Ivor O’Connor

January 14, 2013

SpaceX Reusability Plans

Filed under: Uncategorized — ioconnor @ 6:39 pm

I noticed these two inspirational videos about SpaceX. The first is an artist’s CGI showing the end result of SpaceX’s reusable plan. The second is a video of the latest SpaceX test lifting a ten-story rocket twelve-stories and then gently landing it. Every few months SpaceX will expand the envelop until they have the total solution seen in the first video. The next launch might involve going up a mile and returning…


The first video can be found directly at https://spacex.com/assets/video/spacex-rtls-green.mp4.

Elon Musk has said he can reduce the cost to 1/100th of his current pricing by making them reusable. (He already is the least expensive LEO space transport solution at a little over $1,000/lb, the largest in the USA, and soon the largest and most reliable in the World.) His current Falcon-9’s have replaced the old Space Shuttle. They deliver about the same weight and size as the old shuttle at about 1/10th the price. His next rocket scheduled for later this year, the Falcon-Heavy, will lift about half the size and weight of the largest Soviet and American rockets back in the late 60s. Or two to three times more than the Falcon-9 or Space Shuttle. The next generation rocket after the Falcon-Heavy, already under design, will lift four times more payload than the Falcon-Heavy. More than double anything in history. However Elon has said making the rockets reusable will roughly cut in half the payload of each flight. So a Saturn V payload at only $10/lb to LEO! I suspect when reality comes a knocking the prices will really be somewhere around $100 a pound. (I’d like to by less cynical.)

By 2016 there is a chance all SpaceX rockets will be reusable and the CGI video can be replaced with real video!

I said the safest because unlike other rockets SpaceX’s designs allows for redundancy. Kind of like a RAID-6 storage system on a computer. They can handle two failures on almost everything. So a circuit or monitor could fail but it is backed up by two. A rocket or two could blow up but the main cargo will still make it. Not all of the cargo though. They file three flight plans and have three or more separate contracts. If one rocket blows there is a plan on which satellites will not be placed in their original orbits. If two rockets fail then more cargo does not make the preferred orbits. If however three rockets fail then nothing makes the desired orbit. The capsule carrying the humans have at least two options. The first option involves a clean separation and landing via its reentry rockets. The second less attractive is the eject option similar to all past rockets. There is a chance expensive cargo can be returned safely in the dragon capsule and put on the next rocket!

All-in-all these solutions are only possible because the government got out of the way. Though not fully. Apparently the military has governmental mandates requiring them to use cold war era companies which have very bad, limited, dangerous, unreliable, and expensive solutions. SpaceX is another fine example of a private industry being thousands of times more efficient than government yet not allowed to compete with government. Though it is just a matter of time. Imagine a huge spy telescopes with a few thousand smart bombs that can be dropped on whim accurately within two minutes and resupplied as needed. The military will be demanding this from Elon soon because it is much much cheaper than drones.


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