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Mars Businesses NASA Space

NASA Announces New Mars Probe, While SpaceX Is Urged To Focus on Launches 84

NASA will land a new probe on Mars on November 26, 2018, "paving the way toward an ambitious journey to send humans to the Red Planet," according to one NASA official. The $828 million project will investigate how the planet was formed, NASA announced Friday, calling it "an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about the internal structure of the Red Planet."

Meanwhile, long-time Slashdot reader taiwanjohn shares an editorial published by Ars Technica the same day, titled "We love you SpaceX, and hope you reach Mars. But we need you to focus." Noting that SpaceX receives the majority of its funding from NASA, the site's senior space editor writes that the company's business model requires that they ultimately deliver a reusable launch system. "I understand SpaceX has a master plan -- the company wants to colonize Mars... But at some point you have to focus on the here and now, and that is the Falcon 9 rocket... if there is no Falcon 9, there is no business."
In a related story, Saturday NASA's history office shared a photograph from the Viking 2's landing on the surface of Mars -- which happened exactly 40 years ago.
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NASA Announces New Mars Probe, While SpaceX Is Urged To Focus on Launches

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 04, 2016 @10:37AM (#52824521)

    They need to keep doing whatever they are doing.

    An explosion of a rocket is nothing. I wish them another hundred of them, and the attached room to make mistakes.

    The goal is not to not trigger these sensationalist dipshit journalists but to actually make progress, burning some millions is collateral damage.

    • In a more recent story, SpaceX is being sued [jerusalemonline.com] by Spacecom (owner of the AMOS-6 satellite that was lost). I have a hard time believing they could win such a suit, but that depends on what caused the "anomaly".

      As for the Ars Technica op-ed, urging SpaceX to "focus" on NASA's priorities, I suspect that Elon will still reveal his plans for the MCT [wikipedia.org] at the upcoming Int'l Astronautical Conference, but he will also spend a fair amount of time explaining what they've learned from this mishap. And I think he will prob

      • by imidan ( 559239 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @11:50AM (#52824707)

        In a more recent story, SpaceX is being sued by Spacecom (owner of the AMOS-6 satellite that was lost). I have a hard time believing they could win such a suit, but that depends on what caused the "anomaly".

        It's possible that they have to sue in order to activate their insurance. Sometimes that's how you get your settlement.

      • by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @11:52AM (#52824717)

        More info here: YouTube user Scott Manley has a 9-min video [youtube.com] with frame-by-frame analysis. Well worth the time.

        One thing I learned was that, although the satellite was insured, technically the insurance doesn't "kick in" until the rocket is actually launched, so in this case, they probably won't pay out. (This would explain the lawsuit mentioned in my post above.)

        However, I've read elsewhere that they could have done this test without the payload on board, but that would cost extra. It is up to the customer to decide if they want to pay extra to protect their asset. It will be interesting to see how this all works out.

        • by Rinikusu ( 28164 )

          You'd think that SpaceX would also carry insurance to protect the customers' payloads. I mean, all sorts of shit can happen before launch; massive hurricane damaging the facilities/launcher/rocket itself, tsunami, earthquake, Bubba driving a forklift into the goddamned thing (i.e. human error), cable/chains breaking while lifting the satellite for mounting, etc etc.

          • I would bet that SpaceX probably does carry some kind of insurance for this sort of thing, though 'how much' is a different question. In any case, I would also bet that whatever they've been paying for that insurance, the price just went up.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          John, you have it backwards. They paid more to have the payload on during the static firing.
          It is NORMAL to not have the payload on until the launch.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:53PM (#52825057)
        Considering that it was spacecom that INSISTED on having their sat on top for a static fire, which is NOT standard procedure, I suspect that they will have a hard time winning regardless.
        In fact, I am still trying to figure out why they wanted that sat on there for a static fire. There is nothing that they should have done. And the fact that the rocket blow right under the sat will be suspicious.

        Windbourne (moderating).
      • As for the Ars Technica op-ed, urging SpaceX to "focus" on NASA's priorities, I suspect that Elon will still reveal his plans for the MCT [wikipedia.org] at the upcoming Int'l Astronautical Conference, {...} And I think he will probably take some of the advice from Ars... perhaps announcing that MCT will be put on the "back burner" for a while, so that they can get Crew Dragon and Falcon Heavy flying ASAP.

        (Disclaimer [with McCoy's voice]: I am a Doctor, not a Rocket Scientist)

        Okay let's spend a few minutes thinking about Mars colonisation.

        An actual colonisation will require slightly more than "simply" putting a probe one Mars.
        (Not that putting a probe there is an easy feat by itself, as attested by past failures. Hence the quotes)

        Colonisation would require sending tons of equipement in advance to wait for the colon at their future landing site.
        (Basically anything that they can built from raw local material,

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You are an idiot. SpaceX is receiving massive grant funding from NASA. They are obligated to develop a final product that is usable and/or to focus their resources on that goal until it is deemed impossible and grant funding is removed. If they were truly a 100% private firm funded by 100% private sources there would be more choice - but they are NOT, and have obligations from it.

    • I understand where you are coming from, but with this explosion, a $200M customer's satellite was destroyed. Satellites take years to build and qualify for flight, so this isn't something that can just replaced if the original was destroyed on the launchpad.

      If you go back to the late 1950s/1960s, the US (and Russian) rocket failure rate was largely underscored by the fact that the "boosters" were actually intercontinental missiles and, as a national defense program, there was a certain budget/expectation/t

      • Exactly what reason do we have to believe it was a lack of focus that was the cause of the accident? It's not like exploding rockets are unknown, and engineering tends to be an iterative process. I doubt this will be the last rocket that explodes for them.

        SpaceX is experimenting and learning. Part of that is going to involve making mistakes and correcting them. It's doubtful we'll be seeing completely safe and predictable space travel in our lifetimes, if ever.

        • Rockets exploding while they're being prepared for a static test fire (or during any fueling operation) are very rare though. The last case was in the 1960s, I believe. So they might be making mistakes everyone else has known to avoid for 50 years.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      It's important to not let short-sighted goals get in the way of your vision. It's also important to not let your vision get in the way of making progress. I have this colleague at work who said something like "I've been trying to get them to do this for more than ten years now" and to be honest I didn't have the heart to tell him he could try another ten and it would make no difference at all. Basically because he's arguing for a big bang change where we switch from way A to way B overnight. The arguments

  • I just wish someone would figure out a way to get off the planet without a blasted explosion under their ass.

    • Skyhooks(requires materials that don't exist), Railgun(requires a large up front cost), Launch Loop(requires large up front cost, really nasty failure modes), Laser Ablation rocket(needs more R&D).
  • by shess ( 31691 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @11:04AM (#52824565) Homepage

    Maybe the editors should also just group together other articles? Like you have one article about Stallman wanting to allow anonymous payment, and another about Apple approving certain crypto-currencies - just lump those together, they're about the same thing.

  • When I saw that they were going to land a probe in two years, I thought "I hope they're launching it tomorrow then."
    • by Anonymous Coward

      A Hohmann transfer flight to Mars takes about 7 months. Launch from Earth, accelerate to an eliptical orbit around the sun that touches Mars' orbit on the other side, meet Mars there.

      You can even get there faster, but that would take much more fuel.

  • by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @11:33AM (#52824651)
    I'm not a US Citizen and I don't have any affiliation with SpaceX. I read that Ars article when it first came out, but it really annoyed me.

    If you've seen the video, it's reasonably clear that the initial signs of trouble - i.e. the start of the explosion - happens right at the top of the First Stage, perhaps where the Second Stage engine might be situated within the casing. OK, that means that we could narrow this down to a rough physical location.

    Yet on this, Ars reckon that they know what the fault is and that the fault lies with SpaceX. They may even be right...

    But...

    1. Do Ars know that for a fact? No.
    2. Do Ars know whether the launch was a repeat of a previously known-good configuration, or whether SpaceX were trying out new design and/or components? No.
    3. Do Ars know whether the Facebook payload imposed any specific requirements on the Falcon configuration that might have led to the incident? No.

    Yet despite a complete and utter lack of knowledge of the subject at hand [except, I concede again, that the rocket blew up! ], Ars reckon that they know how to tell SpaceX and Elon musk how to run their space launch business... There could be literally scores or hundreds of reasons behind the failure. That failure could be design, material defect, or process in nature, or it could be an obscure combination of several things. It could quite easily be a failure induced on SpaceX because of constraints imposed elsewhere, by someone else.


    I'm quite certain that there will be people who read this comment and think ("Ah, SpaceX fan-boy there...") but you'd be wrong. I'm not writing this because I'm a particular fan of SpaceX, but because I'm particularly unimpressed with the arrogance and disengenuous nature of Ars reporting. [ If the launch had been perfect, no doubt they would have been writing about the "unstoppable SpaceX" ].

    No. A lot of the time, a lot of the Ars journalists are respectable and write thoughtful pieces. This, on the other hand, was opportunistic garbage written by an ambulance-chasing waster.

    Eric Burger: If you're so good, how about you go design a rocket that can put the same mass into LEO and show us all how it's done, eh?
    • Agree. There's nothing extraordinary about a rocket exploding. I expect we'll see plenty more of them before the technology is developed sufficiently to rule them out completely. It's not even clear to me that the technology will ever be sufficiently perfect to avoid them entirely.

      Exploding rockets are the cost developing the technology. While unfortunate, it's good that SpaceX is shaking out their technology and making their mistakes before they start putting people in those things.

      • Agree. There's nothing extraordinary about a rocket exploding. I expect we'll see plenty more of them before the technology is developed sufficiently to rule them out completely. It's not even clear to me that the technology will ever be sufficiently perfect to avoid them entirely.

        Exploding rockets are the cost developing the technology. While unfortunate, it's good that SpaceX is shaking out their technology and making their mistakes before they start putting people in those things.

        This is where SpaceX has an almost unfair advantage over NASA. When a Shuttle was lost, it took two years of faffing around and endless hearings to decide to start launching again. SpaceX can do the paperwork with their insurance company, figure out what caused the failure and adjust procedures to fix it, and return to flight. Two months should be enough time for the dude with the powerwasher to be done cleaning up the launchpad. The meeting with the government is almost an afterthought, and is really s

        • Worth saying that 'dude with the powerwasher to be done cleaning up the launchpad' actually doesn't apply here; the ground support equipment got pretty badly damaged. Sure glad they got another pad close to completion and the Vandenberg AFB pad operational, because it's looking like LC40 (the one here) actually got pretty much totaled between the explosion wrecking the transporter-erector and the fire ruining the structural integrity of the concrete and softening the rebar.

    • If you've seen the video, it's reasonably clear that the initial signs of trouble - i.e. the start of the explosion - happens right at the top of the First Stage, perhaps where the Second Stage engine might be situated within the casing.

      If you've seen the video and have any clue what you're talking about - it's abundantly clear that the the first signs of trouble appear where the second stage umbilical attaches to the vehicle. (Right about where the intertank bulkhead is believed to be.)

      Yet on this

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Your reading comprehension gets a Fail.

      Eric Burger's article isn't about the particulars of this latest Falcon rocket explosion. It's about strategy.

      SpaceX is a private company. They need to make some money to be viable. Musk's pockets are not infinitely deep and SpaceX needs now, not technical credibility, but operational credibility. There are lots of SpaceX fans out there jerking forward in their seats right now with objections, I imagine, but it's true. SpaceX needs both operational credibility and

    • Yes, but Ars have superior business skillz to the leadership at SpaceX (a quick check of company financials between the two will confirm, I'm sure), and so in all good conscience had say their piece (not in private, where it may have been useful, but in public so everyone on earth gets to stir the pot).

  • Stop going to Mars. Go somewhere else interesting. Titan, maybe. Or Triton. Europa. Mercury. Venus, even. But we know enough about Mars for diminishing returns to set in.
    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      Do you care to name who has been going to Mars and making it boring for the rest of us? Last I checked it was a bunch of space probes which isn't going anywhere in the long run.
  • The Viking missions were really annoying:

    Step 1: Devise clever experiments to detect the presence of life.
    Step 2: Ship experiments to Mars at cost of $1bn (1970's dollars - that's between $5bn and $15bn 2016 dollars).
    Step 3: Experiment says "WOW! We have detected life on Mars!"
    Step 4: Decide that the experiment was not sufficiently good to produce a meaningful result.
    Step 5: Ignore (or at least, endlessly debate) the results.

    Argh! They really *REALLY* should have thought through the experiment a bit more

  • by Sqreater ( 895148 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @04:10PM (#52825667)
    A colony is an expansion into unused resources. There are none on Mars. Mars is a desert like no desert on the face of the Earth. Stop the teenage sci-fi goals please. I agree, do something adult and useful.
  • How do you think Boeing, Lockheed, and others got their funding? Who do you think built the rockets and satellites that NASA uses? NASA never made anything, they've always had to buy it from somewhere. Nobody says Boeing was a subsidized company. But all the haters claim SpaceX is a subsidized company. That's just BS .. they are actually less subsidized than basically every other aerospace company. SpaceX gets money from government contracts. So does every company .. so whoopdee doo on that one.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Past decades had cost plus federal contracts div-eyed up between major firms for national defense function of airplane support and production supply diversity. There is no strategic function for subsidizing LEO venture capitalists who can't even launch satellites reliably and refuse responsibility for their own failures.
  • by Netdoctor ( 95217 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @10:14PM (#52827099)

    I think it says something about the American space program when NASA's twitter feed is largely remembering past missions.

  • by SJ ( 13711 )

    Someone didn't want SpaceCom being bought by the Chinese....

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.

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