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May 18, 2012 2:38 PM   Subscribe

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule is scheduled to launch at 8:55 am UTC on Saturday, May 19, 2012 - a little less than 12 hours from now.

Live translation at spacex.com starting 1:15 AM Pacific / 4:15 AM Eastern / 08:15 UTC

That would be the first time a privately designed spacecraft would try to dock to a space station.

SpaceX's founder and CEO, Elon Musk, was also a co-founder of PayPal.

Read more:
Guardian, NPR, Wired
posted by egor83 (52 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
To be consistent with PayPal, the ISS will suspend the rocket's docking privileges for violation of its Terms of Service.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:44 PM on May 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


This capsule is going to land in the ocean, rather than burning up in the atmosphere (like some of the other ISS resupply vessels). If it works, it's only one more small step to private manned spaceflight.
posted by miyabo at 2:44 PM on May 18, 2012


The Wired tour of their factory is particularly good.

Good to see something made in america, especially something awesome.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:01 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chekhovian, there's plenty of great stuff being made in the US, in the tech scene/Silicon Valley for instance.

SpaceX is an example of SV people and companies crossing over to other areas as well, and that's indeed awesome.

Another Musk's project is Tesla Motors: "a Silicon Valley-based company that designs, manufactures and sells electric cars and electric vehicle powertrain components".

This guy is literally building the future.
posted by egor83 at 3:19 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does anyone remember when Lockheed and Boeing were so super excited that Delta IV and Atlas V rockets were going to herald in a new era of space commercialization? Yes, yes, they're very expensive right now, but it'll scale you guys, it'll be super crazy inexpensive way soon, and when that happens, the Delta IV and Atlas V programs won't need to rely on government contracts any more, and the cost to the government will be so much cheaper too and --

Oh, wait, you mean none of that ever came to pass? Ya don't say?

Tell Elon Musk to get back to me when he creates out of thin air a market for his rockets that doesn't rely heavily on the government, because while this might appear to be "oh wow you guys it's so private!" it's still mostly funded by government contracts right now. This isn't to say SpaceX isn't cool and doing great stuff -- it's just not the groundbreaking game changer everyone makes it out to be.
posted by incessant at 3:22 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay, okay. We really need to slow down on the pace of technological revolution. First, Twitter over throws dictators in Africa, and now anyone with a credit card can go into space? This is all moving way too fast. A Kickstarter project hits $1M a few months ago, and now $10M? Who are these people with their multiplicative growth? All of a sudden, China's capitalist, the US is an oligarchy, Germany is afraid of Greece, and The Pirate Bay was attacked by a dissident?

This is out of control. One must shake their fist at Kurzweil and his singularity.

Wall Street agrees. They got a little slappy today with Facebook; a reminder from New York to California that whilst maybe you can IPO with a PE of 100, it doesn't mean you should. If man were meant to go into space, he would have been born with a brain capable of designing a rocket that could get him there. Oh wait. Damn...

All crotchety Old Man jokes aside, this is amazing news. Elon Musk is a champion for single-mindedly pushing science and tech straight into mainstream commerce.

First with PayPal, then with Tesla, now with SpaceX. Whilst so many are investing heaps in boring, dinosaur tech (cough, cough, oil), he is a trailblazer bringing comic books to life. Maybe he is an entrepreneurial superhero. Marvel Musk. That actually sounds like a very dodgy aphrodisiac sold in downtrodden airport lounges.

Regardless, this is amazing, I really hope it goes well, and for his next trick, I am really looking forward to when he offers democratised trips to the Multiverse.
posted by nickrussell at 3:41 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Someday, incessant. But there won't be much need for a real private launch market until a fair number of people actually live in space. Until then it's scientific research, launching satellites, and maybe some near term stuff like asteroid mining. Maybe. In all likelihood the people who will make billions from private space travel might not even have been born yet.

It's still cool as hell, though.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:44 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


@incessant: haters gonna hate, eh? Why don't you get back to me when you've started a rocket company, period. Much less one that doesn't rely on government subsidies.
posted by nickrussell at 3:49 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, if you're helping pay for it, you're entitled to hate on it.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:05 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since we the public are still paying for it, I say we should be happy that SpaceX has already cut the cost per pound to LEO drastically. Boeing & co. didn't seem so interested in doing that.
posted by localroger at 4:16 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was at the NASA Social get together today at Kennedy Space Center, and will be out at the countdown clock at 4:55am tomorrow morning with fingers and toes crossed. SpaceX is working really hard on their rocket, and while a lot of folks are looking past them towards the Falcon Heavy and partnerships with Bigelow Aerospace, assuming the Dragon makes it into orbit and the thousands of things go right required to actually dock with ISS, it will be a huge day for Humanity in space. There are a lot of smart people who know that space has to pay the bills, not just be a rah-rah flag-planting process. Part of making commercial space businesses feasible is reducing the cost of launches, making it a competitive market commodity, and this is a big step to prove that these new commercial ventures can play with the big boys on their own turf.

I didn't wear my MetaFilter shirt today, but just for you guys I'll wear it tonight. It'll be pretty dark except for the minute or so that the Falcon 9 lights up the sky.
posted by jeffkramer at 4:17 PM on May 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


Hey, if you're helping pay for it, you're entitled to hate on it.

Maybe, but you would be paying a lot more without Space X. The cost of a Space X launch is about 1/5th of a shuttle launch. So yes you are paying for it, but paying a lot less than you would have otherwise. ($133 million per mission vs $450 million with the shuttle)
posted by ryanfou at 4:18 PM on May 18, 2012


(oops, that should be ~ 1/4th obviously)
posted by ryanfou at 4:19 PM on May 18, 2012


Hey, if you're helping pay for it, you're entitled to hate on it.

The amount of money an individual person's taxes contribute to this are pretty small.

Here's the geeky details of the flight. It's not spectacularly sexy or headline grabbing, but it is another step forward, so that's a plus.

Eventually, by 2015 or so, Dragon is to be a manned craft, carrying up to seven people into space.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:30 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a really good video on vimeo showing a tour of SpaceX's rocket test facility in Texas.
posted by thewalrus at 4:45 PM on May 18, 2012


Just to be clear -- I fucking *love* space exploration and I love Space X, but this breathless "It'll change space forEVAH!" thing just isn't true and that's what I'm hating on.
posted by incessant at 4:58 PM on May 18, 2012


A discussion over at HackerNews.
posted by egor83 at 4:59 PM on May 18, 2012


Also, another interesting thing about this is that Dragon doesn't technically dock with the ISS. Instead, it parks itself by the station, then one of the station's robotic arms grabs it and berths it to a docking port. I think feature was designed to make supply ships less complex to the reach the station. The Russian Progress supply ships do automatically dock with the station, so I'm not sure why non-Russion craft are done differently. Anyone know?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:02 PM on May 18, 2012


The amount of money an individual person's taxes contribute to this are pretty small.

Folks should appreciate being bled so little, they won't even know it.

This is a private venture the way Blackwater/Xe/Academi is a private venture. Reliant on public funding for what is ultimately a questionable mission. Hey, Erik Prince's venture costs the individual so little, it doesn't matter, right?
posted by 2N2222 at 5:03 PM on May 18, 2012


there's plenty of great stuff being made in the US, in the tech scene/Silicon Valley for instance.

Mostly ways to addict people to facebook games it seems.

Another Musk's project is Tesla Motors: "a Silicon Valley-based company that designs, manufactures and sells electric cars and electric vehicle powertrain components".

This guy is literally building the future.


Who would have thought that real 21st century innovation can only happen when eccentric billionaires decide it should? Fuck you ossified culture.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:16 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


>Who would have thought that real 21st century innovation can only happen when eccentric billionaires decide it should?

Maybe he just has better PR and higher profile products. I mean my smartphone is beyond futuristic but no one really can take credit for it. Steve Jobs tried but he's ultimately a fraud. All these nameless engineers and programmers who hacked these things together just shuffle from project to project and job to job. The world isn't a meritocracy and those who get famous usually do because they can buy fame. Afterall, paypal kinda sucks but no one hates Musk for it. Or the nameless engineers who do incremental safety ugrades to planes, trains, and cars. We'll never notice because we don't sit around counting accident casualties and comparing them to the past, but a horrible car accident in the 70s was more or less a guaranteed death sentence. Today its can mean a week or two in the hospital and a 12 months of physical therapy.

I really don't like how the press is selling him as some kind of Ayn Rand hero. As much as I admire his work, SpaceX isn't much more than a government program funded by COTS and doing government work. Teslas are beautiful but not exactly on every street. I live 2 miles from the Tesla dealership and have seen three total.

Kudos to high profile billionares. I hope they do well, but their fame shouldn't diminish from the thankless worker bees who are constantly building tomorrow. The genius billionare mythos sells ad impressions but at the end of the day these guys are just deep pocketed investors and this all stinks of 1980s style CEO worship.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Folks should appreciate being bled so little.... This is a private venture the way Blackwater/Xe/Academi is a private venture.

I'm sure there are more detailed numbers out there, but I don't see how space contractors and military personnel contractors can be compared in quantitative terms:

Over a four year period, the DOD spent an estimated $85 billion for security contractors in Iraq alone [source pdf pg. 1] vs NASA seeking to award $500 million over four years for private transport to ISS.

If SpaceX is bleeding the taxpayer, private DOD contractors are exsanguinating us.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:28 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think feature was designed to make supply ships less complex to the reach the station. The Russian Progress supply ships do automatically dock with the station, so I'm not sure why non-Russion craft are done differently. Anyone know?

Berthing in some respects is actually more complicated than docking. Setting up the approach and station keeping to go into free drift mode so the arm can grapple the spacecraft is an extremely precise operation.

The reason for berthing is that the Dragon (and the Japanese HTV, along with the yet to launch Orbital Cygnus) uses the Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) interface on the ISS, instead of the APAS docking adapters Soyuz/Progress use. They are actually different interfaces. The benefit of CBM is a larger diameter hatch for bulkier cargo going up or down.
posted by resplendentoops at 6:21 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Musk has stated that his intention for the company is to help in the creation of a permanent human presence on Mars.

No! The last thing humanity needs is another gravity well to climb out of. The Jovian moons or bust, I say.

If SpaceX is bleeding the taxpayer...

The money will be reinvested into building bigger, better rockets. That will stimulate the American economy in the short term, and as asteroid mining starts to get increasingly profitable there will be a significant long term benefit to American taxpayers there as well. Pray he bleeds you further.

More importantly, I feel as though this isn't about the money for him (except in that skimming more cash off taxpayers this year means bigger rockets next year). He's said that "sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct." That doesn't smell cynical to me. I think he's one of us. It's obscene that we are dependent on the whims of billionaires, but if that's the way we're going to run our economies then I'm glad we've got a few nutty billionaires who have the right priorities.

the press is selling him as some kind of Ayn Rand hero

There's no need to be insulting. Besides, a closer fit would be Delos David Harriman, "the last of the Robber Barons." The Man Who Sold the Moon.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:32 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


there's plenty of great stuff being made in the US, in the tech scene/Silicon Valley for instance.

Mostly ways to addict people to facebook games it seems.


This kind of snidery is offensive and hurtful to those of us who do actually make things. You'd probably be mimeographing your opinions into a zine somewhere if it weren't for the kinds of stuff invented and produced in Silicon Valley.
posted by newdaddy at 7:24 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


You'd probably be mimeographing your opinions into a zine somewhere if it weren't for the kinds of stuff invented and produced in Silicon Valley

You know I've actually read Hewlett's thesis that led to the HP-200 oscillator. Its fucking brilliant. Its a masterwork of theoretical insight and practical analysis that filled a critical market niche and launched an empire.

Then Carly Fiorina happened.

Give me back the old Silicon Valley and I will retract my criticism.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:47 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, wait, you mean none of that ever came to pass? Ya don't say?

Yes, because here's the trick. It's only cheap if you can build a lot of them. When the Delta IV and Atlas V came online, the commercial satellite market had collapsed. The idea was that they'd be selling 50-75 launches a year. They're selling a dozen or less. Indeed, the only reason the Delta IV flies is for DOD/NSA launches.

The reason SpaceX built this booster? The reason they're doing this launch?

Government contact.

Here's SpaceX funding, in USD, to date.

Elon Musk : 100M
Private sources not named Elon Musk : 100m
NASA: 450M
USAF/DOD: 200M

So, how's that for private? By percentage, SpaceX has more government funding than Boeing.

I am continually unamused at this fetish for hailing SpaceX as a private launch system, when the only reason they have a launcher capable of doing GTO work or putting a useful mass to the ISS is that the US Government paid them basically, well, a third of an aircraft carrier to build it, and that this is somehow different than paying Boeing to design and fly the Delta IV or Lockheed-Martin to design and fly the Atlas V.
posted by eriko at 8:07 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not spectacularly sexy or headline grabbing

Yes, exactly. What we need a boring space launches, just like jet takeoffs, lots of regular every day transports. And as eriko points out, we're not there yet, but we have Scaled Composites, Bigelow and SpaceX trying to be boring. Boring as in practical, useful, economic. And maybe we might start finding valuable stuff in some asteroids and it will make folks very rich and there will be lots of folks out there figuring out how to have good lives.
posted by sammyo at 8:15 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


their fame shouldn't diminish from the thankless worker bees who are constantly building tomorrow. The genius billionare [sic] mythos

I personally would be honored and thrilled to work for a company driving space exploration forward. If I considered myself a "worker bee" (or similar polemic "wage slave" etc) I would quit immediately and do something else. And thankless? Hardly. Personal satisfaction, "geek cred", resume to die for, stock options, and so on. And what billionare [sic] mythos? No one labors under the illusion that Musk is a rocket scientist.

this is somehow different than paying Boeing to design and fly the Delta IV

Well it is. At SpaceX, sheet metal goes in, rockets come out. It's a totally new model from the old school where each bit and part is contracted. Boeing was the contractor who then sub-contracted and so on to dozens of companies in various states (often determined by Congress as part of its pork barrel legislation). SpaceX does it all itself under one roof without being controlled by Congress (I believe). The money at this point is not so important because it's still new, everyone understands that if SpaceX can pull it off it won't need (much) government funding in the future because it will make enough to be fully independent. This is how government funding of new industries is supposed to work.
posted by stbalbach at 8:21 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What we need a boring space launches, just like jet takeoffs, lots of regular every day transports.

The numbers I heard once were that fuel wise, a space launch is no more expensive than sending the fuel for sending a 747 across the ocean. The difference is that you don't then throw that 747 away after a transatlantic flight. So what's left is the rocket construction, which apparently is still at the level of people in bunny suits tightening bolts by hand.

No wonder its expensive.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:28 PM on May 18, 2012


The difference between SpaceX and Boeing is that SpaceX charges the government a set rate for a complete and working launch vehicle, while Boeing charges the government by the person-hour.

If Boeing says a project will take 2 years and, after 2 years, it needs 2 more years of work, then the government either pays the additional amount or not. Either way, the government pays for the first 2 years.

If SpaceX says a project will take 2 years and it's not done by the end of 2 years...they don't get paid at all.

SpaceX is "private" in the sense that private investors are taking all of the financial risk, which is pretty unusual for space projects.
posted by miyabo at 10:01 PM on May 18, 2012


the US Government paid them basically, well, a third of an aircraft carrier to build it

Not even close. Falcon 9 development costs were $300-$400 million for the 1.0 LV. Yes, SpaceX has gotten close to $400M from the NASA COTS and CCDev programs. No, they have not gotten $200M from DoD for development (probably more like $20M from the unsuccessful Falcon 1 launches, but that was for missions, not R&D). They have gotten in excess of $600 million in progress payments on CRS and commercial launches.

The first Ford class carrier is going to cost at least $14 billion (9 of which is the carrier).

But yeah, relatively speaking SpaceX invested less non-government capital for Falcon 9 development than Boeing and LM did for the Delta IV and Atlas 5 (I think the price tag was around $4 billion between the two of them, plus $1 billion from the government). Although that included 4 pads and ground facilities, not just the LV development. I suspect by the time SpaceX finishes all their launch facilities, the Falcon 9 1.1, and the Falcon Heavy, the grand total for it all will probably be in the neighborhood a billion.

SpaceX is more vertically integrated than ULA, but don't underestimate how much ULA does in-house. It's also worth noting that SpaceX's web site prices are more of a starting price than an expected mission cost.
posted by resplendentoops at 10:18 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The difference between SpaceX and Boeing is that SpaceX charges the government a set rate for a complete and working launch vehicle, while Boeing charges the government by the person-hour.

Incorrect. EELV isn't operating under a cost-plus model and Boeing doesn't operate Delta 4, ULA does.

If SpaceX says a project will take 2 years and it's not done by the end of 2 years...they don't get paid at all.

Also incorrect, COTS was milestone based, they got the majority of the money before they had even launched Falcon 9, years late. They also get progress payments on missions. Customers may cancel if they run late, it's happened to them several times already, but they do get money as they make progress, not all at once.

SpaceX is "private" in the sense that private investors are taking all of the financial risk, which is pretty unusual for space projects.

Yes and no, NASA can't afford to have SpaceX and Orbital not succeed with CRS. If they fail, there is no viable plan B for meeting ISS logistical requirements.

SpaceX got about $100M in "additional testing" supplemental COTS milestones last year. If they had been closer to the original schedule, NASA probably won't have need to spend that money for additional mission assurance.
posted by resplendentoops at 10:23 PM on May 18, 2012


You'd probably be mimeographing your opinions into a zine somewhere if it weren't for the kinds of stuff invented and produced in Silicon Valley.

Said things being assembled by sorcery and not, say, Chinese people, so that Americans can afford them.
posted by mobunited at 11:54 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The reason for berthing is that the Dragon (and the Japanese HTV, along with the yet to launch Orbital Cygnus) uses the Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) interface on the ISS, instead of the APAS docking adapters Soyuz/Progress use. They are actually different interfaces.

To be perfectly clear, APAS works by the Soyuz or Progress vessel crashing into the ISS as slowly as is practicable. If it misses, well...

CBM operates by the vessel, typically Shuttle, maneuvering itself slowly into the mechanism using thrusters. At times the Russians have gotten testy about Shuttle's thrusters operating so close to the station. For instance, after Columbia, NASA wanted Shuttle to be examined visually from ISS for damage, and the Russians weren't happy about all of the thruster exhaust floating around and damaging equipment (it's not a trivial thing, but NASA felt it was less important than the safety of its own craft).

You can characterize this as a difference of philosophy and approach, but it mostly probably has to do with the flexibility built into Shuttle for its satellite retrieval capability, which then became nominal for the Space Station Freedom designs, later adapted for Shuttle-Mir and then ISS.

This is a private venture the way Blackwater/Xe/Academi is a private venture. Reliant on public funding for what is ultimately a questionable mission.

I don't think they're directly comparable. The basic idea, which I'll admit I'm not entirely on board with but has been pushed hard by Rand Simberg and NASAwatch types for years, is that the Big Bloated Program model NASA has been using cripples space exploration, and especially with Shuttle tied it to a hugely wasteful maintenance spending model, where there were billions in fixed costs but very few launches to bring the average cost to orbit down. Subsequently (and not counting the ever-on-the-cusp-of-real-funding Shuttle Derived Vehicle program) we've had two efforts -- Orion and Constellation -- which have cost us billions and yielded exactly zero vehicles with zero launches. There's something to that critique. In theory, the point of SpaceX is to jump-start private investment that will, with a profit-driven view toward efficiency, keep costs low and spur innovation and development that at NASA would be mired in years of politics and Powerpoints. I think there's something to that theory. But let's see how it goes -- especially since we've doubled down and made it our only real option.
posted by dhartung at 12:07 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was going to ask if this will be visible from Gainesville, but it's cloudy, so fuck it. I hate everything.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:19 AM on May 19, 2012


Launch Aborted!
posted by Catblack at 1:59 AM on May 19, 2012


Launch aborted. They will not launch today, next launch opportunity is May 22nd.
posted by egor83 at 2:00 AM on May 19, 2012


That was...a spectacular disappointment.
posted by daniel_charms at 2:01 AM on May 19, 2012


Probably a faulty hair dryer.
posted by daniel_charms at 2:03 AM on May 19, 2012


I feel sorry for Yellow Fingernails Lady and Pornstache Guy.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:08 AM on May 19, 2012


Heh, dirigibleman, I was thinking while watching that that you had USAF guy, the closest thing left to a steely-eyed missile man (Tom Wolfe's phrase), and then you had California engineer lady, extremely uncomfortable in her FOX News-y girly getup (they had shown photos of her earlier in more casual attire and hair), and California engineer guy (who looked exactly the same several years back, and has almost certainly been to Burning Man). Quite the cultural mix.

Veteran space geeks, daniel_charms, understand the spectacular disappointment as par for the course (and it certainly beats the loss of vehicle disappointment by a mile, and the fatal disappointment by an incalculable distance).
posted by dhartung at 2:15 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know I've actually read Hewlett's thesis that led to the HP-200 oscillator. Its fucking brilliant. Its a masterwork of theoretical insight and practical analysis that filled a critical market niche and launched an empire.

Then Carly Fiorina happened.

Give me back the old Silicon Valley and I will retract my criticism.


This is a massive derail and I'm using all my super powers to refrain from going off the deep end on this.

Let me just throw out that recent HP research has demonstrated a fourth fundamental component, the memristor. It's a big honkin' deal, at least I think.

http://m.spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/processors/how-we-found-the-missing-memristor

Maybe this aligns more with your vision of what Silicon Valley should be about?
posted by newdaddy at 4:57 AM on May 19, 2012


Chekhovian: The numbers I heard once were that fuel wise, a space launch is no more expensive than sending the fuel for sending a 747 across the ocean

This is not true in any meaningful sense. Look at any rocket; you'll notice that most of it is fuel tank. Look at a picture of a 747. Where are the fuel tanks? Not so obvious, huh?

Part of the problem is that rockets have to carry their own oxidizer since they can't get it from the air. But most of the problem is that they spend their entire journey accelerating, unlike the 747 which spends most of its time maintaining a constant altitude and speed and is only burning fuel to overcome air friction.

Even in aviation fuel costs for lifting the aircraft dominate the calculations. The biggest cost in rocketry is that you have to burn fuel to lift and accelerate the fuel for the rest of the mission. This means that it takes a minimum of 14 lb of fuel (and that's assuming H2-O2 fuel, other fuels take more) to get 1 lb of payload to orbit. Payload in this sense also includes the fuel tanks and rocket motors for the final stage of the rocket.

This is why, for example, it takes a 4-stage Ariane I weighing 450,000 lb -- about half the weight of a fully loaded 747, and nearly all fuel -- to put 3,000 lb of actual payload in LEO.

This is about the same amount of fuel carried by a fully loaded 747-8, but the 747 gross weight is nearly a million pounds and only 130,000 lb or so is the aircraft leaving room for 300,000 lb or so of payload. It would take 100 Ariane I launches to put in orbit what one 747 could carry across the Pacific in a single flight.
posted by localroger at 6:43 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is not true in any meaningful sense.

It is in the way he stated it: the actual cost of buying the fuel for a rocket launch is a tiny percentage of mission cost. At least I interpreted it as $$$ cost, not delta-V /mass cost.

The question isn't why can't a rocket using the same amount of fuel as a 747 put an equivalent mass of payload into orbit that a 747 can carry across an ocean, it's why a rocket launch doesn't the same as a 747 flight. The biggest reason, of course, is that you don't throw away a $200M 747 at the end of each flight.

Making a reusable rocket is a lot more difficult than making a reusable airplane. Reusability also comes at a performance cost, which hurts you when you're already running on the bleeding edge of performance margins. The economics also require a high enough flight rate to make a reusable launch vehicle economical over expendable launch vehicles. Those numbers have been the same for decades, until you start talking an annual flight rate of 70-80 a year, a RLV isn't going to actually be cheaper than an ELV.
posted by resplendentoops at 8:12 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Launch Aborted!

Shoot, but that's ok. Measure once, twice or five times if you have to, then cut once. It feels like there's a lot riding on this, so getting it right is important.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:16 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the post-scrub briefing: unlike previous Falcon 9 aborts during launch or hotfire, this abort wasn't due to overly conservative redline limits. Engine 5 (the center engine) behavior on startup was off nominal (high chamber pressure) and out of whack compared to the static fire.

They'll be rolling it back to the hanger and inspecting the engine. They do have the Falcon 9 for the next mission already at the Cape, so it's quite likely they will swap out Engine 5 on this vehicle with the one from that vehicle. It is as of yet to be determined if they could still make a launch window on the 22nd or 23rd with an engine swap.
posted by resplendentoops at 8:25 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe this aligns more with your vision of what Silicon Valley should be about?

When was the last time a major new company was formed in a garage to leverage some radical technical/scientific advancement, like H and P did to form HP?

What was that 100 Billion dollar IPO on Friday? Oh yeah, facebook.

HP research has demonstrated a...a big honkin' deal, at least I think.

So when is HP planning to roll out a product based on it? Not soon, I imagine. So what's the difference between research done out of HP's labs and research done anywhere else in the world? Now, Bell Labs, that was different. But there isn't a Bell labs equivalent anymore.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:19 PM on May 19, 2012


2013

This seems like lazy arguing on your part Chekhovian. You could Google "memristor product". You could open an issue of EE Times or IEEE Spectrum or Compound Semiconductor or even Discovery and see that companies with big new technical ideas come and go all the time.

Just for fun, I'll point to D-Wave Systems (first commercial attempt at a quantum computer) and Corvis ("the all-optical networking company") and Focus Fusion (they may have a new name now). But I feel you're likely to move the goalposts regardless of what efforts I name here.

What exactly is your point? Grad students don't do fundamental research anymore? Nobody starts a company in their garage? Engineers are too motivated by profit? You need a good stock tip?

Bell Labs was never in Silicon Valley, BTW -
posted by newdaddy at 4:30 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, somewhat hard to believe anyone moderately serious about science used to spend some years in New Jersey of all places, huh? An old boss of mine used to yammer on and on about the place. Apparently John Rowell used to used old Bell Telephone switch boards for all the interconnects in his tunneling experiments. They were all heavily gold plated and never had any flakey troubles, unlike most cheapo connections you can get.

You say I'm moving the goalposts, but I'd say that you are judging means based on only extremes. So sure there are some companies there doing real world stuff, but vanishingly few I suspect. Where is the "central focus of research" in silicon valley? I would wager that most of the research bucks being spent there are on BS web things, facebook plugins, social networking non-sense, financial engineering, you know things that don't "make things" anymore. That's what makes SpaceX so special, a start up company that actually makes things itself, in house.

This is not specifically the fault of Silicon Valley, its just a natural consequence of the path we've been on since Reagan.

You tacked on some weird stuff at the end, so as an addendum, no, I don't believe that graduates students don't do fundamental research anymore. That's clearly stupid. And yes people still start companies in their garages, though most of them seem to be web 2.0 circle-jerking.

Programming does not count as Making Things.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:14 PM on May 19, 2012


At yet here is Elon Musk, in Silicon Valley, at two startups, making true honest to goodness things.

With innovation, the signal to noise ratio has always been low, but we only enscribe the signal in the history books.

And the swipe at programming. Just so silly. Robotics, self driving cars, telecommunications, modern logistics, etc - are all 1950's engineering plus code. Code that makes "something"

The noise floor helps strengthen the signal. And your pessemisim will do little to halt what has become on of the most exciting times in the global (and American) technology cycle.
posted by PissOnYourParade at 10:53 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The webcast is going again, and they've just captured the capsule.
posted by lucidium at 7:02 AM on May 25, 2012


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