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Commercialization

SpaceX Takes Another Step Towards Reusability

By Marc Boucher
NASA Watch
March 28, 2014
Filed under ,

SpaceX Conducts Falcon 9R Static Fire Test [Watch], SpaceRef Business
SpaceX successfully test fired the first stage of F9R–an advanced prototype for the world’s first reusable rocket–in preparation for its first test flight in the coming weeks. Unlike airplanes, a rocket’s thrust increases with altitude; F9R generates just over a million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space.

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.

28 responses to “SpaceX Takes Another Step Towards Reusability”

  1. Steve Pemberton says:
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    Not quite as exciting to watch as a Grasshopper flight, but an important milestone nonetheless and I expect that we will be seeing some spectacular F9R flight test videos in the coming months from Texas (low altitude) followed by New Mexico (high altitude) .

    By the way I notice that the cows in the background seem pretty disinterested, similar to many members of Congress. Both should take a moment to pause from their their grazing and realize that they are looking at the future of space transportation.

  2. Rocky J says:
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    SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell was interviewed on the Space Show on the 21st. Here is the link to the recording- [http://www.thespaceshow.com…]. She said that a successful return of the Falcon 9 core next month stands at just under 50/50 as they see it.

    No one here has spoken of the cost to build a new Falcon 9 core. I have not seen an estimated price elsewhere. My guess is that they cost about $15M to $20M, taking into account the cost of the Falcon 9 launch ($56M), removing mark up, processing & launch fees, upper stage cost, fuel cost. The present cost to lift a pound to LEO with a F9 is $1950/Lb. My guess is that re-certifying a used Falcon 9 core will save about $10M to $15M. This would reduce the cost to LEO to $1580/lb to $1413/lb. If the upper stage costs about $7M, reusing it may save, maybe $5M, making the lowest future cost of lifting a pound of payload to LEO with F9 at $1413 and $1241. Streamlining production and mass production could lower the final cost to $1000/lb with Falcon 9 but it will never achieve the $500/lb milestone.

    Falcon Heavy will be able to achieve $500/lb. Its present bargain basement price to LEO is $1153/lb. Return all three F9 cores and that will reduce pricing to about $897/lb to $769/lb. $854/lb to $726/lb. Again with future lower production costs and with my rough estimates, Falcon Heavy can attain the $500/lb goal.

    I think all present launch vehicles, none designed for re-use, will be stuck at a launch to LEO cost of $2000/lb or higher. The present low cost is a Russian Proton rocket which is close to $2000/lb. They are apparently designing a means to lift two separate payloads which might reduce the cost to maybe $1500/lb. As comparison, estimated price to LEO for Atlas V (401) is $4500/lb, Atlas V (551) – $2750/lb, Delta IV-M – $3900/lb, Delta IV-H – $2800/lb. You can see why Michael Gass (CEO ULA) was emphasizing reliability and performance (processing, on-time) in front of the Senate subcommittee early this month. Using LEO as a yard stick though has its drawbacks. GTO and GSO have similar comparisons but total lift capability becomes a factor for the end user and comparing LVs is more complex.

    • tony_rusi says:
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      Gwynne Shotwell was on The Space Show with David Livingston for an hour last week. It explained SpaceX’s plans for commercial space domination, and mars colonization completely. Reusable rockets are the key to space flight. They are the holy grail to becoming a space fairing civilization. SpaceX Falcon 9 costs $2,000/lb to LEO. Recovering the first stage propulsively will drop the cost to $500/lb to LEO. When all three stages are recovered the price will drop to less than $100/lb to LEO. And we all know LEO is halfway to anywhere. So let’s say going to mars wholesale costs for SpaceX is $200/lb to mars. You are probably going to have 1,000 lbs of stuff when you include all your provisions and equipment. So SpaceX will be out $200,000 taking you to Mars, but they are charging you $500,000! So they are making three hundred grand off every colonist! And Elon Projects at least 80,000 colonists in the first 40 years. That’s 24 Billion dollars profit off of just the Mars Colonial Transporter! And the key to everything is re-usability thru propulsive landing! It’s brilliant! Simply brilliant!

      • dogstar29 says:
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        I suspect it will be awhile even for SpaceX before they are selling tickets to Mars. But I agree that reusability is a huge step forward. I do think recovering the second stage will be harder, and with Falcon there is no third stage.

      • Rocky J says:
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        I don’t recall her stating cost numbers. I’ll go back and listen again. If SpaceX is to see $24B in profit, then someone else will have to pay the cost of developing the welcome mat on Mars. SpaceX will just be one leg of the effort to colonize Mars. Man I would love to go to Mars but I’ll be too old to qualify. For the settlers, while there won’t be any natives to struggle with, Mars ain’t exactly like going from England to New England. They will select colonists very carefully but still there will be some that end up crying – I want my mommy. I wonder how much the first settlers in America were being charged for “safe passage” to America? As a function of their annual income?

        • Xenophage says:
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          Well, I do hope SpaceX will hurry up.

          Those cost and profit calculations assume that the society will remain untouched by consequences of climate change (or at least the final realization that these consequences are relly coming).

          I can see the articles: “Rich rats jumping the ship and leaving us their last fart of CO2.. So. let’s tax this as much as we can, beacuse if they really want to leave, they will pay any price. Or if Elon manages to fly on sun power generated methane or hydrogen, tax it anyway. Or better yet, forbid them to leave, why should anyone escape?” Plenty of examples of prohibitions that make much less sense, even in present society.

          • DTARS says:
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            Do to global warming, just think if the whole ice sheet of greenland were to slide into the ocean at once. How fast would it travel?? How long would it take?? Hours?? Days?? How many tsunamis would rip down the east coast of North and South America and Europe and Africa drowning all!!!! How high would the sea rise???? All coasts around the world would be drowned overnight. Isn’t such an event possible soon! They just made a movie called NOAH. Maybe they should have set it in the near future. And called it Elon and have him launching his MCTs just before the great flood. Wouldn’t that be more realistic??? Make for a good movie I bet 🙂

            Get interested in space flight or put on your life jacket lol

            The Rich are getting away to go freeze their asses off on Mars. Lol

          • Xenophage says:
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            Nothing so Hollywood-cathastrophic. Just a growing progression of bad crops, economical disruptions, refugee streams, wars…

    • Mike says:
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      I have heard multiple times that the first stage is 75% of the rocket’s cost.

      • Rocky J says:
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        If that is correct, then it means my upper estimate – $20M per core is close. 75% would mean about $22M. $1000/lb with the F9, yes, but still not enough to reach $500/lb. But it makes it easier for the F-H to reach $500.

    • dogstar29 says:
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      Can you add SLS to the payload cost analysis?

      • Rocky J says:
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        You mean analysis on SLS? I have only the Gerstenmaier stated cost $500M to $600M per flight. Given the development stands between PDR and CDR, I’d say that stands a chance of going up.

        • John Kavanagh says:
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          $500M per SLS flight is some creative accounting when that program burns $1.5B/year (excluding Orion) and is flying first in 2017 and next in 2021. I guess we’ll have to wait until the 2020s, after some $10+B of SLS spending from now, to find out how much / how frequently SLS will really cost.

          • Paul451 says:
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            33 years after the first shuttle flight, we still can’t get clear figures of how much a shuttle launch cost.

          • Jeff2Space says:
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            I disagree. STS cost on the order of $1.5 billion per flight when you include development costs. In other words, that’s taking the money spent on the entire program and dividing by the total number of flights. This is easy enough to calculate.

            STS supporters would always quote the marginal cost of a shuttle flight (i.e. the cost to add one additional flight to the manifest), which was claimed to “only” be on the order of $100 million or so. That number is harder to pin down and depends greatly on the details of exactly what sort of mission is added to the manifest.

            SLS hasn’t even flown yet and already the argument has started. If the fixed costs weren’t so darn high relative to the marginal costs, the argument over the accounting wouldn’t be so heated.

            The cure, in my mind, is to not build “launch architectures” with high fixed costs compared to marginal costs. This approach tends to not favor “heavy lift” launch vehicles. Nor does it favor any government funded programs claiming to utilize existing (oversized) Saturn/Shuttle infrastructure at KSC.

    • DTARS says:
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      50/50 hummm

      What do they define as success? Being able to puck it out of the water with only minor dings to the core do to it flopping over after they cut off the engines? Do the fuel lines to the engines have cut off valves that will keep water out of the fuel tanks so it doesn’t sink after a successful touch down??

      Well I BET Musk will have a booster that he can put on a test stand if he wants, this next flight!

      Do I have any takers???

      SUCCESS or FAILURE on Spacex’s booster recovery attempt???

      Please REPLY with your VOTE below!!!!!!

      🙂

      Doesntt Take A Rocket Scientist

      • Rocky J says:
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        Now that you mention it, the cores should float, the tanks exhausted and buoyant, long enough to be plucked out of the Atlantic. Success? I don’t know but I would call it such if they can pull it out of the drink in one piece. But I think there is the Scotty factor – ” I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain! ” Odds slightly favor success. That’s my vote.

      • Steve Pemberton says:
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        The impression that I get is that SpaceX is firmly committed to bringing boosters back onto dry land, as I assume they have decided that is the most cost effective recovery method and it will also result in the quickest turnaround for each booster which is also important for costs. That being the case all of their tests are serving that larger goal. In these initial tests that are occurring over water they are trying to control the booster and bring it down in a controlled manner, essentially simulating a landing on dry ground. If they can accomplish a “touchdown” on the water of a few feet per second then it will be a 100% success regardless of what happens to the booster after engine cut-off.

        My guess is that no matter how good a shape one of these boosters is in after they recover it from the ocean, they have no intention of trying to test fire it or do anything else with it other than dissect it. Test firing costs money and unless they have long-term plans to try and reuse boosters and engines that accidentally wind up in the drink, I don’t think there would be a lot of useful data obtained from firing a waterlogged booster.

        Not to say that it wouldn’t be fun to watch and see what happens.

      • Jeff Havens says:
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        Success = Data.

        Same as the last time — they didn’t get recovery, they didn’t even get much video. What they got was data, including what happens when your booster starts a centripetal spin, you lose fuel to the main engine, and your RCS runs out of fuel trying to stop it. Have unknowns happen, get data, prevent it from happening again. Success.

        If they manage to recover this time? Bonus!

    • Odyssey2020 says:
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      I’m definitely rooting for SpaceX, I’ve practically been following them since their inception. I know they want to ramp up their operations but can they really launch 14 more flights this year like they have on their schedule? I can see a couple of more CRS and maybe one or two Orbcomm or Asiasat tops.

      The space launch biz is very difficult. Sure, SpaceX can undercut the competition but can they become a reliable and regular launch provider? Or will they just launch mainly CRS flights sprinkled with an AF launch(DSCOVER perhaps?) here and maybe a commercial launch(Orbcomm) there?

      Also keep in mind Falcon Heavy hasn’t launched once and from my perspective Gwynne Shotwell seems very uncertain of SpaceX’s launch manifest in that space show interview. If I was Elon I’d cringe if I heard her in that interview.

      CRRATS is probably still a long way away folks.

      • Rocky J says:
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        News reports state that there is a 3 week minimum delay due to the electrical fire at the Cape. Even if they could have all ’14 LVs ready, scheduling at the Cape may be too backed up.

      • DTARS says:
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        What does CRRATS stand for????

      • Mader Levap says:
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        “can they really launch 14 more flights this year like they have on their schedule?”
        It was never possible. Launch manifest is bad joke and it is just “arrival of hardware on launch site”.

        • Odyssey2020 says:
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          Yep, the launch manifest is just for show.

          For now, SpaceX will charge premium prices for CRS and DoD flights and then offer discount prices to commercial companies.
          Of course, the premium flights take higher priority.

          Very shrewd by Elon, he does have a bit of P.T. Barnum in him.

          • Mader Levap says:
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            You know that goverment flights requires tons of additional red tape, right? Do you think dealing with it is free?
            This is why gov launches are more costly.