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NASA Mars Space Technology

Could SpaceX Rocket Technology Put Lives At Risk? (chicagotribune.com) 296

In preparation for a crewed mission into orbit, NASA safety advisers are warning that the super-cold propellant SpaceX uses in their Falcon 9 rockets could be "a potential safety risk." When SpaceX is about to launch a rocket, they load it up with propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size, allowing them to pack more of it into the tanks. "At those extreme temperatures, the propellant would need to be loaded just before takeoff -- while astronauts are aboard," reports Chicago Tribune. "An accident, or a spark, during this maneuver, known as 'load-and-go,' could set off an explosion." From the report: One watchdog group labeled load-and-go a "potential safety risk." A NASA advisory group warned in a letter that the method was "contrary to booster safety criteria that has been in place for over 50 years." The fueling issue is emerging as a point of tension between the safety-obsessed space agency and the maverick company run by Musk, a tech entrepreneur who is well known for his flair for the dramatic and for pushing boundaries of rocket science. The concerns from some at NASA are shared by others. John Mulholland, who oversees Boeing's contract to fly astronauts to the International Space Station and once worked on the space shuttle, said load-and-go fueling was rejected by NASA in the past because "we never could get comfortable with the safety risks that you would take with that approach. When you're loading densified propellants, it is not an inherently stable situation."

Greg Autry, a business professor at the University of Southern California, said the load-and-go procedures were a heated issue when he served on Trump's NASA transition team. "NASA is supposed to be a risk-taking organization," he said. "But every time we would mention accepting risk in human spaceflight, the NASA people would say, 'But, oh, you have to remember the scar tissue' -- and they were talking about the two shuttle disasters. They seemed to have become victims of the past and unwilling to try anything new, because of that scar tissue."

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Could SpaceX Rocket Technology Put Lives At Risk?

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  • Yes and no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @07:06AM (#56565682)

    There's always a risk that you're going to blow up if you climb in a rocket. If you don't want to accept that risk, don't climb in there.

    Also, there has only been one case where a SpaceX rocket exploded during propellant loading, and timing analysis shows that a manned capsule would have been able to activate the emergency abort sequence, and escape the fireball.

    https://gfycat.com/TenseClever... [gfycat.com]

    • Also, NASA used cryogenic propellants for many manned missions. Pot, kettle, black.
      • Re:Yes and no (Score:5, Informative)

        by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @07:50AM (#56565806)

        Also, NASA used cryogenic propellants for many manned missions.

        Cryogenic fuel and oxidiser loading was complete before the astronauts entered the capsule or the Shuttle. Some extra LH2 and LOX was added as a top-up process during the rest of the countdown due to losses from warming.

        SpaceX's ultra-cold higher-density LOX has to be loaded almost immediately before launch as it will warm up and expand and negate the advantage of its increased density if it's left too long in the rocket's tank. That requires astronauts on a man-rated Falcon 9 using higher-density LOX to be on board the capsule when the oxygen tank starts being filled. This is an extra risk over and above all the other risks of flying the cheapest bidder's hardware.

        • Re:Yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:08AM (#56565880) Homepage

          I actually disagree.

          If you're in the capsule, and there's an explosion, the launch escape system fires and you're safe.
          If you're outside the capsule (or getting into it, but not yet to the point that you're strapped in and the abort system has been activated), and there's an explosion, you're dead.

          The question is: are the odds of an explosion with the rocket pre-fueled, during the crew loading time, less than the odds of the crew escape system working? If no, then the SpaceX approach is safer. If yes, then SpaceX needs to fix their bloody crew escape system.

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            ED: "Are the reduced odds ... less than..." . That is to say, if the odds of an explosion during propellant loading are a 1 in 200, and the escape system has a 95% reliability, then the odds of an explosion during crew loading of a pre-fueled rocket need to be lower than 1 in 4000 for it to be safer.

          • Irresponsible (Score:5, Interesting)

            by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:26AM (#56565938)

            If you're in the capsule, and there's an explosion, the launch escape system fires and you're safe.

            That's like saying that we shouldn't worry about safe refueling procedures on an F15 because it has an ejection seat. That's incredibly irresponsible and almost weapons grade stupid. Emergency escape systems are nice to have but not something you want to depend on since they are almost as dangerous [smh.com.au] as the problems they protect against. Furthermore explosions can happen MUCH faster than any escape system could carry the crew to safety. Ejection systems only help with failure modes where you have some amount of time to react. Rockets are fast but not instantaneous.

            The question is: are the odds of an explosion with the rocket pre-fueled, during the crew loading time, less than the odds of the crew escape system working?

            You don't work in risk management do you? That is NOT the correct analysis. If you actually are relying on the escape system rather than designing a safe refueling procedure then you have a poorly designed rocket and incompetent engineers. You use escape systems for to mitigate risks that cannot be further mitigated which isn't the case here. If SpaceX is using unsafe fueling procedures then you redesign the fueling procedures until they are safe. This might involve blowing up a few more (hopefully unmanned) rockts first. You do not say "YOLO" and hope the escape system will protect your ass from incompetent engineering.

            • If SpaceX is using unsafe fueling procedures then you redesign the fueling procedures until they are safe.

              Sure, you also need to weigh other factors. Late fueling is a deliberate design decision that offers higher efficiency. A rocket involves many trade-offs between safety and efficiency. If you'd maximize safety in every case, it wouldn't be able to lift off.

              • A rocket involves many trade-offs between safety and efficiency.

                Of course it does. That's not adequate justification for throwing caution to the wind. You use a new procedure because it is either more efficient (cost and/or performance) with similar safety or safer with comparable efficiency. In this case it is obviously a performance improvement but it isn't yet clear if that comes at an unacceptable increase in risk. To argue that astronauts should just shut up and strap in without appropriate investigation of the risks they are taking is a dumb way to run a space

                • by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @09:29AM (#56566184)

                  To argue that astronauts should just shut up and strap in without appropriate investigation of the risks they are taking is a dumb way to run a space program

                  That's why nobody is doing that. Teams from SpaceX, NASA, FAA, and USAF, have been working for months trying to understand the details of the explosion. As a result, they've modified their fuel loading procedure, and proposed longer term updates to their oxygen tank design.

                  If it isn't then that's unfortunate but they'll have to figure something else out

                  Or NASA finds another rocket to take their astronauts. Or we just keep them on the ground.

                  • by Strider- ( 39683 )

                    The design changes were made to the helium tanks, not the LOX. The Amos 6 conflagration was caused by solid oxygen crystals forming in the composite wrap around the He tanks

                    • The Amos 6 conflagration also took place during the test-fire. i.e. there would not have been crew in the capsule during that operation anyway. Heck SpaceX doesn't even usually have PAYLOAD on during that operation, but the customer opted to do that. And in any case, your point just indicates that the Amos 6 failure is not relevant to the discussion of late-loading of propellants, whereas many of those arguing here that SpaceX rockets are not safe are using it as an example of how late-loading of propell
                  • As a result, they've modified their fuel loading procedure, and proposed longer term updates to their oxygen tank design.

                    The proposed changes are complete. [spaceflightnow.com] Falcon 9 Block 5 has many changes to improve reliability and safety. Updates to the oxygen/helium tanks are just one of many.

                    Keep in mind, SpaceX has a major advantage in safety and reliability that others don't have. They have recovered their boosters in tact. I'm sure they have torn them down to do detailed analysis on how the components hold up in flight. No other launch provider can do that.

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  That's not adequate justification for throwing caution to the wind.

                  You realize you're backing the same agency that decided to fly the very first Shuttle mission as a manned mission without a full-up unmanned test beforehand. That had never been done in all of NASA's history. You're also backing the agency that decided to fly manned missions with strap-on solid rocket boosters, something also not done in any of NASA's history since they cannot be throttled and there is no survivable abort mode while they're firing. You're also backing the agency that allowed a heat shiel

            • Re:Irresponsible (Score:5, Informative)

              by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @09:20AM (#56566140) Homepage

              That's like saying that we shouldn't worry about safe refueling procedures on an F-15 because it has an ejection seat.

              Does anyone worry about an F-15 exploding during fueling? No? Then your example doesn't work. People stand right next to F-15s while they're fueling, and they're also fueled midair.

              Indeed, the whole point is to get the vehicles to the point that nobody worries about them exploding.

              That's incredibly irresponsible and almost weapons grade stupid. Emergency escape systems are nice to have but not something you want to depend on

              Exactly. They're for emergencies only. Are you telling me than an explosion isn't an emergency? No, they're not comfortable, but they save lives.

              What's your "emergency escape" for people standing outside a rocket or not yet strapped in when it explodes? None, that's what. They're dead.

              Furthermore explosions can happen MUCH faster than any escape system could carry the crew to safety.

              No [embed.ly]. And indeed, if that were the case, it wouldn't be an emergency escape, and wouldn't be approved.

              If you actually are relying on the escape system rather than designing a safe refueling procedure then you have a poorly designed rocket and incompetent engineers.

              Every system has a probability of failure. Period. The chance of a refueling failure will never be zero. Nor will the chance of a pre-fueled rocket exploding on the pad during crew failure. A proper analysis of failures has one metric: crew safety probabilities. And safety systems are very specifically a part of that. You cannot just discount the risk of people being killed during crew loading like you wish to. One obviously want the fuel loading risk to be as low as possible when crew is pre-loaded, just like one obviously wants the crew loading risk to be as low as possible when they're not. That doesn't mean you can just pretend that the former has all the risk and the latter has none, or that the availability vs. lack of emergency safety systems is irrelevant.

              • by Rei ( 128717 )

                Also, for the record, your "weapons grade stupid" is the exact analysis that NASA uses. The requirement is a less than 1:500 chance of a fatal accident during launch, including launch escape systems. Rockets aren't required to have a "1:500 chance without the escape system firing".

                And really, the above linked gif is for the worst case - pressure vessel failure (aka, instantaneous) on the upper stage. You don't get any faster "failure explosion propagating to the payload" scenario faster than that. Yet if

            • Or you could do it the NASA way and design a "safe" rocket without any escape options, then ignore the engineers' warnings about operating O-rings out-of-spec, and blow everyone up with no hope of escape.

        • So... invent a way to insert the astronauts very quickly after fueling.

          I'm sure it can be done in a few seconds. What do they do at the moment, walk up the stairs?

        • Let's try a Muskian solution. We'll just bring the entire payload -- astronauts and all -- in via hyperloop and fire them into the air next to the rocket as the rocket lifts off. The payload will dynamically attach itself to the launch vehicle somewhere around 100 meters into the flight using giant magnets or a vacuum or something. Or maybe they'll just snare the lifting rocket using a giant net.

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @07:42AM (#56565774)

      There's always a risk that you're going to blow up if you climb in a rocket. If you don't want to accept that risk, don't climb in there.

      There is a difference between accepting a known risk and accepting an unnecessary risk.

      Also, there has only been one case where a SpaceX rocket exploded during propellant loading

      One case is more than enough to warrant caution. SpaceX has had approximately 50 launches so far. That's an approximately 2% failure rate which is alarmingly high. Two shuttles were lost at that rate of failure. I'm all for pushing the envelope but that doesn't mean we should say "hold my beer" and ignore known risks that could be mitigated.

      • There is a difference between accepting a known risk and accepting an unnecessary risk.

        Loading densified propellant is a known risk with calculated benefits.

        • Loading densified propellant is a known risk with calculated benefits.

          Loading it with astronauts already on board is not a fully understood risk. Apples to oranges my friend. Might be a fine procedure but they are going to have to do the work of proving that it is safe. That's normal every time you do something different than the known and proven.

          • Might be a fine procedure but they are going to have to do the work of proving that it is safe

            Obviously. That's the standard procedure for all the risks involved with the rocket, and this has been well known to everybody involved since the beginning.

      • Modern Human Space travel is almost always considered an unnecessary risk. With current technology the main reason for sending humans, is mostly for the marketing benefit, of letting us know that we can leave the planet if needed.

        That said I do support man space flight. To the Moon and Mars.Knowing that it is a high risk activity. But I see it important for our survival is to expand to new areas.

        The argument for unnecessary risk could be applied to the European explorers who were trying to find different r

        • Modern Human Space travel is almost always considered an unnecessary risk. With current technology the main reason for sending humans, is mostly for the marketing benefit, of letting us know that we can leave the planet if needed.

          The main reason for sending humans into space right now is to explore. Marketing is a part of this to be sure but right now we're like the guy who has built his first couple of boats and is still learning how to sail with reasonable safety. We've barely gotten a few feet from shore. We barely know what is out there and we certainly don't have a robust vessel ready for long trips. The only way to get there is to send people into space accepting some amount of risk along the way. I disagree with this bei

      • There is a difference between accepting a known risk and accepting an unnecessary risk.

        Whether the risk is unnecessary depends on the engineering constraints and the rewards. A rocket could explode. We don't *need* a manned space program. The entire space program could by many be deemed as an unacceptable risk given the cost of the equipment that can be lost.

    • The gif is very interesting (and at least for me it seems that the abort system worked correctly and the capsule came out unscathed)
    • Re:Yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

      by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:10AM (#56565894)

      "There's always a risk that you're going to blow up if you climb in a rocket."

      Of course. What's at issue is how great the risk is. Keep in mind that 133 of 135 Space Shuttle missions didn't kill anyone, but that the resulting 1.5% failure rate was generally felt to be unacceptable. It's a little hard to compute a failure rate for Falcon 9. Officially it's around 4% (two failures in 54 launches). But that doesn't count the vehicle that blew up on the launch pad in 2016 during static testing. OTOH, early lifetime failures for a new technology are probably more common than failures after the technology matures.

      My gut feeling. Falcon 9 is fine for unmanned launches. For manned launches, it's maybe a bit iffy but it may get better over time.

      • It's a little hard to compute a failure rate for Falcon 9. Officially it's around 4% (two failures in 54 launches). But that doesn't count the vehicle that blew up on the launch pad in 2016 during static testing.

        This is incorrect. CRS-7 was the only Falcon 9 mission to explode, unless you count the static fire test. CRS-1 was not a full success because it delivered a secondary payload to too low of an orbit, but it did take Dragon to the ISS without incident and that isn't the kind of failure that would end

  • Ban it now (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We need to embrace a full risk aversion policy. Dangers of any kind have no place in a civilized society. No debate. Make me safe. #saynotorisk #sayyestolife #norisks #nodebate #safetynow

  • by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @07:19AM (#56565710)

    Safety is NASA's top priority. That's not even their decision. A requirement that safety be NASA's top priority was passed through the Congress and signed by the President, and it's the law of the land. If they really take that law literally and fully comply with it, then the solution is to never fly. Astronauts are safest on the ground.

    Besides, flying astronauts into space doesn't really advance the mission of our manned spaceflight program. If we *really* want to funnel federal money into established aerospace contractors and the right congressional districts, then the optimum way to do that is to endlessly develop spacecraft and never fly them.

    • If safety is NASA's top priority, then they will never launch another person again. As that is, of course, the safest option.

      Not that it should not be a prority at all, maybe, Third. [mikerowe.com]

  • shuttle cock(up)s (Score:5, Informative)

    by harvey the nerd ( 582806 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @07:30AM (#56565738)
    In the NASA scar tissue, there were known problems that NASA mgmt refused to honestly address before launches. In 1986, Challenger's freezeable, frozen seals. On Columbia, falling ice hits were a recurrent source of significant shuttle damage, that they specifically suspected a major hit on the fatal flight. Ice build up is an old problem with several solutions. Finally, NASA had a chance to image the fatal hole on Columbia in space, and didn't....

    Too f'g many critical management failures...
    • > Finally, NASA had a chance to image the fatal hole on Columbia in space, and didn't....

      To what end? They didn't have a patch kit, there was no rescue rocket on standby. There was no return plan other than 'de-orbit', and the shuttle could only come in tiles-first. And given the maximum altitude of a shuttle flight... they were coming back regardless (though they'd have run out their life support systems by about day 17, so they'd come back already dead when their orbit finally decayed).

      • This is the same attitude that NASA took, which is pretty much why nobody trusts them anymore. Sticking your head in the sand doesn't allow for even the possibility of solution. If they had known the shuttle was going to break up on reentry they would have had the world's resources at their disposal. The idea that there was nothing in the world that could match orbit with the shuttle within two weeks is ridiculous (a soyuz took off to resupply the ISS February 2), and it's possible something could have been

  • Manned rocketry involves attaching humans to what is essentially a controlled explosion. There is always going to be a risk in this, regardless of when you trigger that explosion.
  • Everything is a risk. Rockets extremely so. Why is it that thousands can die in car accidents every year and that is considered acceptable but oh, change the way we do things on a rocket and that extra risk keeps the flight grounded? I understand the risks is rocketry. Things can go south real fast. You need to mitigate the risks, not try to eliminate or ignore them. Every time you launch, you risk losing the payload or the crew. What that percentage is you only find out after you fly a number of times (the

  • I fail to see any difference between "load it up with propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size" and "load it up with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen", where, as far as I know, manned rockets have been loaded that way since the Apollo missions.
    • by worf_mo ( 193770 )

      The difference would seem to be that the "load it up with propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size" step is required to take place with the crew already on board. Which I am sure has a different risk level than "load it up with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and if the whole thing hasn't exploded proceed with getting the crew aboard."

      I still agree that the title is pure clickbait.

      • What I meant in my question is what would be the difference because the liquid oxygen/hydrogen is already something condensed and at very low temperatures. Or is it possible to cool and condense it even more than is normally used?
        • by Strider- ( 39683 )

          The issue, and concern, is that loading propellants is a dynamic process. The rocket is going through transients as the mass and temperature changes. Traditionally, the astronauts were loaded into the vehicle once it has got steady state, NASA's concern is that doing the dynamics with the astronauts aboard is an additional risk.

    • I fail to see any difference between "load it up with propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size" and "load it up with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen"

      You fail because you cannot be bothered to actually read beyond the headline. The problem isn't THAT they are using cold propellant. The problem is WHEN they are loading the propellant. Handling fuel carries a non-zero chance of catastrophic failure. Fuel that is already on board has already been handled safely and is therefore safer to the astronauts. It's not clear if loading fuel after the astronauts are already on board presents an unacceptable increase in risk. It might or it might not. Historic

    • I fail to see any difference between "load it up with propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size" and "load it up with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen", where, as far as I know, manned rockets have been loaded that way since the Apollo missions.

      Think liquid mercury changing density (and thus size occupied in the thermometer's tube) depending on the temperature.

      Since the Apollo missions, liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen are made liquid by cooling them just barely enough to make them liquid, just below their freezing point.
      The big advantage is that, even if it's cooling, it's not cooling *that* much. The rocket can then basically stay waiting for some time (well a tiny bit is going to boil of, but you can top that tiny bit at the last moment, by ad

  • Boeing involvement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @07:47AM (#56565796) Homepage

    Does anyone else find it convenient the guy most closely associated with Boeing -- you know, that company with the multibillion-dollar vaporware SLS rocket contract -- is squawking the loudest about this?

    Nah, no conflict of interest here. Move along folks.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:23AM (#56565926)

    You know, the solid-fuel booster rockets on the shuttle that cannot be shut down once started? That's the NASA that is now so concerned over security problems?

    Von Braun, back in the 60s, already knew that you cannot really man-rate those things exactly because you have zero control over them once they went off. And they now have a problem with "security concerns"?

    I smell a government agency having a problem with seeing their last reason to exist vanish.

    • You know, the solid-fuel booster rockets on the shuttle that cannot be shut down once started?

      Exactly how many times was this a problem for the shuttle? Oh that's right, zero.

      Von Braun, back in the 60s, already knew that you cannot really man-rate those things exactly because you have zero control over them once they went off.

      Might have been true when he was alive. Demonstrable isn't true now since we have already man-rated them and flown large numbers of missions with them. The only problem we had with the boosters wasn't due to their performance or their ability to adjust throttle.

      • Exactly how many times was this a problem for the shuttle? Oh that's right, zero.

        More often than you heard about it. Fortunately all but one of those cases turned out ok. I wish I could tell you more, but STS-51-L would have been an abort candidate about 20 seconds before the explosion. The problem was that there was no option for abort at this phase in the flight. All we could do was sit tight, bite our nails and hope, as usual. Went good a dozen times before, didn't work itself out this time.

        There was no abort for any Shuttle flights from T0 to T120. Fly or blow. That there has been o

    • You know, the solid-fuel booster rockets on the shuttle that cannot be shut down once started

      The shuttle system dealt with that by making the solid fuel boosters detachable. Yes, there where phases in flight where this would/could be a problem, but after you reached a specific altitude, abort simply involved detaching from the solid boosters.

      By the way.. This isn't all that large of an issue. You may have had the ability to throttle a Saturn 5's engines, but you cannot stop and start them. Serious problems in the first stage would cause nearly the same sequence.. Stage 2 fires and you accelerate

      • You CANNOT detach them safely before they burn out, that's the problem. The boosters provide nearly all the thrust at liftoff and actually very far into the flight. They burn at 100% thrust and will continue to do so for as long as there is fuel. No way to shut them off. No way to control their thrust.

        There was exactly one phase where this is a problem. From T0 when they ignite to T120 when they're burned out and are jettisoned. That's correct. Other than those 2 minutes, they're no problem at all...

        And no,

  • Being around a loaded rocket is inherently risky business. But if you have to be there, then surely your personal escape capsule is the safest place to be. Astronauts on the way to loaded rocket and ground crews wouldn't be so fortunately equipped. Rocket might blow up during propellant loading, but it might also do that any time after it's loaded, say while the astronauts are climbing in.
    • It seems like you all are forgetting all the trouble NASA went to protect Apollo astronauts against catastrophic pad failures.

      These structures [optushome.com.au] were built into the pad to try to allow astronauts to escape the Saturn V in the event of a not-so-catastrophic-but-close-to-it pad failure.

      And the infamous slide wire [collectspace.com] (which, IMHO, should not have been disassembled, it should have been referbered and opened up to the public for a fee....)

      NASA was VERY worried about pre launch Rapid Unscheduled Dissassembies. That n

    • NASA's big argument is that the former (rocket goes boom while fuel-loading) is much more likely than the later (a rocket that has proven to go boom during/immediately after fueling suddenly goes boom at a later point in time, while the astronauts are on their way, but not already installed into something that can serve as an emergency escape) - ie: fueling in particular is making them extremely nervous compared to any other step.

      SpaceX' argument is that the escape mecanism is good enough to make the actual

  • This thinking pretty much sums it up. Experimental/exploratory aviation is inherently risky. NASA has squatted on its haunches for half a century; no human had left low-earth orbit (LEO) since 1972. Idiots like these want to make it another 50 years. Good luck with that.

  • does a car, bike, train plane put lives at risk? yes. The question is always whether it is worth taking the risk. In space exploration the risks are higher, but it is also more exciting and beneficial.
  • SpaceX will hire their own astronauts and send them to space.
  • NASA "Advisors" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:41AM (#56565996) Homepage

    Low temperature fuel. Like the LoX and liquid hydrogen used by the Space Shuttle? This complaint doesn't even make sense.

    A quick read through TFA, and the second linked article: it's not NASA saying this, it is some unknown group of NASA "advisors". The only person specifically named worked for Boeing. Which is to say that SpaceX's competitors are concerned. The fact that NASA has allowed those competitors to speak to the press as "NASA advisors" just shows the level of corporate cronyism present in the game. And, yes, NASA could stop them - if they were really serious, it would be "contact the press and demand a retraction, or contract xyz is cancelled".

    ULA has got to be seriously scared. As in "need a change of underwear" scared. It's all well and good to suck up overpriced contracts, as long as any competition is held at bay with overregulation. However, when a competitor not only jumps the regulatory hurdles, but is 1/10 the price, _and_ has an actual product, as opposed to vaporware... Well, there comes a point where the cronyism is seriously endangered.

    ULA will get nasty before they give up - this is just the warm-up. I hope SpaceX has good lawyers, and also a really good security force. I expect all sorts of staged lawsuits - maybe some class actions if they can find an excuse. Meanwhile, a well-placed bullet hole in the fuel tank of a launching rocket might dent that safety record.

  • One thing that perplexes me somewhat is that they're only raising this concern just now (at least publicly) when the human-rated Dragon 2 capsule for the Falcon 9 was announced in 2014 and is supposed to make it's first human-crewed flight this year. You'd have thought that they would have raised this issue years ago considering the Falcon 9 has been using liquid oxygen and RP-1 (highly refined kerosene) ever since the beginning. The only change from the pre-2015 rockets in terms of fuel is that they're not
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Probably part of a stock-manipulation attempt, as others here have already pointed out.

    • by Strider- ( 39683 )

      I'm also really not convinced of the safety concerns as the basic LOX-RP1 combination is probably the most common

      The issue isn't so much the propellants in question, but loading them while the astronauts are already onboard. Losing propellants into the rocket is a dynamic process, as the structure cools, and takes the structural loads of that propellant. Until now, the procedure has always been to load the rocket first, allow it to reach steady state, then load the astronauts. Because of the sub-chilled propellants, SpaceX can't do this as the propellants will warm up.

    • Densification. It's not for rocket fuel anymore.

  • Tesla is the most shorted stock in the history of options trading by the money at stake. Just before the conference call last Monday, the short interest was 33% of the float, stocks being traded. 12 billion dollars. There was huge hype prior to that. But Tesla beat the lowered expectations. (That is it lost "merely" 750 million dollars in one quarter, not the 1.5 to 2 billion they were expecting). So the stock fell by 10% in after hours, and is hovering with just 5% loss over last week. 700 million of the s
  • When men discovered horse shoes surely there were deaths in mining the iron, blacksmithing the shoe and an occasional brain of a by stander getting whacked by a flying horse shoe. When Columbus discovered America it was on a wooden ship. wooden ships constantly fell apart and all hands were often lost. That was due to the technology of building wooden ships. So maybe a rocket launch should be done several miles from any town or suburb. But anyone who think space related events will not kill people is j
  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @09:50AM (#56566312) Homepage

    The alternative to load and go is transporting the flight crew and personnel to the top of a rocket that's already fully fueled. Essentially personnel are working in areas with minimal protection and no ejection system standing next to a 230 foot tall bomb.

    The way SpaceX does load and go, the flight crew is in a capsule with a functional abort system and the support personnel are a safe distance away.

    Where would you rather be if there was an accident? In a crew capsule with an abort system or an elevator in the gantry? It's not rocket science...well, kinda is...but that's beside the point.

    • There is really only one way to test this. A fully loaded Falcon 9 Block 5 with an unmanned Dragon II capsule on the launch pad.

      A little spark.

      An earth-shattering kaboom.

      And some cool video.

      Come on, you want to do it, Elon.

  • by Mysticalfruit ( 533341 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @10:10AM (#56566398) Homepage Journal
    Yes, there are valid concerns regarding densified propellants. Can those be mitigated, to a degree. SpaceX has now multiple years of handling densified propellants... However, just stating that they've done it a certain way because, well they've done it a certain way.

    Let's think this out.

    Scenario 1. Vehicle is dry. Astronauts and Techs ride up the elevator and get Astronauts situated the vehicle. Technicians then leave the pad. Abort system is verified and enabled. Propellant loading begins.

    Scenario 2. Vehicle is loaded and oxidizer boil off is occuring, which means the Astronauts and support staff will be riding up an elevator next to a loaded rocket, plus the strong back will have be supplementing the vehicle so it's going to have a substantial amount of cryogenically cooled oxygen in it as well. Now, once the crew is loaded, the technicians need to safely get down the elevator and away while boil off and supplemental loading is occuring

    Which of these scenarios seem more likely to be a recipe for disaster?

    I called this a hit piece because this is looks from the outside like SpaceX is being forced to jump over much higher hurdles than ULA.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed. The writer uses simplification so gross that all conclusions drawn from it are basically invalid.

  • To be fair to NASA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @10:50AM (#56566648) Journal

    IIRC, the US Nuclear sub command criticized NASA in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report for claiming who else operates high performance machinery in hostile conditions?.

    They replied We do, we operate Nuclear Submarines and put five thousand people to work studying the Challenger accident to see what we could learn, how many did you put on it?

    I personally don't think it's fair to blame NASA for being safety conscious after blaming them for not being safety conscious.

  • Anybody that thinks this can be made totally safe is just stupid at this time. Maybe it will eventually get down to the risk of air travel, but that will take a few decades.

    • space travel can never be at the level of risk of air travel. Random rocks of all sizes hitting you at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour, high radiation, need to regenerate or create atmosphere, loss or irregularity of propulsion causing one to drift or be lost forever or burn up...there is no comparison to travel by aircraft

  • Musk, your H1B zombies cannot solve it? H1B's can use each other for testing, which means a trip to the U.S. and maybe space?

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!

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