Falcon 9 and Ares I

I just saw something this morning that amused me. Both ESAS and Falcon 9 were formally announced within about a week or two of each other (in September 2005). Four and a half years later, a fully-orbital Falcon 9 is on the pad close to being ready for its first test flight, while Ares-I has spent an order of magnitude more and has barely “passed” PDR, with an a first launch scheduled for sometime in the 2015-2019 timeframe depending on whose numbers you pick. In spite of the ignorant hype that Ares-I was a “moon rocket”, both rockets are in fact designed to place capsules into LEO. While Falcon 9’s first flight will likely be not quite flawless (possibly dramatically so), they’re still years ahead of Ares-I, in spite of starting at about the same time, and having tons less funding.

Just food for thought.

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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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82 Responses to Falcon 9 and Ares I

  1. Steverman says:

    Despite all of Senator Nelson’s protests, this simple fact shows the major difference between the Ares I and the Falcon 9. I think that Obama is on the right track. I would have no problem, if somewhere down the road, the Ares V (or the Ares IV) is still built. But not now, and not for the reasons that Nelson is touting. I think we could be looking at manned launches using the Falcon 9 within 3 years. Where would the Ares I be, even with full funding, at that point?

  2. If the Encyclopedia Astronautica is to be believed, the Ares 1 had a gross mass of 2 million pounds and could put 54,000 lb in 51.6 deg LEO. The Falcon 9 has a gross mass of 630,000 lb and can put 17,600 lb in a 52 deg LEO. So Ares 1 was designed to put up about three times the payload for a bit more than three times the gross mass.

  3. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Kirk,
    Yeah, the Falcon 9 Heavy–if they a) ever get a customer for it, and b) if it ever flies–would have a bit more payload than Ares-I, but for a bit less GLOW. Falcon 9 single-stick with a Raptor upper stage — even more of an “if” than Falcon 9 Heavy — would put close to 2/3 the payload of Ares-I up for not much more GLOW than Falcon 9.

    ~Jon

  4. Heh! I didn’t even realize that! Either way I doubt this fact will convince many Congress members to abandon Constellation (perhaps Obama’s brightest move, if only).

    Does anyone have any idea as to when SpaceX will launch a Falcon rocket with Dragon on top?

  5. Don’t forget that the Ares I was Safe, Simple and Soon –
    http://safesimplesoon.com/

    Ares I had extensive legacy hardware to build with plus it started with a huge existing infrastructure and workforce at NASA and its subcontractors.

    SpaceX, OTOH, in 2005 was still building up its workforce, had just set up its first facilities for Falcon 1, and was developing brand new hardware almost entirely in-house and with no legacy components to speak of.

  6. one says:

    There is a “third option”: Launch the Soyuz from KSC http://bit.ly/9lNqL1

  7. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Great idea Gaetano, what better way to make it easier for US commercial crew launch to become competitive with Soyuz….

  8. NASA tried to do something revolutionary by attempting to launch a human right on top of a solid rocket booster (game changing technology:-). And whenever you try to do something revolutionary, development cost tend to be more expensive. Their argument was that this would be the safest configuration since space shuttle solid rocket boosters have now had a very long history of success (2 successful solid rocket booster flights per launch during the shuttle era since the fatal single solid rocket booster accident in 1986). So there have been 210 consecutive successful launches of solid rocket boosters since 1986. On the other hand, there has never been any– fatal malfunctions– involving the SSME. And the Ares I would still have to have a liquid fuel second stage in order to achieve orbit.

    The development of a directly shuttle derived SD-HLV would be substantially cheaper to develop since only one launch vehicle would have to be developed instead of three for the Ares I/V configuration (5-segment SRB, Ares 1 upper stage, and Ares V core stage ). And the same SD-HLV core vehicle can be used as a LEO and beyond LEO people launcher or as a heavy lift vehicle– and no new SRBs need to be developed.

    I have to agree with Buzz Aldrin that the development of space capsules by NASA and Space X are a move backwards. Reusable space planes such as the Dreamchaser and the X-37 are the way forward, IMO.

  9. Gordan says:

    An interesting metric would be comparing the *development* cost for a single kg to LEO performance. While Ares I has a 2.5x – 3x the payload capacity of a F9, the *cost* to develop that payload increase over F9 would be… interesting to see. And then, is one supposed to believe it would “only” be 3x more expensive per flight after all those development costs are sunk?

    Ares I is a real bargain!

  10. Coastal Ron says:

    The better launch comparisons for Ares I is the heavy family of launchers from ULA and SpaceX. Falcon 9 Heavy is planned to deliver (per their website) 70,548 lbs mass to LEO. Using the figures from Wikipedia, Atlas V Heavy could deliver 55,040 lbs to LEO, and Delta IV Heavy 50,800 lbs.

    Delta IV and Atlas V already have the majority of their development costs completed, and would only need the man-rating upgrades (pad updates, sensors, software, etc.). Their reliability is already known, and ULA has said that their ascent profile can be modified to eliminate any escape blackout windows. Atlas V can be modified quicker than Delta, but both are good choices to use.

    The Falcon 9 from SpaceX needs to get some history going, but they are going to catch up quickly. With their COTS contract, they are also gaining capsule reliability experience way before ULA can, even though they are not carrying crew. I would enjoy seeing them as the 2nd or 3rd crew launcher that NASA awards a contract to.

    We have a lot of U.S. capability at hand without having to spend any more money on Ares I. Liquid launchers are well understood, and their costs are known & cheaper than anything NASA can build. Spending Billions of more dollars for a launcher that duplicates what we already have, and is more expensive to fly, doesn’t make sense.

  11. john hare says:

    We have a lot of U.S. capability at hand without having to spend any more money on Ares I. Liquid launchers are well understood, and their costs are known & cheaper than anything NASA can build. Spending Billions of more dollars for a launcher that duplicates what we already have, and is more expensive to fly, doesn’t make sense.

    But the Aries will be 10 times safer………According to a QUALIFIED INDIVIDUAL that Jon argues with on ARocket. (sarcasm off/)

  12. AshleyZ says:

    You won’t find a bigger SpaceX supporter than me, but to be fair, work started on SpaceX’s medium-lift vehicle in January 2004. They were already bending metal in early 2005 (see link below), and although it later underwent a design change and name change from “Falcon 5” to “Falcon 9”, I’d argue that it’s the same development program, similar to going from a 4-segment SRB to 5.

    http://www.spacex.com/updates_archive.php?page=0205-0505

    In SpaceX’s press release archives, you can read repeated claims that they were “on track” to launch Falcon 9 in 2007, 2008, and 2009. I understand these schedule slips, and working in the computer industry, have missed a lot of schedules myself, but I wish that SpaceX would be more conservative and promise less. Last week when Senator Nelson asked Gwynne Shotwell how she knew that SpaceX could do a crewed Dragon in 3 years after getting a contract, she basically said that there weren’t any major obstacles ahead. But you don’t know all the obstacles you’ll face until you’re finished.

  13. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Ashley,
    Oh, I full-heartedly agree that SpaceX tends to be overly optimistic on schedules and such. But so has Ares-I. Safe, simple, soon and all that.

    ~Jon

  14. Max says:

    For what its worth, the first Ares test was already flown. The first manned flight would have been in 2015 if it had been funded properly (and unhampered by the safety mantra that politicians dictated would be essential to any manned launcher from here on in).
    The Falcon 9’s first flight is still waiting to happen, and even if successful its likely to still be stuck doing experimental flights for the next few years. Unless the powers that be decide to wave the need for any extended proofing.

    Putting something on a pad is not the only measure of progress. Personally, I think Burt Rutan is the furthest along. He’s the only one in the spaceship business that’s not begging for government money just to survive.

  15. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Max,
    You can only loosely claim Ares I-X as being a “test flight” for Ares-I. It actually wouldn’t be stretching things as much to say that SpaceX has flown 5 test flights for their Falcon 9, two of which made it all the way to orbit…While Falcon I had different OML than Falcon 9, it actually used the same first stage engine (unlike Ares-I-X), included flight weight stage separation systems, etc.

    And Ares-I wouldn’t need several years of experimental flights to provide extended proofing?

    ~Jon

  16. Coastal Ron says:

    In regards to Max’s comment “For what its worth, the first Ares test was already flown”, as Jonathan Goff was also pointing out, the Ares I-X flight did not include any hardware or software that will be used in future Ares I flights. Think of it as a proof-of-concept flight, just making sure that a rocket with such slender proportions would actually fly straight.

    I’m not sure what you also mean by “and unhampered by the safety mantra that politicians dictated…”. Mike Griffin promised that Ares I would be Soon, Simple, Safe. Since he was in charge of the program since inception, are you implying that he added unnecessary safety requirements to his own design? You need to be a little more specific with a comment like that.

    In regards to Falcon 9, SpaceX has real hardware & software on the pad, whereas Ares I is still 5-10 years away. SpaceX also has more Falcon 9 in the pipeline, especially since Elon Musk figures that they only have about a 50/50 chance of success on the first flight. They have already done a test program before (Falcon 1), and the whole point of each test is to find the problem areas. Whereas NASA planned on sending astronauts on the 2nd flight of Ares I – that would have been very unwise…

  17. Max says:

    If we include the previous Falcon tests, what does that suggest?
    They lost three vehicles and several payloads before getting it right. Now they’ve gone all up and all in with something larger and more complex.
    Center stage, no less. No more James Bond Villain island where they can control the media feed.

    If anything goes wrong with a first launch its always bad. But now with Orbital and others (like the ULA partners with their rather extensive list of success) looking to grab the full share of NASA’s business?
    I don’t suspect they’ll find much sympathy.

    If the goal is speed and capability then an unhindered government program is the fastest way to develop something. Call your best development house, sign the check, and walk away.

    …Its not cheap.

  18. Robert Horning says:

    I’m still waiting to see what Burt Rutan is going to come up with. Admittedly his plate is rather full with SpaceShip Two on its maiden captive carry flight and won’t realistically be available to work on something else for a couple of years, but he has expressed a desire to go into orbit. Several years ago the concept of a “SpaceShip Three” that would go into orbit was floated by, but it has been mostly forgotten by the wayside.

    What I’m trying to suggest here is that SpaceX is hardly the only game in town, and that there are other launcher developers in the wings that could take over and perhaps even carry the torch better than SpaceX in terms of private commercial spaceflight. The real difference here is not simply heading to Washington D.C. and trying to get the government to pony up and send a check to your company, but rather are private space launchers going to have the freedom to develop new and crazy ideas, and are they going to be in economic competition with the government on government-owned vehicles?

    Luckily, the Ares I is so stinking expensive that only a government agency would fork out the dough to go up on that vehicle. That is the ultimate legacy for Constellation. I certainly haven’t been hearing NASA trying to chase after commercial payloads in a manner like they did in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Back then they drove out ventures like the Conestoga rocket and other similar for-profit ventures that would have and should have brought this private spaceflight revolution to us much sooner. Instead, these failed companies from an earlier era are now being unfairly used as poster children for why the current group of private space launchers are also going to fail economically. This is precisely what Senator Shelby is suggesting for why SpaceX is simply a fools errand to support in any fashion.

    I’ll be glad when SpaceX proves him wrong.

  19. Coastal Ron says:

    Max, it is apparent that you haven’t followed SpaceX much, or any other company that builds a product. Does the term “test program” mean anything to you? Because that is what manufacturers do with new products – they test them extensively before they declare them operational. You also must be criticize airplane manufacturers for their test programs too…

    SpaceX went through a test program with their Falcon 1 program, of which the first three launches had issues, but they also validated progressive steps with each “failure”. The 1st launch had an engine fire, and was lost shortly after launch – launch process validated. The 2nd successfully launched, but had a problem with separation and 2nd stage sloshing – validated their launch and 1st stage elements. Their 3rd launch used a new 1st stage engine (a known complication in their test program), and though the sloshing was eliminated in the 2nd stage, the residual thrust of the new 1st stage engine caused collision after stage separation (which couldn’t be tested on the ground). The 4th launch was with a dummy payload and was successful. They declared the launcher operational after that, and it successfully delivered a commercial payload on it’s 5th launch.

    As Elon Musk has stated, they are in “Beta” testing with Falcon 9, which means they test, evaluate, fix, retest, evaluate, fix, etc. until they have validated their product and any fixes. They plan for failure, and they have stages and engines in production for their test program. Even their ground tests are validating their systems, eliminating problems before they attempt a real launch. Oh, and there is no “center stage”. Again, you need to actually read up on what they are doing, because Falcon 9 is a two-stage launcher, just like Falcon 1.

    Lastly, I don’t see how you think they have been able to “control the media feed”. They have been providing live video feeds for every launch – everyone has instant access to what has happened, so I don’t know how anyone could “control” anything.

  20. Rand Simberg says:

    Max, it is apparent that you haven’t followed SpaceX much, or any other company that builds a product.

    I think that what’s apparent is that “Max” is an ignorant, Ares-worshipping troll, and you (and Jon) are being far too polite to it.

  21. Karl Hallowell says:

    I don’t suspect they’ll find much sympathy.

    Max, sympathy doesn’t get you a launch vehicle.

  22. “And Ares-I wouldn’t need several years of experimental flights to provide extended proofing?” Jon, I thought I’d explained that enough times…… Ares-I was to be developed like Shuttle, in fact, even more “trust the computer”… computational modeling followed by immediate operation. There’s to be no flight tests.

  23. Pingback: Selenian Boondocks and SpaceX « The Four Part Land

  24. Larry J says:

    There’s to be no flight tests.

    That’s an incorrect statement. They were proposing an Ares I-Y test flight with the 5 segment booster. IIRC, there was also to be at least a couple unmanned flights of the full Ares I/Orion before sending up people. They were unlike to repeat putting humans on the first flight like they did with STS-1.

  25. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Larry,
    While that may have been the original plan, due to time and budget pressures, the current plan for Ares-I would have had astronauts flying on the second full-up flight. Ie just one test launch of the full system before trusting astronauts on it.

    ~Jon

  26. Rand Simberg says:

    I certainly haven’t been hearing NASA trying to chase after commercial payloads in a manner like they did in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.

    Because it’s against the law…

  27. g.r.r. says:

    Gaetano, some of your ideas really make me crack up. Let me see if I have this right
    1) we should have kept the shuttle to get us to the moon.
    2) a new set of NASA rockets were disasters for America esp. for the moon.
    3) any private space rockets will be disaster for America esp. for the moon, even those that have flown for years and launch in the 22-28K Kg range.
    4) Building Direct whether private or NASA will be a disaster for moon efforts.
    5) China is building their way to the moon by building a new rocket that will launch in the 25K KG category.
    6) so, the new approach for saving America is to use EARLY 60’s tech from USSR and launch from Fl.
    7) America using Arianne to provide launches to the moon and ISS will save America.

    So, here is the summation of your datapoints.

    “China will win because they are building a new rocket in the 25K kg range.
    However, any new American rockets that have a long launch history, or those that are coming that are in the same 25K kg range, will only hurt America. Likewise, if we build a new super heavy rocket, it will also only hurt us. The only way to save America is to use other ppl technology.”

    I would say that sums up nicely ALL of your posts.

  28. JohnHunt says:

    NASA will likely be cautious about sending their astronauts on a Falcon 9 until after it had successfully completed all of the COTS cargo flights and maybe then some. But can NASA or the government do anything to prevent SpaceX employees from flying on a Dragon before NASA allows their astronauts to fly on one.

    It could be an interesting situation where Falcon 9 has successfully completed a few cargo deliveries and successful reentries and then a SpaceX employee goes up and returns safely. At this point NASA is being gouged by the Russians for single seats on their Soyuz. A lot of people would be asking, “If Dragon is safe enough for SpaceX employees, why not NASA astronauts”. If so, just how many successful cargo flights before SpaceX would allow one of its employees to go up?

  29. JohnHunt says:

    China successfully orbited a taikonaut on their fourth
    Shenzhou craft three years after its first launch. What fundamentally prevents SpaceX from following a similar schedule?

  30. one says:

    France has ordered 14 Soyuz carrier rockets from Russia for only $1 billion. http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=120479&sectionid=351020603

  31. one says:

    Q: we should have kept the shuttle to get us to the moon.
    A: no, it’s only for ISS missions, of course
    Q: a new set of NASA rockets were disasters for America esp. for the moon.
    A: yes, now the stellar prices of the Ares-1/5 are well known
    Q: any private space rockets will be disaster for America esp. for the moon, even those that have flown for years and launch in the 22-28K Kg range.
    A: this price is for a “dumb” payload, a the (Shuttle-like) “smart” payload price to the ISS will be very much higher
    Q: Building Direct whether private or NASA will be a disaster for moon efforts.
    A: Direct is costly and flawed like the Ares-5 and 5-lite
    Q: China is building their way to the moon by building a new rocket that will launch in the 25K KG category.
    A: the Long March 5 will carry a 25 tons payload to LEO that is enough to design a multi-launch lunar mission
    Q: so, the new approach for saving America is to use EARLY 60’s tech from USSR and launch from Fl.
    A: for ISS missions it’s faster, safer and cheaper than Shuttles and (now unexisting) commercial vehicles (and, after all, the US astronauts will fly ONLY on the Soyuz in the next 6-10 years…)
    Q: America using Arianne to provide launches to the moon and ISS will save America.
    A: no, I’ve suggested it only as an alternative to the Ares-1 to launch an Orion-lite to ISS sooner
    Q: “China will win because they are building a new rocket in the 25K kg range.
    A: also, China has started to design its Saturn-5 class rocket

  32. Folks, please don’t feed the trolls.

  33. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    John Hunt,
    That’s a good question. Based on what Elon’s said to-date though, I doubt they’d send anyone *up* on a Dragon without a Launch Escape System, and unless NASA funds that (or SpaceX goes IPO or somethingand they get enough new money in to do something like that), that seems to be something that would be further in the future than technical concerns alone would suggest.

    ~Jon

  34. Chris (Robotbeat) says:

    Jon, IPOs and NASA commercial crew aren’t their only source of funds. They will be launching quite a few Falcon 9s over the next 5 or more years, and that will put some money in their coffers… 24 F9 flights are on the manifest right now through 2015, and about ten more are planned to be added very soon. Many of those are Dragon flights. They may well choose to slowly develop a LAS using their own profits. They could even put it on unmanned DragonLab flights, a sort of insurance that the payload won’t get blown up even if the Falcon 9 does. Details of the LAS haven’t emerged, but it will be a liquid engine using the same fuel tanks as are used by the Dracos on orbit (i.e. fuel isn’t wasted just for abort) and will be capable of abort any time until orbit is reached, not just during the first stage burn. It’s supposed to be a pusher LAS. There’s been some speculation that it’ll be integrated into the capsule proper, but I think it will be in the trunk. If it’s in the capsule, then it doesn’t need to be replaced every flight and thus would be more practical for unmanned flights than if it was in the trunk.

  35. Chris,
    While I agree they could boostrap things, I expect that to take a fair deal more time than if they actually had an out-and-out contract for it. But yeah, if NASA doesn’t fund it, I could still see them doing that, if for no other reason than they would have the domestic crew launch market to themselves if they did.

    ~Jon

  36. Josh Cryer says:

    Fun post given the discussions I’ve been having about COTS costs vs cost-plus (and status quo). When Shotwell told Nelson that they could buy 5-10 COTS-D programs if they had similar bids that SpaceX made, the silence at the Commerce hearing was deafening. The next guy to respond was completely flustered by it, too. Calling it “optimistic.” I wish I could have talked to him afterward and could have pointed out that Shotwell’s statement was fact. Their COTS-D bid is between 5-10 times less than the $6 billion NASA will be getting. She worded it that way for a reason, to indicate that they’re willing to do COTS-D, which is signed by Elon Musk, and only waiting for funding.

    While I think it’s true that SpaceX originally had very optimistic timelines, I think that once they got a wrangle around actual development time, that future estimates are realistic. She said that they can fulfill COTS-D within 3 years of funding. The vast majority of COTS-D is procedural (for SpaceX, since they explicitly designed the thing to fit within NASAs man rate criteria), and Falcon 9 will have had well over a dozen flights before they are ready to put humans on the thing, many of which will go to the ISS.

    One thing I’ve been mulling is the idea of COTS-E, a moderator at my forums suggested it as a Super Heavy (75+ mt to LEO) COTS option. Elon Musk stated that Merlin 2 would cost around $100 million to develop (this was of course 2005 Musk, who at the time didn’t have a good handle on cost estimates or timelines; let’s assume twice that). COTS-E could start by funding SpaceX to develop and test fire a Merlin 2 (which would be in the size and power range of an F-1 or J-2), using the milestone program. Even if COTS-E isn’t extended to build a fully fledged rocket (because we’re talking about a program that would take some time to develop and could be canceled if the wrong administration got involved) SpaceX could go into a “holding pattern” and still develop it over time.

  37. googaw says:

    A super-heavy is a very bad idea. Unlike for the Falcon 9, there is no real commercial market for it, only a captive NASA monopsony.

  38. Josh Cryer says:

    NASA is going to develop super heavy, though. I say if NASA is going to spend money developing it (they already budgeted for an engine) then COTS would be able to do it cheaper and better, monopsony be damned. Also, Musk stated his intentions to build super heavy, and if he’s serious about going to Mars, he will build it anyway.

    And who is to say in 10 years that there wouldn’t be a market for it, if the space hotel idea takes off, it would be useful toward building a massive space hotel, and, as a passenger carrier, could reduce costs per person to LEO to the $100,000s. That is crazy talk, though, as you’re better off ferrying large passenger loads with an SSTO.

  39. Chris, no need for speculation about the LAS, straight from the horse’s mouth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTSDFzKdYVU

  40. googaw says:

    , if NASA doesn’t fund it, I could still see them doing that, if for no other reason than they would have the domestic crew launch market

    Without NASA funding, the size of the “domestic crew launch market” is exactly zero.

  41. googaw says:

    NASA is going to develop super heavy, though.

    Have tons of fun with another Shuttle- and Ares-like experience, then.

  42. googaw says:

    who is to say in 10 years that there wouldn’t be a market for it

    Who is to say in 10 years that there won’t be a market for trips to Pluto? Well, if nobody else wants to be rational I’ll say it, that’s who.

  43. Martijn Meijering says:

    I say if NASA is going to spend money developing it (they already budgeted for an engine) then COTS would be able to do it cheaper and better, monopsony be damned.

    Unfortunately it looks as if the alleged need for an HLV is just the pretext for spending money in certain Congressional districts. Doing it cheaper and better conflicts with that goal so it’s unlikely politicians would go for it. Zombifying SpaceX would also be an unwelcome side effect if they did. I’d be much more worried about that with an HLV than with just crew transport.

    It’s better to have the HLV project as an R&D project that may never deliver an actual HLV and might yield somewhat useful US indigenous kerolox expertise. It would be even better if they money was spent on a lander instead, but that option appears not to be on the cards.

  44. Googaw,
    I think you’re overstating your case. The market for launching people into orbit using domestic US boosters does depend strongly on the price point, but if they can get into the price points they think they can, the market is likely quite a bit more than zero. Now, if you’re saying that you don’t think they can hit a price point people would be willing to pay for, that’s a different argument (which I still think you’re wrong on, but is more iffy).

    ~Jon

  45. Jon, thanks for trying to have that argument with googaw AGAIN. I don’t think the guy recognizes that he’s talking to the same people as he was last week.

  46. googaw says:

    Jon, I believe you are responding to my response re: the hypothetical market for HLVs? If anything I understated the case. An HLV will produce a much higher price point than the likes of a Falcon 9, for a host of reasons, for starters because it requires more extreme manufacturing and ground-support infrastructure, even worse because test flights are more expensive, but worst of all because it’s going to fly much less frequently serving a much smaller market and it’s got much more R&D to amortize. If SpaceX can’t reduce the price point sufficiently with a Falcon 9 they aren’t going to have any better luck with a bigger rocket. And to grow the orbital tourism market substantially they need to reduce the price point by over an order of magnitude: keep in mind that the Soyuz spare-seat prices are the marginal costs of marginal costs, reflecting only a small fraction of the overall costs one would have to recoup if investing from the start as a commercial project. Finally, if they end up as a NASA zombie, which grows increasingly probable the more NASA money they get, they aren’t going to be reducing costs much at all, whatever they might wish to do. So I’m afraid to say the economics of an HLV for orbital tourism and other hypothetical HSF-related markets is not even close, it’s probably about two orders of magnitude off.

  47. googaw says:

    Oops, sorry Jon, I mixed up the threads. I believe you were responding to whether SpaceX would invest in the LAS without NASA funding. Their numbers may be in part or in whole aggressive lowballing to get the NASA contract — it’s been done many times before. And their Commercial Crew bid will be a much better indication than any informal PR number they’ve given. But let’s for the moment assume their PR number. $20 million per seat, right? That’s the price Soyuz was a few years ago and it generated on average only about one tourist per year — about $20 million of revenue per year. If SpaceX’s marginal cost is $10 million per seat the other $10 million per year doesn’t come anywhere close to being able to amortize the costs of developing Dragon and the LAS. SpaceX depends on NASA to underwrite those costs. So the the size of the domestic market for orbital tourism given rational investors and no help from NASA is exactly zero. And even with NASA’s help it is only about one tourist per year, less if Soyuz finds it profitable to go back down to $20 million or less and still cover the doubly marginal costs of a Soyuz spare seat.

    Now it could be that Musk is more of a “philanthrocapitalist” than a rational investor, and is willing to just throw away the R&D costs as an act of charity for the greater good, but that’s another story. Given how he jumped so aggressively into COTS/CRS and given his pro-COTS political activism I’d say it’s far more likely that he’s lowballing to win NASA contracts. Of course, philanthrocapitalism and contractor politics are not mutually exclusive, nor are genuine low costs and lowballing, and it could easily be a mix of these factors. Like all of you I am strongly hoping that the costs are genuinely and substantially lower, although perhaps unlike many of you I am much more interested in satellite costs (real commerce) than in Dragon costs.

  48. Josh Cryer says:

    googaw,

    Without NASA funding, the size of the “domestic crew launch market” is exactly zero.

    So? That’s for the time being. How else do you develop an industry? “Without government funding, the size of the vehicle market would be effectively zero.” (Given subsidies given to the vehicle market in the United States, from the interstate system to roads, to fuel subsidies, this statement is true.)

    You sound like an “environmentalist” arguing against nuclear. “Without government loan guarantees the construction of new nuclear is effectively zero.”

    Have tons of fun with another Shuttle- and Ares-like experience, then.

    They’re developing it, I have no say over that, and the status quo likes big rockets. Can’t say I don’t like seeing ’em go up anyhow.

    Who is to say in 10 years that there won’t be a market for trips to Pluto? Well, if nobody else wants to be rational I’ll say it, that’s who.

    Trips to Pluto are quite a bit different from constructing space hotels, or, EML1 fuel depots (with an EML1 fuel depot you reduce trip times to Mars by months for the same Delta V).

    If COTS is allowed to flourish I think you do have more of an argument for LEO development if not EML1 development. If we get things like the L2 Cup then private space will have reasons to continue pushing out further.

    Finally, if they end up as a NASA zombie, which grows increasingly probable the more NASA money they get, they aren’t going to be reducing costs much at all, whatever they might wish to do.

    That depends solely on whether or not NASA becomes a technology producer again or not. Yes, if NASA continues the tried and true “let’s pay people to run programs we’ve had for years” mode rather than a “let’s extend our technology and build new programs” mode, we’ll have issues, because SpaceX and others will almost have no choice but to cede to the status quo to keep their businesses alive and there will be little progress to move forward.

    But I think there’s plenty of evidence out there to suggest that private space wants to pursue a non-NASA dependent commercial space industry, and most of your comments are basically pessimistic bemoaning.

  49. Josh Cryer says:

    googaw, appears we posted at the same time. COTS-D is signed and sealed. All it requires is NASA to fund it. For about $308 million (though since it’s been so long since COTS Addendum 2 they may ask to rewrite it for a little bit more, say, $350 million).

    Woe is space.

  50. Pete says:

    Musk stated his intentions to build super heavy, and if he’s serious about going to Mars, he will build it anyway.

    Musk seems to be assuming a low flight rate brute force approach to space – Falcon 9 on steroids.

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