SpaceX Falcon IX Announcement

Sorry I wasn’t able to blog anything last night. We had been having some issues with the starter on my car, and between that and work I hadn’t been able to get around to posting anything. Now that the car is running fine again, I have a bit more time.

Well, if you’re a space nut (and odds are pretty high that you are if you’re reading this blog), you’ve probably already heard SpaceX’s announcement about their proposed Falcon IX Heavy Lift Vehicle. It’s been interesting to see the various reactions to this announcement. Interestingly enough the guys who’ve been shilling the loudest for the ATK Shaft have been surprisingly quiet today.

Clark Lindsey (on his now revamped Space Transport News Blog) brought up some interesting thoughts here, here and here about the development. [Update: Dan Schmelzer has a few good posts about it too on his
blog]

An interesting thing that leaves me scratching my head is that in both this article as well as a few recent magazine articles, they refer to the Falcon V and Falcon IX as being “fully reusable”, as opposed to just having a reusable first stage. I had assumed that the recent magazine articles were in error regarding the upper stage being reusable too, and a question I sent to SpaceX via email had, I thought, comfirmed that. However, maybe I misunderstood and maybe they really do have some sort of a plan to recover the upper stage. I’m curious to hear more details or clarification on the matter if anyone knows what the real situation is.

Regardless, this is a really interesting development. And the development approach that SpaceX is taking for this vehicle family is one rather near-and-dear to my heart as well. Basically, they’re following a fairly modular, incremental development program. They could go even more incremental, and there are some things I would likely do differently if I were in their shoes, but they’re doing a much better job of this than most of the rest of the industry, so that’s probably good enough. The engines for the Falcon V and IX are the same ones they’ve developed for Falcon I. Engine development is often one of the most expensive and long lead time parts of a launch vehicle development project. The tanks and structure for Falcon V and IX first stage are actually identical. Since the stage is intended to be fully reusable, this means that the Falcon V and Falcon IX flights will be on the same piece of hardware. According to the report, all you do for a Falcon V flight is pull the four corner engines, and load the tank up to a lower level. The tank bulkheads and straight sections are also identical between the first and second stages, with the only difference being the number of straight segments between the bulkheads. The Manufacturing Engineer in me is impressed.

What this all means is that they end up getting much larger efficiencies of scale in all of their manufacturing processes than you would at first presume from their flight rate. Tres cool.

The other interesting thing is that they’ve now got several customers, including two for their Falcon IX. With about 120 employees, they’ve probably got a burn rate of $20-30M/year for the company, which means that there’s a really good chance that if Falcon I flies succesfully, they could be at least cash-flow positive in the next year or two. And that’s a fairly rare feat in this industry.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble, so it’s apparently getting too late, and I should probably end this here. Just wanted to say that I definitely am looking forward to seeing how SpaceX does. They could really start shaking up the whole industry if they can pull off what they’re trying to do, and they appear to be pursuing their goals in an extremely professional, competent, and efficient manner.

If I were a betting person (which I’m not–mostly due to religious compunctions against gambling), I’d place good money that Falcon IX will succesfully fly before the Stick does. And that Falcon IX or Falcon V will place a person succesfully into orbit before any of the government funded launch vehicles does.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
Jonathan Goff

About Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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