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Space The Military Science

SpaceX Awarded First Military Contract 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the somebody-warn-chris-knight dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Ars reports that commercial space company SpaceX has gotten its first launch contracts from a military organization. The United States Air Force has hired SpaceX to launch the NASA DSCOVR satellite aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, and several other satellites aboard a Falcon Heavy. (The Heavy isn't finished yet, and SpaceX currently has no place to launch it, but the contract gives them three years to do so.) 'According to the mission requirements, the Falcon Heavy must carry its payload up to an orbit of 720 km and deploy a COSMIC-2 weather- and atmospheric-monitoring satellite, up to six auxiliary payloads (probably microsats), and up to eight P-POD CubeSat deployers. The rocket should then restart and continue all the way up to a 6,000 x 12,000 km orbit and deploy the ballast, more science experiments and more microsats.'"
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SpaceX Awarded First Military Contract

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  • Is there a clear shift of NASA goals now?
    • Re:NASA (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Synerg1y (2169962) on Friday December 07, 2012 @02:56PM (#42218295)
      Some engineers at NASA must be very sad right now. SpaceX is doing what they couldn't: More economical space flight" [policymic.com] .

      Then again they might've set their sights a little bit further, but still opportunity missed.
      • Re:NASA (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Thud457 (234763) on Friday December 07, 2012 @03:13PM (#42218491) Homepage Journal
        Amazing what you can accomplish when you get Congressional pork-barrel politics out of the way.

        We should try that for other failing agencies.
        oh dear, did I just say that out loud?
        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Wait? Privatized organizations are more lean, organized, efficient and responsible than governments? But the brilliant American people just to assure that out health stays in the hands of the government... I've got a bad feeling about this.

        • This works under the false assumption that SpaceX doesn't have its own Congressional lobby working for them. This is more a case of Elon Musk and SpaceX heavy lobbying efforts have finally managed to neutralize the lobbyists for established aerospace and defense players. From Day 1 of the company, they've identified key players, cultivated them and their staffs and placed the appropriate bets to ensure support.

          SpaceX blasts off literally and politically

          Cynically, if there's a lesson to be learned, it
      • Then again they might've set their sights a little bit further, but still opportunity missed.

        Prety sure that Opportunity not only hit it's target, but is still operating, long past its design date.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jythie (914043)
        Yeah, it is somewhat easier to do things economic when a government institution has already done decades of legwork for you.

        Though yeah, not being sattled down with requirements for who to buy what from does SpaceX, but really it just puts them in the same spot as all the other commercial launch outfits, so they will likely become just as much a part of the problem as all the others.. their newness and geek attention is unlikely to change this.
        • by router (28432)

          I used to think like that. I have worked for a defense contractor now, and they are wasteful entities. Not as wasteful as government entities, but damn close. Elon did an interview with Wired, it was good. He looked for ways to do things cheaper better faster. In the world of defense contractors, that's very easy pickings. He also put up his own money to start.
          I think you would be suprised how cheap a lot of big government purchases could be, if done the same way. We have the examples, SpaceX rockets, Preda

        • by timeOday (582209)
          SpaceX is not governed by humans of a different nature than NASA, but it is a lot younger. Long-running organizations accrue a bit more red tape in response to every mishap, until eventually they are immobilized. It is very difficult to streamline and organization in-place. Not unlike how code gets crufty and has to be re-written, and old people can get very cautious and meticulous (because they lost their glasses once 25 years ago and don't want that to happen again!) A blank sheet of paper grants a l
          • by Teancum (67324)

            Having NASA kill people didn't really end up being that much of a test of the organization. Oh, they had engineering reviews and all sorts of finger pointing, but in the end nothing really changed and in fact the things that caused the deaths were more or less repeated with only cosmetic changes. Concerns about the tiles and how fragile the shuttle surfaces were looked at from STS-1, yet it seemed to have been a surprise to some people at NASA when the Columbia was lost.

            Yes, it will be a test if SpaceX ki

        • Yeah, it is somewhat easier to do things economic when a government institution has already done decades of legwork for you.

          People keep saying this, and yet they miss their own point... everything SpaceX does was already available to NASA. So... why can't NASA build their own rocket and capsule, SLS/MPCV, for less than $3b per year for more than fifteen years? SpaceX spent less building multiple versions of an entirely new rocket engine, building and flying two entirely new launchers into orbit (~$300m) than NASA spent modifying a single existing shuttle SRB for a stand-alone sub-orbital test launch (Ares-1X, ~$450m).

          The annual

          • by slew (2918)

            While a single flagship program, like SLS, ISS or JWST, could fund dozens of parallel programs in the same scale.

            Actually those flagship programs do fund dozens of parallel programs. It's just that those programs aren't directed towards building spacecraft (and many are directed to move money into people's pockets, although some were education and public outreach)...

            In fact, just the other day I found out that one of Nasa's prime missions was to

            find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering — science, math and engineering.

            That stuff doesn't come for free. What is SpaceX doing about that?

            • In fact, just the other day I found out that one of Nasa's prime missions was to

              find a way to reach out to the Muslim world [...]

              You mistook my defence of SpaceX as a sign that I'm one of your fellow close-minded rightwing Fox-News-worshipping cretins. When in fact, I despise you all.

    • Re:NASA (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 07, 2012 @03:10PM (#42218451)

      I'm pretty sure their goal is the still the same:

      Do as much as possible with the funds they have, while simultaneously defending themselves from an incompetent legislature who believes it's more important that we spend money on bombing brown people instead of investing in the future of not only our own country, but our very existence as a species.

      That aside, hell yes, SpaceX. While I'm not an idiot who believes the "free" market is the answer to everything, commercial enterprises becoming involved in actual spaceflight is perhaps one of the most important things that will occur during my own lifetime. (I'm still bitter, though, because it's 2012 and I should be living on the Moon by now.)

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That aside, hell yes, SpaceX. While I'm not an idiot who believes the "free" market is the answer to everything, commercial enterprises becoming involved in actual spaceflight is perhaps one of the most important things that will occur during my own lifetime. (I'm still bitter, though, because it's 2012 and I should be living on the Moon by now.)

        Space X isn't breaking any grounds that McDonnell Douglas, Lockhead Martin, Boeing, etc., haven't already done before. Commercial space flight has already existed.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          They haven't actually delivered a Falcon 9 launch at the promised price. They don't even have a launch pad for it yet. Also we wont know the actual cost of the program until they start flying regularly enough to where we see failures and the cost and corrections for those failures can be factored into the price. In the long run my bet is that they wont do it for any cheaper than NASA could do it with similar vehicles.

          • by khallow (566160)

            In the long run my bet is that they wont do it for any cheaper than NASA could do it with similar vehicles.

            You're already being proven wrong by inches. As to NASA, SpaceX has already shown it can be done while NASA has shown that it isn't even remotely interested in doing cheap space flight. So I'd have to say that while NASA might be able to duplicate SpaceX's prices with the Falcon 9, they haven't and they won't. And i ignore here that NASA isn't allowed any more to launch commercial applications while SpaceX is. That's a big advantage.

        • Right. It seems that to stay afloat, thesome of the so-called new space companies still require a healthy infusion of government funds, just like the Defense industry. The company closest to achieving "private" space is probably the group assoicated with Virgin Space since they'll mostly be dealing with rich non-governmental passengers, a.ka. space tourists, rather than NASA or the almighty US military.

    • by Dishevel (1105119)

      Their goals [canadafreepress.com] are clear.

    • I thought it was called MASA now.
  • by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Friday December 07, 2012 @02:59PM (#42218325) Journal
    Sounds like a bus route.
  • Sure. (Score:5, Funny)

    by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Friday December 07, 2012 @03:01PM (#42218353)

    According to the mission requirements, the Falcon Heavy must carry its payload up to an orbit of 720 km and deploy a COSMIC-2 weather- and atmospheric-monitoring satellite

    I'm sure this is the satellite's true function.

  • by skelly33 (891182) on Friday December 07, 2012 @03:16PM (#42218525)
    OK rocket scientists or astrophysicists, what does "6,000 x 12,000 km orbit" mean for us lowly Earth-bound folk?
    • by cbhacking (979169)

      Possibly an elliptical orbit, with those representing the closest and furthest distances from Earth? Just a guess; I don't know either.

  • by Urkki (668283) on Friday December 07, 2012 @03:18PM (#42218551)

    Is it just me, or does deploying 20 satellites with 1 rocket sound like we're still actually getting somewhere, even when it sometimes feels like space tech progress stopped 30 years ago?

    Of course, this is thanks to microelectronic revolution, not thanks to advances of rocketry, but still...

    And yeah, I hope even those microsats have means to deorbit... Shouldn't take that much hydrazine (or whatever) to change the orbit to be elliptical enough to get them burn up (or down, as it were).

    • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday December 07, 2012 @03:45PM (#42218915)
      Is it just me, or does deploying 20 satellites with 1 rocket sound like we're still actually getting somewhere, even when it sometimes feels like space tech progress stopped 30 years ago?

      Yes, it's just you. I guess you missed the nuclear powered remote control truck on Mars. Or the constellation of satellites that beam a constant signal down to the computer in your pocket with such precision as to be able to tell you where you are within a few feet. Or the pair of satellites flying in perfect tandem, mapping the gravitational pull of the Moon. Oh look...we might have found water ice in Mercury.

      But you're right. I guess we haven't done anything in the last 30 years.
      • by Urkki (668283)

        Is it just me, or does deploying 20 satellites with 1 rocket sound like we're still actually getting somewhere, even when it sometimes feels like space tech progress stopped 30 years ago?

        Yes, it's just you. I guess you missed the nuclear powered remote control truck on Mars. Or the constellation of satellites that beam a constant signal down to the computer in your pocket with such precision as to be able to tell you where you are within a few feet. Or the pair of satellites flying in perfect tandem, mapping the gravitational pull of the Moon. Oh look...we might have found water ice in Mercury.

        But you're right. I guess we haven't done anything in the last 30 years.

        Well, we have certainly done stuff, some of which is pretty amazing, like Opportunity still operating. But apart from the bad-ass landing scheme of Curiosity, Mars rovers are not that different from a merger of Lunahod rovers and Viking landers, for example. GPS development started in the '70s. I don't think finding water ice on Mercury is something we couldn't have done with '80s tech already, easily. All this mostly feels like stuff we could have done 30 years ago, we just didn't get around to it until no

        • Mars rovers are not that different from a merger of Lunahod rovers and Viking landers.

          Every part of that sentence is wrong. Unless you include that taking a ship from Europe to North America is not that different than Columbus' crossing.

          There are a lot of exciting space technologies being deployed today... at least they are exciting to people interested in such things. To the general public nothing aside from putting people on the moon matters. There is just no way around that opinion, and NASA does not have the budget to put people on moons/other planets currently, so they just continue to

          • by Urkki (668283)

            Oh, I'm not slagging the science done in space (and not just by NASA) at all. Instrument improvements have been amazing for the science. I'm also not so much after putting man on the moon, but being able to, because that means ability to do a whole lot of other things, too.

            I mean, just looking at progress from 1950-1980, and then from 1980-2010... I wouldn't be so negative if I believed the "basic" space tech has reached a plateau, but especially in the electric propulsion and miniature nuclear power (not j

            • Well that is probably true, now that we are not putting a significant portion of our GDP into the space race, things have slowed down. The problem is we dont have any better way of getting into space than building a giant disintegrating totem pole and lighting a bunch of explosives under it.

              And I suppose things like RTG powering Curiousity are impressive, but hardly revolutionary. It is just an incremental The Voyager probes have been running on RTG power since the 70s.

        • by Megane (129182)

          give me a sample return mission from the surface of Titan

          I'm sure it would be fun trying to make a rocket thruster that can take off from a moon with a hydrocarbon-based atmosphere at cryogenic temperatures. Imagine what it would take just to test that the rocket will work at all!

        • by robot256 (1635039)

          It's not sexy, but a lot of the technological advancement of NASA missions comes from optics and detector technology. Cameras used in rovers and satellites today have orders of magnitude more pixels than anything they imagined in in the 80's. And it's not just advances in civilian CMOS technology being transferred over: researchers at NASA are constantly improving detectors over the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including infrared, ultraviolet, gamma rays, X-rays, all the time making our science result

          • by Urkki (668283)

            JWST is something to be exited about, definitely... Once it's actually up!

            And now that I think of it, Hubble isn't that old tech either, especially considering the repair missions. It's a bit sad we (the humanity, I'm not an American) have currently lost the capability to do the kind of "rescue" repair. Well, probably lost, who knows what the X-37 is actually capable of... (And no, this is not longing to get the space shuttle back).

            • by Teancum (67324)

              The JWST isn't going to fly. Of course neither will the Orion space capsule, especially on the SLS system, but who is counting?

              The only thing those programs do is provide "make work" jobs for engineers and technicians. The SLS is being built explicitly to keep the Ammonium Perchlorate plants running for the next decade until the next major buy of ICBMs happen. For what expense and if there might be more productive ways to get that accomplished is certainly something to be asking, but it has nothing to do

  • by Rakshasa-sensei (533725) on Friday December 07, 2012 @03:34PM (#42218783) Homepage

    "The second, a Falcon Heavy launch, will put up several satellites and a 5 metric ton ballast, in an effort to demonstrate the Falcon 9 Heavy for the Air Force."

    Why don't they just say "we're going to launch a 5 ton spy satellite and several decoys", it's not like anyone who follows this doesn't know.

  • My tax dollars at work..... But I want laser cannons that can incinerate a person or bigger.items. And I want it hack able, like military secrets. .

  • Given how expensive it is to lift anything to space, lifting ballast to space is a sin. Lift another satellite in its place.
    • by Jeng (926980)

      Given how expensive the satellite is it would be foolish to launch it on an unproven platform.

      If you really think it is a sin go find a company that wants a 5 ton satellite launched for free, with the possibility of loosing it.

      • If you really think it is a sin go find a company that wants a 5 ton satellite launched for free, with the possibility of loosing it.

        If the insurance cost is lower than the launch cost, this is an easy one (unless the payload is very time critical).

      • by slew (2918)

        Given how expensive the satellite is it would be foolish to launch it on an unproven platform.

        If you really think it is a sin go find a company that wants a 5 ton satellite launched for free, with the possibility of loosing it.

        It's not 5-tons, but SpaceX is working with a company (Orbcomm) that apparently is willing to launch a 1/4 ton satellite on an unproven platform. Unfortunatly, their OG2 satellite didn't fare well [spaceflightnow.com] with its recent experience with SpaceX (they are filing a $10M insurance claim for this loss).

    • by Strider- (39683) on Friday December 07, 2012 @05:42PM (#42220191)

      Given how expensive it is to lift anything to space, lifting ballast to space is a sin. Lift another satellite in its place.

      Ballast is always a necessity in rocketry. In order for the thing to fly in a straight line, the thrust vector must be aligned with the vehicle's centre of mass. The upshot of this is that if your spacecraft (Rocket and payload) doesn't have the center of mass precisely down the centerline, you need to add ballast weights in order to keep the thing from coming apart. If you look closely of an image of the shuttle at launch, the exhaust from the main engines (not the solids) is on an angle compared to the rest of the vehicle. As the fuel is burned off and the SRBs jettisoned, the center of mass changes, and the engines will gimbal to keep things on course.

      On traditional rockets, the same thing is accomplished by adding weights so the whole thing is balanced. Back in the day, the way that most amateur radio satellites got launched was as ballast on a launch with some larger payload. That's getting tougher and tougher in the modern era due to competition for that space, and also, to put it bluntly, it's a lot easier to certify a lump of concrete for flight than it is to certify a satellite built by a bunch of guys you don't necessarily trust, sometimes int heir basement.

      Launching a big lump of nothing also makes sense, given that this is really just an all-up test of the launch platform. Are you going to entrust a $500,000,000 payload to an unproven launch vehicle? If they did and it went boom (which tends to happen in rocketry a lot), we'd here no end of their choice of an untested vehicle. If the test passes, then there is more confidence in the subsequent launches being safe enough.

      • Ballast is always a necessity in rocketry.

        Maybe I should give you some more context. I work with an organization called AMSAT on leading-edge digital communications technology. We are a non-profit, volunteer organization that has been running the most successful private space program, as hitch-hikers on government and commercial payloads since 1963. We have put up something more than 60 satellites in that time, often working with universities in many nations. We will give you a working satellite in place of

        • by Strider- (39683)

          Hi Bruce,

          I'm well aware of AMSAT, as I've worked them myself (And also been to Bob's lab at NRL). Alas, it's a whole lot easier and cheaper to flight qualify a lump of concrete than it is to qualify a satellite built by AMSAT and its volunteers. I'm not meaning to denigrate the AMSAT folks, as they've shown that they can build and operate very reliable spacecraft (Just look at AO-7) but from the point of view of the launch provider, it's a huge risk. Add to this the current ITAR regime, and it unfortunate

          • We have an ITAR 121 carve-out for Open Source due to the lawsuit Phil Karn brought against the government some years ago. This is used successfully by DIY Drones, which IMO has a much bigger problem than AMSAT.

            I a number of smaller replacements for AO-40 would be better than a large one.

  • by lemur3 (997863) on Friday December 07, 2012 @04:25PM (#42219405)

    I don't know why everyone is all happy and gleeful about this...

    Here I was hoping that SpaceX wouldnt become another Lockheed Martin/Northrop Grummen/General Dynamics/ etc.. defense contractor.

    In 10.. 20 years will we all be applauding the 'success' of the free market when these guys are just as slimy and nasty as any of the other contractors who will gladly make any weapons system you want ?

    • by Jeng (926980)

      A customer is a customer.

      And when you are a start up you don't remove the biggest customer available to you just because they are the military.

      Also, not sure if you noticed, but other countries who also spend money on their military tend to do very not nice things to people and you need a military to stop that so pick a side.

      • by lemur3 (997863)

        The ends (make profit) justify the means (by catering to the war machine) ?

        • by Jeng (926980)

          Having a well funded military is a necessity.

          There would be a lot more little wars by small violent countries that are otherwise contained because the US sticks its nose where it doesn't belong. Think North Korea.

  • ... towards there being a viable market for space piracy and thus space pirates.

  • "the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals fifteen Boeing 747 aircraft at full power."

    So, I just need to figure out how to mount 60 engines on a 747.

    • "Very carefully".

    • by slew (2918)

      "the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals fifteen Boeing 747 aircraft at full power."

      So, I just need to figure out how to mount 60 engines on a 747.

      That sounds impressive until you realize that a 747 has 4 engines, and the Falcon Heavy takes off with 18 Merlin booster engines (AFAIK the other 9 merlin engines in the first stage core aren't used until the boosters have depleted their fuel).

      That means those Merlin engines are less than 4x more powerful than an engine that was first made in 1970 (of course merlin is a rocket engine and can work in a vaccum, not a high-bypass turbo-fan, so it's not really comparable), or say something like the Saturn F1 en

      • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

        Or they could be using the stats from the 747-8I engine that produces 20,000lbs more thrust or the -400ER that produces 16,000lbs more thrust than the engine type on the original -100B.

  • Now that we have an unmanned cargo to orbit, I would like to see a bounty for private industry to establish fuel, water and food dumps on the Moon using unmanned landers and remote controlled semi-automatic construction. Surely such an asset would be of use to future projects?

  • From outer space it will dive down and kill you while you type on your computer subversive messages. Or fight the space nazis and the little green men or anything, No idea.

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