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SpaceX Successfully Landed the 12th Falcon 9 Rocket of 2017 (theverge.com) 118

Shortly after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on one of the company's drone ships in the ocean. "It marks the 12th time SpaceX has successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, the 18th overall, and the second this week," reports The Verge. "It was also the third time that the company has successfully launched and landed a rocket that had already flown." From the report: The vehicle for this mission has flown before: once back in February, when it lofted cargo to the International Space Station and then landed at SpaceX's ground-based Landing Zone 1. Going up on this flight is a hybrid satellite that will be used by two companies, SES and EchoStar. Called EchoStar 105/SES-11, the satellite will sit in a high orbit 22,000 miles above Earth, providing high-definition broadcasts to the U.S. and other parts of North America. While this is the first time EchoStar is flying a payload on a used Falcon 9, this is familiar territory for SES. The company's SES-10 satellite went up on the first "re-flight" in March. And SES has made it very clear that it is eager to fly its satellites on previously flown boosters.

SpaceX Successfully Landed the 12th Falcon 9 Rocket of 2017

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  • Pipedreams (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @03:15AM (#55354291) Journal

    Musk may be pushing for some very interesting deadlines and pretty outlandish sounding concepts...

    However his cars, even with all the weaknesses they have, are viable and his space company also successfully delivers.

    I'd say that should at least be impressive.

    • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @05:27AM (#55354513)
      Cars and rockets are fine but the Hyperloop is definitely a pipe dream.
    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      Musk may be pushing for some very interesting deadlines and pretty outlandish sounding concepts...

      However his cars, even with all the weaknesses they have, are viable and his space company also successfully delivers.

      I'd say that should at least be impressive.

      You could say the exact same thing about Howard Hughes. Wildly ambitious, had trouble with deadlines, decent reliance on government contracts and grants for significant parts of his business, similar mental eccentricities.

      If both men didn't spend so much time cultivating his personal and company brands, the facts would probably turn the population against them.

      • How did things turn out for Howard Hughes? Hughes was in his late-40s to early-50s when his crazy side overtook his genius side. Musk is 46 years old now. Clock is ticking.
  • Age of Miracles... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FrankSchwab ( 675585 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @03:44AM (#55354337) Journal

    I lived through the later Apollo missions. Watched the Space Shuttle program prove that, if you have infinite money, you can make a brick fly. Watched that excessively complicated ship come apart - twice.
    Watched ISS become operational, then watched us lose the ability to fly people to it.
    And I watched SpaceX go from blowing up rockets, to making orbit less than ten years ago, to becoming a (semi) reliable truck to the ISS, to LANDING A FREAKING ROCKET ON A BARGE, to reflying reused rockets almost casually.
    Age of Miracles.

    • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @04:08AM (#55354383)

      And I watched SpaceX go from blowing up rockets, to making orbit less than ten years ago, to becoming a (semi) reliable truck to the ISS, to LANDING A FREAKING ROCKET ON A BARGE, to reflying reused rockets almost casually.

      That's how engineering is supposed to work. Incremental changes leading to improvements in reliability and capability, and hopefully reduction in cost.

      Interesting as the Space Shuttle was, it was an engineering mistake, it was basically launching a crewed space station and then landing it each time. If it had been able to turn around and fly again in a matter of days or weeks that would be one thing, but it took months to refurbish any individual craft between flights. So expensive to design and build, expensive to launch, expensive to prepare for next launch. And for some reason we used it as a cargo vehicle when it would have been much more cost effective to launch cargo with an unmanned rocket with a faring designed for that cargo. The space station probably could have had much larger individual segments and could have been assembled faster if the components didn't have the shuttlebay as their design constraint.

      SpaceX's approach, with both the reusable rocket and the inexpensive capsule intended for use in the limited time between the ground and the station, and then the station and the ground, makes a lot of sense. Hopefully they'll get man-rating soon.

      • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@nosPAM.earthlink.net> on Thursday October 12, 2017 @05:01AM (#55354471)

        Interesting as the Space Shuttle was, it was an engineering mistake, it was basically launching a crewed space station and then landing it each time.

        The Space Shuttles were basically a fleet of space stations. One thing I wondered about is if NASA couldn't just launch one or more into space with the intention to not land them. They couldn't stay there forever, of course. At end of life the orbiter could be allowed to burn up in the atmosphere. If they really wanted to save it then repair it in orbit and land it with a return crew. Since it would never fly again then that opens options to land in an unconventional manner, not on a runway, to make the landing easier/cheaper/whatever. Such as a sea landing and just let it sink once the crew were recovered.

        Then I realized that the public relations of allowing for the destruction of these iconic spacecraft would be more than NASA could bear. There were only three craft left that had gone to space. At the time they were retired the craft were considered suitable for flight only after considerable expense on craft that had already been flown well beyond their intended lifespan. Getting them to fly on even a one way trip would likely cost a lot of money for little benefit.

        Perhaps what NASA should have done is make the retirement in orbit part of the planned uses of the craft from the start. They built six of them. As each new one was built they could have retired older ones in orbit as small space stations. Convert the payload space as a larger living space before retirement. Keep them useful as space stations before everything wore out and the technology became embarrassingly out of date.

        SpaceX's approach, with both the reusable rocket and the inexpensive capsule intended for use in the limited time between the ground and the station, and then the station and the ground, makes a lot of sense. Hopefully they'll get man-rating soon.

        In a way they've turned the Space Shuttle idea upside down. They reuse the booster stage and have one time use of the orbiter. SpaceX got to learn from NASA's mistakes. Too bad NASA couldn't learn from their own mistakes.

        NASA needs to take on a different role in space. They should not be launching spacecraft, only provide government oversight and research. They need to act more like the FAA. The FAA provides oversight on private aircraft, they don't offer flights to people. NASA should let private industry launch payloads to space, not compete with them.

        • Thats it ???
        • As each new one was built they could have retired older ones in orbit as small space station

          Erm, for what purpose exactly? Why have all these little space stations floating around?

          • by swb ( 14022 )

            Could they have been linked with small network of connecting modules into a larger station?

            • by hawk ( 1151 )

              Only on slashdot would anyone suggest a Beowulf cluster of space shuttles . . .

              hawk

        • The Dragon v2 is designed to be reusable multiple times without major refurbishment. Only the second stage of the rocket is expendable.
        • The Shuttle had a maximum mission duration of about 21 days. Using it as a semi-permanent space station would have required major changes. The first things that come to mind: new electric power systems, new flight computers (the ones used had potential issues on the end-of-year rollover), some way to protect the ceramic tiles from micrometeoroid impact, new systems for on-orbit transfer of propellant and other consumables.

        • The orbiter is reused as well, it just took NASA some time agree to it.
          They've already reflown one Dragon, and I believe the plan is to use all refurbished ones from this point on.

          They're also working on recovering payload fairings, and an attempt to recover the second stage next year.

      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Yes, now here's what I'd like to know: how is the reusable rocket model working economically?

        The Space Shuttle showed that a space plane is physically feasible, and it had many, many successful missions, but it never succeeded in its real purpose: to make access to space cheap and routine.

        At this point we have the same level of success confirmation for the Falcon system that we had after roughly the same number of successful Shuttle missions. And that's good. But it's not job done yet.

        • by TWX ( 665546 )

          I don't think that SpaceX has published the refurb costs, but SpaceX has stated that the cost of the rocket itself, not the cost of the fuel, is the expensive part of launching. Millions upon millions of dollars for the rocket, hundreds of thousands of dollars for the fuel.

          If the refurb process costs more like what the fuel costs, then suddenly the price drops dramatically. Basically that's what we're waiting to see, if SpaceX can reliably launch used rockets again and again and again, and if some of that

      • by bigpat ( 158134 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @12:10PM (#55356387)

        That's how engineering is supposed to work. Incremental changes leading to improvements in reliability and capability, and hopefully reduction in cost.

        It takes a disciplined approach and good systems engineering to make that happen. And I would say it is also quite a bit more than just engineering, it is about putting together the right resources, the right timing, the right amount of money, the right amount of competition or incentive to make something better and ultimately a product that people are willing to invest their money into.

        And sometimes a really great idea is delayed for years and years or decades even while the enabling technology that could make it happen is developed.

        I think that is where Elon Musk is really great at putting together all the great ideas, some of which have previously failed time and time again (electric cars, solar panels, reusable rockets, trains in tubes have been ideas decades in the making) and rethinking them to see how they might actually be made more viable using today's tools, resources and technology.

        Other investors and CEOs would look at the failures of the past and see those failures as lessons learned to stay away from those dead end products and technologies... Elon Musk sees some of those failures from the past as opportunities to build on and get them right.

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @03:21PM (#55357861)
        The Space Shuttle was designed under very different assumptions than it ended up operating under. Yes the support infrastructure was ungodly expensive, but the idea was that if you could get the frequency of flights up to about 1 a week, that would amortize those costs to where on a per flight basis it was cheaper than disposable spacecraft. There were two major problems which developed.

        First, the Shuttle's design grew tremendously complicated. The tiles, which weren't supposed to pop off, did, and each one of them was unique and replacements had to be custom fabricated. Turnaround time grew from an estimated week to months.

        Second, the Shuttle's biggest customer bailed out on it. You have to remember that the Shuttle was conceived in the 1960s and designed in the 1970s. At the time, spy satellites would eject a roll of film, which would be captured in mid-air [petapixel.com], developed, and analyzed. Once a spy satellite ran out of film, it was useless. The NRO envisioned the Shuttle as a way to refuel its spy satellites and reload them with new film. That's why the Hubble Space Telescope fit in the Shuttle's cargo bay - HST was about the sale size as a spy satellite, and the Shuttle was designed to hold a spy satellite.

        But once the CCD was developed and the spy satellites could simply radio images back down to earth, film became obsolete. Without the ability to turn around shuttles in a week, and without a customer to pay for more frequent Shuttle flights, its operations slowed down to about 5 launches per year - 1/10th the frequency the bean counters assumed when OKing it. The costs which were supposed to be amortized never were, and turned it into one of the most expensive launch systems in history.
    • but if it doesnt have big explosions, people will lose interest fairly quickly. More interesting watching trump make a fool of himself and little rocket men make substantiated threats.

      A miracle the US has made it this far past jan 2017.

    • I think you make the point quite well that government is not well equipped to offer innovation and efficiency. The best things happen when .gov just gets out of the way and let's people create. It is truly the age of miracles...
      • I think you make the point quite well that government is not well equipped to offer innovation and efficiency. The best things happen when .gov just gets out of the way and let's people create.

        Yes... and no.

        Some history: The young innovative rocket company SpaceX had made claims that it had designed the most reliable booster ever built, one that would have a 99.9% reliability right from the very first flight... and then blew up their first three launches. When they finally got one to work, the fourth launch, they were out of money, and nobody but Kazakhstan was willing to fly on vehicles with a demonstrated reliability record of 25% (and even Kazakhstan wouldn't have, except that they had alrea

        • Some history: The young innovative rocket company SpaceX had made claims that it had designed the most reliable booster ever built, one that would have a 99.9% reliability right from the very first flight... and then blew up their first three launches.

          Were there actually any such claims made about the Falcon 1? The Falcon 9, on the other hand, was actually quite lucky when it comes to its first dozen flights or so - it hasn't been really common for new launchers to be so trouble-free in the past. Delta IV Heavy and Ariane 5 had issues in their first launch. Ariane 5 had even four issues in its first seventeen launches, where Falcon 9 has one on its fourth flight that was covered for by redundancy. And look where Ariane 5 is now, after it has matured.

          • by XXongo ( 3986865 )

            Some history: The young innovative rocket company SpaceX had made claims that it had designed the most reliable booster ever built, one that would have a 99.9% reliability right from the very first flight... and then blew up their first three launches.

            Were there actually any such claims made about the Falcon 1? The Falcon 9, on the other hand, was actually quite lucky when it comes to its first dozen flights or so - it hasn't been really common for new launchers to be so trouble-free in the past. Delta IV Heavy and Ariane 5 had issues in their first launch. Ariane 5 had even four issues in its first seventeen launches, where Falcon 9 has one on its fourth flight that was covered for by redundancy. And look where Ariane 5 is now, after it has matured.

            Yes.

            • Citation, please? And you *do* realize that you can't even measure 99.9% reliability when you have just a few dozen launches? Likewise, the first ten Space Shuttle flights were retroactively estimated to be in the 90% reliability range. You probably wouldn't have guessed that either.
        • So, when you say the best things happen when .gov gets out of the way, perhaps you should say, the best things happen when .gov works in partnership with innovators.

          The government should seek the best value for its money like any responsible buyer should. Before SpaceX there just wasn't much for competition. I am pleased that SpaceX was successful in getting a government contract. I am also pleased that the government now has leverage on the older companies to offer better value for their money. I mean *MY* money and *YOUR* money, because the government doesn't own that money, the taxpayers' do.

          I hear complaints about "cost plus" contracts that the government offer

    • Whats so amazing is they've taken these miracles and made them mundane!
    • What does SpaceX launching rockets into LEO have to do with the Space Shuttle? We have been launching satellites from rockets for 60 years now. The Space Shuttle was manned. I fail to see how launching satellites to LEO is a Miracle, even though landing the rockets is impressive. What the Space Shuttle did was very impressive as well.
  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @07:56AM (#55354765)

    Now that they are starting to re-use rockets and are successfully landing them, have they crossed some magic threshold where their launches are now much cheaper than their competitors using disposable rockets?

    Or are they still having to charge a premium due to R&D investments into their system?

    If they aren't starting to reap cheaper launch costs, when will they? I would think that while the reusable rockets is an interesting design goal, it would need to cut launch cost meaningfully to be really beneficial.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:32AM (#55354879)

      There is R&D to recoup, but there has already been a cost reduction for launch customers, on top of what was already the cheapest launch system in its payload class. Since it was already highly price competitive, SpaceX's incentive to lower costs to customers even further is small - there is no competitive need. The details are private, but estimated that the cost to SpaceX is about 35% less than a fully expendable rocket, and they pass about 10-15% cost reduction on to customers.The difference they pocket to recoup R&D costs and continue with more R&D for further cost reductions. The internal cost will fall more once stages are reused more times.

      So it is already worth while, but this is not the whole picture. For one thing, the early re-launches are involving more inspection time and expense than they plan on once it gets into full swing. Second, they have made a newer rev of the F9 to minimize turnaround refurb over the past revisions. Lastly, some of their self funded R&D is going into a fully reusable launch system to drive costs even lower.

      • I'd also imagine it is a bit of a work in process, as the more times they reuse a single rocket, that extra inspection time is probably used to see which components fail first, how they might be redesigned to either last longer, be replaced easier and/or cheaper, etc... After every launch and inspection they likely refine what might be put into the next generation, then rise and repeat until a threshold of diminishing returns is hit barring technical innovation in regards to some bob or bit or material.

        • Actually, they have done some 30+ launch simulations in Texas, which is what why Block 5 will be the last development of F9 stage 1 (stage 2 might undergo more re-design once they start re-using it ; first landing attempt will be with FH test ). The inspections are simply checking to make sure that these compare similar to what the launch simulations showed up. If so, then Musk will have no issue with re-using these while switching the factory over to first BFR, and later BFS, production.
          • by jae471 ( 1102461 )

            (stage 2 might undergo more re-design once they start re-using it ; first landing attempt will be with FH test )

            Do you have a source on that? I've seen speculation along those lines, but never anything official (or even suggestive of that from an official source.)

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      First stage (not entire rocket) is being reused. My understanding is that to make it able to land and be reused, it essentially has to be both strengthened and carry but a half of payload it can so it can have fuel remaining and carry necessary additions to the rocket to perform a landing.

      That means that if we are being very generous, you need at least three launches from the same rocket, as long as you don't count any other costs related to launch to turn a profit on reusing the first stage. I.e. two launc

      • multiple things wrong there.
        For reusable mode, subtract about 1/3. In addition, it is the EXACT SAME ROCKET. There is nothing different between expendable or reusable, other than expendable will simply not include the legs and a few other items. Musk has said that F9 will do 8.3 to GEO, and 5.5 tonnes in reusable mode, which is 2/3 of the expendable mode. [wikipedia.org]And according to Musk, even in reusable mode, the rocket is paid for on the first launch.
        As to insurance, this really is NOT unknown. It is the same as
        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          multiple things wrong there. For reusable mode, subtract about 1/3.

          50% vs 67%, it's not that far off.

          In addition, it is the EXACT SAME ROCKET. There is nothing different between expendable or reusable, other than expendable will simply not include the legs and a few other items.

          So exactly the same, except when it's not?

          Likewise, F9 is designed for re-use so should have no issues going to the rated limited, which is supposedly 30 launches.

          Come on, this is Musk's PR department talking. They've landed 18 rockets, three have been reused once and fifteen not at all so more like a factor of 1 + 3/18 = 1.16 rather than 30. Granted, some of them might fly again in the future but that number is extremely theoretical.

          Look, the AC is right if froze SpaceX in time and said the reuse you have today is all the reuse you'll ever get it wouldn't be much point. SpaceX could build an

    • SX has been cheaper than competitors from the git-go.
      The expendable F9 costs $61M and launches 22.8 tonnes to LEO, with this expected to go to 25-26 tonnes with block 5.
      With Stage 1 reusable mode, they can do ~20 tonnes, at a cost of ~ $45M. FH, which is to be tested in December, launches 64 tonnes, at a cost of $100M. Ariane 5 launches 21 tonnes at a costs of $220 M.
      Atlas 5 launches 18.8 tonnes at a cost of $200-300M.
      Russia launches 23 tonnes at a cost of $80M.
      And considering that the Russian launch
    • by torkus ( 1133985 )

      They are.

      SpaceX is already significantly cheaper than the competition and they continue to push the price downwards. They haven't passed on the 'full' savings of reusing rockets because they themselves haven't realized it. Yet. They're still being somewhat cautious before they re-certify a rocket so they're still a ways off from launch-land-refuel-launch (and TBH if you have a half dozen rockets 'in stock' there's little need for that).

      The near term includes use of the Falcon Heavy instead of using the F

      • I'm kind of skeptical about $10M/launch (partly due to need for "fresh" second stages), but $20M/launch could be achievable. Still a massive improvement, though.
    • Customers get a discount launching on a re-used rocket vs a new one. That's one way that the process is paying off for both SpaceX and the launch customers.

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