Archive for the ‘Space Launch’ Category

EELVs Provide Margin; Margin Allows For Scheduling Flexibility

I think the new strategy–basically to match a spacecraft to a boosters six to twelve months out based on spacecraft readiness–is enabled by the studly to-orbit capabilities of the Delta IV and Atlas V EELV vehicles.

I’m guessing both families of boosters have enough margin that they can wait until later in the scheduling process to be matched with a spacecraft versus the traditional way of  matching much earlier on based on which booster was the best fit (or the only fit) to get a particular satellite on orbit.

This flexibility allows a spacecraft to go to either a Delta IV or an Atlas V and avoids committing to one versus the other two years in advance.

The idea makes plenty of sense.  The only ones who might lose out will be those secondary and orphan types of payloads looking for a cheap(er) ride to space.

How low can you go?

SpaceX’s bid to serve as the Iridium Next launch agent was cheaper than the Indians and the Chinese.

How low is it?  Shockingly low.

“That $492 million figure would launch all 72 satellites in our constellation,” said Matt Desch, Iridium’s CEO.

So will SpaceX make up in volume what they’re losing in per unit sales?

SpaceX obviously has to first have a successful product before they can start taking government customers away from the big dogs.  If tradition is followed, they can then start amortizing more of their start-up costs by billing to the government.

They’re on their way.  However, like Sea Launch, could their margins be so slim that one failure puts them on an unrecoverable path?

At some point the buyer has to be saying ‘this deal is too good to be true.’  However, both the satellite manufacturing deal and the launch services support the hypothesis that there is a global capacity glut for goods and services and that in effect, it should be a buyer’s market for some time.

So how does one make their money?  By having the U.S. government as a major customer.

What a great irony that SpaceX, the anthesis of the Titan program is using the Titan launch complex/space launch complex at CCAFS and Vandenberg.

South Korea lost contact with their launch vehicle a little over two minutes into its flight profile and during its first stage burn.

It was to hoist a modest 100kg payload and the launch vehicle itself was similarly modest–we’ll call it old school–with a Russian supplied first stage that used the traditional ‘highly refined hydrocarbon (kerosene) and liquid oxygen as fuel.  The second stage was a solid.  This is the second consecutive failure.

South Korea, as does SpaceX, knows the challenge of building a space launch vehicle and getting to space.  If it was easy, many more would already have done it.

SpaceX achieved success with its Falcon 1 on its fourth attempt and was fully successful on their first attempt with the much more capable Falcon 9 vehicle.

Expect South Korea to be tenacious as well.

Salute to the men and women associated with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 mission! Fantastic!

FWIW, I have high confidence the cheering over the countdown, narration, and telemetry nets may have been edited out!

Watch the Falcon 9 webcast from here.

Now onto SpaceX’s expectation for the launch –let’s describe them as modest–delivered from the SpaceX site:

It’s important to note that since this is a test launch, our primary goal is to collect as much data as possible, with success being measured as a percentage of how many flight milestones we are able to complete in this first attempt. It would be a great day if we reach orbital velocity, but still a good day if the first stage functions correctly, even if the second stage malfunctions. It would be a bad day if something happens on the launch pad itself and we’re not able to gain any flight data.

There is a four-hour window for Friday, and if conditions don’t support the op then, Saturday will be–in the language of launch–the next attempt.

Now that the first GPS 2F-1 has left the rocket ranch, all eyes will be on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 which is set to launch Friday.

I went through their plant in Hawthorne back in November 2009.  I have to say it was fantastic.  They were making structures, engines, fairings, and more there.  BTW, the Falcon 9 is a beast–Atlas 5 sized.

I’m hoping Elon Musk will make more Falcon vehicles even if it means making fewer movies like Thank You For Smoking.

Groan.  Wasn’t the shuttle a reusable booster?  Didn’t EELV promise cost savings?

Here’s the link to the Aviation Week article…

When I read about savings of over 50%, I think about EELV and the cost savings it was asserted to create.  EELV was a massive ‘cost avoidance’ program, that is, by creating and using new families of launch vehicles, the USAF could get away from brutally expensive ‘heritage’ systems like the Titan IV.

Of course, the savings–the cost avoidance–never materialized.  Paper rockets are cheap and things cost more and more as they move further away from Powerpoint.

EELV’s cost problem was rooted in the bogus assumption there would be lots of EELV launches and ergo, plenty of cost sharing and a low per-unit expense. These were, of course, all wrong.  Its advocates didn’t see that foreign launch competitors, with advantageous labor rates, subsidization, and greatly reduced regulatory entanglements, would end up as the  way for commercial users to go.

Give the SpaceX and Microcosms of the world a chance to compete.  Reusable if it makes sense, expendable if it doesn’t.