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SpaceX Launches Load to ISS, Successfully Tests Falcon 9 Over Water

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  • If you read the LATimes link, SpaceX says they believe the first stage recovery was probably not successful, on account of very rough conditions (25' waves - about 8m - where the rocket tried to come to a hover over the water's surface). They were sending ships out to see, but estimated the odds of success at only 40%.

    If anybody has an update on that attempt, please post it!

    • Bah, sorry for the self-reply...

      "Data upload from tracking plane shows first stage landing in Atlantic was good! Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal. Several boats enroute through heavy seas..." is the latest we've heard. They're calling it a success, though, which is hopeful! I don't know if they were expecting to get more than 8 seconds or not, and whether "booster went horizontal" was expected or not (got hit by a wave, maybe?) - but they know a lot more about what constitutes success than I do.

      Pity about the rough conditions, though. Would have been *awesome* to see the first stage re-light and hover after a real launch. Maybe next time...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "whether booster went horizontal was expected or not" ... the booster was never going to manage to stand on the water for any significant length of time...

        • "whether booster went horizontal was expected or not" ... the booster was never going to manage to stand on the water for any significant length of time...

          It doesn't have to stand on the water to remain vertical. With 9 heavy engines on the bottom and big empty tanks on top, it could bob and float in the vertical position.

      • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:51AM (#46793225)

        They soft landed, that's a success whether they are recovered or not. You didn't expect them to stand upright in the water like a buoy did you?

        • by flyingfsck (986395) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @06:11AM (#46793839)
          Well, this is the commemorative weekend for an ancient Israeli dude who reportedly could walk on water, died and turned into a zombie. So, if that was possible, who knows, maybe Space-X can stand their rocket on water.
        • Was it an actual soft landing, though? Water seems much more problematic than dry land to me for this feat since rockets tend to be brittle and moving around such masses at single-meters-per-second levels of speed in the vicinity of other heavy masses (like water) without having control over pressure points (like landing gear) and impact impulses (in the presence of changing terrain contours, like water has) is going to break something. Rockets aren't designed to handle random dynamic stresses like that, th
          • by Immerman (2627577)

            Well, if they managed to bring the thing to a complete stop 8m above the water and then just drop it, that's still an incredibly soft landing compared to the traditional method of dropping it from a few dozen miles up at high speed.

            I would assume the rocket was unrecoverable in a "reusable" sense - as you point out it wasn't designed for a water landing, and there is absolutely no point in doing so since this was only a full-scale proof-of-concept "landing" before attempting it on actual land. At most they

            • by Teancum (67324)

              SpaceX has a series of tests going on in New Mexico at Spaceport America (they've already built the launch/landing pads at this spaceport) that will do gradually higher flights until they anticipate going to 300k feet (technically the Kármán line). These are sub-orbital (mostly just up and back), but they will test the flight procedures and give confidence to regulators that flying the Falcon 9R (for recoverable or reusable) back to Florida won't end up in Miami and sit on somebody's breakfast no

              • These are sub-orbital (mostly just up and back), but they will test the flight procedures and give confidence to regulators that flying the Falcon 9R (for recoverable or reusable) back to Florida won't end up in Miami and sit on somebody's breakfast nook.

                Since Miami won't be there in a hundred years anyway, I wouldn't make such a big deal of it even if they managed to do just that. ;)

                SpaceX has been trying to recover the 1st stage of their rockets since the first Falcon 1 launch many years ago

                "Recover" as in "fetch the debris from the sea", or "recover" as in "have it land nicely"?

                • by Teancum (67324)

                  "Recover" as in "fetch the debris from the sea", or "recover" as in "have it land nicely"?

                  That is "recover" as in "having it land in once piece so we can perform engineering analysis on what worked and didn't work in our engines" (from the perspective of SpaceX).

                  The earlier recovery systems that SpaceX tried to put into place were some parachutes into the upper parts of the 1st stages. SpaceX doesn't talk all that much about their failures, but apparently the parachute recovery systems were an utter and miserable failure for SpaceX, which is one reason why they have gone to the active thrust re

                  • "Recover" as in "fetch the debris from the sea", or "recover" as in "have it land nicely"?

                    That is "recover" as in "having it land in once piece so we can perform engineering analysis on what worked and didn't work in our engines" (from the perspective of SpaceX).

                    Perhaps in the near term, However, from the SpaceX perspective, "recover" means move it back to the launch pad, repack the chutes, reload the fuel tanks, throw another Dragon on top and launch it again.

          • Real soft landings require land or calm seas.
            Perhaps the criteria SpaceX needs is:
            1 - Prove the rocket touchdown was precise (no more than a few meters off)
            2 - Prove the rocket wasn't spinning or otherwise unstable instants prior to touchdown with water
            3 - Show the rocket didn't break up for some time after splashdown
            4 - Try to recover the rocket
            From what we know, criteria 1,2 and 3 were met. Criteria 4 is unknown so far (and is the least important one).
            With criteria 1,2 and

        • by esperto (3521901) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @09:04AM (#46794155)
          " You didn't expect them to stand upright in the water like a buoy did you?" Actually I would, when the booster from the shuttle land on water (here is a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]) at first it goes horizontal but a few seconds later they go back straight up, because it is basically an empty cannister with some quite heavy engines on the bottom. IIRC before they start tugging the booster divers have to attach some hoses to pump water into the booster and make them go horizontal.
          • Those boosters were hollow steel tubes, open at the back. Seawater partially flooded them, that's why they popped up. The Falcon 9 first stage is mostly empty tanks that aren't going to flood (barring severe damage from the waves). If held vertical, the weight of the entire stage wouldn't push it down even two meters into the water...its diameter is greater than that. The engines aren't that heavy, half the mass of the vehicle is in those very long tanks...it's going to float very high in the water, on its

        • by ultranova (717540)

          You didn't expect them to stand upright in the water like a buoy did you?

          Why not? Engines at the bottom and empty fuel tanks above them. That sounds like a buoy to me.

    • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:29AM (#46793175) Journal

      Data upload from tracking plane shows first stage landing in Atlantic was good! Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal. Several boats enroute through heavy seas...

      The issue is NOT whether they they recovered the stage, but whether it landed at slow controlled speeds. Apparently, SpaceX feels that it did 'land' on the water. As such, one or 2 more times with this, and they will be able to put it on land.

      Personally, I think that bringing it all the way back to the cape is a mistake. Instead, they should use one of the old oil rigs that are out there. Clean it up, land it on the rig, and then offload with a crane to a barge and take it back for launc.

      • The issue is NOT whether they they recovered the stage, but whether it landed at slow controlled speeds

        Also whether it landed at the planned location to within a metre or so, given that the plan is to land on a barge.

        • by beelsebob (529313) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:50AM (#46793223)

          No, the plan was to land in the sea, and to have helicopters near by. Only in the future do they plan to do very accurate landings.

          • They're already doing precision landings with the Grasshopper vehicles. The only splashdown landings are going to be tests of the vehicle control, like this one, where the vehicle is not intended to be reused.

        • I seriously doubt that spaceX has ANY intention of landing on barges. They move too much. Instead, an old oil rig would make far more sense.
          • by Immerman (2627577)

            Why would you land at sea at all though? After the testing phase at least. Once they're confident that they can land as intended, then they would presumably land someplace convenient for recovery and reuse, most likely at or near the launch site - a location already equipped to deal with all the horrible things that can go wrong during a launch.

            • by Teancum (67324)

              The current plan is to return the rocket to a place near the launch pad where it left (depending on the launch site, there will be some designated landing zone which will be built... might even be under construction right now at all SpaceX launch locations).

              The speculation about the oil rig centered on the fact that SpaceX will soon be launching from southern Texas (assuming that they have made up their mind about that location in spite of already spending nearly $100 million on real estate and infrastructu

              • by Immerman (2627577)

                Of course they still have to neutralize the horizontal momentum, otherwise they crash into the ground with only a high horizontal speed instead of having a high vertical speed as well. All a separate landing pad saves them is the fuel required to fly back to the launch pad - but they'd then need a ship to carry the rocket from the sea-based landing pad, and then transfer it to some sort of overland vehicle capable of carrying a 200 foot long rocket massing over 500 tons. Considering everything I've heard

                • Flying back they have to cancel momentum twice, and fly the reverse of the outgoing trajectory. And they have to fly their rocket towards land, which means that populations on the ground would be at risk.

                  • by Immerman (2627577)

                    Not hardly. How fast does that sucker get moving before the second stage separates? You can only cancel momentum once, after that you fly back on a trajectory optimized for safety and fuel efficiency, rather than for getting a payload up to 8km/s, which is the real challenge - altitude is easy.

              • There are plenty of old oil platforms the to east of Florida as well.
                • There are plenty of old oil platforms the to east of Florida as well.

                  Why? Don't they move them to a new drill site once the well dries up?

                • by Teancum (67324)

                  There are plenty of old oil platforms the to east of Florida as well.

                  How far off shore are those old oil platforms from KSC? MECO takes place over the Bahamas, so saving delta-v would need to take place somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean or perhaps a little bit further east. As far as I know, there are no oil platforms there unless you are talking the platforms in Nigeria.

                  If you are going to make a powered return to a Florida oil rig, you might as well end up back at KSC.

                  • Hmmm. Just found the answer. it is landing 200 KM east, and 500 KM south, which would make it the blake plateau. I do have to say that while the blake is relatively shallow (500 M), I do not think that we have old rigs there. The rigs that are off the florida shore were done in the 60-80 and I believe remained on the shelf, which stops at around 100 KM.

                    And you are correct. If they have to reverse the direction, then it might be better to come back to land.

                    OTOH, once texas is a launch site, it might m
              • Actually, the landing on land, I believe is NOT meant to be permanent. It is basically testing, just as 'landing' on the ocean is. The fact is, that stopping their forward momentum is expensive, fuel-wise.
                • by Teancum (67324)

                  Actually, the landing on land, I believe is NOT meant to be permanent. It is basically testing, just as 'landing' on the ocean is. The fact is, that stopping their forward momentum is expensive, fuel-wise.

                  Actually, it is the permanent solution. The point is to get the stage back to the launch site for processing and to relaunch the stage with a minimum amount of work. the ultimate goal is to make it work like an airline, where a small crew of about a dozen with a crane can recycle the stage for launch again in just a couple weeks, with the assumption that hundreds of launches are going to be happening each year.

                  Yes, stopping their forward momentum is going to be expensive from a delta-v viewpoint, but from

          • Oil rigs are very expensive to move and maintain. It would be hard to achieve ROI doing it that way. They might be better off with an adapted freighter. They could get a ship for 10 million USD.

            • Plenty of old stationary oil rigs are out there. Simply buy one out there. If none are in the area, then put one up.
      • by Hadlock (143607) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @01:07AM (#46793273) Homepage Journal

        The rocket (1st stage) when empty needs almost no fuel (about 4% of the total fuel at launch) to return to the launch site and land. The upgraded Falcon v1.1 has 10% more fuel at launch as well as increased cargo capacity (more efficient engines). Hitting a floating barge means you have to have good conditions at the launch site, as well as 400 miles out at sea as well. That dramatically limits your launch capability and exponentially increases your recovery costs.

        • The rocket (1st stage) when empty needs almost no fuel (about 4% of the total fuel at launch) to return to the launch site and land.

          That seems unbelievable, given its hypersonic speed and considerable downrange distance at the point of first stage separation. Any real numbers on that?

          • by cjameshuff (624879) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @09:19AM (#46794183) Homepage

            It got up there while carrying a lot more propellant and a whole second stage. The braking burn uses only 3 engines to limit the acceleration and ends with just enough propellant left to stop it when it reaches the ground. On top of this, it gets passive aerodynamic braking the whole way down.

            The mass ratio for the first stage burn, burdened with the second stage and braking propellant, is probably around 4, and a braking burn with equal delta-v would need the same mass ratio, except with no second stage and ending with the rocket empty. The overall first stage mass ratio is around 30, so all else being equal, a return would take around 3/29 = 10% of the propellant on the first stage. But all else is not equal, the returning rocket is mostly empty tanks descending through a thick atmosphere that provides plenty of braking, so the final burn only has to bring it to a halt from terminal velocity, and I omitted the second stage propellant. Overall, 4% sounds quite reasonable.

            • If I got the numbers correct, "4% of the total fuel mass" of an F9 v1.1 is something like 18 tons. 18 tons also happens to be almost exactly the dry weight of the F9 v1.1 first stage. Combined with the fuel's Isp, that projects to something like 2 km/s delta V. That happens to be precisely the projected separation speed for the reusable first stage, so you'd have just enough fuel to decelerate from an undesirable velocity vector to zero. Let's say that the atmosphere has somehow helped you - saved a bit of
              • It doesn't need to brake to a complete stop and then retrace its outgoing path, it needs to bend it's largely-upward trajectory into one that comes back down over the landing site, and manage its velocity so it doesn't go too high and hit the atmosphere too fast on the way back down. As for the difference in separation speed, the flight profile for the reusable flights may very well take a more vertical trajectory during the first stage burn, the first stage taking on more of the gravity losses and going mo

                • Right, that is the only thing that would make sense - you simply can't use the traditional "flat" trajectory (because that wouldn't make the velocity vector "largely upward" - it's largely horizontal for expendable first stages) with such a small amount of fuel - you'd either need more fuel to cancel the horizontal momentum and to put it on a return ballistic trajectory (one that would have somewhere around 700-1000 m/s of terminal velocity in vacuum, though), or you could redesign the whole flight profile
              • by Hadlock (143607)

                The weight of the fuel decreases as you burn it out the back of the rocket, increasing efficiency For each second of the burn. Second, did you account for the rotation of the earth underneath the rocket? Zeroing out the forward momentum does eat up most of the fuel, but you don't need a whole lot of forward velocity to fall down a parabolic arc from that height to return home. Landing requires about 60m/s of delta v at it's new mass.

                • I'm aware of all the things you mention, but they're irrelevant since they don't answer the issues (in the case of the Earth rotation, they don't even make sense since the launch goes eastward and with small flight distances over a mostly-eastward trajectory and with small altitude changes, you'll hardly notice the effects for the purpose of designing the first stage trajectory). OTOH, cjameshuff [slashdot.org] rightly points out that the only way of coping with this with the small amount of fuel allocated for the return
        • by Megane (129182)
          Where did this "floating barge" thing come from? They're landing it on the water right now so that it doesn't cause property damage if it fucks up. When they feel confident that it can stay under control and on target, they'll have touch down on land. A floating barge is a hell of a lot more difficult than dry land, with no advantages.
          • Exactly right.

            Hopefully, later on, they will put it on an oil rig, rather than taking it all the way back to land. That will allow a lot more payload.
            • by Teancum (67324)

              They are returning to the launch site, not an oil rig. The only point of a barge would simply be for logistics of moving the stage from one launch site to another or from the factory in the first place.

              The odd proposal I've heard is for SpaceX to fly the stage from the factory in Los Angeles to the launch sites prior to full integration. It would save them the hassle of trying to get wide load permits and limits due to the size of an overpass... something that currently limits the maximum diameter of the

              • I am fully aware of where they are sending back the first stage for testing.
                BUT, I suspect that it makes economic sense, to instead, land them on an oil rig and then barge them back, Since stopping their forward momentum will take a lot of fuel.
                • It makes absolutely no economic sense to land on an oil rig. In fact, it makes no sense whatsoever. They cost half to three quarters of a million dollars a day to rent. Furthermore, an oil rig is covered with a giant drill tower, various cranes, housing and offices, drilling machinery and oil processing equipment, and so on. The only flat spot on an oil rig where you could possibly land would be the helipad, which is far too small and fragile for the stage to land on. You can't get rid of the cranes
              • Hmmm. Just re-read the MCT stuff. Yeah, I have to wonder where that will happen at, esp. since they are planning on multiple engines.
        • Anybody that thinks that they will land this on a barge is kidding themselves. SpaceX has never said that, or hinted at that.
      • by Sivaraj (34067) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @01:40AM (#46793349)

        The purpose of recovering it is to cut costs. Even if the stage becomes reusable, how much it is actually going to save is still an open question. In such case, landing it offshore, and transporting is not going to help with the costs.

        SpaceX is audacious, but I am sure they will take all precautions and won't attempt to land it in the pad, unless they are highly confident that it will work.

        • by benjfowler (239527) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @06:02AM (#46793823)

          Even if there isn't much to reuse, there are tremendous advantages to recovering the engines, and having the engineers tear them down to the last nut and bolt. Merlin will end up becoming an incredibly reliable rocket engine -- even more than now.

        • considering that fuel is less than 1/4 of a million $, if they can land the first stage, either on land or an old oil rig, AND can get 10 launches from it, they will save 1/3 of their costs. And that is just for the first stage.

          Knowing SpaceX, they will cut their price by at least 1/6, so that they pick up just about everything flying, and make increased profits to put into more R&D.
        • by Skythe (921438)
          Believe the purpose of landing it in the ocean was to actually test the deployment of the legs on the rocket (this is the first model where they've included the legs). So basically just launching it, extending the legs out and then testing if the first stage lands in the ocean properly with the legs deployed.

          Also perhaps already mentioned in this thread but since they upgraded Falcon to 9 to v1.1 they have continued to offer the old v1.0 payload to customers, reserving the additional payload 1.1 is capable
      • by jcr (53032)

        Clean it up, land it on the rig, and then offload with a crane to a barge

        It would be way cooler if they just gave it a minimal fuel load and flew it back to the cape.

        -jcr

        • cooler? Perhaps. Cheaper and more profitable? Not likely if they are getting only say 10 re-uses.
      • by wjcofkc (964165)

        Instead, they should use one of the old oil rigs that are out there. Clean it up, land it on the rig, and then offload with a crane to a barge and take it back for launc.

        That is actually rather brilliant. Even if they had to invest in modifying a rig or building their own platform, it eliminates the potential hazard to humans. Maybe if they could demonstrate successfully landing a dozen or so, then they could land them at a spaceport.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:24AM (#46793163) Journal
    Interesting that a russian naval ship (called a tug, but how many miles off florida coast ? ) was there at the landing site to watch this.
    I think that everybody who continues to knock SpaceX, is realizing that they are all in serious trouble.
    • It used to be trawlers...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I heard the head of Mercedes said it's just some passing fad.

      • I heard the head of Mercedes said it's just some passing fad.

        Referring to Tesla, not SpaceX.

        And just like the German head of Airbus had it wrong about SpaceX, MB now has Tesla wrong.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:35AM (#46793195) Journal

    The landing of the first stage in the Atlantic (a process that required decelerating it and bringing it to a hover just above the surface of the ocean before letting it fall in), is part of the resupply mission to the ISS. That is, once the first stage boosted its cargo towards the ISS, it then performed this test.

    Too bad that they didn't try to return the first stage to land and then try to land it there but I understand their desire to do things one step at a time (it's safer this way also). I'm curious to know if this first stage had landing gear attached (maybe not because of the additional weight, drag). Also, in the future when they DO try to land it on land, where will they be aiming? If the flight profile of the first stage is mostly vertical then, without much fuel I guess they could return to Florida, otherwise would they be going for a Caribbean island? The Azores or Canary Islands? Africa? I'm sure they've got this figured out, I'm just curious.

    Anyway, if they manage to recover the first stage by soft landing it without dunking it in salt water, it could REALLY drop the costs of space flight, even if they don't manage to reuse the 2nd stage (which they plan to do also). I remember reading that of the $20 million cost of a launch only about $500,000 was due to fuel, so this is a complete game changer. Even if the stage can only be reused a few times it'll make access to low earth orbit (the expensive part of space travel) much cheaper!

    I only hope and pray that it works reliably and that the weight penalty is not too great! I thought they would have to use a lot more fuel to slow down and turn around but I guess they're using air resistance for the braking and the (now almost empty) booster is very light. Pretty unbelievable when you see a 10 story tall rocket turn around and land on a pillar of fire.

    • by clj (153252)

      > I'm curious to know if this first stage had landing gear attached

      Yes, and they were hoping that that would contribute to ameliorating the roll problem they had on the first attempt to slow down the first stage on its way to landing (actually, watering). So, the bad sea conditions and (most likely) not recovering the first stage are unfortunate but it seems like they are making progress, and doing so without interfering with performing a successful mission for a paying customer.

    • by wagnerrp (1305589) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:54AM (#46793237)

      I remember reading that of the $20 million cost of a launch only about $500,000 was due to fuel, so this is a complete game changer.

      Right idea, but wrong numbers. A Falcon 9 launch, not including the cost of the payload itself, is nearly $60M, while the fuel for it is only a quarter million.

    • by gman003 (1693318) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @01:33AM (#46793333)

      I'm curious to know if this first stage had landing gear attached (maybe not because of the additional weight, drag). Also, in the future when they DO try to land it on land, where will they be aiming? If the flight profile of the first stage is mostly vertical then, without much fuel I guess they could return to Florida, otherwise would they be going for a Caribbean island? The Azores or Canary Islands? Africa? I'm sure they've got this figured out, I'm just curious.

      This test did have the landing gear attached and deployed during landing, as the aerodynamics of it are potentially problematic (one of their tests failed when it entered a spin before landing).

      The first stage flight path doesn't seem to be mostly vertical - I'm having a hard time finding solid info, but based on images of the first-stage separation, I'd estimate it to be no more than a quarter of the way across the Atlantic. I do know that their plan is to return the rocket to the launchpad for landing, which wouldn't make much sense if it was much further away by stage 1 separation.

      Their flight path does seem a bit weird, though - of the Space Shuttle abort modes, Return to Launch Site was the riskiest and most difficult, compared to Transoceanic Abort Landing (landing in a European or African site) or Abort to Once Around (doing a full orbit then landing as normal). Either the Falcon is accelerating far faster once they break the atmosphere, or the Space Shuttle accelerated horizontally a lot earlier than it may have needed to.

      • by subreality (157447) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @02:44AM (#46793499)

        RTLS, TAL and AOA all relied on the main engines. If all three SSMEs failed they would have ditched it in the Atlantic. The scenarios aren't really comparable - they had a lot more fuel to work with but also a much heavier vehicle to return.

        RTLS is easier for the Falon 9. After separation the stage 1 assembly is quite light: it has shed the payload, second stage, and most importantly, most of its own fuel; the remainder is about 5% of the original mass. It can therefore make a pretty quick burn to reverse its course.

        They have some real numbers over here: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.c... [nasaspaceflight.com] .

  • by jd (1658)

    Is it in either the Kerbal Space Program or Elite: Dangerous?

    If I can't launch it or blow it up, how can I know if it really exists?

  • by clickclickdrone (964164) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @07:55AM (#46794009)

    SpaceX Lands Launches Load to ISS

    WTF?

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      s/es/ed/
      "Lands Launched Load" sort of makes sense. Except the launched load won't dock with the station until Sunday.
    • by Livius (318358)

      I'm going to guess 'launches' then 'lands', but I could be wrong.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      Worse, the editors at Slashdot thought it was a separate flight rather than the same thing. That this 1st stage also performed a landing attempt is what makes this news. The "also" of what SpaceX did last week was to take yet another Falcon 9 launch core and do a point to point hop at their test facility in McGregor, Texas.

      The engineers at SpaceX have been very busy this week, and I doubt any of them are on vacation except for family emergencies or because they are in the hospital for an illness themselve

  • FYI. The newest version of their grasshopper test vehicle flew on thursday at their facility in Texas. This one is as tall as the F9R that launched to the ISS and sports the same landing legs. But it only has 3 engines instead of 9.
    F9R First Flight Test | 250m [youtu.be]
  • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @02:17PM (#46795555)

    So, is NASA currently paying a nearly 3x premium to SpaceX just to get their technology off the ground or what? Not that I object to such long-term thinking, quite the opposite in fact, but I could swear the SpaceX contract was marketed as a cost-saving maneuver.

    It says here [nasa.gov] that it currently costs $10,000 to get a pound of payload into orbit, but from TFA SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 launches, and if the current ~5000 pound payload is typical that works out to ~$27,000 per pound. Granted, assuming SpaceX perfects the reusable F9 that stands to potentially reduce launch costs 5 to 20-fold, easily making it one of the cheapest options available, even assuming that the current contract strictly covers launch costs and profit and without any R&D budget. But it's hardly a cost-saving maneuver in the short term.

    Also, gotta love the phrasing in the summary "In another win for the company, as the L.A. Times reports, SpaceX also has launched a re-supply mission to the ISS." As though completing the mission that's actually paying the bills was just an added bonus.

    • by fgodfrey (116175)

      I think the difference is that the $10k/pound is likely the cost for launching a satellite. The 5000 pounds that NASA is launching is inside a pressurized container (according to Wikipedia, the dry mass of a Dragon is roughly 9300 pounds) so the total mass that NASA is paying for is probably closer to 15,000 pounds per launch. Plus they're getting back about 3500 pounds from orbit, which is also good because it allows for return of experiments (Soyuz can return a little, but not anywhere near that much).

    • by bledri (1283728)

      So, is NASA currently paying a nearly 3x premium to SpaceX just to get their technology off the ground or what? Not that I object to such long-term thinking, quite the opposite in fact, but I could swear the SpaceX contract was marketed as a cost-saving maneuver.

      It says here [nasa.gov] that it currently costs $10,000 to get a pound of payload into orbit, but from TFA SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 launches, and if the current ~5000 pound payload is typical that works out to ~$27,000 per pound. ... .

      That $10,000 number does not include the price of the spacecraft/satellite (that you are trying to put into orbit). The $10,000/lb refers to the scenario where the spacecraft/satellite is the payload. NASA never sent anything to the ISS for $10,000 per pound, as missions to the ISS require a spacecraft to contain the actual cargo. The shuttle supposedly used to cost around $20,000/lb to deliver cargo to the ISS even though it use "reusable" (really it was refurbishable.)

      Furthermore, the $10,000/lb is just

    • NASA is paying for Dragon missions to the ISS, not just mass to orbit. They're getting a lot more than the launch: delivery of a Dragon loaded with supplies to the ISS, a brand new man-rated spacecraft that people will be working inside while it's at the ISS, return of more payload to Earth than any other option currently available, and operations in orbit and recovery. And probably also various other expenses and extra work involved in working with NASA and the other ISS partners. Their defense launches ar

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