Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Businesses Space Government

SpaceX Completes First Launch of 2018: Secretive 'Zuma' Spacecraft (cnn.com) 103

SpaceX's first launch of 2018 was "a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the U.S. government for an undisclosed mission," reports TechCrunch. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: After more than a month of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket vaulted toward the skies at 8 p.m. ET Sunday with the secretive payload. It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The company [then] executed its signature move: guiding the first-stage rocket booster back to Earth for a safe landing. Just over two minutes after liftoff Sunday, the first-stage booster separated from the second stage and fired up its engines. The blaze allowed the rocket to safely cut back through the Earth's atmosphere and land on a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station... The company completed a record-setting 18 launches last year, and SpaceX plans to do even more this year, according to spokesman James Gleeson.

SpaceX Completes First Launch of 2018: Secretive 'Zuma' Spacecraft

Comments Filter:
  • by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @10:00PM (#55882887)

    At this point, today's launch was by-the-numbers and something we've become used to even if SpaceX is the only company demonstrably capable of landing a 1st stage from the edge of space, even if it's only been 2 years since their 1st successful landing.
    The long awaited Falcon Heavy is their next big challenge and another major milestone if they succeed.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      How are they faring compared to international competition, like the Japanese and Chinese? Isn't there a risk that the Falcon Heavy will be somewhat outdated before it gets past its first steps?

      • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Sunday January 07, 2018 @10:38PM (#55882993) Homepage Journal

        Falcon 9 Heavy would be the largest operating launch system by weight carried to orbit. The closest competitor might be Blue Origin's New Glenn, which they haven't really started to build yet and is 4 years away if they work real hard, by which time SpaceX might have a similar large rocket.

        National rocket programs and ULA are still in the denial stage. ULA has a theoretical, not built, recovery program called "SMART recovery" which is more efficient in flight but less economically efficient because it throws away most of the rocket, which probably makes it a non-starter given how SpaceX is doing.

        SpaceX recovery is not yet proven to be economically feasable - it works and gives them a reserve of first-stages so that they can do launches faster than companies that have to build the first stage, but it doesn't yet save money - but it looks like SpaceX will get there.

        • by SJ ( 13711 )

          It very likely the reuse saves Space X money, but they aren't passing that on to customers yet, as they no doubt have a rather large R&D expense to recoup. I'm pretty sure Elon has said this at some point.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          A principal reason for the Falcon 9 recovery has already been explained---and the inventory of first stages is a big part of it. They plan on running the factory heavily until they have enough F9's in inventory for many years of launches. And then, change over nearly the entire factory to the new generation of hardware, which would take years.

          Reusability is essential as it lets them keep the lights on and the company running during a new period of enormous capital expenditures. That's a good enough defini

        • by phayes ( 202222 ) on Monday January 08, 2018 @02:04AM (#55883543) Homepage

          Shotwell is on the record stating that Space-X saw substantial savings on the first reuse which they very exhaustively vetted. Given that they have certainly streamlined the process, they’re certainly seeing even better savings.

          Even though there are no indépendant figures on how much they are seeing it’s certainly already safe to say that they are already saving money.

          http://spacenews.com/spacex-ga... [spacenews.com]

          • How is it I see 4 fucked up curly quote posts per day, but you somehow printed a spurious accented e??

            • by phayes ( 202222 )

              Autocorrect when using the french keyboard.

              Autocorrect uses the current keyboard & as I'm conversing in both French & English I'm often switching between the two.

        • by frank249 ( 100528 ) on Monday January 08, 2018 @06:43AM (#55884241)

          By landing the booster SpaceX recovers 9 of the 10 Merlin engines. When they launch the Falcon Heavy, they will be recovering 27 of 28 engines per flight. This is leading up to the BFR [wikipedia.org] which will recover all 38 of the larger Raptor engines. In fact it will be 100% reusable. This is where the big payoff will be evident.

          • I don't see a launch abort system on the BFR, and I shudder when thinking about a propulsive emergency staging on top of the giant gas tank first stage. I know it's too soon to ask, but I'm curious to see what the abort options are. (Aside from Plan A don't abort and Plan C be incinerated.)

      • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @11:36PM (#55883125)

        I think in many ways the Falcon Heavy is a combination stopgap solution and proof of concept.

        In the short term, if they get it working reliably then they immediately almost triple their maximum payload to orbit, as well as having huge unused capacity margins for to allow reusable landings on many launches that would otherwise have to resort to discarding the boosters. Not a bad deal.

        In the long term, it gives them a chance to address the challenges of a multi-booster launch on a relatively low-power rocket, before applying those lessons to the BFR once it enters service. After all, a single BFR is really a lot less than you'd want to attempt a Mars outpost - a triple-booster version would make many things considerably easier.

        And hey, why stop at three boosters? The original plans, way back before they had even made it to orbit, was to eventually go with a full 9-booster array. I doubt they'll get there right away, but it would make boosting seriously large payloads into orbit a lot easier. And whether it's Bigelow inflatable habitats, fully assembled nuclear reactors, or as-yet undesigned asteroid-mining facilities, the larger the single-launch payload, the more efficient your infrastructure can be made.

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          Because you sound like you know what you're talking about, what is the point of diminishing returns in heavy lift rocketry? Is there a point where it stops making sense throwing up increasingly large single payloads?

          What about risk management? In our lifetimes, rocket launches will never reach five-9s reliability, and losing some fraction of a finished project (space station, etc) is better than losing an entire large project. I'd imagine that super-heavy lift rocketry will also be generally less reliabl

          • I'm not well versed on the business aspects, but I'm not sure there is one, at least not anywhere close to current sizes. I think it basically amounts to "is there enough payload to justify regular launches". My gut says so long as it's heavily reusable, the bigger the rocket the more capacity you have for redundancy and safety systems. And the bigger the payload, the less payload needs to be wasted on inter-module connection systems. Especially for inflatable habitats and the like, where enclosed volume

          • by torkus ( 1133985 )

            Not necessarily. In fact, I completely disagree. The large majority of cost for something going to space is R&D, not simple manufacturing. Most sats have a spare or at least spare parts enough to build a replica. But ignoring that...

            Space assembly is HARD for one. Designing systems that break into multiple pieces greatly increases their complexity. Some simply can't and need to be built as a whole unit. Launches have significant fixed costs irrespective of size/payload. Oh, and the payload is (w

      • by PackMan97 ( 244419 ) on Monday January 08, 2018 @12:24AM (#55883291) Homepage
        NASA's "Space Launch System" (SLS) was commissioned in 2011 and scheduled for it's first flight in 2018. It's projected payload to low earth orbit is supposed to be 150,000-290,000 lb would be greater than the 140,700 payload of the Falcon Heavy to LEO. The maiden flight for the SLS is scheduled for no earlier than Dec 19, 2019, which translates to 2020 if they are lucky. The Falcon Heavy is set to fly THIS MONTH. The current competition for a Falcon Heavy is a Delta IV Heavy which is flight proven (9 launches) and can take 63,470 lb to low earth orbit.
        • by torkus ( 1133985 )

          Not that I disagree with the comedic thought of the SLS making it off the ground in the next two years, but...

          The Delta IV Heavy (63k lb to LEO) competes with the F9 FT (50k lb to LEO), not the FH (140k lb to LEO). Granted it *wins* the competition on a simple mass-to-LEO basis but then *completely* loses on $/kg where the F9 comes in around ~$1200/lb and the D-IV-H at about $6,300/lb.

          The FH however easily beats both at around $650/lb to LEO...which is 1/10th of the D-IV-H.

      • by phayes ( 202222 )

        If FH allows them to have enough margin for Space-X to add a heat shield to the second stage and start recovering it as well, as had been mooted previously, FH might be even less expensive than F9.

        It’s more a question if Elon thinks second stage recovery to be a useful endeavor or whether developing BFR asap is better/cheaper long term.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        How are they faring compared to international competition, like the Japanese and Chinese? Isn't there a risk that the Falcon Heavy will be somewhat outdated before it gets past its first steps?

        Well there's two kinds of competition, maximum payload and $/kg to orbit. In the former, there is no competition or rather the competition would be in-orbit assembly like how we built the ISS. The market is rather unclear because since there's no operating super heavy launch vehicle you don't design payloads that require it. The other is $/kg, well if you look at their prices [spacex.com] you see Falcon 9 starting at $62M and Falcon Heavy starting at $90M, note that they list max performance and min price so you can't a

    • I am heading to Orlando for Hamcation [hamcation.com] and hope SpaceX holds things up just long enough for me to be there. That is going to be amazing, whatever happens. I think they'll pull it off, but it's a really risky launch.

  • It's really a shame that it wasn't NASA making that launch. The US gave up the idea of space exploration for the sake of science, and sold it to the highest bidder. This country is fucked.
    • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Sunday January 07, 2018 @11:11PM (#55883063) Homepage Journal

      The US gave up the idea of space exploration for the sake of science, and sold it to the highest bidder.

      That's not actually how things are going at all. The U.S. has always had contractors build its rockets, now some contractors have chosen to build their own and sell rides to NASA and others. This is an inevitable consequence of the development of rocketry.

      If you want to cry about something, go back to the 50 year vacation the U.S. took from space development at the end of the Apollo program.

      • "If you want to cry about something, go back to the 50 year vacation the U.S. took from space development at the end of the Apollo program." As much as I'd like to agree with you on an emotional level, I don't think the facts support it. At worst the STS was an expensive detour from space development and some development came of it. For all its expense and underdelivering on promises, I read an analysis that the ISS provides person-days on orbit more cheaply than Skylab did. It's just that Saturn-Apollo

        • Facts please? (Score:5, Informative)

          by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Monday January 08, 2018 @01:27AM (#55883463) Homepage

          Sorry, I have to challenge you on a number of things about your post and the assertions within it - maybe you can provide some links to the analysis that you read to help provide some facts.

          I don't think it's fair comparing Skylab to the ISS as you're comparing a short term outpost to a long term station. Skylab was occupied for a total 171 days with 3 astronauts - 513 days in operation at a cost (in today's dollars) of approximately $10B ($2.2B in 1975). That works out to $19.5M/astronaut-day in today's dollars. The ISS has a cost (so far) of $150B but has been in operation for over 17 years - let's say during that time there were only three astronauts on board, it works out to $8M/astronaut-day or about 40% of Skylab's per operating day cost. The longer the ISS stays up in it's present configuration (and you expand the calculation to include the number of days its had more than three astronauts), that number will be significantly less and continue to fall.

          Sorry, NASA budgets have never approached DOD budgets - Take a look at the US budget for 1967 in which the major investments in Apollo was taking place:
            (http://federal-budget.insidegov.com/l/69/1967): "General Space, Science and Technology" (which I'm guessing is more than just NASA) is 7% of the budget while the DOD was 49%.

          It's hard finding costs for Saturn boosters sans payloads, but I think you would find that their costs are very competitive compared to existing expendable launchers (as well as the space shuttle) and in the ballpark of the Falcon 9. What makes difficult to get apples-to-apples costs is that the Saturn V was not designed to deliver payloads into LEO - the third stage was used to achieve orbit as well as restarted to send the CM/SM/LM to the moon. Probably the best way to calculate costs per pound are to use the Saturn V first and second stage to put up Skylab as well as the Saturn IVB used to send the CM/SM to to Skylab.

          The Skylab Saturn V first and second stage costs were $50M (in 1975 dollars) with a Skylab payload of 170,000 lb. which works out to $294/lb to LEO. The Saturn IVB which sent the CM/SM and consumables to Skylab cost $25M (in 1975 dollars) with a payload of 46,000 lb. which works out to $543/lb to LEO. I have a Time book on Apollo, from when I was a kid, in which the cost per pound for the Saturn V launch was stated to be $500/lb. - so these numbers seem reasonable. In today's dollars (using http://www.usinflationcalculat... [usinflatio...ulator.com]), that's $1,347/lb for the Skylab Saturn V and $2,487/lb for the Saturn IVB. As a point of comparison, the Falcon 9 costs $1,240/lb. The Ariane 5, in its smallest/cheapest configuration is $4,700/lb.

          The STS was a bad left turn for launchers and set the expectation that launch costs would be in the range of $10,000/lb or more. I think that was the real crime - the shuttle's costs got out of control very quickly and nothing was done to reign them in. If the decision was made to drop the STS and keep with Apollo technology (just like the Russians that continued working with their 1960s/1970s technology), which was proven, reliable and cheap compared to the resulting STS and expendable boosters costs, along with the same NASA budgets for space exploration, then I suspect a station of the ISS' capabilities could have been put up by the late 1970s as well as maybe an outpost on the moon by 2001 - and we would have avoided the long drought in government sponsored manned space exploration.

          • I am bandwidth starved here and you deserve a better answer than I can give you, but a few things:
            First of all I shouldn't have implied NASA got DOD level funding in the 60's, but it got funding as if it were a major DOD program in the 60's and using your own numbers, 1/7 of the DOD budget would be a major program. And in any comparison to DOD in the 60's you have to note that the DOD share of the federal budget was much larger then than it is now so the NASA budget was also a much larger percentage of the

            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              A more important aspect is that NASA's costs don't inflate with the CPI. They inflate with the NNSI (Nasa New Start Index), which is a much steeper rate. Why? The CPI is based on a "grab bag" of consumer goods. Consumer goods have in general become much cheaper to produce over time, moving from domestic hand labour to varying combinations of mass production and overseas production. NASA, however, still builds things in small quantities with labour from a highly trained workforce. So it's natural that thei

              • by Kjella ( 173770 )

                A more important aspect is that NASA's costs don't inflate with the CPI. They inflate with the NNSI (Nasa New Start Index), which is a much steeper rate. Why? The CPI is based on a "grab bag" of consumer goods. Consumer goods have in general become much cheaper to produce over time, moving from domestic hand labour to varying combinations of mass production and overseas production. NASA, however, still builds things in small quantities with labour from a highly trained workforce. So it's natural that their inflation index would be higher than the CPI.

                Well, I wouldn't say that it's obvious. Through advances in computers and simulation I'd think that a lot of the design/prototyping/testing now happens virtually even though the actual construction is still very low volume.

            • I chose 1975 as the numbers in the Time "Apollo and Skylab: Looking to the Future" (copyright was 1976) book were based on 1975 and there are additional numbers corroborating these in NASA's "Space Settlements A Design Study" (NASA SP-413), which is the 1976 Gerard O'Neill Space Colonization study, which also provide cost numbers for 1975 - and it was at the end of Apollo/Skylab era so that seemed appropriate looking forwards.

              The cost of launching a Saturn V Apollo mission is NOT equal to the cost of launch

          • The STS was a bad left turn for launchers and set the expectation that launch costs would be in the range of $10,000/lb or more. I think that was the real crime - the shuttle's costs got out of control very quickly and nothing was done to reign them in. If the decision was made to drop the STS and keep with Apollo technology (just like the Russians that continued working with their 1960s/1970s technology), which was proven, reliable and cheap compared to the resulting STS and expendable boosters costs alon

            • I always felt that the fact that the shuttle was designed with technology that didn't meet the application requirements was the biggest issue. Don't forget that a good fraction of the protective tiles and the engines had to be removed/refurbished between flights (which was not part of the concept) - this added $400M to $1B (depending on your source) to each flight. I think the design amortizations costs became insignificant pretty quickly with that additional cost for each flight.

              A recurring criticism of

            • Any new launch vehicle you design is just a pretty wrapper to hold the same fuel and throw it backwards the same way as old designs. So there's little to no performance to be gained by a new design. You need to economically justify the new design in other ways (e.g. reusable stages). Otherwise the most cost-effective strategy is to continue to use the old designs. Which is exactly what the Russians have done. And heaven forbid you spend $35 billion making a new design

              Until the penultimate sentence, you were making sense. Then you forgot that the Angara exists. So the Russians aren't getting it either...

    • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @11:56PM (#55883187)

      NASA's still doing plenty of work on space exploration - they're just not investing as heavily into the rockets to get into orbit. And that's fine, it is after all now mature enough technology and market that private companies are willing to do the R&D themselves. A big win for NASA, who's now getting their launches cheaper than ever before, and without the headache of managing the details.

      Meanwhile, NASA is still investing in next-generation propulsion systems - the stuff that will really let us expand into the solar system and study the universe. Solar sails, high-power ion drives, space telescopes. Stuff where there's no short-term profit to be made. Chemical rockets are great for getting from a planet's surface into orbit - a brief trip where raw power is needed in spades to offset the massive amounts of power being wasted just keeping it from falling out of the sky. Once in orbit though, they're a third-rate technology whose biggest saving grace is that they're mature and readily available.

      If we want to conquer the solar system, we need engines designed for space. Not to mention low-mass radiation shielding, sustainable ecosystems, etc. Let NASA focus on developing that, and leave surface-to-orbit cargo runs to the companies who can focus on shaving down the costs without lots of bureaucratic overhead bogging them down.

  • SpaceX's first launch of 2018 was "a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the U.S. government for an undisclosed mission,"

    I'm sure there's nothing to be alarmed about. We've got a steady hand in control of the U.S. government.

    • Luckily, it doesn't appear that any one hand - or branch, or subset of the uniparty, has much control over the US government. I happen to agree with Sam Clemens about when we are safest - when the government isn't in session. Thing is, the damn bureaucracy is ALWAYS in session now.
  • Anyone have any information on why it's called Zuma? It seems unlikely that they're trying to honour South African President Jacob Zuma [thepresidency.gov.za], so what gives?
    • How about this for Zuma: The Marine's Hymn

      From the Halls of Montezuma

      To the shores of Tripoli;

      We fight our country's battles

      In the air, on land, and sea;

      First to fight for right and freedom

      And to keep our honor clean;

      We are proud to claim the title

      Of United States Marine.

    • The Neil Young album?
  • A very troubling start but at current rate he might lose 1 in 30 which to me is very impressive and a lot earlier than I would have anticipated. Not sure how but they need to get a few of those first stages in orbit around mars. A little bit of heat shielding for mars's thin atmosphere.With the lower gravity it should be able to land with a second stage crew module attached. Preferably they would land it in some valley where it wouldn't be subjected to strong winds and dust.

  • So in terms of comparable projects of similar magnitudes, it was way ahead of schedule then?

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Monday January 08, 2018 @08:14PM (#55890069)
    Rumors going around that the payload failed after releasing from the second stage. Any truth to those rumors?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      There appear to be quite a few reputable news sources (USA Today, WSJ, Popular Mechanics. etc) that are saying they have information suggesting some kind of failure, but some of the statements appear to be in conflict. On one hand SpaceX is saying that the Falcon 9 operated normally, but other statements are claiming that somehow the second stage failed (a separation failure?) and it ended up reentering the atmosphere. All observations of the second stage also seem to suggest a good orbital operation for

Old mail has arrived.

Working...