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SpaceX's Big Falcon Topic 2

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Just to review, since there was no discussion a week ago about it:  SpaceX has sold the entire BFR flight around the Moon to Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire who is planning on bring 6-8 artists from around the world.  He's calling the trip #dearMoon, hoping to inspire these artists to create works of art from the trip.  Current date for this is 2023.  This would be after BFR is thoroughly tested and has sent 2 cargo flights to land on Mars.

Refueling the upper stage (BFS: the Big Falcon Ship) will take a similar number of flights of the BFR with tanker ship on top, as the 5 it'll take to refuel for Mars landing (though the current payload capacity seemed to have downgraded from 150t to 100t).  A Moon landing needs to refuel enough to be capable of launching from the Moon back to Earth.  A Mars landing comes down with just enough fuel to land, using local water and CO2 to make the methane and oxygen needed as fuel to get back to Earth.  While #dearMoon is not a Moon landing, it does provide some opportunity for testing out systems needed to transport people to Mars.  It also provides a substantial chuck of money needed to develop the BFR booster and ship, so I'd expect more of these trips as a source of revenue for SpaceX, in addition to their plans for a satellite internet network, point-to-point travel on Earth, and their current business sending science, defense and communications payloads to orbit.

Here's the recording of the announcement -- Elon goes on a bit long though.

 

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12 hours ago, SpaceChampion said:

Just to review, since there was no discussion a week ago about it:  SpaceX has sold the entire BFR flight around the Moon to Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire who is planning on bring 6-8 artists from around the world.  He's calling the trip #dearMoon, hoping to inspire these artists to create works of art from the trip.  Current date for this is 2023.  This would be after BFR is thoroughly tested and has sent 2 cargo flights to land on Mars.

Refueling the upper stage (BFS: the Big Falcon Ship) will take a similar number of flights of the BFR with tanker ship on top, as the 5 it'll take to refuel for Mars landing (though the current payload capacity seemed to have downgraded from 150t to 100t).  A Moon landing needs to refuel enough to be capable of launching from the Moon back to Earth.  A Mars landing comes down with just enough fuel to land, using local water and CO2 to make the methane and oxygen needed as fuel to get back to Earth.  While #dearMoon is not a Moon landing, it does provide some opportunity for testing out systems needed to transport people to Mars.  It also provides a substantial chuck of money needed to develop the BFR booster and ship, so I'd expect more of these trips as a source of revenue for SpaceX, in addition to their plans for a satellite internet network, point-to-point travel on Earth, and their current business sending science, defense and communications payloads to orbit.

Here's the recording of the announcement -- Elon goes on a bit long though.

 

Help me with this one. I could do the math myself but I lack the time. Somehow, I have the feeling that the BFR (and BFS) can have significant success as a commercial launcher because 1) Its size is finely tuned to send sizeable satellites (e.g. 6-15 tons) to GTO/GSO and come back to Earth.  2) It is designed to be re-used many times making the original investment marginal.

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17 hours ago, rotting sea cow said:

Help me with this one. I could do the math myself but I lack the time. Somehow, I have the feeling that the BFR (and BFS) can have significant success as a commercial launcher because 1) Its size is finely tuned to send sizeable satellites (e.g. 6-15 tons) to GTO/GSO and come back to Earth.  2) It is designed to be re-used many times making the original investment marginal.

Yeah, I think you got it.    The design has changed so we have to speculate what the GTO capacity is now.

The change from previous to current design of BFR brings the payload to LEO from 150 tons down to 100 tons.  For reaching GTO, the previous design was something like 18 tons, but that's without refuelling.  For the current design it might be around 12 tons, but I haven't seen the actual numbers.  With refuelling, they can get all the way back up to 100 tons to GTO, the Moon, Mars, etc.  The engines can be upgraded from optimize for sea-level to optimized for the vacuum of space -- this should increase the capacity to LEO and GTO substantially.  Whether that's all the way back up to 150t and 18t respectively, depends on a lot of factors I don't know.

BFR's main advantage is the re-usability of the entire rocket makes the marginal cost of launching to be not much more than the cost of the fuel, which would be around 5 million dollars.  With operating costs, let's say $10 million.  So it would be vastly cheaper to use AND have greater payload capacity than a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, not to mention every other rocket operating or past or planned.  They could easily charge prices similar to Falcon 9, around $60 million, making in profit 5x the cost.  Once they amortize the cost of development BFR (~2 to 5 billion) then prices *could* come down further to fuel + operating costs alone, but likely not because SpaceX will be designing bigger rockets and lots of stuff for a Mars colony, so would use profits from BFR (and Starlink) to pay for those.

Maybe the most interesting thing is that SpaceX would have considerable flexibility to charge whatever they want, including vastly different prices for Mars colonists than for commercial sat payloads.  Like they could charge $60 million per BFR landed on Mars (because it takes 5 tanker BFRs to refuel 1 passenger BFR), which would be the bare minimum -- pretty much giving it away at cost.  One hundred colonists sharing the cost would be $600,000 each per ticket.  While charging commercial companies $100 million for launching their satellites, making 900% profit, and that price gouging would still be attractive to their customers compared to the current market.

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5 hours ago, SpaceChampion said:

Yeah, I think you got it.    The design has changed so we have to speculate what the GTO capacity is now.

The change from previous to current design of BFR brings the payload to LEO from 150 tons down to 100 tons.  For reaching GTO, the previous design was something like 18 tons, but that's without refuelling.  For the current design it might be around 12 tons, but I haven't seen the actual numbers.  With refuelling, they can get all the way back up to 100 tons to GTO, the Moon, Mars, etc.  The engines can be upgraded from optimize for sea-level to optimized for the vacuum of space -- this should increase the capacity to LEO and GTO substantially. 

Ok, thanks. I didn't know these numbers for GTO capacity. It is then makes a lot of sense to build this rocket, because the $$ are in GTO launches. Constellations like OneWeb and/or Starlink have a staggering number of satellites but they require in comparison fewer launches.

I was also thinking on the benefits of high re-usability (>>10 times). Let's take the Falcon 9 as example with its ~23tons LEO capability (yeah, I know payload adapter cannot support that weight, but take it as example). If someone wanted to launch, let's say a 12ton (or equivalent GTO, etc), the Falcon 9 would be oversized. But if you use a partial propellant load and shut or throttle down some engines, it can act as a less powerful rocket without "being wasted" because you are reusing the first stage. Only the second stage is spent (any word if they plan to re-use it btw?). The Atlas V achieves this by adding boosters. The BFS take this concept to a new level, giving its capacity and flexibility.

 

 

5 hours ago, SpaceChampion said:

BFR's main advantage is the re-usability of the entire rocket makes the marginal cost of launching to be not much more than the cost of the fuel, which would be around 5 million dollars.  With operating costs, let's say $10 million.  So it would be vastly cheaper to use AND have greater payload capacity than a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, not to mention every other rocket operating or past or planned.  They could easily charge prices similar to Falcon 9, around $60 million, making in profit 5x the cost.  Once they amortize the cost of development BFR (~2 to 5 billion) then prices *could* come down further to fuel + operating costs alone, but likely not because SpaceX will be designing bigger rockets and lots of stuff for a Mars colony, so would use profits from BFR (and Starlink) to pay for those.

Maybe the most interesting thing is that SpaceX would have considerable flexibility to charge whatever they want, including vastly different prices for Mars colonists than for commercial sat payloads.  Like they could charge $60 million per BFR landed on Mars (because it takes 5 tanker BFRs to refuel 1 passenger BFR), which would be the bare minimum -- pretty much giving it away at cost.  One hundred colonists sharing the cost would be $600,000 each per ticket.  While charging commercial companies $100 million for launching their satellites, making 900% profit, and that price gouging would still be attractive to their customers compared to the current market.

 

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3 hours ago, rotting sea cow said:

Ok, thanks. I didn't know these numbers for GTO capacity. It is then makes a lot of sense to build this rocket, because the $$ are in GTO launches. Constellations like OneWeb and/or Starlink have a staggering number of satellites but they require in comparison fewer launches.

I was also thinking on the benefits of high re-usability (>>10 times). Let's take the Falcon 9 as example with its ~23tons LEO capability (yeah, I know payload adapter cannot support that weight, but take it as example). If someone wanted to launch, let's say a 12ton (or equivalent GTO, etc), the Falcon 9 would be oversized. But if you use a partial propellant load and shut or throttle down some engines, it can act as a less powerful rocket without "being wasted" because you are reusing the first stage. Only the second stage is spent (any word if they plan to re-use it btw?). The Atlas V achieves this by adding boosters. The BFS take this concept to a new level, giving its capacity and flexibility.

You may be right Starlink will require fewer launches, but that's over time.  The initial deployment will take a lot.  There's only about 40 launches worldwide for payload beyond LEO, and last year SpaceX did 7 of the 40 of them.  They could eat that market entirely, but we've yet to see if anything will expand that beyond the ~40.  LEO launches worldwide were about 50 last year, with SpaceX doing ~13. Also the market goes in cycles as sats typically are lasting ~15 years before being replaced.  Recent sats are having longer lifetimes, so the market may even shrink.

The numbers for Starlink I've seen differ a lot -- from 4k to 12k sats -- but BFR cannot launch that many at once, nor is that the best way to deploy them even if BFR had the capacity, since the constellation has to reach most of the Earth from a relatively low orbit as many different inclinations.  It'll probably be around 200 sats per launch, depending on their size.  So about 20 to 60 launches for the initial deployment, plus replacing them frequently as they burn out or their orbit decays.  It's going to be a lot of launches.

We don't know if the market for huge sats for GEO will expand with the cheaper launch cost.  The majority of the cost in the commercial space industry is not launches -- apparently that counts for a mere 2%.  BFR needs to open up entirely new market.  Cheaper sats more frequently produced.  Hence Starlink and OneWeb (which would eventually be using Blue Origin's New Glenn, not SpaceX) is the first signs of that.

SpaceX could likely figure out how to do a fully reusable second stage, probably using the Raptor engine, but there is no point to do so if they're going to have BFR in 3 years or so.  Elon wanted it for a long time I think but it just makes sense to move on.

If they can get point-to-point Earth travel approved by the relevant authorities, and charge prices similar to airlines for long-haul trips to the other side of the world, that's another huge use for BFR.  They'll have to figure out how to make more BFRs faster!

Edited by SpaceChampion

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Posted (edited)

SAOCOM 1A launch and first west coast landing at LZ-4 in Vandenberg AFB and first landing of a Block 5 Falcon 9.

 

Edited by SpaceChampion

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The November 19 launch of a Falcon 9 may be the first launch of the same booster for the third time.   Should be 5 more launches this year. 

Next Falcon Heavy will probably launch next year first quarter, but on the business side of things it has attracted customers for its capability to launch heavier payloads into GSO.  Evidently, pushing Elon's Tesla Roadster into a 6-hour coast phase before launching towards Mars was a strategic move to prove how long the upper stage's kerolox fuel could be kept sitting without too much boil off before relighting the engine for the next burn, a very important demonstration for satellites that need that flexibility before being put into their proper orbits directly into GEO.  Due to this, Swedish satellite company Ovzon signed a deal with SpaceX for a GEO-sat for 2020, as well as a company called ViaSat has booked for the 2020-2022 time frame.

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That’s cool! The Viasat press release contains some more motivation behind the decision to go with the Falcon Heavy:

Quote

Viasat chose the SpaceX Falcon Heavy for its ability to fly a near direct-injection mission, inserting a ViaSat-3 satellite extremely close to geostationary orbit—as a result, the spacecraft can begin in-orbit testing (IOT) quickly after launch, rather than spending weeks or months performing orbit raising maneuvers. This is expected to enable Viasat to turn on its ultra-high-speed broadband service much quicker after launch than is possible with other launch vehicles.

http://investors.viasat.com/news-releases/news-release-details/viasat-spacex-enter-contract-future-viasat-3-satellite-launch

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Ok, this is surprising.

Aiming for mid-June orbital flight.  That's quick!  Lots of questions like (1) Raptor or Merlin engines?; (2) will this replace Dragon as a crew-module?; (3) or is this cargo-only for maximum payload volume for Starlink constellation?; (4) this probably means they're giving up on fairing recovery if replacing the upper-stage with a mini-BFR that does not need a fairing, not that they can't recover the fairings but this gives them much more.

Someone's speculation on what this might look like, with and without a Dragon sitting on top of it.

 

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So the mini-BFR (more like a mini-version of the BFR upper stage of the BFR) appears to be only a test vehicle to understand the aerodynamics of the control surfaces for BFS, atmospheric re-entry and guiding it to the landing zone.  It will use Merlin vacuum engines but not for propulsively landing -- since they already know how to do that, and Merlin-vac engines cannot operate at sea-level in order to land.  I'd assume parachute landing.  So this is NOT replacing F9's upper stage.  It's just a 7m test vehicle.  It would be  a 7m or less subscale version of the 9m diameter BFR.

Edited by SpaceChampion

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Es'hail-2 Mission.  Falcon 9 block 5 launch from Kennedy, with the first stage previously flown and landed.

Edited by SpaceChampion

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So yesterday's mission matched last year's record by SpaceX for number of launches at 18.  Monday is aiming to be the 19th launch for the year.  Might get up to about 22 this year.

The launch is called SSO-A: THE SMALLSAT EXPRESS -- 34 different organizations are sending 64 micro and cube sats placed into a sun-synchronous orbit by a Falcon 9, the largest spaceflight rideshare in U.S. history.  This is ALSO the third time that particular first stage will launch, demonstrating SpaceX's promise of multiple reuse of there money-making rocket.

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