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Space

SpaceX Launch Achieves Geostationary Transfer Orbit 131

Posted by Soulskill
from the tip-of-the-hat dept.
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket this afternoon in a bid to deliver a large commercial satellite into geostationary orbit. The flight was successful: "Approximately 185 seconds into flight, Falcon 9’s second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8 satellite into its parking orbit. Eighteen minutes after injection into the parking orbit, the second stage engine relit for just over one minute to carry the SES-8 satellite to its final geostationary transfer orbit. The restart of the Falcon 9 second stage is a requirement for all geostationary transfer missions." This is a significant milestone for SpaceX, and it fulfills another of the three objectives set forth by the U.S. Air Force to certify SpaceX flights for National Security Space missions.
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SpaceX Launch Achieves Geostationary Transfer Orbit

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  • SpaceX is so cheap (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spy Handler (822350) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @09:27PM (#45590853) Homepage Journal

    that existing space providers are in big trouble.

    Even the Chinese are quaking in their boots, as they can't do it as cheaply as SpaceX. And EADS is frantically redesigning their new Ariane 6 to try to be more cost competitive with the Falcon.

    SpaceX has completely rocked the space industry upside down, and A LOT of naysayers need to eat crow now. As recently as 2012 (see this article [airspacemag.com]), managers at NASA were poo-pooing Elon saying rockets are hard and noobs shouldn't try.

    • by benjfowler (239527) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @09:50PM (#45590983)

      I see oldspace are busy busy busy slagging off Elon.

      There was an ad by Astrotech (or something similar) in the trade press, publically accusing SpaceX of talking a big game but not delivering.

      With this GTO commercial satellite launch -- these old, cost-plus, subsidy-munching dinosaurs should be shitting themselves by now. It'll be fun to watch them squirm.

      It's time for the subsidy queens to eat crow.

    • It's a marketing excerise.

      Considering SpaceX has hired a lot of ex-NASA/JPL folks and aerospace experts and that to make the custom-ground up built rockets cheap, Musk has heavily invested his own dollar bills. SpaceX is in the red currently and if they can market the heck out their rockets to Wall Street (for funding) and undercut everyone, hopefully timing will allow them to get into the black.

      They do great work, but either SpaceX will survive as much as OSC did in the 90's (they did well to start subcomp

      • by Teancum (67324) <{ten.orezten} {ta} {gninroh_trebor}> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @10:25PM (#45591263) Homepage Journal

        What debt? The time when it was extremely critical for SpaceX to make money was during the Falcon 1 flights, where Elon Musk openly admitted that he was about two weeks away from throwing in the towel and declaring chapter 13 bankruptcy. Had Falcon 1 Flight 4 not been able to get into orbit, SpaceX would have been toast as a company.

        At this point, SpaceX is clearing its manifest, collecting so many customers that its manifest is continuing to grow with an ever longer back log of waiting time for new customers, and at this point plans to launch 15 rockets (according to their manifest) next year. Admittedly SpaceX claims that is only 15 rockets that will be delivered to the launch pads before January 2015, but that is incredibly ambitious. That is manufacturing over 150 new Merlin engines, or about 3-4 engines per week that need to be completed. In other words, a very real assembly line and mass production scales of efficiency.

        More importantly, assuming that SpaceX actually pulls this off, they will have more than a couple billion dollars of revenue next year and a healthy hunk of that will be profit. Far be it that SpaceX is going to be swimming in debt, I think they are more likely going to struggle in terms of finding legitimate ways to reinvest that money. Elon Musk also seems to be very frugal and wise with how that money is being spent too. At this point, the SpaceX budget is going to be likely larger than NASA's robotic exploration program.... the whole thing.

        If for some reason SpaceX can't get the reusable Falcon 9 to work and there becomes a huge downturn in the global satellite launcher market, I would agree that the potential exists for SpaceX to go down in flames. SpaceX is gambling on the idea where substantially cheaper launch prices (they are aiming for less than $1000/kg to LEO) will increase the market demand for orbital launches and that this same rate of launching at least one rocket every month is going to continue indefinitely. The orbital launch market has seen crashes before, and OSC was one company in particular who was ramping up production precisely when that market crash happened.

        Regardless, I fail to see where SpaceX is going to crash from debt alone. They are past the critical cash crunch period that new start-up companies all go through and there are numerous people (especially after today's launch) that would be willing to chip in some additional capital if it was needed.

        • by compro01 (777531)

          At this point, SpaceX is clearing its manifest, collecting so many customers that its manifest is continuing to grow with an ever longer back log of waiting time for new customers, and at this point plans to launch 15 rockets (according to their manifest) next year. Admittedly SpaceX claims that is only 15 rockets that will be delivered to the launch pads before January 2015, but that is incredibly ambitious. That is manufacturing over 150 new Merlin engines, or about 3-4 engines per week that need to be completed. In other words, a very real assembly line and mass production scales of efficiency.

          If I'm counting engines right (10 for each Falcon 9, and 28 for the Heavy), their manifest of future missions through to the end of 2014 [spacex.com] will require 178 Merlin and Merlin Vacuum engines.

          • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @02:52AM (#45592433)

            His 150 engines number might be right after all, considering the first recovery of a first stage may happen as early as CRS-3. Mr. Musk has said that some of next year's contracts require new rockets, but some have clauses that allow reuse of a first stage, for a price break and at the customer's option. It remains to be seen if any of next year's customers will have to nerve to exercise that option, but it's possible.

            • They already stated that Falcon 9 v1.1 is far more mass production friendly than the original recipe Falcon 9.
              All you need to do is to follow the pipeline. Between one F9 in the Cape, McGregor and finishing production, there are at least 3-4 rockets in various stages of production/testing/integration for launch.
              Right now it looks like the critical stage is a single facility in the cape and any delays during the static fire and launch delaying everything else.
              There are 15 launches scheduled to deliver rocket

        • You're mostly right. One thing though.

          I think they are more likely going to struggle in terms of finding legitimate ways to reinvest that money.

          SpaceX is privately held, and Elon Musk has ironclad control of it and Elon Musk has publicly stated on more than one occasion that he wants to make humanity a multi-planet species. In other words, he wants to put a viable colony on Mars. He can and will spend as many trillions of dollars as he can get his hands on in order to do it, all quite legitimately.

          • by Teancum (67324)

            I'm sure SpaceX can find places to spend money, but the trick is to spend it in a way that doesn't just toss it down a fiscal black hole and throw it into the wind.

        • If for some reason SpaceX can't get the reusable Falcon 9 to work and there becomes a huge downturn in the global satellite launcher market, I would agree that the potential exists for SpaceX to go down in flames.

          Note that even if they can not do this, they are already getting launch cheaper than competitors.
          • SpaceX already has a 4-5 year fully booked launch backlog.
            The company is safe.
            I argue that their lower launch prices will cause an substantial increase in launch demands.
            Cubesats + satellites in the 50-200 Kg weight should become commonplace.
            Multiple LEO communication satellite networks should emerge.
            A replacement to the ISS will become viable.
            And all of this is without any reusability. Elon already stated they have figured out all the major pieces to recover the first stage. My only question is in what sha

            • by Teancum (67324)

              The main deal about 1st stage recovery is to simply make it cheaper to refurbish the vehicle as opposed to rebuilding it brand new. Any additional savings by performing such refurbishment is just additional profit or substantial cost savings.

              Regardless, I'm still not convinced that a reduction of price to 10% of typical prices before SpaceX formed in the launcher market, at least over the relatively near term (aka 10-20 years), is going to result in 10x or more launches happening. I've looked over potenti

      • by bledri (1283728) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @10:30PM (#45591281)

        SpaceX is in the red currently and if they can market the heck out their rockets to Wall Street (for funding) and undercut everyone, hopefully timing will allow them to get into the black.

        They do great work, but either SpaceX will survive as much as OSC did in the 90's (they did well to start subcompanies) or they will flame out hard from debt.

        SpaceX doesn't need funding, they have paying customers [spacex.com]. And unless something goes terribly wrong, they are about to get a bunch more.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Having enough paying customers is all that really matters, ultimately, as long as the expected future income is sufficient to service your debt.

          Many companies are "in the red", in that their liabilities exceed their assets. Especially young companies. What matters is cash flow, which is all you need to pay your bills. If I borrow $10 million today and pay it off over 3 years, I can be "in the red" the entire time but still be a wildly "successful" company. I'm just a machine for moving money from customers

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Actually, SpaceX has the YOUNGEST engineering staff going. In fact, less than 5% of their staff had any prior experience in the space industry. In addition, they are currently profitable and funneling all that back to research, such as:
        Dragon Rider (modifications to the capsule for human launch by 2015) which will likely be ready 2 years ahead of other commercial cars and the ability to land on earth, the moon and mars;
        Falcon Heavy for launching 53 tonnes to LEO for less than 100 million starting in 201
        • The current Dragon could launch humans into space.
          NASA and SpaceX agreed it would be better to conduct a very thorough human certification process, if a human were a stowaway in any of the current Dragon launches, he/she would have made it into the ISS safely.
          With just the Falcon 9 margin of safety of being able to loose two engines and still reach a high enough altitude to engage the Dragon parachutes and do a normal ocean landing is already in theory safer than the Space Shuttle. Plus the simple fact they

          • by bsane (148894)

            I'm sure there is a liability factor there too- nobody wants astronauts to die in a spacex/dragon launch. If this was 100% NASA it'd be a loss and PR disaster and as bad as the hit would be, they'd move on. If it happens in the first couple (dozen?) dragon launches it will sink the company and with it the falcon and the possibility of cheap launches.

    • managers at NASA were poo-pooing Elon saying rockets are hard and noobs shouldn't try

      maybe because that's definitely rocket science...

    • A day or so ago there was a discussion [slashdot.org] about whether amateurs could do real science. The consensus among professional researchers was that no amateur could do significant research without first getting an advanced degree.

      One poster challenged the readers to give an example of an amateur scientist who had contributed in a meaningful way to an existing field of study.

      Elon Musk has a BSc. in physics. Does this count?

      (Or is this more engineering than science? Or maybe he's more of a bank-roller than a scientist

      • by tibit (1762298) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @02:23AM (#45592339)

        Forrest M. Mims, III. Caught a NASA satellite's instrument mis-calibration. Very much an amateur when it comes to astroscience anything. A rather decent educator, and man, does he have good handwriting or what.

      • Elon Musk is an inventor / engineer.

        So far he hasn't made any science breakthroughs. Yet.

        There's far more money / success / prestige in what he's doing than in science. He's in the right business.

  • Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8

    A 20 second burn that lasted 5 minutes - truly awesome.
    • Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8 A 20 second burn that lasted 5 minutes - truly awesome.

      Rocket engine efficiency is measured in seconds, so it is entirely possible to have a 20 second burn that lasts 5 minutes.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Rocket engine efficiency is measured in seconds, so it is entirely possible to have a 20 second burn that lasts 5 minutes.

        Isn't it amazing how people will fail to use wikipedia or even dictionary.com before disagreeing with some point that they know nothing about? Shocking.

        There's plenty of room for misunderstanding or just plain being wrong but jiminy.

        • Isn't it amazing how people will fail to use wikipedia or even dictionary.com before disagreeing with some point that they know nothing about? Shocking.

          There's plenty of room for misunderstanding or just plain being wrong but jiminy.

          I'm not sure what you're referring to, but on the off chance that you're referring to me:

          Specific impulse (usually abbreviated Isp) is a way to describe the efficiency of rocket and jet engines. It represents the force with respect to the amount of propellant used per unit time.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_impulse [wikipedia.org]

          If the "amount" of propellant ... is given in terms of weight (such as in kiloponds or newtons), then specific impulse has units of time.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_impulse [wikipedia.org]

    • by scradock (1420165)
      Five minutes twenty seconds is a clumsy way of saying 320 seconds, or five and a third minutes..... Mixed units are a disaster, whether in engineering or in stories. How much is a liter? Oooh... about one quart and 1 and a bit ounces....
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I thought they were going to try controlled descents with each Falcon launch. Anyone see a reference to this? Couldn't find any news.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by macpacheco (1764378)

      For the SES-8 and Thaicom-6 launches SpaceX commited 100% of the rocket's capabilities to boost the rocket into a super sync orbit.
      A GTO orbit is less than 36000Km x 185Km.
      SES-8 was inserted into a 80000Km x 295Km orbit.
      It reaches apogee when the moon is close by.
      This trick helps save fuel to allow SES-8 to live much longer. Typically satellites useful lives are limited by fuel used for station keeping maneuvers.
      In this sense, SES-8 and Thaicom-6 launches are even more valuable to their operators than a typ

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