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SpaceX Lands the 13th Falcon 9 Rocket of the Year In Flames (theverge.com) 106

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida this afternoon and, while the rocket successfully delivered the Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, it managed to catch fire after landing on one of SpaceX's autonomous barges. The Verge reports: That rocket's mission [was] to send a satellite known as Koreasat-5A into space, where it will hang above Earth for 15 years while providing communications bandwidth for Korea and Southern Asia. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, marking the the company's 16th successful mission of the year -- twice the number of successful missions in 2016. Shortly after liftoff, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth and landed (flamboyantly) in the Atlantic Ocean on one of SpaceX's autonomous barges. (The fires eventually went out.) It was the 13th successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, the 15th in a row, and the 19th overall.
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SpaceX Lands the 13th Falcon 9 Rocket of the Year In Flames

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  • impressive (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by servo335 ( 853111 )
    So why couldn't NASA do this?
    • So why couldn't NASA do this?

      Ever try surfing the intertubes from a 30-year old computer?

      Technology evolved. NASA technology did not.

      • Voters didn't evolve. Do you think there wouldn't be a massive public backlash if NASA was frying rockets at the same rate as X does?

        It comes down to risk management, acceptable loss, and designing a system to fit in that rather than risk avoidance.

        • Voters could not care less how many unmanned rockets explode. The real problem is, NASA isn't allowed to build rockets -- they're only allowed to inefficiently subcontract rockets to commercial entities.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      So why couldn't NASA do this?

      Do what?

      Put a satellite in LEO? NASA did that more than 50 years ago.

      Have a rocket catch on fire? NASA did that many times in the 1950s, and again in 1967 [wikipedia.org].

      Land a rocket on a barge? They never did that, because NASA's attempt at reusable rockets was based on tech from the 1970s. NASA could do it with modern tech, but why should they, when they can buy launch services from the private sector?

      • Re:impressive (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday October 30, 2017 @05:46PM (#55460283) Homepage

        Land a rocket on a barge? They never did that, because NASA's attempt at reusable rockets was based on tech from the 1970s. NASA could do it with modern tech, but why should they, when they can buy launch services from the private sector?

        With that attitude NASA doesn't need to do jack shit while the private industry develops the products and services NASA needs, except fund it. NASA is supposed to do the experimental science, making rovers and probes and testing new propulsion technologies, power sources, zero-g experiments, spaceships, landers, habitats etc. that eventually may become a commercial product. Reusable rockets is exactly the sort of thing NASA should have been first to do. Instead they're in the back seat of SpaceX's taxi, which is nice because they pay the bills but they're no longer at the forefront of technology when it comes to rockets. They're just a layer of funding with Congress paying NASA paying SpaceX. Except for the SLS, which I'm guessing will be their last chemical rocket project ever.

        • Re:impressive (Score:5, Informative)

          by layabout ( 1576461 ) on Monday October 30, 2017 @06:07PM (#55460389)
          https://www.space.com/22391-re... [space.com] the nasa DC-X did the first boost-hover-land cycle in 1993. Nasa proved it could be done but tech was not advanced enough to take it further.
          • Lunar lander trainer had to have been first for that. But IIRC that had a jet engine.

            • There were unmanned landers even before that. They presumably built some testbeds on Earth to develop the technology rather than just throwing it together and hoping it worked when it got to the moon.

              However, it's not landing a rocket that's the big deal. Armadillo Aerospace was able to fly and land rocket vehicles with an absurdly low budget. The big deal is landing the first stage of an orbital launch vehicle (with the scales and mass fractions that implies) for reflight, and doing so without making the s

          • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

            DC-X was an SDIO project. They then gave it to NASA.

            Who then crashed it.

        • Re:impressive (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Monday October 30, 2017 @06:28PM (#55460491) Homepage

          With that attitude NASA doesn't need to do jack shit while the private industry develops the products and services NASA needs, except fund it.

          You say that like it's a bad thing. To me, that sounds like we've finally attained a long-standing goal.

          NASA is supposed to do the experimental science, making rovers and probes and testing new propulsion technologies, power sources, zero-g experiments, spaceships, landers, habitats etc. that eventually may become a commercial product.

          Perhaps chemical rockets are now a sufficiently mature technology that they no longer need to be a primarily-government-developed technology? I'd like to see NASA concentrate more on the exploration of space (i.e. scientific space probes and alternative propulsion technologies), and (assuming SpaceX and its competitors are now up to the task) let private industry take over the routine delivery tasks.

          Government has the resources to operate on long timelines that most private companies cannot, but outside of that it can be awfully slow, inefficient, and un-creative. So as soon as private companies can take over provisioning for a technology sector, they should be encouraged to do so.

        • With that attitude NASA doesn't need to do jack shit while the private industry develops the products and services NASA needs, except fund it.

          That would be fantastic. But we aren't quite there yet.

          NASA is supposed to do the experimental science, making rovers and probes and testing new propulsion technologies, power sources, zero-g experiments, spaceships, landers, habitats etc.

          NASA already outsources many of those tasks to industry contractors.

          Reusable rockets is exactly the sort of thing NASA should have been first to do.

          They were first. It was called "The Space Shuttle", and is a classic example of a government project driven by politics, rather than a commercial project driven by profit.

          Except for the SLS, which I'm guessing will be their last chemical rocket project ever.

          I certainly hope so.

        • by jeremyp ( 130771 )

          The USAF doesn't build its own fighter planes, why does NASA need to build its own launch vehicles?

        • by AC-x ( 735297 )

          Reusable rockets is exactly the sort of thing NASA should have been first to do.

          NASA were the first to fly a reusable rocket, they just never managed to get the cost down to referb between launches.

    • They could, and they had some notion of it, back in the early 60s. The reason they didn't is that it cost too much in terms of performance. You have to carry landing gear of some sort and enough fuel to land, and also the necessary throttling engines to make it viable. That might cut the mass ratio of the stage by 30%.

      • by Megane ( 129182 )
        Also, the computer power needed to make it work couldn't be fit on a rocket back then. It takes a lot of local computer power to do active trust attitude control that way. Even with an unbroken telemetry link (and there is almost always some telemetry loss during re-entry), the communications lag would be too much to use a remote computer.
        • That problem was more-or-less already solved - if you have sufficient inertial guidance to go up (which the Saturn V certainly had) and stabilize the rocket, you can certainly add the less demanding navigation system.

                  Computer technology of the 60s was not a significant limiting factor for these missions, and having a lot of computer power (and associated endless software bloat) may actually be a liability now.

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      So why couldn't NASA do this?

      They can. It only took NASA four tries to light the Delta Clipper on fire after landing.

  • They need a landing trench. And maybe some LN2 system to displace oxygen. And they definitely need to get rid of kerosene. This is why it was predicted for Saturn V that any on-pad detonation would be worse than for a purely-hydrogen rocket.
    • Their next generation of rocket engine will use methane rather than kerosene for a whole bunch of reasons. The Sabatier process https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabatier_reaction [wikipedia.org] allows one to make methane which allows you to make methane from CO2 and hydrogen. This is good because a) it allows one to make carbon neutral rockets if one makes the methane from the air (Musk is really concerned about global warming) and b) It allows one to make fuel on Mars without too much work. Unfortunately, no matter what fue
      • If you get a propellant leak on engine shutdown (because there's a time between the flameout and the cessastion of the flow of the liquid) and then you get a pool of a combustible fluid below the vehicle, that's a problem for kerosene, but not for methane. That was my point.
      • "It allows one to make fuel on Mars without too much work"

        Hilarious!
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Uhm, it's a rocket engine. What kind of temperatures do you think it experienced during launch/reentry/landing burn? A tiny bit of excess fuel burning away post-landing is hardly a concern, probably a small timing issue with keeping the rocket fueled exactly until engine shut-off.

      • That it *is* a concern is obviously proven by the post-landing pictures. Regarding rocket engines, there's a reason why they have regenerative cooling. It's because it works very well. (In fact, in LH2 engines, it cools the inner surface of the chamber and nozzle to room temperature.) But *not* post-landing when the engine isn't operating.
        • That it *is* a concern is obviously proven by the post-landing pictures.

          So you can see there is internal damage, or indeed any damage at all, through the images??

          I don't see anything that looks to me like there is any kind of lasting damage. But unlike you, instead of assuming I know what actually happened through a few pictures of some kerosine flames, I'm not presuming anything about damage until the company comes out with more detail.

          Would say you the regenerative cooling was active during the entire re

          • The cooling isn't active during the passive flight. But that doesn't mean there is no issue with the kerosene burning. The aerodynamic heating at reentry involves a shock wave in the most stressing phase that can be expected to protect the upper portions of the engine machinery. But the simple post-landing flame gets to these parts easily. I'm pretty sure you want to avoid it if you can.
            • by ColaMan ( 37550 )

              Avoid flames if possible, of course. But kerosene burning from a puddle is pretty sub optimal combustion - orange flame temps of maybe 1500 degrees C or so. Not good, but it's not a blowtorch.

              But the structure should be able to deal with it. Apart from atmospheric heating, the bottom of the F9 is exposed to the exhaust of three engines for a minute or so during reentry. There is also direct exposure to the turbopump exhaust during launch and landing which simply exits straight out of the bottom of the vehi

              • Apart from atmospheric heating, the bottom of the F9 is exposed to the exhaust of three engines for a minute or so during reentry

                There may be some kind of a boundary layer escape but this flow is generally supersonic so the bulk of it will go elsewhere. Of course some gases will get there...the question is how much, both in repropropulsion, and in ascent/subsonic retropropulsion (the two seem comparable). A recent German analysis [elib.dlr.de] has some simulations in it (on page 11), and interestingly, the "business-end" temperatures seem better during the retro burn, not outside of it. They even explicitly spell it out: " After retro-propulsion h

    • Or, they could put it on a steel barge in the middle of the ocean. If some fuel spills and catches fire, what's it gonna do? Burn down the ocean?

      • The barge is cheap. The vehicle is expensive. Lowering the reuse costs, and therefore the total operating costs, too, remains a concern. Hence, damage prevention.
    • Question, not trolling.

      Wouldn't the hypersonic exhaust of the decelerating engine effectively flush out any gas you put in the trough?

      If they get the rockets to land back on their mounts this becomes more workable. Just have the mount spray the rocket.

      Landings like this one are exciting. SpaceX wasn't sure they'd be able to land the GTO payload boosters, and they've managed to do it a couple of times now. Sweet!

  • by ColaMan ( 37550 ) on Monday October 30, 2017 @04:01PM (#55459535) Homepage Journal

    This does feel like a bit of goalpost shifting.

    "Reusable boosters are impractical. And landing on a barge? Not possible."

    SpaceX begins to sucessfully reuse boosters.

    "But these reusable boosters, they catch fire when they land!!"

    WHEN THEY LAND - you know, that goal that, if you recall, was said to be impossible just a couple of years ago?

    Or maybe they've just made landings boring enough that a bit of burning fuel on a section that is routinely covered in flames and hot gases during ascent and descent is news now.

    • Who said reusable boosters were impossible? It is difficult, not impossible. I don't think anyone said it was impossible.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        "they" said it. Those hypothetical people that exist to help make arguments. Now, maybe somebody said it, but it was never generally thought by any group or sect that it would be impossible.

        Regardless, because somebody might have said it, we all must bear with the false arguments that use it forever.
        • Oh THOSE people. Well since THOSE people were wrong, then everything must be possible. I am packing my bag for Mars.
          • Yes. Exactly. And because 'they' said it, anything that goes wrong is not nearly as bad as it would have been if "'they' hadn't said it.
      • I think the term was "impractical."

        Basically, NASA didn't build re-usable launch vehicles because re-use only becomes practical with more launches. NASA claims they're not in the rocket business, unless a suitable launch vehicle doesn't currently exist for what they want to do. That's why they're building SLS. Yeah, I know...

        So the arguments were that (a) they'll never get it to work, (b) even if they get it to work, they won't see the cost savings in the lifetime of the vehicle, and (c) no one will pay

      • You did.
    • I haven't been a fan of Musk, but yeah there's not a lot of news here. As long as the rocket is useful enough times so that it creates a profit and it doesn't destroy more than it benefits, then it just comes down to being part of the cost of business. The trick is to stay ahead financially.
    • by HuguesT ( 84078 )

      I think both NASA and ESA said they had looked at reusing booster but did not find the idea economical after simulations.

      Links I could find 1: Europeans [aviationweek.com]. 2: Russians [parabolicarc.com]. These agencies have various ideas of how to compete with Space-X, I guess this is very good news for whoever wants to put a satellite in LEO.

  • With the amount of heat and the fuel involved, I'm a bit surprised this doesn't happen more often. I suppose that booster is parts now or is SpaceX going to risk trying another flight with it. Maybe dangeriously discounted? :)

    • Here is an easier question: how many "refurbished" rockets has SpaceX launched commercially?
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Three if memory serves, and recovered two of them (the third was a planned loss due to the nature of the mission)

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They have used refurbished rockets at least twice this year. Launched a total of 16 and landed 13. Three had too heavy of a payload to have enough fuel to land, so it was not attempted.

      • If you bothered to ask the almighty google overlords you would find out that they launched at least two commercial payloads on refurbished rockets. And have more scheduled already.

  • Fucking Lipo batteries!
  • by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Monday October 30, 2017 @05:12PM (#55460095) Journal
    Why in the hell do all the links go to social media or an ad-spam site? Linking to some schmo's twitter post is just poor form. Cant you just fucking link to the SpaceX site instead of perpetuating this incredibly shitty era we have gotten into where all data must include ads? Why is slashdot sending me over to The Verge when spacex has all the relevant info? Just give us the data, fuck off with your partnerships.

    http://www.spacex.com/webcast [spacex.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 30, 2017 @05:29PM (#55460189)

    NASA has now approved use of flight-proven boosters [nasaspaceflight.com], which is huge for SpaceX.

    The re-use rate in 2017 will be about 25%. SpaceX is aiming for 50% in 2018, and will pivot to block-5 which will further decrease work required during booster turnaround.

    Exciting times... looking like rocket reuse is finally a thing!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      USAF is also on board after some number of successful re-use flights, as are a bunch of comsat co's.

      At this point anyone NOT having the ability to refly boosters is gonna be in more and more trouble going forward.

  • It landed in Flames? I'm not familiar with country of Flames.

    • by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Monday October 30, 2017 @06:40PM (#55460547) Homepage Journal

      A little bit of lighter fluid spilled out and caused a small fire on the deck which was put out within seconds. Meanwhile the entire Internet has its panties in a twist proclaiming a "failed mission" when the satellite it launched is now in geo-stationary orbit and functioning as it was designed at a launch cost that is half what anyone else could do it for. Ask the Koreans if they think this launch was a failure.

      • A little bit of lighter fluid spilled out

        Even better, it is only spilled fuel, kerosene. Falcon 9's lighter fluid is TEA-TEB, a very toxic, self-igniting fluid which creates the green flame when Falcon 9 engines start.

  • I wonder why not land them in a pond and then fish them out of the water.
    Perhaps they would not survive the heat stress?

    • I wonder why not land them in a pond and then fish them out of the water. Perhaps they would not survive the heat stress?

      It's because the rocket is really heavy. If it can float on water, then it will be easier pull it back out of the water. Otherwise the engineers will need a very big and strong fishing rod.

    • Dumping a hot metallic object into seawater? Surely that wouldn't corrode very quickly...
      • Ponds aren't seawater. But, for a car analogy, landing a rocket in a pond to keep it cool is like driving your car into a pond when it starts overheating -- yes that'll cool it off, but you'll have worse problems.

    • Because the danger of fire is overblown by a poorly worded clickbait headline.
  • That fact that they are pursuing this and having successes at all is remarkable. Back when they first announced landing the first stage as a goal, it was called out left and right as being impossible. More power to them.
  • It seems that the barges could easily accommodate a fire suppression system. A matrix of foam shooting nozzles would do it. The system could be autonomous with heat sensors, or just "fire all upon landing". Just an idea.

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