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SpaceX Plans To Resume Launches In November (reuters.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: SpaceX is aiming to resume flights in November following a launch pad fire that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and an Israeli communications satellite it was due to lift into orbit, the company's president said on Tuesday. The space services company suspended Falcon 9 flights while it investigates why the rocket burst into flames on Sept 1 as it was being fueled for a routine prelaunch test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. "We're anticipating being down for about three months, getting back to flight in the November timeframe," Gwynne Shotwell, president of Elon Musk's space company, said at a satellite industry conference in Paris. SpaceX previously said a nearly-completed second launch site in Florida, located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), would be finished in November. The pad was last used to launch NASA's space shuttles five years ago.
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SpaceX Plans To Resume Launches In November

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    SpaceX hasn't found the cause of the explosion. Otherwise they wouldn't call the public for footage of the explosion. Until then return to flight date is a wild guess.

    One of the better founded speculations is that SpaceX built the telemetry bunker too near to the launchpad or too weak and they lost too much telemetry.

    • What is scary is if Musk has already decided they will resume so quickly even if they have not determined the cause. With his own admission that they are struggling, I find it hard to believe they can conclude a proper root cause analysis so soon. I have performed much simpler root cause analysis on failures that we had pretty good idea what the cause was, and just to go through the process of properly validating and making sure nothing was missed took a good month. What Space-X is facing is much more dif
      • by Anonymous Coward

        SpaceX was too one of the companies which NASA did contract to fly astronauts to the ISS and now this is in major peril. ULA has not had a launch failure in almost 15 years but now Tesla has had 2 in just over a year, and 3 in the last several years. NASA will NOT accept the answer, "well we don't know why it blew up... but let's just go try it again!"

        The tactical mistake Musk has made is thinking that people care more about launch cost than about getting their payload successfully to orbit. They don't.

        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2016 @10:01AM (#52885837) Homepage

          but now Tesla has had 2 in just over a year,

          Huh?

          The tactical mistake Musk has made is thinking that people care more about launch cost than about getting their payload successfully to orbit.

          In many cases that is correct. AMOS-6 happened not to be one of those, but....

          If you have a hyperexpensive multi-hundred million sat as most of them are you will happily pay an extra few tens of millions for ULA-like reliability rather than cheap out and end up on a launcher like Falcon with a 5% chance of desrtoying your payload.

          Failure probabilities don't work that way. Every rocket family, and every individual model, tends to get safer as time goes along as problems are remedied and fixed. The cost for innovating (needed to bring costs down) is that you have to start over on that curve. But the more you launch, the more potential problems you fix and the lower the odds of a future failure. There's always a high degree of randomness, of course, but in general you find a problem, you fix the problem, and the rocket is a safer vehicle for it.

          Do recall how terrible the Atlas and Delta families used to be in terms of reliability. Things blew up, they learned, and were remedied. Heck, in terms of families, Falcon 9 is almost like a whole family rather than a single rocket thusfar... some of the changes, like switching to densified LOX, are pretty dramatic changes. They're trying to evolve and optimize it very, very quickly. But of course, that faces the learning curve reset problems above.

          (Also, on that note, I think it's a bit premature to talk about the spotless record of the Delta-IV heavy, given that it's only ever had 9 launches, vs. Falcon 9's 29 (if you count AMOS-6... which if you're going to count it in the failure category, you should count it toward the total as well).

          Some aspects of the Falcon design were designed to speed up the learning curve - and seem to have worked. Namely, the engines seem to have become quite reliable; part of the reason for going with so many engines was not just so that you can keep going after an engine failure, but also so that you're mass producing the engines and going through ten per flight; you're going to retire the risk a lot faster when using something in such large numbers. On the other hand, there's only two stages/pairs of tanks per flight, two COPVs, etc, so the learning curve is going to be - and has been - slower. . Falcon Heavy will help speed it up, of course, since there's four separate cores, all built similarly.

          For a totally new (and frequently evolved) branch, Falcon 9's reliability is quite high; there are mature systems in use today with reliability records no better. But everyone wants you to approach 100%. At some point, SpaceX is going to have to stop with working on the "development branch" and offer up a "stable release" - that is, get the same identical cores with a long safe launch record, and stop changing them. And I'm sure they know that. But they seem to have a higher priority that they want to get to first: evolving their rockets to the point where they feel they can change the world. Not just "cheaper than everyone else", but "immensely cheaper than everyone else".

          It's a tall order. But I fully sympathize with it.

          On the upside from a stability perspective, there's really not much more need for evolution on the F9 production side, now that they're regularly landing cores. Getting multi-mission reliability, however, that's going to be a new challenge.

          • Some aspects of the Falcon design were designed to speed up the learning curve - and seem to have worked. Namely, the engines seem to have become quite reliable; part of the reason for going with so many engines was not just so that you can keep going after an engine failure, but also so that you're mass producing the engines and going through ten per flight; you're going to retire the risk a lot faster when using something in such large numbers. On the other hand, there's only two stages/pairs of tanks per flight, two COPVs, etc, so the learning curve is going to be - and has been - slower. . Falcon Heavy will help speed it up, of course, since there's four separate cores, all built similarly.

            Full reusability is going to slow down that build rate a ton, though. Unless SpaceX can secure a much larger number of orders, they're in danger of losing much of the benefit of their mass production scheme in the near future.

            Of course, it's not just a problem for SpaceX: the current glut of launch systems puts every provider at risk in this area - especially those pursuing reusability (SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA, Airbus, ?). Either the launch market is about to experience massive growth, or there's a bubble

            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              Full reusability is going to slow down that build rate a ton, though.

              Not necessarily. Contrary to your statement that there's a "glut of launch systems", there's actually a serious shortage right now in launch vehicle production. There are far more companies with payloads than launch providers can manage for now. Additionally:

              * The cheaper launch prices get, the higher that number will get.
              * Not all first stages will be recovered
              * None of the second stages will be recovered

              • Not necessarily.

                I mean that it will slow down a ton relative to what would be required to launch the same payloads using only expendables. (Hopefully this is not a controversial statement.) I myself already raised the possibility that demand might increase in response to the lower launch price for reusable rockets.

                Consider what reusability is going to do to Merlin engine production:

                None of the second stages will be recovered

                The second stage only needs one engine, so the fact that a new one is needed for every launch doesn't help that much to keep production rates u

                • by Rei ( 128717 )

                  Here, I'll put it quite simply: airplanes are vastly more reusable than Falcons are designed to be. Boeing still does quite good business.

                  You're assuming a market similar to SpaceX's current market where they launch 6-9 rockets a year. I - and they - are looking forward to a market where they're launching hundreds per year. I'll repeat: Reusability will mainly just keep SpaceX from having to expand their production too greatly, if they can make it reliable and affordable.

                  • You're assuming a market similar to SpaceX's current market...

                    No, I'm not. The first and last sentences of my comment both explicitly acknowledge that the market could change dramatically.

                    You are the one who is "assuming" things by asserting not just that it could expand enough to support reusability, but that it actually will. My point is simply that it's going to cost the launch industry dearly IF that turns out to be the wrong bet.

                    I have not offered an opinion as to whether it is or isn't the right bet; I'm just pointing out the consequences if you're wrong...

      • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2016 @09:32AM (#52885609) Homepage

        What is scary is if Musk has already decided they will resume so quickly even if they have not determined the cause.

        Everything SpaceX does is always attributed to Musk. The actual article attributes the quote to Gwynne Shotwell [wikipedia.org], president of SpaceX.

        She was speaking at a conference. Somebody asked when they'd be likely to start flying again, and she gave a best guess. This is not a firm commitment to fly whether or not they have found and fixed the problem, it's just a best guess about how long the process will take.

        My personal best guess is that a failure review for a non-manned system takes about six months (after their June 2015 failure launches resumed in December, for example) so I think she is a little optimistic, but she probably would prefer to err on the side of optimism.

        • by dpilot ( 134227 )

          The November date is really a soonest-possible date, I suspect. In early discussion after the incident, I saw it mentioned that Pad 40 will likely be out of commission for a year, and that the next option would be Pad 39A, which is supposed to be ready in November.

          I suspect the hope is that by the time the pad is ready they will understand the failure and have taken remedial action. I doubt they'd be permitted to launch anything without some sort of root cause and remedy.

  • Hopefully this one doesn't get taken out by a drone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
  • It turns out, the Falcon 9 rocket sneezed at a very inopportune time. ;)

  • Cause and effect? The video looks like the explosion of the Falcon 9 caused the fire on the launch pad---not the other way around.
    Of course, I am sure only the sharp shooters and alien visitors know what the real cause and effect relation was and they aren't saying much.

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