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Why Elon Musk's SpaceX is even cooler than Tesla


RV_

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I've written about Space X here before and their extreme advantage over the bloated corporate mentality of the ULA (United Launch Alliance - Boeing and Lockheed) Not to mention the costs and American jobs he ,maintains as he is not supporting jobs in Russia or China except to sell cars made by American workers in the good ol' US of A.

 

Excerpt:

 

"Tesla is cool. Elon Musk's electric car company continues to pump out beautiful, high performance cars that Silicon Valley and, increasingly, the world lusts after.

 

But as cool as Tesla is, SpaceX, Elon Musk's other company, is even cooler... and much more important.

 

Though it's easy to relegate SpaceX and its ilk to silly whims of billionaire Space Invaders fans, such a view is short-sighted, as Ashlee Vance's excellent Elon Musk biography uncovers. As "companies turn to space for television, internet, radio, weather, navigation, and imaging services," high-tech and other industries are going to need a low-cost, high-quality commercial space company.

 

We're going to need SpaceX.

 

Also of concern, "Where these competitors rely on Russian and other foreign suppliers, SpaceX makes all of its machines from scratch in the United States." This might seem like an antiquated concern, but we've already had periods of time when Russia's government intervened to block sales of its (outdated) technology to US companies. Oh, and while SpaceX's current cost is $60 million per satellite launch, Russia charges the US $70 million per passenger to ferry them to the International Space Station.

 

Today, the cheapest places to get access to a satellite (outside SpaceX) are China and Russia, hardly the most ideal of business partners for US (or European) companies. To make access to space affordable, predictable, and safe, the industry is starting to turn to SpaceX.

 

Space at a price we can afford

 

Today, a Falcon 9 launch costs $60 million. While dramatically lower than any of its competitors, Musk wants to push this price even lower. Through economies of scale and technological innovation, SpaceX believes it can get the price closer to $20 million per launch.

 

As the price drops, the ranks of companies and countries that can afford access to space will increase. As one SpaceX employee tells Vance, "A number of new nations [are] showing interest in launches, eyeing communications technology as essential to growing their economies and leveling their status with developed nations. Cheaper flights [will] help SpaceX take the majority of the business from that new customer set."

 

There is really much more in the article here: http://www.techrepublic.com/article/why-elon-musks-spacex-is-even-cooler-than-tesla/?tag=nl.e101&s_cid=e101&ttag=e101&ftag=TRE684d531

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Not to degrade anything Musk and Space-X are doing, but I am disheartened that NASA is not leading our space ventures.

 

The single biggest difference is that whatever NASA has, or will develop, is public property. Think of the too numerous products that had been developed with NASA research. In his day, J. Paul Getty stated that the Space program was the best investment the United States ever made because its value in developments exceeded the cost of the program.

 

What private firms develop will be their property, as it should be. It is a sad state of affairs that our nation has chosen to divert funds from development programs to programs that return nothing in value.

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"CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A SpaceX rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station erupted Sunday shortly after liftoff.

NASA says the accident confirmed a few minutes into the flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Pieces could be seen falling into the Atlantic."

 

(More)

"SpaceX Rocket Explodes Shortly After Liftoff"

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Yep, saw that just now Dutch.

That is curious in that an Orbital sciences resupply blew up in October or November, and then the Russian resupply mission spun out of control and could not deliver supplies, and now the SpaceX resupply mission blows up. Heck of a coincidence but since SpaceX gets no Rocket engines from elsewhere, like Russia, it is a bad coincidence for the astronauts up there.

 

Dale,

Relax the R&D is still ongoing through the DARPA and other government programs that pay for the advanced research projects needed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA

 

I hope that SpaceX or Orbital sciences has a second vehicle ready. Or even Russia. The anti Musk folks will make hay with this more so than any other failures by other companies including NASA in the past, as far blaming the companies. It comes with the territory. But the guys up in the ISS are going to need supplies pretty fast.

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This just came in.

 

Excerpt:

 

"The rocket shattered while traveling at 2,900 mph, about 27 miles up. Everything appeared to go well in the flight until the rocket went supersonic.

 

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk later said an over pressurization occurred in the liquid-oxygen tank of the rocket's upper stage.

 

"That's all we can say with confidence right now," Musk said via Twitter. "Will have more to say following a thorough fault tree analysis."

 

Losing this shipment — which included replacements for items lost in two previous failed supply flights — was a huge setback for NASA in more than one way. The space agency is counting on private industry to transport cargo — and eventually astronauts — to the orbiting lab. The California-based SpaceX is one of the contenders.

 

This is the second failed station shipment in a row and the third in eight months.

 

In April, a Russian cargo ship spun out of control and burned up upon re-entry, along with all its precious contents. And last October, an Orbital Sciences Corp. supply ship was destroyed in a launch accident.

 

This Dragon had been carrying replacement food, clothes and science experiments for items lost in those two mishaps. The seven previous SpaceX supply runs, dating back to 2012, had gone exceedingly well."

 

More here in the Breaking story: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/spacex-launch-ends-in-failure-rocket-erupts/ar-AAcft3M?ocid=ansnewsap11

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"CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A SpaceX rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station erupted Sunday shortly after liftoff.

NASA says the accident confirmed a few minutes into the flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Pieces could be seen falling into the Atlantic."

 

 

I don't harbor any ill will towards Mr. Musk, but as a retired Lockheed Martin vice president I do get tired of the constant refrain in these threads exalting Musk and berating the "bloated" superstructure of United Launch Alliance and the companies that comprise it. In my career at LMC I had no involvement with the rocket guys but I knew plenty of them. They take their jobs very seriously and it was painful to be with them after a launch failure or when there was a payload that refused to communicate.

 

Building and launching rockets and their associated payloads is, indeed, "rocket science" and Musk's string of initial successes were no guarantee of continued success. I'm confident that with enough experience he'll eventually build rockets reliable enough for manned flight, but he's sure not there yet and I think it's going to be a while before any US astronauts will ride on one of his devices. Maybe what Mr. Musk needs is more experience and less bravado.

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I don't harbor any ill will towards Mr Musk at all, in fact I wish him all the success his forward thinking earns him! And like Derek, I do hope there's a "Plan D" ready in the near term for the sake of the ISS occupants, regardless of who has the equipment in place first.

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I hear ya Dutch!

 

Joel I had no idea you had any involvement with Lockheed. I have no ill will towards Lockheed either. They had been bloated and cost more than Musk to launch from day one. I harbor a bit of resentment to the millions the ULA spent in lobbying to keep Musk out of the running to launch at all. The ULA also realized they would have to compete and consolidated five of their originally six launch facilities.

 

It was March 5th, 2014 when Musk testified to Congress about the EELV program along with the ULA: http://www.satellitetoday.com/launch/2014/03/05/spacex-ula-testify-before-congress-on-eelv-program/

 

Then in May of 2014 Russia halted shipments of their RD-180 heavy lift rocket engines to the US: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/may/15/us-space-military-programme-russia-sanctions

 

Then with competition, and no certified military mission launch vehicles they finally see that SpaceX will be much less expensive, and finally decided to cut costs as they are, and were, overpriced. Coincidentally Lockheed also retained the rights all along to the Atlas rockets they developed for the US government:

 

Excerpt:

 

"ULA also provides launch services for non-government satellites: Lockheed Martin retains the rights to market Atlas commercially.

 

Beginning in October 2014, ULA announced that they intended to undertake a substantial restructuring of the company, its products and processes, in the coming years in order to decrease launch costs. ULA is planning on building a new rocket that will be a successor to the Atlas V, using a new rocket engine on the first stage, with plans to release key design aspects before the end of 2014. In April 2015, they unveiled the new vehicle as the Vulcan, with the first flight of a new first stage no earlier than 2019."

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Launch_Alliance

 

Saying that SpaceX is not experienced enough to build good rockets would be like me saying, and I am not saying this even by inference, that the deaths of the challenger astronauts was negligence, because of the many years of experience the manufacturers had in making launch vehicles.

 

In reality, the ULA had no rocket engines they built themselves for these missions as of April 2014: http://breakingdefense.com/2014/04/pentagon-mulls-building-all-american-rocket-engines-dropping-russian-rd-180s/

 

So the ULA will need to tighten their belts and play catch up. See, SpaceX now has more years of experience building the most critical part of the launch vehicle - The engine. If you want to put it that way. I agree, no matter who builds the launch vehicles, there will be crashes and explosions. As every astronaut has stated when describing why they would strap themselves on top of a bomb with attitude.

 

From today, and bear in mind we have some RD-180s in reserve.

 

Excerpt:

 

"The US can’t quit buying Russian RD-180 rocket engines for heavy lifting until it produces an engine with similar capabilities, chief of the US Space Command said. This follows frantic calls by Republican Senator John McCain to terminate the contract.

 

“Why in the world would anyone think we would want to continue dependency on Russian rocket engines, which traces up to the corrupt mafia that is around Vladimir Putin?” McCain told the Daily Beast this week after a group of fellow Republicans made the departure from Russian engines impossible for the 2016 fiscal year.

 

This is not the first time the senator has lashed out at US dealings with Russia. But after the outbreak of violence in Ukraine, he was the leading figure behind the legislation enforcing the rapid phase out of the RD-180 engines that have powered the Atlas V rocket, used in most US launches for the past two decades.

 

General John Hyten, the US Space Command head, explains why doing so would be shortsighted, at least for now.

 

Speaking at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Friday, Hyten said: “Without access to the RD-180… we severely limit our assured access [to space], undermine the competition we have worked so diligently to enable and will have traded one monopoly for another in the medium and intermediate vehicle classes.”

Congress already plans to wean the US off of Russia’s RD-180 for heavy lifting purposes by 2019, as the American space industry is producing an equivalent, but there are fears it won’t make the deadline, which would leave Tesla founder Elon Musks’s commercial Space X firm the only muscle in the business. That is if the billionaire develops the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle by then.

 

Two new homemade launch systems are also expected by 2022, if all goes well, according to Hyten.

 

The US currently has nine RD-180 engines in its possession, but that’s not enough for the country’s needs, Hyten says. The senior official expressed his support for the fulfillment of the 2012 contract for the purchase of additional RD-180s, so as the company the US relies on for space launches can stay competitive until a new launch system is developed."

 

http://rt.com/usa/270220-us-space-russian-engine/

 

I take extreme exception with, not your statements Joel, but the spin in this next article. The sentence I highlighted in red above acts as if SpaceX were not an American company. Now Musk had to sue to get into the monopoly that NASA helped create when they excepted the newly formed ULA from being subject to the normal objections to monopolies. Why so fast? They saw Space X coming along fast.

 

Excerpt:

 

"Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced their intent to form the United Launch Alliance joint venture on May 2, 2005. ULA merges the production of the government space launch services of the two companies into one central plant in Decatur, Alabama, and merged all engineering into another central plant in Littleton, Colorado. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Delta IV and Lockheed Martin Space Systems Atlas V are both launchers developed for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program intended to provide the United States government with competitively priced, assured access to space.

 

ULA had a peak of six space launch facilities during 2005–2011. It announced a consolidation to five in 2008 with the intent to close one of its two Delta II pads,[4] and closed the pad at Cape Canaveral after its final Delta II launch in 2011.

 

SpaceX challenged the United States antitrust law legality of the launch services monopoly on October 23, 2005. SpaceX is interested in competing for government launch contracts with the Falcon 9 rocket. On January 7, 2006 the Department of Defense gave preliminary approval to the United Launch Alliance.

 

In September 2006, the Pentagon renewed their support for ULA, and announced their support to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).[citation needed] The FTC gave their anti-trust clearance on October 3, 2006. The joint venture began operations on December 1, 2006.

 

Two years following company formation from units of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, ULA announced it would lay off 350 workers in early 2009, reducing from a company-wide employment of 4200 employees in 2008. In the event, ULA had approximately 3900 employees by August 2009.

 

In late 2009, ULA announced that it intended to build a new headquarters campus for its operations south of Denver, in Centennial, Colorado, in order to move away from facility space it had shared with Lockheed Martin since 2006 when ULA was founded.

 

In November 2010, United Launch Alliance was selected by NASA for consideration for potential contract awards for heavy lift launch vehicle system concepts, and propulsion technologies.

 

It was announced in August 2014 that Michael Gass, ULA CEO since ULA was founded in 2006, would step down immediately and that he would be replaced by Tory Bruno, effective immediately.

 

In September 2014, it was announced that the firm had won a contract from the United States Air Force for US$938 million for additional work on military rocket launch services related to its existing contracts with the US Air Force.

 

ULA announced in February 2015 that they are considering undertaking domestic production of the Russian RD-180 engine at the Decatur, Alabama rocket stage manufacturing facility. The US-manufactured engines would be used only for government civil (NASA) or commercial launches, and would not be used for US military launches."

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Launch_Alliance

 

So indeed they have a template to copy. However I thought we disapproved of companies overseas stealing our product designs. Just not when the ULA does?

 

But in any event, they are only now starting their R&D on a new rocket they never produced, but bought "cheap" from Russia. And still they were more expensive than SpaceX and will continue to be.

 

At every point we had failed launches under NASA and the ULA no one said we should abandon space flight.

 

What ULA needs is more experience in building their own rockets?

 

As a Lockheed VP I am sure we will never agree on the absolute need for competition in space vehicle manufacturing and launching. And with all due respect Joel, I take extreme exception to the ULA putting our programs in jeopardy with foreign powers. Should they not have been doing the R&D all along to have our own?

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RV:

 

I will not deny that Lockheed Martin, as a company that subsists primarily on government contracts, has not been well suited to doing business in the commercial arena. Throughout my tenure with them there were multiple forays into commercial pursuits, virtually all of which ended in failure. For a period in the early 2000's LMC tried to do commercial space launches using the Titan platform, but it is my understanding that the enterprise was not profitable. Bob Stevens, LMC's retired CEO, who I had the opportunity to work with one-on-one, was dead set against LMC getting involved in commercial enterprises; he became tired of writing off the failures.

 

What I find troubling is the undercurrent of your remarks which imply that the current use of a Russian rocket engine by ULA somehow represents a US inability to design rocket engines. As I recall US-designed rocket engines put a man on the moon, unless you credit all of that knowledge to von Braun. Since I had long since left LMC by the time the decision was made to go with the Russian engine, I have no insight as to the underlying technical and economic reasons underlying that decision. But I was aware of the fact that the Russian engines were considered the best in the world at the time.

 

I agree with you that it seems nonsensical now to have mortgaged US heavy launch capabilities to an engine supplied by a not-very-trustworthy supplier, but things seemed a lot different a decade or two ago. I spent many weeks in Russian from 1995-2003 during the heyday of the post-Cold War euphoria and there was genuine belief on the part of many people that relations with Russia were going to continue to steadily improve. In hindsight those thoughts seem rather naive but that was where many thought we were headed.

 

But that decision notwithstanding, I am fairly confident that at least a kernel of rocket engine design capability still exists within the staff of ULA. Whether or not they can design and produce a commercially viable launch vehicle remains to be seen, but I have faith in the human talent. That talent in Denver and elsewhere has put more "stuff" space than probably any other group in the country.

 

Competition will be good for the space industry and I agree that the growth of commercial launch services is an important part of the next phase of space exploration. But even nearly 60 years since Sputnik 1 no one should ever underestimate how difficult it is to design, build and launch a rocket into space. I, and some others here, grew up watching Vanguard rockets blowup one right after the another. Many of those lessons don't have to be repeated, but it does seem that Mr Musk is relearning some of them.

 

Some of the high historical costs of space exploration have been due to the cost sf doing everything possible to prevent failure. Sometimes the smallest unforeseen detail can result in disaster. I clearly recall being in Denver with the rocket guys once after a tiny human error meant that a satellite was lost and an entire mission was a failure. It wasn't a lot of fun being around a bunch of senior technical guys wandering around saying "we should have entered a "1" in the program instead of a "2"" and that's what caused the multi-million dollar failure. Preventing "the little things" often costs a lot of money; maybe Musk will find that the lowest cost approach isn't always the best way to ensure success.

 

Joel

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Joel, not looking for politics here. I have been a space buff since the 1950's... and the 'B' Science Fiction movies scared the daylights out of me at the Picture Shows. I watched the july 20, 1969 moon landing in a bar in Pensacola.

 

In your estimation, What did go wrong with the American heavy launch abilities? I remember Nixon curtailing the number of moon landings... but I think he kept the shuttle program....

 

Jim

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In your estimation, What did go wrong with the American heavy launch abilities? I remember Nixon curtailing the number of moon landings... but I think he kept the shuttle program....

 

 

 

I'm by no means the most qualified person to answer this question, but I think I agree with what Mark is saying, that a lot of the answer is tied up with the Shuttle program and NASA's insistence on the perpetuation of the manned space program.

 

During the Apollo Program NASA created an enormous infrastructure built to support manned space, which it wanted to keep alive at all costs. Shuttle was seen as the "low cost" way to do that although I think the numbers show that it was never really the "low cost" solution it was touted as. As a result, US heavy lift development pretty much dried up after Apollo except for the Titan program which was, almost exclusively, dedicated to DoD/NRO mission, except for a few interplanetary probes too large and heavy for Shuttle or Delta.

 

As a kid who grew up reading Von Braun's books, I never could understand how we literally abandoned Saturn and all the development associated with it. To think that the world's largest heavy lift rocket last flew ~40 years ago seems inconceivable to me. I fully understand that Saturn was designed and built when computers were less powerful than today's smartphones, but that doesn't take away from the accomplishment.

 

IMHO the bifurcation of the heavy lift program into a NASA piece and an Air Force piece with virtually no overlap may well have been the root cause of our current issues. NASA had "decreed" that Saturn would die so that Shuttle would live so it lost interest in expendable heavy lift rockets. In the late 90's the Air Force realized it needed something more cost effective than Titan and Delta so it initiated EELV (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) which is the program which developed the rockets being used by United Launch Alliance.

 

But the Air Force's view of "cost effective" is very different than the commercial world's so it's not a surprise that ULA has difficulty competing with Elon Musk. One's perspectives on the tradeoffs between cost and risk are very different when your payload is a billion dollar NRO satellite than when it's a much lower priced communications satellite. I doubt that much of the US public realizes the extent of the "military space" program which builds and launches ultra-sophisticated surveillance platforms for the NSA and others.

 

IMO it is a shame that NASA focussed only on Shuttle and lost interest in the development of the next generation of commercial launch vehicles. Even today, with a far thinner budget, NASA continues to focus on its dreams of manned space and continues with the development of the Orion manned vehicle even though the program to develop a vehicle to launch it, Constellation, was cancelled several years ago because it was grossly underfunded and over budget. So now NASA is developing its own Space Launch System to launch Orion and this NASA program is completely independent of the vehicle's being used by ULA, Musk, Orbital Sciences and others. Some observers have questioned why this is necessary, but the geographically-distributed NASA structure provides a large base of political support (Houston, Huntsville, Mississippi, Florida, etc) so NASA keeps plodding forward without anyone in authority being able to really ask "why?".

 

To summarize, the US has a 3-headed space program (manned space, military space and commercial space) rather than focusing the country's resources on "space" with the three different missions evolving from a unified core. To my simple-minded way of thinking that would be a more efficient use of funds and a more effective use of talent. But, that's just my opinion and I'm sure someone will jump in to explain where my assumptions are in error.

 

Joel

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Joel,

Why do you think that the corporate current structure of ULA, even with their reorganization because of competition, new technology, and cost, can put together a rocket engine themselves and not have it blow up like the Orbital Science's first and last launch did using Russian engine as well.

 

All through this you admit that the heavy lift program is dead and gone. Your generation, is not my parents but you must be between me at 63 and them.

 

All I can tell you without quibbling is That was then, this is now.

 

I grew up with space realized. I was born in 1952.

 

The ULA scoffed at Musk's schedule to have his engines and first vehicle in space in five years and when he did it made history. I believe that when they said that, they were looking at what they could and could not do.

 

The scientists who engineered the first heavy lift systems are pretty much dead and gone.

 

I just have to ask why ULA was not developing their own engine as soon as they could instead of relying on Russia?

 

Their stated reason was it was too expensive. The Russian engines are cheaper than they can build them.

 

You keep saying Musk is too inexperienced to compete. Unsafe for human missions because of one failed launch.

 

Where does that put the engineers and companies involved with the Columbia and Challenger disasters. You can't have it both ways.

 

And when you discuss SpaceX you forget to mention their upcoming monopoly because ULA was not prepared. You also overlook the top secret launch failures they had we did not get told about.

 

I bear the ULA no ill will. But we differ in one important respect. I believe there is room in the launch market both manned and not, heavy or medium, for both commercial companies, SpaceX and ULA. You do acknowledge that ULA is a private corporation in that it is not directly tied to NASA, right?

 

You can't have it both ways. If SpaceX is too inexperienced, ULA hasn't even started test launching their own engines. They are the inexperienced ones here today.

 

I was and am one of their biggest fans. But Musk has been aiming for Mars long before PayPal. He'll get there first too IMO. Let's see how things unfold.

 

Thank goodness SpaceX is here. Space and rockets are the most dangerous activities of man. They've blown up with people inside before, and will again. Like test pilots, the crews know that going in. I'd volunteer if I could even if I knew there was no getting back. Many would not.

 

I believe we both want Space travel happening regardless of which or how many companies compete.

 

I believe we both can also agree that we must make our own rocket engines in the US for anything other than Space tourism.

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RV:

 

When I left LMC in 2001 it was still regularly launching Titan IV payloads for NRO and some commercial clients. I guess it is possible that all the talent that existed then has retired or left but it's hard to believe that within the Boeing/LMC heritage that is ULA there is no one capable of designing a rocket engine. You make it sound as if ULA is a startup without a track record, but the corporate record behind it is essentially the legacy of the entire US space program.

 

When I said that Musk did not yet have the experience to launch astronauts I was referring to the fact that NASA has some pretty rigorous requirements for man-certified rockets and failures will push back the timetable for getting his systems certified. You responded to my comment by referencing the Columbia and Challenger disasters as if they had any relevance to this discussion. Since Columbia burned up during reentry and Challenger failed due to an O-ring in the solid rocket motor, I fail to see how either is at all related to the reliability required to launch astronauts and whether that exists in ULA or with Musk. Yes, space is a risky business, but let's not compare apples and oranges.

 

In a similar vein, you throw mud at top secret launch failures "about which we've been told nothing." I beg to differ, in that when I was at LMC I recall reading occasional press releases about launch failures at Vandenberg with rockets carrying what were simply described as "national security payloads." It's really difficult to disguise the launch of a big rocket; for example, we all know when the DoD's secret X-37 gets launched, we just don't know what it's doing! We at LMC were very proud of our record of launching high value, national security payloads; disparaging that record is unwarranted.

 

You are obviously enamored of Musk and that's OK with me. He's a very bright and rich guy and he's shown he could deliver on many of his promises despite "conventional wisdom" that predicted his failure. Maybe his space exploration objectives will be successful as Tesla has been. All I'm saying is that the history of spaceflight has been filled with equipment failures and loss of life. The space capabilities the US has today weren't developed without a lot of sweat and tears. Musk acts as if he can avoid retracing the learning curve by "reading the book of the show" and maybe he can, but IMHO the final chapter of his book has not yet been written.

 

Joel

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Elon Musk's Space X has third consecutive failure! Wonder if his car company is any better?? :(

Kirk,

The headline never read SpaceX ha third consecutive failure! LOL! If you are going to come in with something, try reading the article you provide. It' obvious you did not read your own article, or comprehend it, you tell me which.

 

SpaceX has not had a failure since 2008, and that was a Falcon one with a perfect launch record 18 successful launches, until this one failure. That is also in the article you rewrote a false title to put in the link.

 

It was the company's first failure since August 2008, when a different rocket — the Falcon 1 — did not reach orbit.

 

It was the third failure for NASA since October trying to do a resupply. From your article which is titled:

 

"Rocket explosion is a blow to billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX"

 

"The success of the SpaceX mission had become more crucial after a Russian resupply ship spun out of control in late April and was destroyed as it fell back to Earth.

 

Before that, on Oct. 28, a rocket operated by NASA's other commercial cargo hauler, Orbital Sciences, exploded just seconds after liftoff from a Virginia launch pad.

 

Sunday's failure creates the third recent calamity for the U.S. commercial space industry. Just days after Orbital's rocket was destroyed in October, Virgin Galactic's experimental space plane was pulled apart over the Mojave Desert during a test flight. One of two pilots was killed.

 

SpaceX has orders for almost 50 upcoming launches — work valued at $7 billion — from a growing list of government and corporate customers.

 

Caceres, the Teal Group analyst, said SpaceX needs to determine what caused the explosion and fix the problem quickly so that it can begin flying again and keep those customers.

 

He said the problem did not appear to be with the Falcon 9's design because the rocket had already flown 18 times. Instead, he said, it may have been a clogged fuel line or fuel leak."

 

That is from your article Kirk that you retitled erroneously here: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-nasa-spacex-launch-20150628-story.html

 

Nice try though. :rolleyes:;)

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Joel, just a quick word... thanks for you insightful comments on my question. I am going to reread them a few times... and the other comments. I was an admirer of von Braun, read some of his articles, and remember the biographical movie. For years back in the 70's and 80's, I was a National Space Institute member, von Braun's Space Advocacy group.

 

Just wanted to say thanks.

Jim

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I only posted the SpaceX explosion link upthread simply as current news regarding SpaceX. It was not my intent to spark a debate over the relative merits of SpaceX versus ULA or anyone else. With the various cutbacks over the years at NASA, LMC, JPL, etc., I wonder how many of those experienced engineers are now on the SpaceX payroll, helping to level the playing field?

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RV:

 

When I left LMC in 2001 it was still regularly launching Titan IV payloads for NRO and some commercial clients. I guess it is possible that all the talent that existed then has retired or left but it's hard to believe that within the Boeing/LMC heritage that is ULA there is no one capable of designing a rocket engine. You make it sound as if ULA is a startup without a track record, but the corporate record behind it is essentially the legacy of the entire US space program.

 

The apples and oranges are that the US space program has been left to three, now down to two, commercial for profit private sector companies. ULA, and SpaceX. Orbital sciences is out until they figure out a replacement for their mothballed old Russian engines. At least ULA was using new Russian engines. I asked the question that if they have the experience why did they use Russian engines. The only thing I am miffed about with the ULA is their waste of money spending millions inside the beltway to lobby for keeping the new kids on the block out of competing with them. Don't you have any faith that ULA can compete? So now, you chime in saying that ULA has had a number of failures of their vehicles using Russian engines. All I'm saying is that you first need to consider that ULA have not engineered and built their own engines.

 

You mentioned costs not being the whole picture. I agree. Musk employs Americans and manufactures here. ULA kept the Russians in jobs making engines. In the glory days of Boeing and Lockheed, and Martin Marietta, outsourcing our space program parts, never mind engines, would be unthinkable.

 

When I said that Musk did not yet have the experience to launch astronauts I was referring to the fact that NASA has some pretty rigorous requirements for man-certified rockets and failures will push back the timetable for getting his systems certified.

 

Does ULA have a certified launch vehicle using US engines for heavy or EELV? They will have to get theirs certified as well. And they have had many more than one mission failure. You responded to my comment by referencing the Columbia and Challenger disasters as if they had any relevance to this discussion.

 

Since Columbia burned up during reentry and Challenger failed due to an O-ring in the solid rocket motor, I fail to see how either is at all related to the reliability required to launch astronauts and whether that exists in ULA or with Musk. Yes, space is a risky business, but let's not compare apples and oranges.

 

I used them a an example that you don't cancel programs over accidents. You are the one who brought the heavy lift vehicles into a discussion about EELV launches. I see the absence of you taking a moderated view and adding up the total failures of the fairly recent conglomerate called ULA

 

In a similar vein, you throw mud at top secret launch failures "about which we've been told nothing." I beg to differ, in that when I was at LMC I recall reading occasional press releases about launch failures at Vandenberg with rockets carrying what were simply described as "national security payloads." It's really difficult to disguise the launch of a big rocket; for example, we all know when the DoD's secret X-37 gets launched, we just don't know what it's doing! We at LMC were very proud of our record of launching high value, national security payloads; disparaging that record is unwarranted.

 

My meaning is that no big brouhaha was made over the ULA launches that failed. Disparaging SpaceX with one failure is unwarranted in the extreme. But as soon as I saw the news my first concern wasn't for Musk, but the astronauts stuck up there with three failed attempted resupply missions. Then I thought about how the groundswell of gloating and I told you so's would come for Musk. SpaceX is doing better than a company who could not get their first attempt to fly, Orbital sciences, whose first launch for EELV blew up. Not much hyperbole about that failure. Nor much said about a space program with a long and can do space program, yet the companies that fought so hard to keep Musk out, have no engines of their own! Now, today!

 

You are obviously enamored of Musk and that's OK with me. He's a very bright and rich guy and he's shown he could deliver on many of his promises despite "conventional wisdom" that predicted his failure. Maybe his space exploration objectives will be successful as Tesla has been. All I'm saying is that the history of spaceflight has been filled with equipment failures and loss of life. The space capabilities the US has today weren't developed without a lot of sweat and tears. Musk acts as if he can avoid retracing the learning curve by "reading the book of the show" and maybe he can, but IMHO the final chapter of his book has not yet been written.

 

Joel

 

Joel,

I take nothing away from the rich history of our space program. The space capabilities that we have today are dependent on Russian engines, no? I'd say that unless you have the engineers from the 50s and 60s to make engines, the learning curve is theirs as well. And Musk has a proven vehicle in the Falcon 9. Maybe he can supply their engines too. In all the above you aren't addressing what I consider the equivalent of our ordering our AF fighter engines from Russia under Putin.

 

Musk will pull it off. I hope the ULA can too. Building all their own vehicles here in the US I think is a good starting point for their reorganization to be competitive and safe, and not compromise our national security, which our military space missions are crucial to.

 

Joel, truly, thanks for your great posts about this. Just because SpaceX is really doing it is no reason to not like that we have at least one proven launch vehicle in the Falcon 9 by SpaceX.

 

I won't apologize for being firmly in his cheering section. However, I put my money where my mouth is. I doubt all the negative folks and press will put their money where their mouths are and short any of his companies. Not meaning you Joel.

 

I think our space program is critical to our national security and I would hope that each company would help the other to see that our space program doesn't become a vacuum.

 

Do you hope Musk fails? I don't hope ULA fails. I think there is room for them in an American engine powered space program too. ;)

Right now someone needs to launch a resupply. ULA has 9 Russian engines left last I heard.

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I hear ya Dutch! I didn't take it that way at all. It's Space. As Joel said there were more than a few ULA launches that failed too. For some reason they are just part of the risk when it is ULA. But the whole Space program is in danger because SpaceX has one launch failure. Sounds like hyperbole to me when the same sources did a ho hum when ULA and/or NASA had a launch failure.

 

Let's remember that Lockheed had the Elon Musk of the day in Kelly Johnson who headed the "Skunkworks" in Burbank from its creation in 1943 to 1975. During his tenure there he did the U2, the SR 71, its predecessor the Lockheed A12. We had Russian supply issues then too and the CIA did a "front" company to obtain sufficient quantities of titanium from Russia.

 

He was succeeded by Ben Rich who pulled the F117 stealth fighter off in record time. And more.

 

Joel, in no way would I throw stones at Lockheed or Boeing's histories in being innovators themselves. From their first "secret" project for the Army Air Corps that resulted in the P-38, the skunk works and Lockheed have a heritage to be proud of, no doubt.

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I only posted the SpaceX explosion link upthread simply as current news regarding SpaceX.

It seems that they are not alone in having problems and now the news says that the space station also has a supply problem from the series of failures. It could be interesting to watch. What strikes me is that the theory was that private industry could do the job better and at less cost, but so far that has not been the case. I've wondered about the amount of technology that the NASA shared with the various contractors and if that playing field was actually level? With politics involved, one never really knows, but that is also off of the original subject.... Anyone investing in Space X?

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SpaceX is privately held by Musk and no IPO is even rumored. But I'll buy in if and when they do.

 

The Russian's government space shot was one of those failures Kirk. The very program and engines our ULA uses as of today. Orbital Sciences used old salvage Russian engine and failed on their first try. Musk has had 18 successful launches in a row, 7 successful missions for the US. The others were commercial launches for private companies.

 

Excerpt:

 

"SpaceX is a privately funded space transportation company.[41] It developed its first launch vehicle—Falcon 1—and three rocket engines—Merlin, Kestrel, and Draco—completely with private capital. SpaceX contracted with the US government for a portion of the development funding for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, which uses a modified version of the Merlin rocket engine. SpaceX is developing the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, the Raptor methane-fueled rocket engine[citation needed], and a set of reusable launch vehicle technologies with private capital.

 

As of May 2012, SpaceX had operated on total funding of approximately $1 billion in its first ten years of operation. Of this, private equity provided about $200M, with Musk investing approximately $100M and other investors having put in about $100M (Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, ...). The remainder has come from progress payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. As of April 2012, NASA had put in about $400–500M of this amount, with most of that as progress payments on launch contracts. By May 2012, SpaceX had contracts for 40 launch missions, and each of those contracts provide down payments at contract signing, plus many are paying progress payments as launch vehicle components are built in advance of mission launch, driven in part by US accounting rules for recognizing long-term revenue.

 

In August 2012, SpaceX signed a large development contract with NASA to design and develop a crew-carrying space capsule for the "next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities", in order to re-enable the launch of astronauts from U.S. soil by 2017. Two other companies, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation, received similar development contracts. Advances made by all three companies under Space Act Agreements through NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for both government and commercial customers. As part of this agreement, SpaceX was awarded a contract worth up to $440 million for contract deliverables between 2012 and May 2014.

 

At year-end 2012, SpaceX had over 40 launches on its manifest representing about $4 billion in contract revenue—with many of those contracts already making progress payments to SpaceX—with both commercial and government (NASA/DOD) customers. As of December 2013, SpaceX has a total of 50 future launches under contract, two-thirds of them are for commercial customers. In late 2013, space industry media began to comment on the phenomenon that SpaceX prices are undercutting the major competitors in the commercial commsat launch market—the Ariane 5 and Proton-M—at which time SpaceX had at least 10 further geostationary orbit flights on its books.

 

In January 2015, SpaceX raised $1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity, in exchange for 8.333% of the company, establishing the company valuation at approximately $12 billion. Google and Fidelity joined the then current investorship group of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn. Although the investment was thought to be related to SpaceX's launch of a satellite construction business and global satellite internet service effort, Gwynne Shotwell said in March 2015 that the investment was not specifically for the global internet project. Google had been searching for a satellite internet partner since the split with O3b Networks and OneWeb."

 

You can look it up in wiki here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX

 

It also shows how it started:

 

"In early 2002, Musk was seeking staff for his new space company, soon to be named SpaceX. Musk approached renowned rocket engineer Tom Mueller (now SpaceX's VP of Propulsion), Mueller agreed to work for Musk and SpaceX was born. SpaceX was first headquartered in a 75,000 square feet warehouse in El Segundo, California. Musk decided SpaceX's first rocket would be named Falcon 1, a nod to Star Wars' Millennium Falcon. Musk planned for Falcon 1's first launch to occur in November 2003, 15 months after the company started."

 

It's good reading and shows what and who SpaceX is, and why. Sorry, no ammo there for mudslinging. Just American entrpreneurial and scientific progress at its best. He is a threat to those who depend on a lack of competition in prices and technology to continue to repeat old tech from the last century on computers made today. For the rest of us, we like the choices.

 

"Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change."

Wayne Dyer

http://www.creativitypost.com/create/change_the_way_you_look_at_things_and_the_things_you_look_at_change

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