifetime of one use. This does wonders for cutting down the ounces. Al

  • Just to be clear, TFA is the video attached to TFS, correct? There's no actual FA associated with this that I can go read? How about including a link to this [google.com], or perhaps this [latimes.com]?

    • It's made even better by the steadfast refusal of TFV to be anything other than a black hole in the page here (FF13 and Opera on Linux in AU). Perhaps regional restrictions?

  • They are sending each stage up with enough fuel to land under power? I wonder how much extra $/kg that costs relative to just using parachutes...
    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      Parachutes make recovery more difficult, while a powered landing gets you right where you want to be. Also, these stages don't weigh much when they're empty, so that should help with the fuel requirement.

    • by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @07:42PM (#40330091)

      When near empty, the stages are 10-30 times lighter, because they don't have much fuel, or in the case of lower stages, don't have the upper stages sitting on them. Most of the velocity is lost to a heat shield, so the landing thrust only has to take off 10% or less of the remaining velocity. So it doesn't take that much fuel to land. It takes less fuel than the weight of wings to land.

    • by trout007 (975317)

      Using numbers on the Internet the empty weight if the first stage is about 40,000 lbm with a mass fraction of maybe 25:1. One Merlin engine is about 125,000 lbf of thrust and can throttle to about 50%. So using one engine to slow down and land isn't too crazy. It could be a bit scary if you run too low on fuel that your weight gets to the point where you can't throttle your engine enough to decend. But all of that should be possible to predict and control.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        > It could be a bit scary
        > if you run too low on fuel

        I'm not a rocket scientist, so I could be wrong, but I think that's part of SpaceX's genius.

        It would not be scary, just epensive.

        They have to be many-nines safe to lauch people. That means they have to be able to loose one of the Falcon's engines and still reach orbit. That means you need extra fuel in each of the engines. Enough fuel to aim your rocket in the right direction and get it there.

        Now, if you don't loose an engine you've got extra fuel a

        • by tibit (1762298)

          The fuel and oxidizer is not in the engines, it's in the shared tanks. Losing an engine increases fuel consumption only because when you accelerate slower, you bleed off air drag slower.

          • by phayes (202222)

            Losing the center engine of a reusable F9 may not cause the loss of the payload but appears to guarantee the loss of the reusable first stage.

            Last stage of the reusable F9 landing uses only the center engine and thrust/weight appears to be workable in only a narrow range. Having to use two engines that cannot throttle lower than 50% to maintain balance seems to be unworkable.

            • by tibit (1762298)

              Isn't their thrust vectoring good enough to get the thrust vector going through the center of mass even from a side engine? It'd be landing a bit crooked, admittedly.

              • by phayes (202222)

                I don't know but I assume that landing crooked would preclude landing on a hard surface. As conjecture maybe they'd prefer dropping a reusable F9 with a failed center engine into a lake rather than have it tip over, fall & possibly explode

                • by tibit (1762298)

                  I think as long as the landing "gear" (legs?) are designed to accommodate such a situation, it'd be OK. It's probably a weight vs. reliability tradeoff. They'll probably figure out how likely it is to lose the center engine. Then they'll figure how does the cost of decreased performance due to weight increase compare to the cost of losing a F9 1st stage once in a while on landing. Oh, the joys of engineering ;)

                  • by phayes (202222)

                    While they may eventually develop technologies to make a center engine failure recoverable to a landing to a flat pad, I don't see it happing for a while.

                    The engines cannot throttle below 50% max thrust which makes landing on empty tanks "interesting" as a single engine's minimum output is close to producing more thrust than a near empty first stage. Needing to balance a failed center engine makes it pretty much impossible as throttling control does not at present have the accuracy needed to reliably blow o

                    • by tibit (1762298)

                      The momentum issue of coming down at an angle is really simple. Such a system is inherently stable with air friction, as long as the wind doesn't blow the wrong way around, that is.

                      When it touches down with the whole stage at an angle, the settling down to vertical converts the potential energy to kinetic energy of rotation around some horizontal axis. Air friction dissipates some of it, because it's the whole damn rocket moving, and it's a "big" sail. So when it shifts weight to the opposite legs and start

                    • by phayes (202222)

                      Air friction?!? Compared to the intertia that spinning an off axis booster weighing over 30000 lbs to level to compensate for an off axis engine!?!

                      I'll stop now as you have just demonstrated that you clearly have little grasp of the forces in play.

                    • by tibit (1762298)

                      With no air friction it will be rocking back and forth "forever". With air friction it will rock shorter than that. Remember that an empty booster is light for its size. Energy conservation tells us it will not tip over simply from landing at an angle, as long as the center of mass's projection on the ground is within the support polygon, and as long as there is no imparted swing velocity due to factors other than gravitational settling. Whatever energy it gains going from -angle to zero degrees, it must us

                    • by phayes (202222)

                      Air friction, riiiight... Try reading about this new force a fellow by the name of Newton described recently: It's called gravity...

                    • by tibit (1762298)

                      Are you daft? Get a 4-legged chair. A coffee table, or really any other 4-legged piece of furniture will do. Tip it as far from vertical as you can so that it doesn't fall. Let go (don't push, just release it). See what happens. It will *not* tip over on the other end of the swing. Also note that with each swing the amplitude decrases. Note that the shape and size of the object doesn't matter. A big honking rocket will behave the same. You don't have to read shit to do a simple experiment and see it for you

                    • by tibit (1762298)

                      BTW, Falcon 9 first stage has a wind surface area at least of a 100m^2. At 20mph, there'll be equivalent of 7000N pushing on the center of mass. So air resistance is important: wind alone could easily tip it over!

                    • by phayes (202222)

                      Your statement "With no air friction it will be rocking back and forth "forever"" conclusively establishes which one of us is daft.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Goddamnit, I wish you people would learn to read and write. I completely misunderstood your comment until I realized you were talking about an engine failure rather than dropping the first stage. "Lose" and "loose" are both verbs with completely different meanings, and in the case of your comment the repeated misspelling completely changed the meaning of what you wrote.

    • by jnaujok (804613)
      A typical launch carries a 3-5% excess fuel load for safety margin, so there was always some extra fuel aboard at separation. The big factor that changed the game was that the Merlin 1-D engine was suppposed to reach 120,000 lbs of thrust each, but instead is testing at 145,000 lbs of thrust with a higher ISP, which IIRC is about 310 seconds, which is phenomenal for a Kerosene/LOX engine.

      With the extra thrust and the better performance, it meant that they could either expand the payload by a few thousand
    • by nawitus (1621237)
      Fuel costs are 1-3% of the total launch costs. Usi
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's gratifying to see that Elon is right: there are far fewer detractors than there used to be. Slashdot stories about SpaceX used to be jammed full of Lockheed and Boeing partisans talking trash about SpaceX's chances of success. Now that they've succeeded, and succeeded big (the overwhelming majority of new launch vehicle designs suffer a major failure within the first 3 launches; the Falcon 9 has not), it's become effectively impossible to claim they don't know what they're doing. Manifestly they do,

  • Hey, is it just me or does the video in the summary keep unpausing itself every few hours?
  • It occurs to me -- if you wanted to use a parachute system to lower a 100-foot-tall booster safely, it would still be necessary to develop much of the needed technology for vertical landing. That's true even if it's mostly an empty tin can.

    You'd need this to slow the booster from sub-orbital speed, and orient the booster, and remove much of the spin, so that when the parachute(s) do come out the booster doesn't break in half and the parachutes shred.

    As other commentators have pointed out, it makes li

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