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Comment: Re:This really sucks (Score 1) 439

by Teancum (#48266723) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

Do you think when the lit the match one guy looked at the next and said "so do you think it'll work?"

Pretty much. Anybody who launches a rocket is never 100% certain that the rocket is going to actually work. Admittedly technicians who are on the launch team are usually monitoring telemetry to make sure things are working as they should be, and often when things go wrong it is minor enough that it doesn't ruin the mission either, but occasionally rockets even get to orbit and not quite in the right spot.

Do you think Orbital didn't do as much testing as they thought reasonable on this particular rocket before it blew up?

What they are going to be doing over the next couple of months is to figure out what they forgot to test or what procedure wasn't followed. An engine for the ESA's Ariane 5 rocket blew up simply because a technician left a rag in the wrong spot when trying to wipe down a component during assembly. This loss of the rocket is certainly not the first time this has happened before, and certainly has happened with other companies too.

Comment: Re:Horrible track record (Score 1) 439

by Teancum (#48260273) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

I would think that an insurance actuarialist would get the numbers down much better than somebody speculating about the whole thing based off of some slashdot posts.

Besides, Orbital already stated that this flight was insured. It also has a whole bunch of secondary payloads for which insurance claims will be made. There is an insurance industry specializing in launch risk insurance, as commercial spaceflight is a multi-billion dollar industry at the moment and likely to expand. Some companies like Sea Launch have seen premiums rise dramatically as they are trying to get their launch vehicles improved, but it isn't like this was the first launch of a commercial satellite where insurance was used.

Comment: Re:This really sucks (Score 1) 439

by Teancum (#48259535) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

The problem with OSC is that they don't really build much of their own equipment. I've heard it described that what OSC does is take various pieces of rocket technology and pull them together with duct tape and bailing wire to make something fly. For example, with the Antares rockets they are using Russian engines that were originally supposed to be used for ICBMs that had been purchased at the end of Cold War and refurbished by Rocketdyne. Other components have been purchased from elsewhere, but my point is that the procurement process may be as much at fault as the design and it may be even more systemic than you are suggesting.

SpaceX, on the other hand, has decided to tackle the QA control issue head first by bringing all of the manufacturing in-house and deliberately dedicating fabrication equipment so consistency can be maintained throughout the development process. That isn't the whole story either though.

OSC has more recently become a satellite constructor and their launch business is more of a sideline than their main bread & butter. That may even be a problem too as it doesn't give as much focus on what they are doing in regards to launches. I heard it suggested that OSC didn't even want to build the Antares, but couldn't find a reasonable cost provider for the Cygnus and instead felt forced into building their own when competing for the COTS contracts.

Comment: Re:This really sucks (Score 1) 439

by Teancum (#48259431) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

The Merline 1-D has had one engine failure while doing a revenue flight (aka something intended to get to orbit and not purely experimental) out of 80 engines used. That didn't even result in a loss of flight though, but it does show a crack where even SpaceX could have problems. That is 13 out of 13 flights (the first five used the Merline 1-C.... and earlier engine) that have been successful at delivering their primary payloads. The CRS-1 flight is sometimes noted by critics as a failure due to NASA's insistence that the OrbComm satellite on that flight couldn't be boosted up to the intended altitude. I'm not blaming NASA here (there was a slim chance it could have crashed into the ISS and they didn't want to take even that 0.01% chance) but SpaceX even in that case was physically capable of delivering the secondary payload.

There were five flights of the Falcon 1, and three of those failed to achieve orbit. Only one of those was a catastrophic failure though like happened to Orbital with this latest launch though.

It should be pointed out that all launch providers have difficulties with getting stuff into space, even Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. The early launches of the Atlas rocket were particularly fraught with problems and some very spectacular failures... even though that was a couple of decades ago. Chinese rockets have even dropped on population centers and cause some real damage in some failures that haven't exactly been widely reported. You want to pretend this is routine stuff, but every launch provider has some potential of catastrophic problems like this happening, including SpaceX.

Comment: Re:Horrible track record (Score 2) 439

by Teancum (#48257453) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

Given the track record, the insurance premium must be in the vicinity of 50% of the payload cost.

Shows what you know about satellite payload insurance and how it applies to the vehicles made by Orbital Science.

It isn't half of the launches that have failed either... that was a statistic made up out of the GP's hind end and not based upon facts.

Comment: Re:This really sucks (Score 1) 439

by Teancum (#48257439) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

They are one of the top tier launchers. Just as an illustration, since you are expecting perfection, just look at your own reply and note the spelling.

Yes, I know you aren't trying to be an orbital launch provider either, but my point is that level of perfection is what you seem to be expecting here, and generally is needed in order to put something into orbit. I have heard of rockets exploding simply because a software engineer forgot a semi-colon in a line of code that didn't get caught by the compiler or during any code review.

BTW, the illustration in that particular post had nothing to do with engines that go up in smoke as you so illustratively put it, but rather about a faring that didn't get ejected at a critical point in the launch. This added extra mass to the payload, thus the rocket didn't achieve orbital velocity. A completely different issue and something that even refutes your premise in the first place.

Comment: Re:Horrible track record (Score 3, Informative) 439

by Teancum (#48256953) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

Given the cost of the payloads, even a 5% failure rate is unacceptable.

Which is why you buy launch insurance in the first place. I don't know how NASA wrote into the launch contract about massive failures like this, but anybody who sends stuff up on rockets is well aware that they explode. It is the nature of the business. Those companies who haven't had a massive failure like this one are just plain lucky... and all of them know it too.

Certainly a launch provider tries to do things that don't purposely cause a launch failure (the launch of the Challenger not withstanding), but anybody who claims 100% success rate and doesn't sweat the next launch is flat out lying.

Otherwise a 5% failure rate for less than 20 launches simply means bad luck instead of incompetence. If anything, earlier launches are more likely to have problems because there are far more unknowns too. All launchers eventually have failures, and many of those failures are just as spectacular as this one.

Comment: Re:Horrible track record (Score 0) 439

by Teancum (#48256773) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

This sounds more like kicking somebody while they are down... like a classic troll or bully. It also isn't half of their rockets that fail either, so back up your statements here with some actual figures instead of a three and a half year old article that doesn't reflect what the company is currently doing.

Besides, Orbital is pretty much in new management in regards to the merger with ATK. Something like this might just speed up such efforts instead.

Comment: This really sucks (Score 1, Interesting) 439

by Teancum (#48256747) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

Orbital Science has a strong rocket program going, and has been able to deliver in the past. At best, this simply shows how even the best can get caught off guard with some stupid little thing that you didn't nail down prior to the launch. It is also why this is called "rocket science", where literally every rocket launch is an experiment to see if the current configuration is going to work or not.

In this case it didn't. The after-action engineering review is going to be brutal for the Orbital engineers, but they are going to learn a whole lot in the end.

The economic lessons to learn are also likely to be brutal, as Orbital has been really relying upon the commercial contracts for their business. Based upon the experience of other major launchers, a failure like this really hits both insurance premiums really hard as well as discourages others from using their rockets for quite some time. It will be interesting to see what happens once the merger with ATK is complete and how that will also impact the company.

Comment: Re:Both are bad but not comparable. (Score 1) 233

by Teancum (#48245709) Attached to: Ex-CBS Reporter Claims Government Agency Bugged Her Computer

what got Nixon on the brink of impeachment

Note that articles of impeachment were drafted in the U.S. House of Representatives and a committee meeting held to draft the legislation needed to bring the issue in front of the entire U.S. House of Representatives. That was far more than simply being on the brink.... it most certainly would have happened. The only thing that kept Nixon from being impeached was his resignation that made such an effort moot.

Comment: Re:Curious economics of private spaceflight (Score 1) 60

by Teancum (#48237791) Attached to: SpaceX Capsule Returns To Earth With Lab Results

You nailed the idea that it is economics that impacts spaceflight, but it really is the marginal cost of getting anywhere which is part of the equation. The other part is the legal ability to do anything in space is also similarly limited... by virtue of the Outer Space Treaty and the sentiments behind the Moon Treaty.

In other words, it is far more than simply valuable rocks too far away without the means to get them. It is also getting those rocks and having them immediately confiscated when you bring them to the Earth or try to do anything else with them. Sure, there are some folks who wax philosophically that rocks are yours for the taking, but until somebody actually tries it will be a huge unknown... not something you can base a business plan off of.

The Concorde was viable as a business, but there were some legitimate reasons why that airplane was phased out of service even though it left a gaping hole in terms of an economic niche. There were numerous reasons why other competitors to the Concorde never emerged (many of them regulatory I might add... not strictly economic). The nail in the coffin for anybody trying to push harder into that market turns out to be the hyper-paranoid security at modern airports that make any sort of time savings offered by supersonic passenger flights entirely meaningless when you need to spend several hours at an airport before you board the plane in the first place. Previously when you only needed a fifteen minute security screening, it wasn't too awful. Furthermore, the Concorde was pretty much range limited to just trans-Atlantic flights where the real benefits for such flights needed something that went much further, like a flight from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Tokyo.

Hopefully reusable launch vehicles might make a significant impact on the economic picture that will enable the marginal commercial spaceflight activity which needs below $1k/kg to LEO. I am excited to see what might develop in that economic environment.

Whoever dies with the most toys wins.