Archive for the ‘SpaceX’ Category

The Aerospace Corporation is a federally funded research and development organization.  To those in the space industry, their name is pretty familiar.

Now, having been involved in oversight of USAF and NRO boosters and spacecraft for 50 years, they want to expand further into the NASA arena, especially as commercial space players like SpaceX are actually launching rockets, and successfully at that.

Of course the whole oversight thing is contrary to what commercial space is all about.  Additionally, it runs counter to efforts typified at the Pentagon where the SecDef has said overhead accounts for 40 percent of total spending.

Given the fact the Pentagon itself is inauditable, that 40 percent claim is obviously a rough estimate.  Still, adding Aerospace overhead, some of the most expensive overhead there is, to commercial space is a certain recipe for cost increases.

A number of years ago, Aerospace wanted to go public, a move that would have created a windfall for some individuals within the company.  The USAF blocked the move and that’s where it stands today, as a federally funded effort.

During my time at a space launch unit, our on-site Aerospace guy was one of the two or three most trusted and valuable folks on the launch team and added mission assurance value to everything we did.  He’d worked the same launch program for about 35 years.

The rest of the Aerospace army may have added value as well (or not), but I’m absolutely positive they added plenty of cost.

How much cost does Aerospace add?  I’m unsure, but enough that a commercial space provider wouldn’t be willing to take that sort of cost risk and certainly enough to make a big difference in bid and proposal work.

Would a commercial space provider feel comfortable with a firm fixed price bid knowing someone like Aerospace might be directing re-work (and at minimum, data calls and meetings) all along the way?

Do you think SpaceX will post their cost-to-space on their web page if Aerospace is part of the equation?


Note: this article originally appeared in Air University’s The Wright Stuff

Commercial Space–The Only Way to Fly

By Mark Stout

You may have heard something called ‘commercial space’ is going to significantly change or even revolutionize NASA, and perhaps by extension, the rest of the U.S government’s space requirements as well.  As such, let’s unpack the commercial space concept and along the way, clarify its less-than-precise (and somewhat confusing) name. (more…)

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.

SpaceX will be the major launch agency for Iridium next.

Let’s see–here’s my ROM.  As many as nine or ten Vandenberg launches with a massive amount of weight to orbit margin assuming a stack of five or six satellites.  Perhaps other customers will emerge to use up some of that margin, but that adds complexity regarding integration, insurance, and the likes.

Do you think the success of the recent Falcon 9 mission had anything to do with the timing of this announcement?  I’d guess the terms were agreed to pre-Falcon 9 with some sort of verbiage regarding ‘pending successful demonstration of Falcon 9 vehicle.’

Iridium is getting a super deal on the satellites and SpaceX clearly needs other customers than the U.S. government.

NASA’s prior work to return Americans to the moon isn’t dead yet, but we may want to get a priest.

The big remaining issue will be about funding for contract termination, which I predict will be paid for by NASA.  And that’s not a very bold prediction.

Termination costs are why no contractor in their right mind will take on the risk of committing their own funding–for projects of this magnitude–to government work.  Too risky.

However, Lockheed, Alliant, and Boeing may want to leave the lights on for the SpaceX guys.

Or they may just want to give SpaceX an offer they can’t refuse, like buying them out.

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!