booster landing system, engineering, habitats in space, Mars, NASA, propulsion, reusable booster, rockets, space exploration, space flight, Space Transportation System, SpaceX, weight
Fallacy: It takes eight to nine months to get to Mars when the planets are in the correct position.
Fact: Mars can be reached in a matter of weeks if the ship has the propulsion and fuel to increase speed beyond what is required for the Hohmann Transfer, and to reduce speed to insert into orbit around Mars. Also, a more powerful propulsion and fuel method can allow for trips to Mars even when the two planets are not in the ideal position.
Fallacy: We don’t have the technology to protect humans from cosmic radiation for extended space journeys beyond Earth orbit.
Fact: Again, we do have methods to protect astronauts from cosmic radiation, but the concepts add weight to the ship, and that means a better propulsion system is needed.
Getting to Mars is about ship and propulsion design. Period. Speed and weight will have to be increased to get astronauts safely there and back again. It costs money to achieve the goal.
This is the problem with SpaceX plan to go to Mars. Their approach has been to ‘save money’ by developing a reusable booster system. That sounds great. That’s what the space shuttle was designed to provide, and now, thirty years later, SpaceX is trying to re-do what we’ve already done. Not only are they reinventing technology we already have, they are doing it wrong.
Returning a booster as a landing craft defeats the mission objective of going to Mars. It requires wasting time, money, and fuel to:
- design a booster landing system
- building and testing a booster landing system
- committing fuel that should be dedicated to the payload, to the booster landing system
- using personnel and resources to monitor and land the booster
- using personnel and resources to recover and rebuild the booster that is basically a piece of junk.
In addition, their approach to a reusable booster is contradictory to the goal of getting to Mars. It is absurd to think that one vehicle will liftoff from Earth, orbit Earth, go to Mars, orbit Mars, and land on Mars. Mars is not a pack-your-overnight-bag trip. To get to Mars will require boosting several payloads to be assembled in Earth orbit. Wasting fuel to put a payload into orbit in order to land the booster makes no sense.
Landing the booster stage on Earth is a parlor trick. It lets SpaceX look cool, and lets them claim they are saving money by reusing the booster. It makes people excited and cheer, but it is a waste of valuable resources. Landing on Mars will not be achieved by expending resources to re-land the booster on Earth.
Jessie Janson said:
You posted a link to this page elsewhere… Lets go over why this isnt right.
#1 You are saying spacex is wrong while offering no solutions or even guesses at one.
Lets go over some numbers.
Falcon 9 build and launch cost 63,000,000 $
Fuel for the rocket, 200,000$
Landing a stage one rocket allows them to keep 40,000,000$ worth of hardware. the block 5 falcon 9 can be flown 10 times WITHOUT any work on it. They have only done inspections on it so far to make sure its working as expected.
So 10 launches of the block 5 falcon 9 is 65,000,000 $ with reusing the rocket.
Without reusing it, it would be 630,000,000$ nearly half a billion more dollars.
HALF A BILLION.
Even if it takes some refurbishment, disassembly and checking on every part it wont approach half a billion dollars. Saving all the hardware adds up.
Paul Kiser said:
Hi Jessie Johnson,
I appreciate the figures you offered.
How much does it cost to 1) design the relanding system, 2) make up for the lost payload because of the weight of the landing system and fuel used, and 3) pay for the personnel, equipment, and ground systems need to reland the booster?
Also, I will not accept that there is NO work required to refit the spent booster. That is not possible. Someone is covering up costs, lying, or both. The actual reuse of the boosters is less than one year. The first reuse (B1021) was on 30 March 2017. It was re-landed and then retired. Why land something that is not going to be reused? The Falcon 9 boosters that have been relanded are as follows:
B1019 relanded but retired (on display)
B1020 relanding failed
B1021 relanded, reused once, retired (11 1/2-month turnaround)
B1022 relanded but retired
B1023 relanded and awaiting relaunch on Falcon Heavy test flight (20-month turnaround so far)
B1024 relanding failed
B1025 relanded and awaiting relaunch on Falcon Heavy test flight (18-month turnaround so far)
B1026 relanded but retired
B1027 used for structural test, never launched
B1028 destroyed at launch
B1029 relanded, reused once, retired (5-month turnaround)
B1030 single use, no relanding attempted
B1031 relanded, reused once, retired (8-month turnaround)
B1032 relanded, awaiting relaunch 30 January (8-month turnaround)
B1033 core of Falcon Heavy vehicle, awaiting first launch
B1034 single use, no relanding attempted
B1035 relanded, reused once, recovered (6-month turnaround)
B1036 relanded, reused, but no relanding attempt on second launch (6-month turnaround)
B1037 single use, no relanding attempted
B1038 relanded, awaiting relaunch 10 February (6-month turnaround)
B1039 relanded, awaiting relaunch 2 April (8-month turnaround)
B1040 relanded, in storage
B1041 relanded, awaiting relaunch FEB 2018 (4-month turnaround)
B1042 relanded, in storage
B1043 relanded in JAN 2018 recovered
B1044 first launch 20 March 2018
26 Falcon 9 boosters, 19 relanded, 6 reused once, 6 awaiting launch, 0 reused twice.
At this point, they have less than a year of experience with relaunching boosters and the apparent policy is to reuse the booster only once. The Falcon 9 booster cannot be reused 10 times, and there is not enough experience with the program to actually know if the reuse of the booster is actually saving money. They have reused (or are planning to reuse) the less than half of the boosters they have built. They have gone to the expense of relanding boosters after a second launch and then retired them. What is the purpose of relanding a booster if they are not going to be used?
Thanks for your comment.
Rubem Nobre Jr. said:
Paul, I have to agree that the current Falcon 9 booster can’t be reflown 10 times and it still has a pretty high turnaround time, but, at least as far as we know, there is still a money saving compared to just flying it once, making it more profitable (money that goes straight back to r&d).
The thing is: the Falcon 9 platform is still in development. The Block 5 booster Jessie talked about is yet to be flown and it promises to have a lower turnaround time and to be able to be reused multiple times.
About the r&d costs, I haven’t made any calculations (not that I’d be able to, because SpaceX isn’t a public company), but SpaceX has a big launch manifest and they should be able to make up for that.
Paul Kiser said:
Hi Rubem Nobre Jr.,
Thank you for your comment and information on the Block 5 version of Falcon 9. I still have an issue with the idea of wasting payload fuel to reland a booster. The fact that they are relanding boosters after the second use indicates that it is a publicity stunt. Why would anyone waste the weight and fuel to reland something that is being junked?
The Space Shuttle began with all the hype of how it was reusable and yet they had no idea of the cost to refit the Shuttle until years into the program. In the end it didn’t produce the savings they expected.
To reuse a portion of a space launch system is expensive, and I will never accept that the Block 5 will be a return-refuel-and launch booster. Nor will I believe that it can be reused ten times. Launches are incredibly violent events with extreme temperature differences. To build a booster that can return without a scratch is not plausible. To reinforce the structure adds weight that reduces payload capability. SpaceX can promise Mars, but the Falcon 9 is not going to get anyone there.
Falcon Heavy closely follows the Soviet N1 concept of clumping a lot of engines together and lighting them. Four N1 launches resulted in four failed missions. SpaceX is using 3 fewer engines than the N1 and each of the 27 engines has to perform perfectly. If they don’t then SpaceX is going to lose customers. Add to that the idea that the boosters are on a second, third, or fourth use and any failures will end the reusable booster fad.
Thanks again for your comment. I appreciate your perspective.
Rubem Nobre Jr. said:
Hey, Paul. I think your idea that the landing of boosters that are not to be reflown are a publicity stunt is intriguing, but I would argue these are for test purposes, you know, gathering data so they understand the vechicle’s behaviour even better and have more info to improve on it. In the industry, data analysis is very important.
On comparing the Falcon 9 platform with the Shuttle, you got to understand these are very different vehicles made in very different times by very different people. The Shuttle was expensive to refurbish because a lot of the technology wasn’t there yet and it was paid for by the US government, the Falcon 9 is a 21st century vehicle paid for by a private company (although NASA gave them a good ammount of money for development). Same goes to comparing the Heavy to the soviet N1, which was made by comunists more than 50 years ago.
About believing or not that SpaceX will succeed in making it’s platform fully reusable, it’s just guesswork right now. I’m not an aerospace engineer and I have exactly zero info on the actual economics and engineering going on.
Very nice discussing about this subject with you.
Paul Kiser said:
Your point is valid. It could be that landing a booster that isn’t going to be reused could be data gathering or practice.
The reason I don’t believe SpaceX is relanding boosters for that purpose is that Elon Musk is a publicity hound (launching a Tesla in the Falcon Heavy, case in point) and the relanding attracts a lot of attention.
I agree that the technology has changed since the Shuttle and the N1, but the issues of wasting payload fuel to reland the booster and using 27 engines to create a heavy-lift booster defy common sense. The J-1 and J-2 engines on the Saturn V put us ahead of the 30-engine N1 rocket, and now to save money in designing a specific heavy-lift booster, SpaceX is following the same disastrous path as the Soviets.
You are exactly right that everything we say is just guesswork. If I’m wrong, SpaceX will become the great new private space company. If I’m right, the Falcon Heavy is going to have several failures, and the Falcon 9 reusable booster will be dropped in a couple of years because it is useless. Time will tell.
This is really such bull.
The point of, and now the result of having reusability is for
1. (much) cheaper per lb to Earth orbit, and other “local” spaceflight.
2. Much cheaper flight to Moon and Mars.
3. To be able to fly back from Mars, where minimal refurbishments will be possible.
Money talks. SpaceX is already a magnitude cheaper than the shuttle, and getting cheaper.
It was the shuttle that was wasteful and a parlour trick, and a dangerous one at that.
Paul Kiser said:
1) The per pound expense is irrelevant. It is much cheaper to put small payloads into orbit than it is to put the significant payloads needed for a Mars journey. 2) Reusable boosters MAY reduce costs if they are not sacrificing payload fuel for relanding fuel. SpaceX strategy is more costly because of the loss of potential payload given up for the parlor trick of relanding a junk booster. 3) There is no such thing as ‘minimal refurbishments’ in space vehicles.
The Space Shuttle was the ideal craft for putting significant payload into orbit. SpaceX can’t even get it’s Falcon Heavy off the ground and it is likely to fail when they do launch according to Elon Musk. The Soviets couldn’t get a heavy lift rocket up and SpaceX is using the Soviet strategy with 27 engines.
You can argue with me or wait to see what happens in the next five to ten years. Let’s see if SpaceX becomes a major player, or a bankrupt failure.
Don T Needit said:
If you think that the cost per pound is irrelevant, you have never spent your own money in your life. If you think that the lessons learned by pursuing an engineering policy of reuse are not worthwhile, you are a moron. You obviously don’t get the idea that they are working the reuse policy as a PROGRAM, not a one-off news flash. The fact that they have not flown a booster a third time so early into their reuse program shows thoughtfulness, not stupidity. They are not wasting time landing “junk” boosters, they are spending the time and effort to make sure that they have the technical wherewithal to begin truly reusing the boosters multiple times before wasting a customer’s payload by overreaching.
The minimal refurbishment statement is also nonsensical. SpaceX will spend less proportionally on their booster refurbs than NASA did on the horribly bloated shuttles because they are simpler and easier to build and repair than the shuttle was. The Air Force ruined the original shuttle program in favor of the catastrophe it became. They could not have made it more complex if they tried.
SpaceX is making space more accessible than the last dozen government programs and most of the other private programs combined. Time will indeed tell if they make it or not, but even if they do not, the lessons learned will be invaluable to the next private player with the funding and mental outlook that allows them to pursue travel away from Earth. It sure won’t get done by NASA.
Paul Kiser said:
The cost per pound is irrelevant because small payloads are relatively easy to achieve, as larger payloads, like the payloads needed to go to Mars, will require, as I’ve said before, every gram of fuel. If the goal is to put up a single satellite in Earth orbit the sub-par SpaceX Falcon 9 is acceptable.
Explain to me why SpaceX is going to the expense of relanding boosters that are retired? How is that helping the program?
Other than your insults, I’m not really clear of what point you’re trying to make. I guess you’re saying SpaceX is good, NASA bad, but that still doesn’t explain the parlor trick of landing a booster that won’t be reused, reducing payload capacity for a parlor trick, and reusing less than half the boosters relanded, and only reusing them once, BUT at the same time it is going to save so much money, someday…in the future….maybe….if everything goes perfectly….and Elon Musk is not a snake oil salesman….hopefully.
Thanks for your comments. Please observe the rules of the abusive language in the future.
Doug Macgregor said:
I like the word “discuss” rather than “argue”. Argue connotes an angry exchange and expressing opinions and differing viewpoints should be, inherently, friendly.
I find what Musk is doing to be forward-looking and exciting. Keep in mind that he has been returning boosters for only about 2 years after trying for about 4 years.
You feel that his reusable technology is “a parlour trick”.
Many people who first heard about the Wright brothers first and subsequent flights thought they were “stunts” because they could not see past a pioneering accomplishment to the greater vision of what powered flight could/would bring.
The same may be said about SpaceX and their boost-back technology.
We may not be able to see now what this ground braking (not the same as flying a Shuttle Orbiter back to Earth) advance may ultimately turn out to be or how it may help other projects in the future.
I think the Space Shuttle accomplished many things but the price was too high in terms of lives lost due to bureaucratic arrogance. It taught us how to actually work in orbit, assemble space hardware in orbit (useful for future interplanetary missions) and learn how long duration missions affect the human body (also useful for long missions). But it also kept us in orbit for 30 long years.
I was 16 when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and I never dreamed that 50 years hence we would be where we are now…without the capability to go back to where we were then and not even capable of launching our own astronauts. Absolutely shameful.
What is NASA doing? Trying to build a “one-use” monster rocket with a launch cadence of what, once per year to do what?
No wonder so few of the young generation is unimpressed by actual space (not the science fiction type).
And your point about the waste of fuel to return the first stage to a landing when it could be potential fuel for a larger payload I find specious. These launches aren’t struggling to get their payloads to orbit. Musk has carefully calculated the power needed to get today’s payloads to orbit and return his boosters to earth to not only save money (how much is yet to be determined) but to advance the science of space rocketry. I’m sure he does not see it as an end in itself to be taken as a parlour trick.
You may doubt that SpaceX’s approach will ever result in savings but then what if William Boeing had thought that reusable planes were a bad idea?
Most people also thought the motor car was a fad and would never amount to anything either.
Give SpaceX some time. And Rocket Lab and Blue Origin and all the others who want to push the boundaries.
I, for one, am remaining positive about the future of spaceflight because of them not in spite of them.
Paul Kiser said:
Hi Doug Macgregor,
I agree with the point of discussion over arguing, providing that the discussion excludes insults, or is condescending. Then it is just an argument.
We differ on our impression of Elon Musk. I, too, appreciate a visionary, but Musk’s ideas are visions that don’t match what he does, and that concerns me. To date, his Tesla company has yet to make money, his Powerwall has significant issues that defy physics, and SpaceX is not building a program that will go to Mars, as he claims.
The Wright Brothers did groundbreaking work. SpaceX has yet to do something that hasn’t already been done. Reusable booster. Done. Reusable spacecraft. Done. Heavy-lift booster. SpaceX hasn’t done it yet, but it has already been done. The only thing he’s done is to re-land a spent booster which hasn’t been done because it is largely a pointless exercise. To re-land a spent booster that is not going to be used is a complete waste of time, money, and fuel.
This is not about failing to recognize a genius. I am asking the questions that anyone should be asking. If the goal is Mars, why waste payload fuel on re-landing a spent booster that is going to be retired and not reused?
I’m all for going to Mars. As I said in the article, Mars is about payload. The Falcon 9 doesn’t get the job done.
Of course, SpaceX fans don’t seem to care about that, but again, time will determine what is real and what is snake oil.
Thanks for your comment.