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SpaceX Falcon 9 Blasts Off From California 97

An anonymous reader writes "SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket completed a successful first launch today, taking off from California and putting a Canadian science satellite in orbit. 'The beefed-up Falcon 9 that blasted off on its maiden flight from Southern California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying a small Canadian government communication and research satellite, went through a seemingly picture-perfect countdown and performed on ascent as engineers hoped. The changes to the rocket are aimed at improving capacity and reliability, while simultaneously speeding up manufacturing. Historically, the initial launch of a new rocket has as much as a one-in-two chance of failure. Early this month, Elon Musk, the company's founder, chief executive and chief designer, seemingly tried to play down expectations by sending out a Twitter message emphasizing that the revamped rocket 'has a lot of new technology, so the probability of failure is significant.''"
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SpaceX Falcon 9 Blasts Off From California

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  • Wall Street Journal (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:21PM (#44987303) Journal

    Who the heck posted this here? An employee of the Wall Street Journal? Get this crap off here or at least provide links you don't have to pay to access. There's only a hundred or so other news sites carrying the same story. Ridiculous.

  • by harperska ( 1376103 ) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:25PM (#44987333)

    The MO of SpaceX is to under promise and over deliver. But adding new technology on top of more new technology increases the probability of failure rather than decreasing it, until that technology has been tested and the bugs are ironed out. Today's launch was one of those tests. They were testing new technology that will let them relight the first stage after separation and bring it back for a controlled landing. That new technology adds additional complexity that had a nonzero chance of making the rest of the rocket fail due to untested redesigns.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:42PM (#44987417)

    Historically, the initial launch of a new rocket has as much as a one-in-two chance of failure.

    Historically, new rockets have been of an untested design, without much in the way of previously-tested designs to use as a reference. The SpaceX Falcon 9 is built largely around previously-tested designs, on top of solid engineering. One would suppose this would give it a better than 50/50 chance of success. In fact, the space shuttle program, viewed over its total life, had something like 93% success rate for its engines. Much of the SpaceX projects' development is based on the results of those tests, designs, and engineering expertise.

    It would be highly suspect of their rockets had a failure rate much higher than that -- one would expect a higher success rate due to incremental improvement, not worse.

  • Production version (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:48PM (#44987453) Homepage

    Space-X has four more Falcon 9 launches on their launch manifest for 2013, and ten scheduled for 2014. This is the first launch of the volume production version. Now they start cranking them out. With 9 engines per rocket, Space-X has to build over a hundred engines a year, which means they can set up an assembly line and get economies of scale.

    Next year is the first flight of the Falcon Heavy, with 27 engines. Biggest rocket since the Saturn V.

    Here's the Space-X price list. [] Pricing is about half of other launchers.

  • Video of the launch (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ivan Stepaniuk ( 1569563 ) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:59PM (#44987499)
  • by Maddog Batty ( 112434 ) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @05:58PM (#44987747) Homepage

    Elon Musk @elonmusk

    Rocket booster relit twice (supersonic retro & landing), but spun up due to aero torque, so fuel centrifuged & we flamed out

    Elon Musk @elonmusk

    Between this flight & Grasshopper tests, I think we now have all the pieces of the puzzle to bring the rocket back home.

  • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Sunday September 29, 2013 @07:33PM (#44988181) Homepage Journal

    The Falcon 1 rocket had two successful launches out of five attempts. Still, in the case of this particular version of the Falcon 9, so much had been changed that it was essentially a whole new rocket.

    Typically most aerospace engineers try to do incremental changes rather than having so many like is being done here today. If anything, the historical trend is to use very old designs and just do very minor tweaks a little at a time. Examples including the Atlas rocket, which first flew in December 1957 and is still flying today (with admittedly a bunch of revisions over the years that make the current rocket bear almost no resemblance to the original rocket). The same could be said about the Soyuz spacecraft, which also has had numerous revisions over the years but rarely very many changes on any particular flight. Most of even the American rockets are using very old Russian engines (like the RD-180 []) instead of newer engine designs.

    It is far more unusual for a new clean-sheet design, especially a brand new engine design like SpaceX did with the Merlin engine. Most of the time when new designs like this are made, it is mostly an academic exercise and the rocket almost never actually flies. Frequently companies who come up with new designs simply go bankrupt before the hardware leaves the ground, assuming that any sort of hardware testing was ever done in the first place. In other words, for actual flying hardware, it is mostly very well tested and very old designs with at best very minor tweaks.

    This particular flight is especially unique not just because of the larger rocket, but most especially the new Merlin 1-D engine where this was the first time that particular engine design had ever been used. From a study done by the Aerospace Corporation around the year 2000, there were several critical areas where rockets would most likely fail, and the #1 cause was a failure with the engine design itself. As a matter of fact, even with this particular flight that was no exception as the Merlin 1-D engine on the 2nd stage apparently did fail. Luckily for SpaceX, if failed after all of the payloads had been deployed so it won't impact their bottom line.... but there was a spectacular test they were going to do (it was rumored they were going to try to fly the raw 2nd stage past the Moon with the remaining propellant). Instead, this stage is going to crash into the Earth eventually as just another piece of random space junk.

    There were also new avionics that had never been used before, a new faring design (also a common failure point for many rockets), and a brand new launch site that had never been done along with an orbital profile that this particular rocket had never been proven with doing either. The only other rocket that I'm aware of that did this many firsts all at once was the Saturn V, and that was done simply because the NASA officials involved didn't want to waste several launches proving new technologies and decided to do everything at once. The "space race" was also a major factor with the Saturn V as NASA was under some extreme time pressure to perform and get people to the Moon.

  • by Austrian Anarchy ( 3010653 ) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @08:25PM (#44988425) Homepage Journal
    I don't quite believe that we do not have the ability to build kerosene powered Saturn Vs all over again, it would just be a very expensive proposition. Nor is the ability lost to build something new with the same thrust and duration that is perhaps less expensive (inflation adjusted of course).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @08:41PM (#44988493)

    They're at more than 30,000 a year already.

  • Re:OK (Score:4, Informative)

    by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Monday September 30, 2013 @01:11AM (#44989567)

    The basics of the first stage recovery were that it re-lit fine for re-entry, and re-lit for the deceleration burn, but developed a spin that exceeded the ability of the attitude control thrusters to counter, causing the fuel to be flung against the walls of the tank, starving the engine. It broke up on impact. SpaceX believes that the data gathered will be sufficient to solve the puzzle.

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