That Space X achievement

So, they’ve managed to launch, land and relaunch.

Pretty impressive really.

So, how much does this actually save? The rocket itself is really just an aluminium tube. Not notably expensive.

The engines however, hmm.

But how much is it that they manage to save off a launch cost by being able to reuse?

For I simply have no clue at all. I haven’t a scoobie about the breakdown of costs. Is it 99% for the fuel and the rocket doesn’t matter? Or 70% on he engines so this is a big deal?

70 comments on “That Space X achievement

  1. The important thing is the trickle-down technology. Imagine the difference between having to throw your car away at the end of your journey and having to arrange and wait for a replacement, with the current situation of it being essentially continuously available on standby. This leads to the future depicted in SciFi of pootling somewhere in your spaceship, doing something, then pootling on to the next destination without having to track down a replacement ship at every single destination..

  2. Don’t forget the time benefit. Accordiing one of the news reports, the aspiration here is for a very short turnaround – land it, fuel it, and back on the launchpad in days, if not hours.

  3. It’s the difference between a matches and lighters. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t keep a lighter in my plumbing kit. How many match manufacturers are still around? A little-known fact is that UK match manufacturers used to be subsidised to protect them from the new technology of lighters, once that subsidary was taken away they went the way of the buggy whip.

  4. I gather that the first stage is “less than three quarters” of the total vehicle cost. I’ve seen a guess at about $18M for the first stage and maybe $30M for the whole thing. Fuel is trivial, maybe $200K.
    So it sounds worth doing, even though the extra fuel for landing presumably reduces the payload/orbital height, and the cost of refurbishing will still, I’d imagine, be considerable.

  5. ‘Space X achievement’

    Important for Space X; not for anyone else. Only the overall goal – affordable space travel – is of interest to the masses.

    Musk is renown for milking marketing value from nebulous ‘achievements.’

  6. I saw 80% of the cost for the 1st stage on the register.

    Although at present they are probably replacing a lot of hardware, and with experience and time, should be able to simplify that. Its also a lot about making a trip to mars a 2 way ticket.

    All in all, a stunning feat, landing a rocket on the bullseye on a barge in the middle of the ocean.

  7. It is a huge step towards us becoming a spacefaring civilisation.

    The reason we have achieved so little in the past 50 years in space is due to high launch costs. In terms of fuel/energy used getting to orbit is the same as flying a 747 from London to Sydney, The reason why spaceflight is so much more expensive is due to throwing away the rocket after one flight. If we can (eventually) get full reuse and to airliner-like operations the costs will drop dramatically.

    I’ve been watching the various attempts to develop reusable launch vehicles since the turn of the millennium, Many firms have tried to crack the problem, most have fallen by the wayside. SpaceX (and also Blue Origin- Jeff Bezos of Amazon’s firm) are finally getting us there.

  8. Well, I don’t have a clue either, but there’s a paper describing a cost model here :

    http://web.mit.edu/spacearchitects/Archive/Reusable%20v%20Expendable%20Launch%20Vehicles.pdf

    Dating from 2000.

    The conclusion;

    “Generally, expendable launch vehicles will continue
    to have a significant economic advantage over
    reusable vehicles until launch rates increase by well
    over 100 times. (At these large quantities it is
    probable that the current model or current set of input
    parameters are no longer valid.) If the modeled costs
    are achieved, then expendable vehicles have the
    potential of dropping launch costs by a factor of 5 to
    10 in the near term.”

    Only skimmed it, but a couple of things stand out;

    The author gives a cost of $0.06/lb for liquid oxygen vs $5/lb for solid propellant. Presumably, solid fuel engines are yer actual hollow tube, and liquid fuel engines are significantly more complicated, but still advantageous. So people don’t really want to be throwing them away.

    Second, the author includes a learning curve effect in the build cost. Presumably we aren’t/weren’t really building enough vehicles for the effect to really kick in properly.

    So, Musk (and everyone else) has to be gambling on that two orders of magnitude increase in demand, RSN.

  9. Watch the replay, I think they said fuel was 0.4% of the cost. And yes, it’s them nine engines wot cost lots.

    Interestingly I read elsewhere that the insurances wasn’t even more expensive for this reuse.

  10. NASA used to recover, refurbish and re-use the two solid fuel boosters on the Shuttle, so it appears there are economic advantages to re-using.

    The big tank was not recovered because it was jettisoned too high up and burnt up and disintegrated in the atmosphere.

  11. For the past 50 years, the United States of America has not been constrained by cost.

    “They’re planning to reduce that to $1000. That changes everything – all sorts of satellites and research projects become feasible that weren’t before.”

    This has NOT happened. Nothing has changed.

  12. Predictable perhaps but Bezos & Co. are still going at it and the Kiwis of all nations have a private space program 🙂

    Musk / SpaceX are ahead it would seem – but on borrowed time I hope. I wouldn’t bet the farm on Reaction Engines at the moment but there are more obvious economies in their model of spaaace I think.

    https://www.reactionengines.co.uk/vehicles/

    This oik thinks the £150 reputed to be given to India by DfID would warrant a Union Jack on their Moon mission – if not – give it to the gang at Culham….

  13. As others have said, it turns out that the fuel is surprisingly cheap, so yeah, most of the cost is the first stage and likely much of that is the engines.

    Interesting snippet I heard from the broadcasts was that one of the delays in swapping from one launch to the next is that it takes the Air Force – or whoever – about 2 days to reconfigure its down-range radars for doing the tracking. Which sounds like a looong time and is going to be a limiting factor if they speed up much more.

    Other interesting factoid, from the Economist via Me (http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2016/08/29/launch-spending/) is that total spending on launch is a tiny fraction of the total Space Cost. Someone who knows Economics might like to speculate around the idea that maybe cheapening launch costs much more doesn’t make much difference because Other Stuff becomes a limiting factor.

  14. John B – from the wiki article on the boosters;

    “The final set of SRBs that launched STS-135 included parts that flew on 59 previous missions, including STS-1.”

    STS-1 was 1981 (!) and STS-135 was 2011.

    Unfortunately, the immediately preceding sentence is;

    “Over 5,000 parts were refurbished for reuse after each flight.”

    Which would explain why SpaceX and Blue Origin are going down the vertical landing route.

    I seem to remember that there were various proposals for getting the external tank into orbit and then using it as a building block for space stations.

  15. total spending on launch is a tiny fraction of the total Space Cost

    If you look at that graph, then the construction & launch adds up to $22bn, so launch is just over a quarter of that. The lifetime of comm and meteo sats these days is around 15 years so it’s not surprising that the cost of supporting & utilising the now large number of them is high by comparison.

    If you have a project that could make use of a sat then the support costs will in themselves be a go/no go decision. Once you have decided to go on that basis then a significant launch cost could also can it, especially as that is a large one-time cost near the start of the project (unless you have some very understanding investors/bankers!).

  16. Unless someone here works at SpaceX, and is willing to violate the NDA, we are not going to get solid numbers to work with.

    That said we have plenty of estimates. I’ve seen the cost of constructing an F9 first stage estimated at between $12-20 million. Fuel is closer to $200,000. There is plenty of room for cost savings from reuse.

    The big question is how much does it cost to reuse a booster? If it costs roughly the same as building new, as the Shuttle did, there is little point. Given the relative simplicity of the design, compared to the Shuttle, I expect reuse costs to be lower. We will find out for sure once maintenance procedures are finalized after a few dozen launches.

    If nothing else we have some great video of rockets landing.

  17. Alex: “I dunno. Would you want to be blasted into space by a second hand rocket? I’m not so sure.”

    By that logic you are flying everywhere on 100th+ hand aircraft.

  18. The amount of money being spent on trying to make space human compatible is a joke. They should be making humans space compatible.

    After they’ve spent decades perfecting getting a 150lb aerobic meat sack through space onto another rock, they will shortly thereafter perfect turning a 150lb aerobic meat sack into something much more robust.

    It’s all a big waste of time and money and in the future will look as quaint as the Victorian visions of transportation circa 2000 with rocket horses and steam powered moustaches and the like.

  19. We aren’t rushing into space because space has absolutely nothing worth having.

    Asteroid mining is a SF joke. There’s no way it will ever be cost effective to bring it down. So it will only be useful if it is needed in space.

    Mars is a one way trip to a desert. (To get back you need to ship across a rocket capable of taking off from Mars. And then hope nothing — nothing at all — goes wrong.) Why not colonise the sea bed if you want to live in a stupidly dangerous environment? At least it has some food resources.

    Until we move past rockets entirely we are stuck on earth.

  20. “Asteroid mining is a SF joke. There’s no way it will ever be cost effective to bring it down.”

    ??!

    Just drop it. It’s expensive to get things up, cheap to get them down.

  21. Regarding second hand rockets I vaguely recall an astronaut making a comment about government procurement meant sitting in an explosive device built by the cheapest bidder

  22. I’ve been driving 20-year-old second-hand cars since I got my license. Eventually, that is what space vehicle technology will/should become. “Lazarus scouted around the shipyards and got a patched-up 20-year-old shuttle some monetary lubrication for a quick sale.”

  23. Alex: “I dunno. Would you want to be blasted into space by a second hand rocket? I’m not so sure.”

    By that logic you are flying everywhere on 100th+ hand aircraft.

    With modern computerised schedules and crew management a modern jet airliner is operating about 3,500 hours per year, which over a 30 year lifetime is about 50 million miles.

    That’s the equivalent of going to the moon and back 200 times (mileage based rather than fuel or cost based)

    Your typical European schedule plane is doing about 3 to 4 trips a day, so most smaller planes you are travelling in have already done thousands or tens of thousands of journeys already.

    With regular scheduled maintenance and modern air investigation focus, major crashes have gone from being regular to be so rare that you would be lucky to ever be involved in a crash and even then you would walk away from it in excess of 95% of the time.

    This is all from “used” equipment.

    The reality is that it is the current dynamics of rocket payloads that are the oddity, largely brought about by government budgetary processes.

    If matters had been handled solely by private enterprises rather than government agencies like NASA then I suspect we would have complete reuse of 1st stage and boost to orbit of other components in the 1970’s.

    Because why wouldn’t you make use of recycled fuel tanks to build an orbiting space station?

  24. “Asteroid mining is a SF joke. There’s no way it will ever be cost effective to bring it down.”

    ??!

    Just drop it. It’s expensive to get things up, cheap to get them down.

    Which was why T-Rex was shit at asteroid mining.

  25. I can’t see it being worthwhile really. There is a loss in performance because you need a fuel reserve to land the thing. That is not a small loss.

    On top of that, it’s really the engines that are the high value item, however, you then need to build the engines so they can be refurbished and recycled. That adds cost, and the final problem is you are now using second hand engines with all the associated maintenance headaches and risks.

    Like most Musk’s operations, it’s more about PR than economics.

    RocketLabs is going the other way, cheap and disposable,

  26. Depends on the funding. It will be different if you are running a stand-alone business than if you are part govt funded, esp if you can extract cash for making a “re-usable” rocket.
    Don’t know how it works here, but do know that Musk is good at extracting govt $$$.

  27. Mr Ecks

    “By that logic you are flying everywhere on 100th+ hand aircraft.”

    I don’t think that logic works with rockets. The environment/changes in environment are simply too close to the performance of the materials to be reliably repeatable.

    At best, we don’t know enough about how repeatable they are. That may come in time, but for now disposable is more reliable for rockets, and likely the most cost-effective.

  28. Liberal Yank

    “If nothing else we have some great video of rockets landing.”

    I think this is his primary reason for doing it.

  29. John Galt

    “If matters had been handled solely by private enterprises rather than government agencies like NASA then I suspect we would have complete reuse of 1st stage and boost to orbit of other components in the 1970’s.”

    errr…..the space shuttle?

    “Because why wouldn’t you make use of recycled fuel tanks to build an orbiting space station?”

    Because a fuel tank would need to be fitted out in space, and that’s a lot more difficult and expensive than fitting out on the ground. It’s much the same as shipping containers are not a sensible way to build houses.

  30. errr…..the space shuttle?

    …and they did such a shit job that they switched back to non-reusable rocket technology.

    It’s much the same as shipping containers are not a sensible way to build houses.

    Yet people do use shipping containers to build houses, offices and even hotels. Sure, they might not be the most elegant of structures and they are just the basic building blocks, but it is about reusing existing materials.

    The standard unit of measure for space flight tends to be the cost per kilo of getting stuff into orbit. If by expending slightly more liquid propellent (the cheapest component of the flight), you can get materials into space that can be reused to manufacture, say a working space station, albeit on the cheap, then why wouldn’t you?

    The ISS cost something of the order of $100 billion to build, with initial construction in 1998, occupation since 2000 and projected operation until 2024 that’s roughly $4 billion a year alone, excluding crew and resupply missions.

    Imagine what a company like SpaceX, a company that cares about cost, understands R&D cycles and is prepared to take risks with technology (if not human lives) could have done with that funding?

    I’m sure SpaceX will have a crisis of conscience when they get their “Challenger” or “Colombia” moment, but that is a matter for the future.

    Certainly with the launch-land-launch cycle SpaceX have had their failures, all on camera for the public to see, but they believed in their approach and design and persevered.

    I wish them well.

  31. BniC

    explosive device built by the cheapest bidder

    ========================

    Back in the Apollo days, an astronaut said his vehicle had 308,000 parts, all built by the lowest bidder.

  32. There is a HD 1080 video on SpaceX webcast which shows the launch and re-entry.

    https://youtu.be/xsZSXav4wI8?t=1135

    Launch is about 18-minutes into the webcast and the time from first stage ignition to separation is only about two minutes 45 seconds, but even then it places the payload at around 64 kilometers before separating.

    At around T+07:15 the deceleration burn kicks in and you can see the rocket being visibly scorched as uses the main engines to slow the first stage down for the landing at sea.

    At around T+09:20 the first stage has landed on the sea based landing platform and you can see that the entire lower part of the first stage is covered in soot and burn damage, illustrating that the re-entry and landing is by no means a clean and painless process.

    Presumably the first stage is aluminium, which is stripped and repainted for relaunch as part of the flight recertification.

    The design of the Falcon 9 is based upon the core technology (first stage engines primarily), being reused up to 100 times thus leading to a far lower kilo-to-orbit cost.

    SpaceX are currently talking about flights using reused rockets having a discount of 30% versus initial flights, but I suspect that in the future that profile will be turned on its head and brand new rockets will be charged a premium.

    Based upon these cost savings, I see no reason why we shouldn’t be seeing kilo-to-orbit costs of 20% of their value 10 years from now.

    This is the true benefit of reusability.

  33. I can’t see it being worthwhile really. There is a loss in performance because you need a fuel reserve to land the thing. That is not a small loss.

    The extra fuel needed is estimated at approximately 30%. Keep in mind that fuel is less than 1% of the total cost. 30% of less than 1% is still going to be close to 1%. Yes the size of the launch vehicle is larger but, if reuse is feasible, you only spend that once.

    Cost of making reusable materials could be an issue. Then again, a rocket design that can relaunch 100 times, only refueling, is worth trillions on the current market. The primary driver is going to be the per mission maintenance costs.

    The promise is there. Hopefully our materials science has improved to the point where reusable rockets are actually possible. We will see over the course of the next decade, possibly less if it works.

  34. Ecksy:
    “By that logic you are flying everywhere on 100th+ hand aircraft.”

    Much more than that, but while a typical plane “cycle” does stress the airframe and engines a teensy bit, the damage isn’t be half as bad as it would be if the plane reached 9000 kph like the SpaceX rocket.

  35. Liberal Yank

    “The extra fuel needed is estimated at approximately 30%. Keep in mind that fuel is less than 1% of the total cost. 30% of less than 1% is still going to be close to 1%. Yes the size of t”

    It’s not the cost of the fuel, it’s the weight of the fuel. It’s a huge loss in performance, well over 30%.

    Remember, that is the fuel that can be used when the rocket is at it’s lightest, the fuel with the biggest bang for buck.

  36. John Galt

    “…and they did such a shit job that they switched back to non-reusable rocket technology.”

    Or maybe it just tells you it doesn’t work very well in practice.

    “Yet people do use shipping containers to build houses, offices and even hotels. Sure, they might not be the most elegant of structures and they are just the basic building blocks, but it is about reusing existing materials.”

    Yes they do, and the same as Space-X, they do so because it’s a good gimmick.

    It does not change the fact it makes no economic sense to use containers as houses, even if they are free. It costs more to make them usable homes than ir would do throwing them away and starting with something more suitable.

  37. NASA used to recover, refurbish and re-use the two solid fuel boosters on the Shuttle, so it appears there are economic advantages to re-using.

    That was mostly for show. Something like 90% of the cost of the SRB was fuel, and all you got back were some tin cans, hydraulics and electronics. It’s worth noting that NASA don’t intend to reuse the shuttle-derived SRBs on the new Porklauncher, because it makes no financial sense.

    SpaceX are different, since liquid fuel is cheap. They also plan to recover the fairings that cover the payload until it’s above most of the atmosphere, since they cost a few million dollars. Apparently they parachuted them back on this launch, but didn’t try to catch them (the materials they’re made of don’t much like being dumped in the sea).

    The savings will be even larger with the Falcon Heavy, since it uses three Falcon 9 first-stage boosters and all three can be recovered. If they get that to work, it may well be able to launch large payloads for a few percent of the cost of the Porklauncher.

  38. It’s not the cost of the fuel, it’s the weight of the fuel. It’s a huge loss in performance, well over 30%.

    And fuel is cheap.

    Dirt-cheap.

    ‘Efficiency! Efficiency! Efficiency!’ has been the rallying cry of rocket engineers for decades. But madness lies that way. Cheap is generally not efficient, and efficient is generally not cheap. SpaceX have based their design on cost, not efficiency, and hence it’s cheap. When they’ve pushed for higher efficiency, it’s cost them a lot of money, like the recent pad explosion due to trying to stuff more fuel into the fuel tanks rather than making them larger.

    Before long, light payloads will launch on a Falcon 9 and heavier ones on Falcon Heavy. Which will have masses of spare capacity to carry enough fuel to return all three boosters to KSC. Because that’s cheaper than throwing away a first stage in order to get the payload to orbit on a smaller, more efficient launcher.

  39. the entire lower part of the first stage is covered in soot and burn damage, illustrating that the re-entry and landing is by no means a clean and painless process.

    I believe the soot is from the engines, which burn kerosene, though some may be ablative paint burning off, like the paint on the grid fins. For a significant portion of re-enty, the stage ifs flying backwards into its own exhaust.

    It’s worth noting that yesterday’s landing was extra-hot because it was right at the limit of what’s possible; if the satellite was a few hundred kilograms more they couldn’t have landed it. So there was more speed to burn off and less fuel to do it with.

  40. Oh, yeah, and back on the efficiency front, the shuttle engines were designed to be the most efficient ever. If I remember correctly, they would run for hours at 90% thrust and probably wouldn’t have needed major work for dozens of flights if used at that level (when designed, they were only supposed to require an overhaul after about 50 flights).

    NASA, instead, ran them at 104% thrust, and they needed major work pretty much every launch. I think they may have got up to two or three flights between overhauls by the end of the program.

  41. Before long, light payloads will launch on a Falcon 9 and heavier ones on Falcon Heavy. Which will have masses of spare capacity to carry enough fuel to return all three boosters to KSC. Because that’s cheaper than throwing away a first stage in order to get the payload to orbit on a smaller, more efficient launcher.

    Equally, if they had a low orbit space platform (nothing as fancy as the ISS, just a garage), they could add additional fuel to the stage 2 rockets and then after satellite deployment use just sufficient mono-propellent (since it doesn’t need to burn) to get it to the space platform and you have additional engines and craft that can be refueled and repurposed for work in space.

    Work could be anything from clearing up the massive amount of junk in space to providing a shuttle service around the moon and back (a la Apollo 8 and the recently proposed lunar orbit flights).

    Provided there are enough available second stage units docked at the space platform you would have backups available for any failure of the lunar flights and even the ISS if required.

    Obviously it would need to be manned and separately supplied with fuel and supplies, but it would be a way station for private ventures in ways which the ISS never will be.

    Once you have an engineering platform (rather than a science platform) in space to allow preparation of vehicles which don’t have to fly in earths atmosphere or escape earth’s gravity well then you can use modular techniques to build all sorts of other craft (such as single stage, reusable craft for ascending and descending from the lunar orbit) or build and service Orion type nuclear craft for interplanetary exploration.

    SpaceX is already developing the engines necessary for this next stage with their Raptor Interplanetary engines.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raptor_(rocket_engine_family)

  42. It is not cheap to get things down. The whole point of Space X is that it is very expensive to get things down.

    You have to power them to earth orbit then, fighting earth’s gravity, you have to slow them down. That’s where the expense is, because you’re either using earth delivered fuel or some as yet undiscovered power system. Regardless of how slowly you send them, they have to fight that gravity to prevent them giving us another extinction meteroid. Then they have to lowered, because if we drop them in small blocks they burn up and no-one’s going to drop large blocks (which would probably break up anyway). The device that brought them in now has to be powered back out of our gravity well.

    It’s possible if might become feasible technically. But it is ever going to be cheaper than just mining on earth.

    What do they even have that we want? Unobtanium isn’t real.

  43. Chester Draws – “You have to power them to earth orbit then, fighting earth’s gravity, you have to slow them down. That’s where the expense is, because you’re either using earth delivered fuel or some as yet undiscovered power system.”

    Umm, aerobraking is not expensive and it does not use fuel. It works quite well. At most you need a little bit of heat shield – not a problem if you have a lot of mining slag lying around. Perhaps a parachute if you want a soft landing.

    “It’s possible if might become feasible technically. But it is ever going to be cheaper than just mining on earth.”

    Mining is getting harder and harder to do on Earth because of environmental concerns. I can see a day when it is all but banned.

    Helium 3?

  44. David Moore,

    The design of new, large satellites still takes years. The F9 has averaged nearly an annual 9% increase in payload capacity since it’s first launch. The payloads that don’t allow for a 30% fuel margin are those that we considered heavy lift a decade ago. Because of the high increase in payload capacity there was room for extra fuel on most launches. After all, a max payload 3 years ago has meant spare capacity for secondary payloads today, and a 30% fuel budget for return, for many years. Why not take advantage of that margin to test re-usability?

    Yes, Musk over-promised about FH. In 2005 we were supposed to have a design that allowed us to launch 25 tonnes to LEO by 2013. It’s 2017 and F9 can launch 24 tonnes to LEO. Considering historical increases in booster efficiency, it will have taken 13 years to get what was promised in 8, but, we haven’t even bothered with strap-on boosters(hopefully British porn filters don’t edit this reasonable use of the term). Owning to the efforts in improving F9, FH is now expected to be able to heft 55 tonnes. We are looking at sub $2000/kg prices to LEO without considering reuse. We are almost to the point when the former jet set becomes the zero-G club(Yes, this was and intentional double entandre).

    Just out of curiosity, assuming you have £30 billion and no pressing Earthly commitments, how much would you spend to be the the person reenacting Neil Armstrong’s steps in July of 2019?

    I am 99% sure SpaceX is getting a bonus to recreate Apollo 8 in December of 2018. Circumnavigating or landing on the Moon in the specified windows ties history to your tourist trip. There are seven more historic reenactments that can possible be made. Musk has said his systems for Mars can also land on the Moon. There are important monetization points coming up over the next several years. Musk, assuming he has planned in a similar manner to how I would, should have a Lunar descent/ascent module in the works. I had hoped BO’s Moon-centric policy would have been able to compete but I see little hope of a successful manned mission in the next 17 months.

    Personally I love to see a 9% annual increase in the productivity of a company’s primary product. Either they are getting very lucky or management is actually allowing the engineers room to experiment. No matter what I feel that we are closer today to my three year old version’s(my first memory of the Space Shuttle) opinion of what we should have had decades ago. Huzzah for markets entering space exploration. Keep it up and it’s possible one day an off-world colony could have an economy you or I could thrive in. I wouldn’t mind providing chloride salts on Mars. Perhaps I could be important enough that I could consult our host about possible uses for aluminium scandium alloys. If nothing else our Mars 1k citizens economic conference could use someone that notices how much better the children are doing.

    In summation; a private company is producing growth at BLOODY HELL rates for a developed economy and we’re still complaining. Why aren’t we saying, “Come on job creators, waste money on this?” For Amlwch’s sake, there is a potential launch window and multiple destinations. Let’s create some jobs in a sector that has proven that R&D has actually been paying bills.

    Note for Gamecock: Off-world colonists are going to decide what type of economic and political structures that they feel are best for the situation. The last thing we want to do is subjugate our extra-terrestrial colonies to Earthling regulations. The harm to others principle comes into play if we discover life. I hope we agree that alien life shouldn’t be returned to Earth until we have a basic understanding of the chemical processes. I am not willing to risk your children just yet, and I hope you feel the same. My hope is that we see a direct democracy, with an executive emerge, while the population is small. We will also want a judicial system that guarantees property rights. There is no need for other regulations as, at this point, the Martian colonists don’t exists and, therefore, don’t have problems. The time is right for supply side economics that allows local demand to develop, assuming we are willing to pay the price.

  45. I’ve mentioned it around here before but that Elon Musk asked me about aluminium scandium alloys once….

  46. SMFS,

    On Mars we can release all the CO2 we want and there is no one to complain. In fact most would cheer us on. We wouldn’t mind warming the planet by a couple decadegrees. Would you be interested in investing into a process that uses excess rocket fuel production to produce carbon dioxide, water, and chloride salts that are currently lacking on Mars?

    IMHO this allows the rocket fuel industry to gain efficiency due to economy of scale. Increased methane demand should lead to a multiplier effect decreasing the cost of Martian methane generation plants. Our primary salt products would be calcium and magnesium chlorides. Our primary waste would be concentrated carbon dioxide and water. The tertiary product is martial dirt with the perchlorates removed. From here it is relatively simple to add organics to create soil. Should the high iron. aluminium, and silicon concentrations in the dust turn into recoverable resources we have additional income sources as an existing ore source.

    There is more than one way to make money in a gold rush. Musk is trying to sell the transportation and is far ahead of us. That doesn’t mean we can’t go and sell shovels, or fertilizer.

  47. Timmy,

    I happened across a post you made on Quora. The “former journalist” threw me for a minute but a quick review of your post history was enough to prove it was you. You have a few recent upvotes from me, using my real name, in case you are afraid of stalkers. There are several people with my name in Pittsburgh so just look for someone near the old Bettis Field.

    https://heinzhistorycenter.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/bettis-airfield-2/

  48. Skylab was a great secondary mission. If we had found the funding to continue launching Saturns we could have easily had ISS decades sooner. The good news is the private sector is finally getting close to launching similar payloads. Perhaps someone will revisit the idea in the near future.

  49. Liberal Yank – “Would you be interested in investing into a process that uses excess rocket fuel production to produce carbon dioxide, water, and chloride salts that are currently lacking on Mars?”

    Carbon dioxide is not lacking. As for the rest, there is no way that within any historical period, rocket fuel will make the slightest difference to Mars. We cannot send enough into orbit.

    Not that a single word of this appears relevant to what I said.

    “IMHO this allows the rocket fuel industry to gain efficiency due to economy of scale. Increased methane demand should lead to a multiplier effect decreasing the cost of Martian methane generation plants.”

    I am sorry but do you understand what these words really mean?

  50. Some people commenting don’t seem to understand the “cost” of the reusable rocket isn’t in the fuel, but the loss of payload capacity because it carries significant amounts of fuel for landing, up to 30% it is suggested. That’s a hell of a weight that if the booster was discarded, could be converted almost entirely to payload.

    And landing, aero-braking works- a bit, but it generates ferocious amounts of heat and without elaborate shielding the recoverable booster won’t be able to withstand that heat. The Shuttles used aerobraking and had an elaborate ablative thermal tile system to protect them – adding weight. Can’t use it easily without heat shields, and good heat shields at that.

    So I’m not yet entirely convinced that re-usable first stages will in fact be a huge benefit, but I could be persuaded so with some reasonably accurate figures.

    Can I recommend people investigate the issue in a physical sense by that brilliant little game, Kerbal Space Program. You learn an awful lot about about orbital dynamics; and if played in the right modes, about some of the economics as well.

  51. “Note for Gamecock: Off-world colonists are going to decide what type of economic and political structures that they feel are best for the situation. The last thing we want to do is subjugate our extra-terrestrial colonies to Earthling regulations.”

    You talkin’ to me? I said Musk is marketing. WTF is this extra-terrestrial colonies idiocy?
    Banning murder in space is bad?

  52. Chester Draws,

    Once you get past childish dreams of space travel and into “what do we get from this” and “can we do it?”, manned space travel makes no real sense.By the time we get somewhere interesting, we’ll be dead.

    The only thing I really support is robot exploration. It costs relatively small sums and works.

  53. “SpaceX submitted to international regulators the documentation for a 4,000-satellite broadband Internet LEO constellation, claimed to begin initial service within five years.”

    From the FAA 2015 Commercial Space Transportation Forecast.

    Annual launch rate appears to be about 155 over the last 40 years, but it seems that it’s only since 2013 that annual launches have exceeded 200. Apparently down to micro and cubesats, those weighing under <100kg (which seems to be about half the current mass of the most common packages).

    Seems that other similarly sized constellations are planned (OneWeb is one) over a similar timeframe.

    Maybe SpaceX's (and Blue Origin's) economics aren't being driven purely by launches for third parties (like say Ariane), but by the economics of internet bandwidth and access?

    So we can pretty much ignore asteroid mining and moonbases, at least until those satellite constellations are up and running (and nobody's gone bust subsequently).

  54. “You have to power them to earth orbit then, fighting earth’s gravity, you have to slow them down. That’s where the expense is, because you’re either using earth delivered fuel or some as yet undiscovered power system.”

    It’s true you don’t want to return them as a single big metal sphere. That would be bad.

    But Felix Baumgartner demonstrated that the re-entry part is no big deal. As you say, the issue is slowing things down relative to Earth. Most of that can be dealt with by gravitational cleverness combined with solar electric propulsion. (Or nuclear electric propulsion if we can get round the Greens objecting to us polluting outer space with radioactivity…) It’s cheap because you can take your time over it. You only need rockets when you need to get there quickly – like when there are people on board.

    For the rest, consider that the shuttle on re-entry was basically just a big falling rock. It had an aerodynamic shape and was covered in ceramic tiles, but it was basically an unpowered falling object and yet nevertheless was able to reach the ground pretty much intact. There’s no reason we can’t turn our meteorite into a bunch of shuttle-shaped gliders. Or parachutes, or something similar. There’s a lot of scope for engineering to improve on nature.

  55. Yes, Musk over-promised about FH.

    Not really. There’s been no need for Falcon Heavy because there have been no customers for it. The Falcon 9 payload capacity has increased enough that it can launch the payloads that would otherwise have gone on Falcon Heavy.

    It’s only now they’re able to reuse the first stage that Falcon Heavy makes sense. Instead of having to throw away a Falcon 9 because there’s no spare capacity, you can launch the payload on a Falcon Heavy and fly all three boosters back to KSC because it has (literally) tons of spare capacity.

    It’s worth noting, BTW, that the two side boosters for the first Falcon Heavy launch have previously flown as Falcon 9 first stages. They’re apparently changing the design to make then easy to convert between Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy stages.

  56. Some people commenting don’t seem to understand the “cost” of the reusable rocket isn’t in the fuel, but the loss of payload capacity because it carries significant amounts of fuel for landing, up to 30% it is suggested.

    No. No. No.

    Some people believe that a 30% loss in payload is worth throwing away a stage that can be reused, because ‘Efficiency! Efficiency! Efficiency!’ has been the war-cry of rocket engineers for decades.

    So what if you lose 30% of the payload? It’s irrelevant if you can cheaply reuse the stage.

    If you can reuse that stage even once, you can launch 140% as much payload as you would if you threw it away. If that costs less than 140% of the cost of a single launch, you’ve saved money.

    If you can reuse that stage ten times, you can launch 700% as much payload as you would have if you threw it away. If those ten launches cost less than 700% of the cost of a single launch, you’ve saved money.

  57. By the time we get somewhere interesting, we’ll be dead.

    1. There’s no known problem preventing us from traveling the galaxy at 10% of the speed of light, and 1% looks easy.
    2. Life extension.
    3. Since you’ll have to travel in a habitat capable of supporting yourself for decades or centuries, travel time doesn’t really matter. You’ll be home, wherever you happen to be in space. Other solar systems will just be a place to see the sights and stock up on resources before you move on.

  58. Re using fuel tanks as a space station – does no-one remember Skylab?

    Skylab was launched intact, with the habitable volume in an empty SIVB fuel tank. One of the earlier plans was to live in the SII stage fuel tanks after that stage had flown into orbit, and outfit them in space. That would have given you several times the internal volume that the final Skylab actually had, but would have taken a lot more work (and money). So NASA ended up with the cut-down version.

  59. Obviously I am not explaining the business plan properly.

    Martian rocket fuel is methane at this point. Creating methane on Mars, assuming we don’t find an exploitable naturally occurring resource, requires water, carbon dioxide, and energy. For simplicity’s sake let’s assume that our supply chain requires ice mining, atmospheric compression, and solar power.

    The three supporting industries are currently supporting one final product, rocket fuel. What we want is to find other products that these industries can possibly sell to.

    On Earth calcium and magnesium chlorides are fairly common chemicals. I fully expect that future Martian industries will be willing to pay for a stable supply, assuming we don’t abuse the dominate market position excessively.

    I fully expect that the exhaust carbon dioxide will be valuable to Martian greenhouses. The water will be valuable to everyone.

    The remaining waste will be a dust with a fairly high metal content. Methane reacting with perchlorates is exothermic. We can use this feature to help extract metals from the waste. Based on available information on Martian dust this should give us a high grade ore for both iron and aluminium, both excellent building materials. From the remained we can extract other elements Earth live requires.

    I am looking at options that allow me to sell the colonists products they need. I expect that the early residents on Mars will primarily be scientists and engineers. I expect that a chemical company would be the most profitable initially.

    This should be a fun exercise. Extra-terrestrial colonies have limited preconditions at this point. We are planning on starting with six and basically doubling the labor/consumer supply every 26 months. Pretend you have the resources and develop an industry you believe if worth the effort. Should you desire any of my products I am happy to explore trades.

  60. Bloke in Wiltshire – “Once you get past childish dreams of space travel and into “what do we get from this” and “can we do it?”, manned space travel makes no real sense.By the time we get somewhere interesting, we’ll be dead.”

    The B Ark! The B Ark! You know it makes sense. Worth every penny.

    Personally I think we have been given an insane richness of life on this planet. And we have an obvious duty to spread it to the rest of the universe.

    But of course we won’t because we chose a welfare state instead. And have allowed an endless supply of Third World parasites to come.

    It is more likely the world will be back at the Stone Age, well, Iron Age perhaps, before it reaches Mars.

  61. The B Ark! The B Ark! You know it makes sense. Worth every penny

    Nah. Much rather be honest with the greenies and the rest of the traitors than wasting good tech to get rid of them into space.

    “Sorry mate, the jury have decided that you’re for the lampost and piano wire combo. Up you get, there’s a good lad.”.

  62. 1. There’s no known problem preventing us from traveling the galaxy at 10% of the speed of light, and 1% looks easy.
    . . . .
    3. Since you’ll have to travel in a habitat capable of supporting yourself for decades or centuries, travel time doesn’t really matter.

    Wait . . . I see your problem right there in number 3! Centuries of travel time seems more than an inconvenience.

  63. Centuries of travel time seems more than an inconvenience.

    Not when you’re taking your home with you.

    The first interstellar travelers may well be people who set out to search for resources in the Oort cloud and eventually found themselves in another star system.

  64. “Not when you’re taking your home with you.”

    No, it’s still more than an inconvenience.

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