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Space Science

Ariane 5 Has No Chance, Says Elon Musk 188

Posted by timothy
from the when-tony-stark-talks-people-listen dept.
Dupple writes with some remarks by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, as reported by the BBC, on the Ariane 5 launch vehicle: Musk is anything but a disinterested party, but he has some especially harsh words for the ESA rocket: "'I don't say that with a sense of bravado but there's really no way for that vehicle to compete with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. If I were in the position of Ariane, I would really push for an Ariane 6.' Ariane's future will be a key topic this week for European Space Agency (Esa) member states. They are meeting in Naples to determine the scope and funding of the organisation's projects in the next few years, and the status of their big rocket will be central to those discussions."
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Ariane 5 Has No Chance, Says Elon Musk

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  • by queazocotal (915608) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:18AM (#42025991)

    To paraphrase part of TFA 'We can save money by developing X with components from Y', this is why it's cheaper to now spend money on Y.

    Versus a clean-sheet design.

    Combine that with SpaceX's largely integrated workflow, with minimal external contractors, and you have extreme problems for traditional aerospace to meet the costs.

    Contracts are granted not on the basis of what would make the overall system cheaper, but electoral politics.

    And if SpaceX gets even limited reusability working - http://phys.org/news/2012-11-spacex-story-reuseable-grasshopper-rocket.html [phys.org] - the price crashes further.

  • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:27AM (#42026029) Journal

    Yea, just wait until some "Regulation" comes his way. You can't compete on a level play field with Government.

  • Translated (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:30AM (#42026041)

    "Ariane 5 has no chance,"
    translates to "Arian 5 is our big competitor"

    "Mr Musk said that the cost of producing the current European rocket would kill it as a commercial entity."
    Translates as "Give us a subsidy US military or we can't keep competing on price!"

    "Not only can we sustain the prices, but the next version of Falcon 9 is actually able to go to a lower price,"
    Translates as:
    "We hope to get to the stock market before we burn through our $1 billion in capital, Groupon/Facebook style! Ka-chink!"

    Sounds like marketing to me. Whenever I see a company focus on dissing a competitor, I immediately wonder why they're going negative campaigning.

  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arse maker (1058608) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:44AM (#42026119)

    That would almost never be true.
    The cost of launch is almost (probably always) a tiny part of the total cost of designing, building and launching something.

    The launch might be $80m, but if you lose a $200m payload its not so good.

    There is insurance which makes the cost analysis more complex, I'm not sure how that would factor in. However it would have to be far more reliable than 1/5 for 1/3 the cost.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:58AM (#42026223)

    "At some point, if you're a third the cost, even if you lose one vehicle in five, you start getting a lot more business."
    Companies price their products to what the market will bear, if he could price it at Arianne - 5%, he would. He's having to deep discount and that suggests he's having difficulty attracting customers with so many teething problems.

    "Reliability isn't everything"
    We use to send mobile phones via registered post in the UK. A lot of them were stolen, our contract meant we received the value of the phone back from their insurance. We lost those customers who didn't re-order, we got a bad reputation and eventually we had enough and ditched Royal Mail. See it only works if you ONLY count the cost of the lost satellite, not the damage it does by the failure to launch as contracted.

    SpaceX need to improve their reliability, and get their heavy launcher out the door. Less hype, less fake 'reusable' claims from a rocket that gone only 2 feet off the ground. Less BS attacks on competitors, they need to iron out THEIR problems with THEIR first launcher. Discounting to keep customers is a short term fix only.

    As it is, it looks like he's trying to draw attention away from his owns companies problems.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:01AM (#42026249)

    I being forced to pay for it though taxes in the form of government loans and tax breaks to those that purchase these vehicles.

    Here's a hint for you -- the $7500 tax credit is just that -- a credit on taxes. The car costs $100k.

    Odds are the buyers are paying more in taxes than most people on Slashdot make, so guess what? Its *their* taxes that are paying for those vehicles, not yours.

    As someone who pays well into the six figures in just federal income tax, let me be the first to say "fuck you". *My* taxes are paying for those discounts. *My* taxes are paying for your schools. *My* taxes are more than an order of magnitude higher than any benefits *I* get from the government.

    And guess what? *I* am not so fucking shortsighted as to complain that my taxes are going to things that help the country, and help the environment.

  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:10AM (#42026335) Homepage

    Falcon 9 is cheaper and has been pretty successful.

    But is it because they're good or because they're lucky? You can't tell from Musk's comments; one of his tasks is to pitch as high as possible to bring in investors and persuade customers to jump ship.

    If I was running the Ariane program I would be worried. You are betting on the Falcon 9 having failures. Otherwise you cannot compete for a large part of the market.

    If the Heavy works, you are out of business. It might be FUD, but it is also true.

    Right now, you've got someone talking up a product that hasn't actually entered service yet and you're believing them on the basis of an exceptionally short service history with a different system (the Falcon 9 and Ariane 5 are targeted at different types of payloads; you'd probably be better off comparing with the A5 predecessor). It's FUD and vaporware vs stuff that actually exists. We don't tolerate that when talking about software, so why should we be more lenient about rockets? Arianespace will start worrying once the Falcon Heavy has actually lifted a decent number of loads without incident (remember to compare the sum of the launch costs and the insurance, because the satellite owners will surely do that sum).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:51AM (#42026723)

    Completely wrong.

    EU legislation can make the market for Space X very limited and increase the cost per launch due to reduced launch frequency of Space X. You want a concrete example of this. For years India's ISRO had the cheapest launch vehicle for LEO. (This is distinct from their GSLV program which hasn't been very successful). PSLV has an excellent success rate and is cheap. For years they tried to get other countries to launch their satellites on the PSLV. None of the countries placed their satellites on the PSLV.

    There is US legislation which prevented any satellite, even a civilian satellite which used US components being launched by countries outside the approved list of launchers, EU, US or Russia. I am not sure if China is now on the list as well. India got on the list a couple of years ago. Now they launch LEO satellites for Israel, France, SE asia and a growing list of countries. It's not just the cost it's legislation.

    EU could very well just legislate for satellites with EU made components to be EU launch only. Or they could just legislate to have all government funded direct or indirect funding to be EU launch vehicles only. Or EU could legislate for all EU television channels to hire only EU launched satellite transponders and if EU television channels need to lease transponders on non EU satellites for broadcast in EU require them to get a governmental waiver which oh just takes 9 months to a year to process. This is just the tip of the ice-burg.

    Don't for a minute think none of this will happen as there will be retaliation from US. So you won't let your satellites launch on our platform good for you. Think of the only two aircraft manufacturers in the world. It's the same equation here. Some countries cannot or will not be allowed to launch their satellites from US. All of them have to use EU.

    Space-x is being delusional here. The market is pretty big and governments will win most of the time. It's also about diplomacy. You launch your puppy on ours we will scratch your back in the UN, WTO and in that free trade agreement.

  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:52AM (#42026729)
    And when the Falcon 9 has 50 successful launches, what's going to be the argument then? Now is the time for Arianespace to move on this, not when its platform has been rendered firmly obsolete and overpriced for any sort of launch.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @11:16AM (#42026977)
    Yeah because it's a negative sum economy and that money would have went directly to the poor people that need it. How is life in the Hollywood movie you live in?
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday November 19, 2012 @11:32AM (#42027163)

    *My* taxes are more than an order of magnitude higher than any benefits *I* get from the government.

    So move to Somalia.

    Oh, wait - maybe you are getting something for your money.

  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Monday November 19, 2012 @12:01PM (#42027523)

    Until the paper-exercise Falcon Heavy with its kludgey fuel-transfer-in-flight mode flies

    I'd call it "brilliant" and "elegant" not "kludgey", but I guess such things are in the eye of the beholder. Just keep in mind that a) it significantly improves the mass fraction of the Falcon 9 Heavy (which rather than the Falcon Heavy, is the true Arianespace 5 competitor) at moderate complexity increase, and b) uses existing components, three copies of the Falcon 9 "core" (the first stage), greatly reducing production costs.

    And as for calling it a "paper exercise", they've already demonstrated the rocket engines and launched the basic Falcon 9 core. It's not been tested as a whole, but the components are far from "paper".

    Of course the Falcon Heavy's main projected use is manned missions to the Moon and Mars but that assumes substantial and sustained funding for such a project in the trillion dollar range

    Cheaper launch vehicle means cheaper missions. And NASA is notorious for making things one to two orders of magnitude more expensive than they need to be. I think once the Falcon Heavy flies, we'll be in funding range of private manned space exploration of both the surface of the Moon and Mars.

  • All that the EU can do to SpaceX is to impact his suppliers (which are few in number.... SpaceX makes most of their own components from raw bulk materials like sheets of aluminum, titanium, and steel) or his potential customers in the EU. Given that few of his customers are in the EU, it isn't all that big of a deal to them and increased regulations by the EU would impact all potential launchers.

    It should be noted that until recently, it was the Ariane rockets that carried the bulk of commercial spaceflight vehicles. In other words, increased regulations on spaceflight (assuming they "play fair" and impose those regulations equally to all companies participating) would mainly kill European companies who are doing (and still doing currently) a very robust commercial business. Much of the reason why they have the launch rate that they do is because they have been very competitive on the world market and undercut American launch companies like Boeing (with the Delta rockets) and Lockheed-Martin (with the Atlas rockets). They worked their way to become compliant with American regulations like ITAR, but were also in a position to avoid ITAR if needed so they could launch vehicles from companies that American launch providers can't because of American regulations. There are some ESA payloads as well as satellites that have been launched by EU members.... but those will likely go to Arianespace anyway regardless of how cheap SpaceX makes their launch prices go and will never be on the table for SpaceX.

    Arianespace can become an EU-only launch provider, but they will give up most of the market by doing so. Elon Musk's assertion here is that he can compete against Arianespace for contracts from countries like Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and Qatar. None of those countries care or will even pay attention to EU regulations and will go to SpaceX if they can provide a launch for a quarter of the price that Arianespace can offer for the same payload. That should be a no-brainer, especially if SpaceX can deliver the same level of reliability that Arianespace is currently providing.

    That really is the trick for SpaceX right now: to prove that their system is reliable enough that you can be 95%+ certain that the payload will make the trip into the intended orbit. A whole bunch of people are waiting to see if SpaceX can deliver on that promise, and that is the only real selling point at the moment for either Arianespace or RKK Energia for that matter. It has nothing to do with governments, but simply engineering that is well done and quality manufacturing processes.

  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Monday November 19, 2012 @01:25PM (#42028637)

    Transferring fuel and oxidiser sideways between tankage sections under 3-4 gees of thrust and vibration is, as far as I am aware, going to be a first in rocketry. It takes plumbing, pumps, valve gear etc. meaning major changes to the core and strap-on sections which add to the vehicle weight as well as the cost of manufacture since the cores are no longer physically identical. In contrast the Delta 4 Heavy strap-ons are pretty nearly identical to the core; the central engine just runs throttled down so that when the strap-ons separate it has enough propellant left to continue to orbit without the extra parasitic weight of transfer pumps etc. I don't know why this option isn't available to SpaceX; do the Merlin engines have a throttle-down and/or in-flight start capability?

    Just because something is new doesn't mean it is a "kludge". Also, they have natural ways to throttle down arrays of engines. Just shut down some of the rocket engines as you no longer need the thrust.

    The major cost of a manned Moon or Mars mission isn't the launch vehicles, it's the crew vehicle design and testing and construction.

    No, there is a genuine bottleneck in the cost of getting it into space. Every kg you use adds cost to the mission. As a result, mission cost generally is five to ten times the launch costs. So shaving $50 billion in launch costs yields a additional $200-450 billion reduction in total costs.

  • by chebucto (992517) * on Monday November 19, 2012 @03:16PM (#42030121) Homepage

    The Falcon Heavy is still in development.

    The Falcon 9 has a 75% success rate and a 25% partial success/partial failure rate after 4 launches.

    The Ariane 5 has a 94% success rate, a 3% partial success/partial failure rate, and a 3% failure rate, after 66 launches.

    Everything I've read says the Falcon series is likely to be very reliable, but the proof of the success is in the launching - and the Ariane 5 has more launches under its belt. I hope Musk succeeds and lowers launch costs for everyone, but he hasn't proven anything yet.

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