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NASA, France Skeptical of SpaceX Reusable Rocket Project 333

MarkWhittington writes: "The drive by SpaceX to make the first stage of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle reusable has attracted the attention of both the media and the commercial space world. It recently tested a first stage which 'soft landed' successfully in the Atlantic Ocean. However both NASA and the French space agency CNES have cast doubt that this kind of reusability could ever be made practical, according to a Monday story in Aviation Week. SpaceX is basing its plan on the idea that its Merlin 1D engines could be reused 40 times. However, citing their own experience in trying to reuse engines, both NASA and the CNES have suggested that the technical challenges and the economics work against SpaceX being able to reuse all or part of their rockets. NASA found that it was not worth trying to reuse the space shuttle main engines after every flight without extensive refurbishment. The CNES studied reusing its Ariane 5 solid rocket boosters liquid fueled and reusable but soon scrapped the idea."
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NASA, France Skeptical of SpaceX Reusable Rocket Project

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  • by Andover Chick ( 1859494 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @08:58AM (#46938581)
    Between NASA/CNES being correct and Elon Musk being correct, I'll side with Elon. He's already created the first practical electric car which besides having 200+ mile range is freaking awesome and sporty. Behemoth GM failed to do the same over the course of decades. So proving NASA/CNES wrong, the smart money is on Elon.
  • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @09:23AM (#46938799) Homepage

    Microsoft didn't "launch" Powerpoint, they bought it. It was initially for the Mac, then MS bought it three years later when they first released MS Office. []

  • by inhuman_4 ( 1294516 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @09:58AM (#46939207)
    The thing is there is a huge difference in what "reuseable" means for the Space Shuttle and for the Falcon.

    The Space Shuttle was firing the engines for 540-761 seconds, taking the engines to orbit , staying in order for days or weeks, bringing the engines back through reentry, then refurbishing them. That is a pretty tall order.

    SpaceX is only trying to recover the first stage. It only burns for 180 seconds. Reaching a maximum height of around 90-100km (about the same as SpaceShipOne). Since it never reaches orbital velocity it doesn't experiance anything like the reentry forces the Space Shuttle does. It then does a powered landing on a launch pad. Still a tall order, but much less than what the Space Shuttle was trying to do.

    Additionally the Falcon 9 has already demonstrated that it can complete is primary mission with one engine failure. And the resuable engines will not be used on man rated systems, so the reliability standards are not as high as for the SSME. We won't know how extensive the refurbisment costs are, but the Merlin engines are smaller and simpler than the SSME. Its possible that some of the 9 engines may have to be discarded, but even if only 5-6 are in good enough shape to be resued in non-man-rated launches; that is a pretty significant cost savings.
  • by GPS Pilot ( 3683 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @11:16AM (#46940057)

    When Musk makes up his mind to accomplish something, he finds a way. He has an unbroken track record of successes, even in fields he's not particularly passionate about. Reducing launch costs so we can become a spacefaring species is what he's particularly passionate about.

    The Merlin engine was designed from the ground up for sea recovery and reuse.

    As long as government doesn't get in his way, he is going to be amazing implementer of continuous innovation.

  • by jae471 ( 1102461 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @12:20PM (#46940753) Journal
    There are a good number of launches in California. Pretty much anything going into a polar orbit is launched from Vandenberg AFB.
  • Re:Denying Reality (Score:4, Interesting)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @12:22PM (#46940775) Journal
    I believe the return profile is to aim at the ocean and use the engines to slow down and laterally transition over land. Thus, if there are any failures, the rocket ends up in the drink and not in somebodies basement via the roof.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.