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SpaceX's First Falcon Heavy Launch Will Now Take Place In 2018 ( 131

The launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has been delayed to 2018. In an email to Aviation Week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said, "We wanted to fly Heavy this year. We should be able to static fire this year and fly a couple of weeks right after that." Engadget reports: The static fire test will be the first time that all of Heavy's 27 Merlin engines will be fired at once. And if all goes well there, Falcon Heavy should be ready for launch within the first few weeks of 2018. There have been multiple launch delays with Heavy, which Elon Musk has attributed to the development of such a large and powerful rocket being "way, way more difficult" than SpaceX expected. "Falcon Heavy requires the simultaneous ignition of 27 orbit-class engines," Musk said at the ISS R&D conference in July. "There's a lot that can go wrong there." And because of that, Musk has been very clear about where everyone's expectations should be going into Falcon Heavy's first launch. "There's a real good chance that it does not make it to orbit. I hope it gets far enough away from the launch pad that it does not cause pad damage -- I would consider that a win," he said.
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SpaceX's First Falcon Heavy Launch Will Now Take Place In 2018

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  • What's the big woop? We were doing this in 1942. And it worked, ask the British.
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @06:40AM (#55656699) Homepage

      Nobody was launching 64-tonne-to-LEO rockets in 1942. Ask Wernher von Braun about the difficulty of scaling up rockets to that stage and about the huge chain of embarrassing failures along the way.

      • Did that with a slide rule fifty years ago. Some people are just nacky like that.
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Did "that"? What is "that"? Made things explode frequently? Yes. Yes they did.

          But "that" is not just a "fifty years ago" thing. "That" continues up to the present. Even today, launches of new rockets are extremely risky. The problem is that there's a lot that you really can't test properly except in flight; there's only so much you can do on the ground.

    • Doing what - lifting comparably heavy payloads to orbit? Yeah, we've done that before, but it's been a while. And it needed massive rockets designed specifically for the task.

      What *is* a big whoop is the ability to slave multiple first stages together to dramatically boost launch capacity using existing "off the shelf" rockets with minimal redesign - as I recall that strategy has only even been attempted once before, by the Russians I think, though I can't recall enough details to find more information.

      • by Strider- ( 39683 )

        ULA's Delta IV Heavy does this, and has been flying since 2004. []

        That said, it's lower payload to orbit than FH, and lacks the reuseability. The soviets never built a rocket like this. yes, they have plenty of rockets with strap-on liquid fueld boosters (such as Soyuz), but the boosters are of radically different design than the center core.

        What you're probably getting crossed in your mind is the issues the soviets had with their N1 rocket. They had significant combustion st

        • So it does, I stand corrected. Though with only one engine each it probably doesn't have the potential torsion issues of a cluster of mutli-core rockets. I suspect the issue will be not so much keeping the thrust through the center of mass, the Falcons seem to have worked out pretty accurate engine throttling, as in keeping the linkage stresses within acceptable limits while avoiding (or dealing with) barrel rolls and other aerodynamic complexities of a non-cylindrical rocket.

          You're quite possibly right ab

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @06:28AM (#55656691)

    There's a Morton's Fork for project managers: give repeated updates to a changing schedule, slips and all, or to give a vague window that conceals these schedule slips. The benefit of the former is that onlookers can get an increasingly precise estimate of final delivery, whereas the benefit of the latter is that it appears more professional. The downside of the former is a constant request for updates (which one feels obligated to answer) and doom and gloom from onlookers every time the schedule slips; for the latter, it's that few people know when the project will be completed until it's almost done and a release date is easy to nail down, and it's difficult to plan around such a nebulous release window. Those who choose transparency often are stressed out by the scrutiny, sometimes wishing they maybe hadn't been so transparent.

    • Ah. So the James Webb Space Telescope [] project planning "appears more professional". Interesting.

      Just sayin'.
      • by mentil ( 1748130 )

        They should've been more vague about the launch date, given it's been delayed 12 years so far. The people who control NASA expect it to deliver one thing: Pork. And it does so on time, every time. Investor/consumer confidence doesn't affect NASA much. They should just move to a "when it's done" deadline system... if the politicians would let them.

    • I'm not sure how exactly a vague window looks any more professional.

      Unless of course we're talking the "We're know we're lying, you know we're lying, but we're all going to sit around and pretend we've said something informative" brand of "professional".

    • So, by your theory it's the transparency of Open Source projects that dooms them to failure? :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01, 2017 @07:22AM (#55656781)

    Anyone lining up to criticise SpaceX for the delays to Falcon Heavy needs to be reminded that the current iteration of the standard Falcon9 rocket is now more powerful on its own than the original specs for Falcon Heavy.

    Several of the payloads that were originally booked with FH have already been launched on single F9s.

    So the Falcon Heavy that is being rolled out now is a substantially more significant piece of hardware than it would have been if we'd been watching this event two or three years ago.

    The lessons learned from developing Falcon Heavy will also pay forward into the development process for BFR. Even if FH never flies again, the process was still worth it.

  • This Is About ROI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @07:29AM (#55656795)
    As Elon stated in the quoted comment, the complexity of this launch is pretty significant. Although it must be possible to measure the respective thrust output from 27 different rockets simultaneously [i.e. torsion gauges across your rocket superstructure], translating that in to real-time simulation that balances thrusts for both trajectory and vehicle integrity are going to be hard.

    Whilst this launch is certainly experimental, SpaceX will want to get the maximum possible return on that investment - it's their USP after all - and that means having a good degree of confidence that it will work. Something that blows up on the pad after giving half a second of telemetry isn't much use to anyone except the afternoon news shows and YouTube. Well, and ULA.

    This is all about balancing the need to test [in order to get data] with the need to test successfully [in order to get data]. And although the cost of an F9 Heavy launch [to SpaceX] certainly won't be three times the cost of a regular F9 launch, it won't be cheap, either. If regular F9 launches are $60MM, then the cost of F9H must be at least in the order of $120MM or so.

    Worth taking the time to give it a reasonable chance of success.
    • Assuming there's thrust and torsion gauges on the static firing apparatus, they will potentially have already worked out a lot of the thrust balancing issues - and they do have experience with the basic problems since an F9 is already having to balance the output from 9 engines.

      Of course, releasable linkages are going to be a far cry from integrated infrastructure, in terms of both strength and rigidity, so there's an awful lot of relative unknowns to test as well. I'll be rooting for them. And like he sa

      • by ytene ( 4376651 )
        I agree with your observation regarding static test firing. That is certainly going to help.

        One question occurred to me though: although it's been a while since I studied Physics, each force applied to the vehicle structure [i.e. thrust from the rockets] will act around a moment [a point at a determinable, perpendicular distance from the point on which the force [thrust] acts]. So in essence, as the "width" of the vehicle is extended by scaling from a single, circular cross-section, to essentially, a bea
    • Reduce the cost by the fact that the two side boosters are used, thus already paid at their retail cost for by previous missions and now being reused by SpaceX at their internal reuse cost. Now, we don't know SpaceX's refurbishment costs, but all suspicion is that the Block 4 rocket does not require major refurbishment to be used a second or third time. Block 5 rockets are supposed to be reusable more times without refurbishment.
  • by p51d007 ( 656414 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @08:56AM (#55656973)
    Well, as was shown on the TV show "Young Sheldon" on Thursday night, NOW we know how Musk got the technology to do what he's doing. LOL
  • Use lots of struts
  • If each engine is x% reliable against kabooming the whole mess, then the chances of success are:

    % Chance of success
    99 76%
    98 57%
    97 43%
    96 33%
    95 25%

    There is a rather dismal history on many-engine rockets. The USSR's attempt at that failed rather miserably.

    • The Merlin engine has proven to be very reliable. The fact that they get to recover most of the engines and inspect them should help to keep reliability high, or even improve it. Also keep in mind the multiple engine configuration also allows the rocket to complete the mission successfully if one of the engines fails.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @12:02PM (#55657779) Homepage

      You assume that an engine failure dooms the mission. The whole point is engine-out capability that doesn't. In such a case, the reliability increases the more engines you have.

      The problem with the N1 was a combination of A) its engine-out failures tended to be cascading (aka, the engines were not properly protected from each other), B) its rate of engine-out failures was huge, C) lots of miswiring, and D) overcautious software that killed missions it shouldn't have, and outright destroyed a launch pad when it didn't need to.

    • They actually lost an engine and completed the mission on one of their earlier launches ( []) .

      From what I've read, there's a chance they might even be able to make it to orbit while losing two of them, depending on how heavy the payload is.
      And since they're planning all three cores of the FH, there's going to be more margin to bring the payload up in expendable mode if an engine fails.

      So the question is, do you prefer the chance of losing one big engine and the whole mission,

  • I hope Elon has done his homework. The Soviets failed miserably with 30 engines in the first stage of their N1 []. All four launch attempts failed spectacularly. Wikipedia also says after the first launch failure: "All subsequent flights had freon fire extinguishers installed next to every engine." Doesn't sound like a good design to me.
    • I'm so glad you brought this up. I'm sure that no one at SpaceX has even heard about the N-1, or is aware that there was a successful space program in the days of the USSR. I suggest that you contact them immediately and tell them this important news.You can look up their address, they are located in Hawthorn California.

      It's also important that we realize that there has been no significant technical progress since the N-1 project was started in 1965. And that engineering and manufacturing in the USA in 201

  • I love it!

    "I hope it gets far enough away from the launch pad that it does not cause pad damage -- I would consider that a win,"

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      I love the way that someone "realises" that it's not as easy as everyone in the field has been saying for decades but somehow this is an "oh, wow, we never would have guessed" moment.

      Like, it's not fucking rocket science, is it? :-)

  • Then Russell's Teapot would be a a real thing []!

If a thing's worth having, it's worth cheating for. -- W.C. Fields