SpaceChampion

SpaceX--Spacecraft, rockets, and Mars

336 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

26 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Not quite. If a rocket is fully re-used 10 times, then it is a 10 times cost reduction - i.e. the manufacturing cost of the rocket is spread over 10 launches. If it flies 100 times, it is a 100 fold cost reduction.

I don't think manufacturing cost is the greatest cost in the price though.  Development (ie. salaries for your engineers, costs for test stands, pad costs, unrecoverable costs for flying test rockets without paid payload) is much more, but once you have your final design every reusable rocket pays that down.  So you are not reducing over 10 or 100 flights, but 1000s.  This is why SpaceX is planning on an internet satellite constellation of it own, to be it's own best customer.  They intend to launch 100s of times a year from 4 different launch pads.

Certainly though they are not going to lower the price so much that they're not making a profit.

 

@Ser Scot A Ellison

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You'd enjoy Seveneves.  I'd love to hear your take on how the story should be changed to match current conditions if SpaceX is factored in.

I'll put that on my list to read then. 

Edited by SpaceChampion

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Posted (edited)

50 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Not quite. If a rocket is fully re-used 10 times, then it is a 10 times cost reduction - i.e. the manufacturing cost of the rocket is spread over 10 launches. If it flies 100 times, it is a 100 fold cost reduction. But this assumes full reuse, and doesn't include other launch costs such as ground crews, pad operations, fuel etc. And we know the current F9 will not achieve full reuse. Its upper stage doesn't have enough juice for re-entry and landing burns.

So the best we can expect from the F9 Block 5 is likely a drop from the current $60m per launch, cost to customer, to probably in the region of $20m per launch, cost to customer. That's assuming fairing recovery and reuse, but no upper stage recovery. That's still an amazing breakthrough, and will kill all of their existing competitors.

For 100-fold cost reductions, you need to wait for the ITS, which, with full reuse and an internal cargo bay (therefore no need for fairing recovery), will certainly achieve that on a cost/kg launched to orbit basis. Bringing it down to around $100/kg, eventually, or perhaps even lower, which is 100 times lower than the $10,000/kg or more that is currently the norm.

Who is manufacturing the ITS?

Just found this:

https://www.theverge.com/2016/9/27/13078230/spacex-mars-interplanetary-rocket-spaceship-video

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

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9 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

It's the next generation SpaceX Mars vehicle. But the ITS terminology is actually already outdated. Gwynne Shotwell in her latest interview stated that they have returned to the "BFR" name for it. Anyway, when Elon talks about two orders of magnitude reductions in launch costs, that is the vehicle he is talking about. Not the current Falcon 9 or even the Falcon Heavy, which is launching soon.

The BFR will make all of these vehicles obsolete, as it brings a whole new economy of scale and full reuse into the picture. But that is still a few years away. Probably 10 years away, if one is realistic. But very, very exciting.

In the interim we are probably looking at cost reductions in the region of 3-fold for the Falcon 9, and maybe twice that for the Falcon Heavy, if they can figure out a way to bring the fairing and perhaps the 2nd stage back on some missions. But that would likely have to wait for the Raptor engine, which will likely only see the light of day in the next generation vehicle.

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They have a contract with the US Air Force to prototype a Raptor engine on the 2nd stage of F9 and F-Heavy, presumably to allow for military / security payloads that require even more thrust.  They've already made a one-third scale prototype, so I think a full scale prototype is a lot more closer to use than you are saying.  It's suppose to be completed by end of 2018.  The contract doesn't specify an actual flight, just ground tests, but I can easily see SpaceX using one of its Falcon Heavy demo flights to fly it.
 

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33 minutes ago, SpaceChampion said:

They have a contract with the US Air Force to prototype a Raptor engine on the 2nd stage of F9 and F-Heavy, presumably to allow for military / security payloads that require even more thrust.  They've already made a one-third scale prototype, so I think a full scale prototype is a lot more closer to use than you are saying.  It's suppose to be completed by end of 2018.  The contract doesn't specify an actual flight, just ground tests, but I can easily see SpaceX using one of its Falcon Heavy demo flights to fly it.
 

Possibly. It is a fierce debate being waged at the moment, among fans. There are pro's and con's to diverting R&D resources to such a step. It seems an intermediate "mini" BFR with both first and 2nd stages running on Raptors is the more prevalent view among armchair critics at this point in time. But Gwynne did say in her Space Show interview recently that the utility of using Raptor on the Falcon architecture is being investigated, so who knows.

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Yes, before that interview I was doubtful.  All indications prior was that they'd dismissed it as not really possible without spending a lot of money to save maybe $8-12 million per 2nd stage, and still not be able to do it for all missions such as those to GEO.  Perhaps the real savings though is found freeing up their production line from making as many 2nd stages as they'll need, if it were reusable.  Might be an insurance thing too by getting as much experience as possible flying a methalox engine to prove down the risk to the insurers before BFR.

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12 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Does it cost more or less, per customer, to use a return first stage?

It costs just the right amount.

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Posted (edited)

Elon Musk speaks to the National Governors Association meeting yesterday:

 

Edited by SpaceChampion

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Posted (edited)

Today at the ISS R&D conference, a few things from Musk's Q&A: (not exact quotes, just a summary)

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Elon: "IAC 2017 would be a good place for Mars update. It's evolved significantly. Might ask for prewritten questions *[laughter]. How to pay for it? Downsize for Earth-orbit activity., it's a little bit smaller, I think this one has a better shot at being real re: economics."

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Tunnels can be really good for Mars, optimizations for the red planet though. Ice mining will be important, also underground habitats for radiation shielding. Entire cities underground if you wanted to.

"I try to spend as much on R&D as I can. I spend 80% of my time doing engineering."

 

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Q: Dragon will no longer land propulsively?

A: That's true, hard decision. Technically it still is, but it'd have to land on a soft landing pad, no legs. Hard to qualify the safety for crew. Base-mounted heatshield and side-mounted thrusters were going to be the plan for landing on Mars, that's no longer the plan. Red Dragon could be brought back later, but not a good resource drain right now.

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Q: Will you ride Dragon to ISS?

A: "I would like to, assuming things work out. Maybe three or four years."

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Q: Principle biological concerns for landing on Mars?

A: Going to Mars is not for the faint of heart. Risky, dangerous, cramped, you might die. There will be issues, but not irradiated to death; about equivalent to smoking. Some shielding should cut down on the marginal risk for cancer. Learning a lot about solar winds. Not a show-stopper.

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Q: Follow up on biology: will SpaceX develop biological technology for colonization?

A: SpaceX focused on transportation. Propellant depot on Mars, but don't want to get in the way of what others are doing.

 

Quote

 


  • Dragon 2 propulsive landing has been dropped. Crew Dragon and next-gen Cargo Dragon will both use parachutes to land, and next-gen Cargo Dragon will lack the SuperDraco system entirely. The risk factor is too high, legs protruding from the heatshield were deemed unworkable.

  • Red Dragon missions have been canceled. This is a result of the propulsive landing decision and that Red Dragon's Mars atmospheric entry in no way resembles ITS's planned entry.

  • Scaled-down ITS to be used for commercial missions.

  • Falcon Heavy demo flight stands a good chance of failure. Elon would be happy if SpaceX gets away with an undamaged pad LC-39A. "Real good chance that vehicle does not make it to orbit", and "major pucker factor".

  • Boca Chica launch site can serve as a backup pad for ISS flights. If a hurricane renders Cape launch facilities inoperable, SpaceX's in-progress southern Texas pad can pick up the slack.

  • First Dragon 1 reflight cost as much or more than a new Dragon. Elon expects this to improve drastically, first refurbishment had to deal with issues like water intrusion into the capsule.

  • Fairing recovery and eventual reuse is progressing well. First successful recovery is expected later this year, with the first fairing reflights late 2017 or early 2018. Repeated figure of '5 to 6 million dollars' for the fairings.

  • Second stage recovery and reuse is still on the table. It's not a priority until after streamlined first stage reuse and Dragon 2 flights, but it's there. Second stage is approximately 20% of total mission costs.

  • 12 flights still planned this year. SpaceX should have 3 pads firing on all cylinders by Q4.

  • Goal for end of 2018 is 24-hour first stage turnaround. Zero refurbishment, including paint.

 

Edited by SpaceChampion

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Posted (edited)

So it looks like the ITS will be resized from the 2016 version of 12m diameter to a 9m diameter rocket.  About 75% of the size in all dimensions probably , and the booster at half the thrust with 21 Raptor engines instead of 42, it'll still be a massive vehicle.

Using the existing launch pads and factory is a good plan to save money, do it quickly (by 2022 or 2024) and using this to replace the Falcon Heavy (which hasn't even flown yet but is maybe overly difficult and not fully reusable for every mission), would be a good entry way into proving capability for not just a Mars mission, but a Mars program, and take a grab at all the business in LEO or Moon orbit before Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin can.

About 150 mT to LEO (assuming arrives empty using up all fuel but that needed for return flight), which if refueled from tanker ships to full tank capacity could take maybe 100 mT to the surface of the Moon, and 225? mT to Mars.  (Moon payload capacity is less than Mars because you have to bring down all your propellants to launch from the Moon, whereas Mars assumes you land with tanks nearly empty and refuel from Martian methane and oxygen).

In the mean time they'll get Falcon Heavy working, Dragon 2 working, and fly missions to swing by the Moon if they can, but mostly fulfill their contracts to deliver cargo and crew to ISS, and satellites to orbit with the Block 5 version of Falcon 9.  This means their factory will be busy building a fleet of F9 block 5 rockets first that would last them several years of reuse, then switch over to making the first ITS.

Edited by SpaceChampion

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SpaceX closed another funding round, valuing the company at about $22 billion.

In other news, Luke Nosek of the venture capitial firm Founders Fund is leaving that to start a SpaceX focused fund -- called the Gigafund.  Nosek co-founded Paypal with Musk, and is a SpaceX board member. 

There is speculation the Gigafund might invest in technology companies related to Mars colonization in addition to SpaceX.  Gigafund appears to be starting with a $100 million dollar fund, but has no guarantee it'll be allowed to invest in SpaceX.

Founders Fund already has about $200 million invested in SpaceX, but will not have any relationship with the Gigafund. 

Another rumour is that Nosek is the guy who bought the ticket from SpaceX to ride a Dragon around the Moon.

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Posted (edited)

Sunday is the scheduled launch date of SpaceX's next flight, the Formosat-5 satellite for Taiwan.  What's unusual about this flight is the sat is less than 500 kg.  Originally it was scheduled to fly in 2014-2015 on a Falcon 1e rocket, but SpaceX discontinued that rocket long ago in favour of developing the F9.  This mission was a rideshare with a co-customer (Spaceflight's Sherpa payload adapter that would have carried 89 nanosats and microsats) set to share the lift to orbit, but they pulled out due to uncertainly with launch delays.

Without reusability this flight would be a net loss for SpaceX, sold to the customer at $23M, but with it assuming they fly the same first stage several times at their normal prices, it essentially just pushes amortization of development costs for F9 by a flight or two.  Except I'm not sure they are going to refly this first stage, since it appears to be the last "Block 3" version of the F9, and they want to retire Block 4 and quickly move on to Block 5 later this year -- the latter will apparently require little refurbishment in order to refly 10 times each.

Edited by SpaceChampion

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20 hours ago, SpaceChampion said:

Sunday is the scheduled launch date of SpaceX's next flight, the Formosat-5 satellite for Taiwan.  What's unusual about this flight is the sat is less than 500 kg.  Originally it was scheduled to fly in 2014-2015 on a Falcon 1e rocket, but SpaceX discontinued that rocket long ago in favour of developing the F9.  This mission was a rideshare with a co-customer (Spaceflight's Sherpa payload adapter that would have carried 89 nanosats and microsats) set to share the lift to orbit, but they pulled out due to uncertainly with launch delays.

Without reusability this flight would be a net loss for SpaceX, sold to the customer at $23M, but with it assuming they fly the same first stage several times at their normal prices, it essentially just pushes amortization of development costs for F9 by a flight or two.  Except I'm not sure they are going to refly this first stage, since it appears to be the last "Block 3" version of the F9, and they want to retire Block 4 and quickly move on to Block 5 later this year -- the latter will apparently require little refurbishment in order to refly 10 times each.

It is the CRS-12 ressuply mission on August 14. The Formosat mission is scheduled towards the end of August.

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Posted (edited)

On 2017-08-09 at 6:19 PM, Free Northman Reborn said:

It is the CRS-12 ressuply mission on August 14. The Formosat mission is scheduled towards the end of August.

You are correct.  A bunch of SpaceX flight dates were in flux, I got confused.  :dunno:

The CRS-12 launching tomorrow at 12:31PM EST and weather is 70% favourable.

This will be the last time a brand new Dragon 1 cargo vehicle will fly -- remainder of missions will be previously flown until Dragon 2's first flight.  This'll be one of their heaviest Dragons, maxed out the volume and mass to stuff it for the ISS resupply.

Also the first stage is the first Block 4 version (but the landing legs have previously been flown).  Block 4 engines have 58% more acceleration at sea level than Block 3, so the difference should be visible.

Edited by SpaceChampion

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Successful launch:

 

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Spacex has delivered a quarter of global launches so far this year. Once LC40 is back in operation, they could take a third of the global market next year.

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