SpaceX’s Success

I read all the news about SpaceX’s Falcon 9 latest “failure” to land on an autonomous spaceport drone ship aka barge. I view these as trials to success. Here’s why.

1. Grasshopper Successes: The two videos below show that the early landing trials aka Grasshopper from several heights between 250m and 1,000m.

The lessons here are:

a) Pinpoint landing of a 1st stage rocket is technologically feasible.

b) This 1st stage rocket has to attain zero vertical velocity at a minimum 250m above the barge.

Video of 250m test

Video of 1,000m test

2. Falcon 9 1st stage crash landing – 1st attempt: SpaceX tells us that the failure was due to a hard landing (see video below) but at 0:03 minutes into the video one can see that the 1st stage has substantially tilted before it hit the deck i.e. the 1st stage did not tilt because it hit the deck.

The lessons here:

a) A wobble – a dynamic instability – occurs before landing.

b) The guidance systems are unable to cope with new wobble.

Video of 1st attempt

3. Falcon 9 1st stage crash landing – 2nd attempt: The video of the second attempt (below) confirms that indeed a wobble has been introduced before the stabilization fins are deployed. Further, this deployment exacerbates the wobble, and the guidance systems is unable to handle this exacerbated wobble.

The lessons here:

a) 1st stage vertical velocity needs to be zero by at least 250m above deck.

b) The stabilization fins need to be redesigned to alleviate exacerbation.

c) Like the Space Ship One’s shuttlecock approach, the 1st stage upper fins need to be deployed before the lower fins are.

d) Upgrade the landing guidance system to account for more severe wobbles.

If at a minimum, SpaceX achieves zero velocity at 250m before deployment of landing gear it will be successful. The other recommendations are good to have.

I expect SpaceX to be successful by their 3rd try.

The Realistic Cost Of The Next Space Race

Based on the Bloomberg TV program The Next Space Race and other reliable sources, I determine the realistic payload costs goals for the next generation of private space companies.

I review NASA’s Space Shuttle Program costs and compare these with SpaceX costs, and then extrapolate to Planetary Resources, Inc.’s cost structure.

Three important conclusions are derived. And for those viewing this video at my blog postings, the link to the Excel Spreadsheet is here (.xlsx file).

The Next Space Race

Yesterday’s program, The Next Space Race, on Bloomberg TV was an excellent introduction to the commercial aerospace companies, SpaceX, the Sierra Nevada Company (SNC), and Boeing. The following are important points, at the stated times, in the program:

0.33 mins: The cost of space travel has clipped our wings.
5:18 mins: How many people knew Google before they started?
7:40 mins: SpaceX costs, full compliment, 4x per year at $20 million per astronaut.
11:59 mins: Noisy rocket launch, notice also the length of the hot exhaust is several times the length of the rocket.
12:31 mins: One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
12:37 mins: Noisy shuttle launch, notice also the length of the hot exhaust is several times the length of the rocket.
13:47 mins: OPF-3, at one time the largest building in the world at 129 million cubic feet.
16:04 mins: States are luring private companies to start up in their states.
16:32 mins: NASA should be spending its money on exploration and missions and not maintenance and operations.
17:12 mins: The fair market value of OPF-3 is about $13.5 million.
17:19 mins: Maintenance cost is $100,000 per month
17:47 mins: Why Florida?
18:55 mins: International Space Station (ISS) cost $60B and if including the Shuttle program, it cost $150B.
19:17 mins: The size of the commercial space launch business.
21:04 mins: Elon Musk has put $100 million of his own money into SpaceX.
21:23 mins: The goals of NASA and private space do not conflict.

1. Cost of ISS is $60B, total cost including the Shuttle program is $150B.

2. SpaceX cost is $20M per astronaut (for 7 astronauts) or a launch cost of $140 million per launch at $560 million per year for 4 launches per year.

3. The next space race is about money.

4. NASA will give a multi billion dollar contract to private space companies to ferry humans & cargo into space and back.

5. Orbiter Processing Facility 3 (OPF-3) valued at $13.5million, and an estimated area of 207,000 sq ft gives a value of $65.22/sq ft.

6. With a maintenance costs of $100,000 gives a per sq ft maintenance costs of $0.48/sq ft/month or $5.80/sq ft/year.

7. Another reason for the Cape Canaveral NASA launch site is the mandatory no/low population down range for rocket launches. At Cape Canaveral this down range is the Atlantic Ocean.