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Third Falcon 1 Launch May Be This Afternoon 76

ElonVonBraun writes "The web is abuzz with rumors that SpaceX will attempt its third rocket launch today. In the past two days, they have also done successful tests of their bigger, stronger rockets. When the launch does happen, sometime during this five-day window, there will be a webcast. Betting odds are that they will do it around 4PM PST."
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Third Falcon 1 Launch May Be This Afternoon

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  • by Sebilrazen ( 870600 ) <> on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:28AM (#24447359)
    For the launch of the Millennium Falcon.

    Sorry, it's Saturday morning and I'm on /. there's no excuse.
  • Elsewhere SpaceX have said they'll give 36 hours notice of the launch time.

  • by Channard ( 693317 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:31AM (#24447383) Journal
    I guess they're trying to get the hell off planet before CERN's Hadron Collider dooms us all.
    • Or before the BuyNLarge corporation overrun the planet with trash, leaving behind several waste allocation load lifter-earth-class robots to clean up our mess!
  • Rocket Science (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:45AM (#24447495) Journal

    I'm quite ignorant in this regard, so bear with me when I ask:
    How much of what these private companies are doing is new?

    Are they innovating in the field of rocket science or are they just re-implementing the best of 1950s & '60s technology? Because AFAIK, the biggest difference between now and then is our advances in material sciences.

    • They are doing it much cheaper than the government agencies.
      • Re:Rocket Science (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @12:48PM (#24448561) Homepage

        It's not a case of "private versus public". Orbital has their own custom rockets, too, but they're not particularly cheap. SpaceX has a custom version of a Russian Zenit that they launch, and again, while their prices are a bit low, it's nothing to write home about. And even most of our "government" rockets were built and are operated by private companies on a basis where lowering operations costs means more profit for them.

        The big deal about the Falcon is that it's largely "from scratch". Rocketry has been heavily burdened with history, in that we have a case where nobody wants to invest the large amount of money it would take to start from scratch when you can adopt an existing system and adapt it. Another big issue is the design route they chose. Rocketry is mostly about labor costs, so they set about looking at how much they could possibly reduce labor at each step of the way -- as few people needed as possible to build it, to transport it, to launch it, and so on -- without compromising on the amount of payload you can get out of the launch. They came up with some rather interesting solutions. One of my favorite is their adoption of a hybrid approach between conventional rigid tanks and balloon tanks. Rigid tanks can support their own weight during launch, but are heavier, and thus reduce payload. Balloon tanks would collapse if not pressurized, and so are more expensive to handle, but they reduce a lot of weight and thus increase payload capacity. SpaceX took a hybrid approach: their tanks are rigid enough to support themselves on the ground, so the rocket is easy to transport, but not rigid enough to withstand the forces of launch without being pressurized. It's a "best of both worlds" approach.

        SpaceX has really demonstrated some impressive things so far, including nearly making it to orbit on their second launch (all but for either a bump or a baffle, both of which have been remedied) on a rocket that's almost completely designed from scratch (which is a much bigger deal than it sounds, given all of the new systems). My favorite, which I'm sure impressed potential clients, was the ability to hold down the rocket, abort just seconds before launch, reinspect and refuel the rocket, and then relaunch within hours of the abort. That's darned impressive.

        I am not without concerns, of course. Mainly, on the Falcon 9. They've demonstrated quite a few successful test firings, including their recent tests of a full compliment of 9 engines. But they've not yet seen an engine failure, and it looks like they don't plan to simulate one. On the Soviet N1 moon rocket, they had the problem where one engine failure would lead to damaging the surrounding engines, ultimately dooming the rocket. The Falcon is designed to reduce this risk, but I'll feel a lot more comfortable about it once I actually see it happen in practice. Apart from that, I like the design. The ability to hit your launch target after losing one engine, if achievable, will be quite impressive and should significantly boost reliability. And their performance is nice, too. And if their stages prove recoverable, like they hope, that should help with improving prices all the more.

    • Re:Rocket Science (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lordmundi ( 637779 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:04AM (#24447641)

      in the case of spacex, much of it is quite innovative... the entire approach is innovative (think new young guys with new ideas vs experienced retired nasa engineers helping companies design rockets)

      physically, they've built a new rocket engine from the ground up, which hasn't been done in a long time. They've also going with an approach in their falcon 9 which alows them to lose engines and still accomplish the mission, enhancing reliability.

      of course, the cost per pound launched into space is also dramatically lower.

      it is exciting in my mind because of their new ideas and approach.

      • Re:Rocket Science (Score:5, Informative)

        by Free the Cowards ( 1280296 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:25AM (#24447845)

        They've also going with an approach in their falcon 9 which alows them to lose engines and still accomplish the mission, enhancing reliability.

        Just a note on this, engine-out capability is nothing new. Except for a few seconds at certain critical stages of flight, the Saturn V first stage could lose an engine with no consequences to the mission. And in fact it did so on two Apollo flights (6 and 13), with the former resulting in a different orbit due to losing two engines, and the latter causing no problems. The Shuttle is also capable of reaching orbit after an engine failure, although it's much less likely to be able to make the originally planned orbit. This happened once (STS-51-F) resulting in an "abort to orbit", and did not impact the mission work.

        Of course, this capability is still tough to achieve and it can definitely be a good thing to have.

        • yes... i wasn't suggesting it was new. I was suggesting that it was innovative for a commercial launch vehicle and that it was being allowed due to new, cheaper engines being designed and built from the ground up.

      • They've also going with an approach in their falcon 9 which alows them to lose engines and still accomplish the mission, enhancing reliability.

        That's more marketing hype than anything else - a properly designed modern rocket engine should only shut down once every hundred thousand or so flights. I.E. this is an incident that is virtually unheard of. If they actually require this 'feature', that indicates the Merlin 1C is not up to modern standards.

        • that's a good point... but perhaps the standards (and cost) of the engine are lower because of this "feature". I mean.. they have 9 engines on the bottom of that thing... and 27 of them on the bottom of the falcon 9 heavy. I'm not an expert, but perhaps the redundancy allows them not to spend so much building overly redundancy systems in the engine design itself???

          That was my thinking anyways.

          • Rocket engines don't have redundant systems (within a single engine) to start with except the controller which isn't very heavy or expensive. (Which with modern electronics isn't prone to failure anyhow.)

    • Re:Rocket Science (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Free the Cowards ( 1280296 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:08AM (#24447661)

      That's kind of like asking whether the Burj Dubai is doing anything new over the ancient Egyptians, or whether it's just advances in materials science.

      Rockets live and die on materials. Going to low-Earth orbit with a single stage requires that over 90% of your vehicle's mass be fuel. (Multiple stages helps this out, which is why it's done.) Getting the remaining 10% to be anything other than engine and fuel tank is really tough, and requires advanced designs and, you guessed it, highly advanced materials. Advances in electronics help as well, both due to taking up less mass for controllers on the vehicle, and for being able to run better simulations and use better design tools.

      In terms of stuff going out the back making the rocket go forward, there's nothing new here. But in terms of getting to space faster and cheaper, there's plenty new.

      Think of it like a 787 compared to a 707. All the fundamental principles are there, but all of the incremental improvements used on the 787 come together to give you a significantly better rocket.

      (And of course the Falcon is hardly unique in this respect; any modern rocket will benefit similarly. What is interesting about the Falcon is that it exists outside of what I'll call the military-industrial complex, for lack of a better term.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 )
      I would say that their main innovations are business and engineering practices, rather than core technologies. Basically doing the old things with new computers and a focus on simplicity and efficiency (monetary, not fuel).
    • "Are they innovating in the field of rocket science or are they just re-implementing the best of 1950s & '60s technology?"

      who the hell cares if they're reimplementing 1940s V2 technology, they're BUILDING stuff and they're GETTING INTO SPACE cheaply using their own money.

      Let NASA do all the innovating with its huge government budget and army of employees and continue to innovate those $1 billion-each shuttle launches.
    • Apart from the advances that most of the other posters are mentioning, I would mention that Spacex has really focused not just on the rockets, but on the production line, which I consider their biggest innovations. Once they've got the kinks worked out, Elon Musk (the company president) has revealed that they've got a production line that will be able to turn out these rockets at an amazing pace of multiple rockets per month. This will really lower the costs to space, and is my favorite thing about Spacex.
  • Oh, for crying out loud, you spend all your time with computers, get the damn timezone indicator right already. "PST" stands for "Pacific Standard Time". It's the middle of the summer, meaning Daylight Saving Time -- PDT.

    Just avoid the whole problem and say "PT" or "Pacific".


  • The webcast is now live.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Is it just me, or are others not getting sound on it?

      • I'm getting sound cutting in and out, and their webcast people have messed up a couple of pre-recorded clips. Here's hoping that they are much better at private rockets than public relations.

      • The pre-recorded clips are quite a comedy of errors. The CEO's walkthrough of their facility just crashed out of quicktime and back to the Mac desktop, and their 'talking heads' haven't caught it.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Got it -- it was just quiet. Now the countdown is truncated, though :P

  • Launch in approx 50 minutes. (01:55 BST)

  • They are about to launch. Just a few minutes away. All systems sound like they are go.
  • Clock reset and counting again.

  • I wasn't getting the webcast in FireFox but got it when switched to an IE tab.

  • Hope the rest of the launch goes better than this: []
  • aborted at launch time

  • One of the hundred-some launch parameters was off by 1% :P They think they'll *probably* be able to restart the clock soon at a little over 10 minutes.

  • After a restart from 500ms, they launched successfully. I'm very impressed by the short cycle time.

  • Major failure!! (Score:5, Informative)

    by ashitaka ( 27544 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:40PM (#24453039) Homepage

    About 2 minutes after launch signal was lost from the vehicle.

    Announcers just said there had been "an anomaly on the craft" and to check their website for details.


    • by rpj1288 ( 698823 )
      From their website, it appears there was a problem during staging, and the lower stage was not jettisoned.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah. The problem as I understand it is that the second stage failed to seperate from the first stage. The first stage engine (the new engine design with the kerosine cooling the nozzle and delivering better performance as a result) worked perfectly. First stage seperation failed though. Its still one really big rocket coming down. This is a pity. My first bet is that they have an ice issue. I'm not talking about an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), but rather that frozen water stuff. They are launc

      • Any ice built up on the skin would have either been broken up by vibration or melted by air friction during first stage flight. (And lacks the structural strength to prevent separation in the first place.) If there was ice built up in the interstage (where the stage separation systems are) thats actually a pretty serious design flaw.

  • The announcer said there was an anomaly. I think that's market speak for 'it blew up'.
    • Anyone else notice the roll oscillations before the video went out? I couldn't tell if it was divergent or not...
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Teancum ( 67324 )

      Apparently the two stages of the rocket failed to separate after the 1st stages "Main-engine cut off", and the rocket ended up plunging into the Pacific Ocean.

      As for what caused the rocket to stay together at a point it should have come apart (intentionally), that will be the major focus of the engineering investigation. The new Merlin-C engine (1st stage engine) did a fantastic job.

      If only SpaceX can get the 2nd stage to work, they might actually have a real working spacecraft.

  • Apparently, the rocket exploded 2 minutes into the flight. Better luck next time. However I was impressed by the abort capability. That's pretty cool.

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