Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×

SpaceX, Rocketplane Kistler Win NASA Competition 72

An anonymous reader writes "Two emerging space companies have won a NASA competition to provide low cost commercial transport to the International Space Station. SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is developing its two-stage reusable Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, but it is making changes after the loss of Falcon 1 during its maiden launch. Rocketplane Kistler's K-1 is a two-stage reusable launch vehicle that has been in development for over a decade. Both companies represent a departure from business as usual at NASA. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are the largest companies in the aerospace industry and win most NASA contracts."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

SpaceX, Rocketplane Kistler Win NASA Competition

Comments Filter:
  • by NotFamous ( 827147 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:03PM (#15938470) Homepage Journal
    ...the Venusian drivers with beaded seat cushions.
  • by GedConk ( 778704 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:10PM (#15938488)
    I'm curious as to just how low the launch cost will be, compared to other options. From the article, it seems that SpaceX is targetting 6M$ per launch, but that is surely not for the same weight a shuttle can lift.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lord Prox ( 521892 )
      Nope, not even close. But if you have a small payload it mus be nice to have a low cost option instead of the shuttle.
      It is also nice to see American business picking up the slack instead of using Russian refitted SLBM/ICBM's. Hurray for the little guys.

    • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:24PM (#15938516)

      The cost per kg has little meaning for the Space Shuttle since the marginal cost per launch is only $250 million per launch (which IIRC puts it around $5,000 per kg for ~50,000 kg to orbit). But the Shuttle also has a $5 billion per year fixed cost whether it launches or not. FWIW, if NASA uses commercial launchers by the launch then they don't have to pay the fixed costs. I seem to recall that SpaceX's Falcon I goal was $5,000 per kg and the Falcon V goal was $1,500 per kg (ie, the customer pays that much, and SpaceX in theory makes a profit). But I have no idea how close SpaceX will come to meeting those goals particularly since they have yet to successfully launch the Falcon I. The Russians' Protons have a cost per kg around $3,000 to $4,000 per kg, IIRC.

      Someone who actually has a handle on the prices, please correct me.
      • by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @12:20AM (#15938885)
        It's worth mentioning, however, that by the time the COTS participants are ready to demo, NASA will be ready to retire the shuttle, and still be four years short of being ready with the CEV, so the shuttle cost is somewhat irrelevant, especially in view of it's different capabilities. Their comparable options would be the Boeing Delta IV and Lockheed Atlas V EELV's, which aren't nor are they planned to be man-rated and cost over $100 million per vehicle, or the Russian Soyuz and Progress capsules. I've read that the Soyuz cost about $70 million per launch, in equivalent US dollars. The Progress are a little cheaper.

        Your SpaceX costs are correct, or nearly so. Right now the Falcon 9 is slated to cost between $27 and $35 million per launch. However, Musk has stated that the Falcon 9 is to be reusable, so I suspect that figure assumes that plan works out. Also, that number does not include the cost of the Dragon capsule, which I suspect will run anywhere from $5 and $20 million more.

        Figures on the cost per shuttle flight range from $55 million, which is how much it costs to do between flight maintenance, preparation, training, and actually operate the mission, up to about $1.1 billion, if you include every single penny spent ever spent on the shuttle program, including R&D (and probably related projects that were killed like the fly-back boosters) and assume no more flights will be made.

        Everyone go take a look at the illustrations in the article if you haven't. That Dragon looks really cramped when you squeeze 7 people into it. Worse than flying coach on Southwest. I know the space shuttle typically orbits for about 2 days before docking with the ISS. I hope that's just a fuel saving measure, because I couldn't imagine spending more than 6 hours in that position.
        • by khallow ( 566160 )
          Wow, that [space.com] is packed. Still looks like more space than the Apollo command module [apolloarchive.com] which had IIRC times when the astronauts were all packed in there for three days at a stretch. So it's possible that the passengers are expected to stay in there for two days.
          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Well, the Apollo CM held only three people and they also had the benefit of stretching out in the LEM for much of the trip, which had room to stand fully upright.

            The Apollo CM had a diameter at the base of 3.9 meters and according to wikipedia an interior volume of either 5.9 or 6.2 m^3. I couldn't find any interior volume estimates for the Dragon, but presumably it will have the same 3.6 m fairing diameter as the Falcon 9, but of course is taller than the CM.
        • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) * on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:41AM (#15939092) Journal
          Right now the Falcon 9 is slated to cost between $27 and $35 million per launch. However, Musk has stated that the Falcon 9 is to be reusable, so I suspect that figure assumes that plan works out.

          Actually, Musk has stated the opposite -- the current price assumes that they would be unable to successfully reuse any of the components, and that the price would come down more if it turned out they were able to reuse components effectively.

          From here [spacex.com]:

          Falcon 5 and Falcon 9 will be the world's first launch vehicles where all stages are designed for reuse. The Falcon 1 has a reusable first stage, but an expendable upper stage. Reuse is not factored into launch prices. When the economics of stage recovery and checkout are fully understood, SpaceX will make further reductions in launch prices.
        • and I didn't see a big screen tv or an xbox 360! No wonder it's so cheap!
        • It's worth mentioning, however, that by the time the COTS participants are ready to demo,

          SpaceX may be ready with the cargo system by mid 2008. In addition, it is possible that they will be ready by mid 2009 with human system (not much earlier, but ....). Regardless, I suspect that as soon as any system is able to get the ISS with human-rated loads and cheaper than either space shuttle and russian, then they will take over the loads to the ISS wrt to crews.

    • by georgewilliamherbert ( 211790 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:26PM (#15938519)
      The SpaceX "Dragon" capsule will launch on the Falcon 9 launcher, not the Falcon 1 which costs $6 million and change.

      The Falcon 9 list price (see http://www.spacex.com/falcon_overview.php [spacex.com] ) is $27 million for the basic 3.6 meter diameter fairing. For that price, you get around 9 tons (9,300 kg) lifted to low earth orbit, based on the announced specifications.

      I am glad to see that they got one of the contracts. This is good for the industry. So is the Rocketplane Kistler thing, sort of, but there's already been $500 million spent on the Kistler vehicle and it's only half-built, so I have my worries about that one...

      Your mileage may vary, they haven't built a Falcon 9 yet or successfully launched a Falcon 1 yet, etc.

      Disclaimer: my company was a COTS phase 1 competitor, proposing to launch on a Falcon 9, which SpaceX was cheerfully interested in selling me despite their own Dragon project.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Aglassis ( 10161 )

      I'm curious as to just how low the launch cost will be, compared to other options. From the article, it seems that SpaceX is targetting 6M$ per launch, but that is surely not for the same weight a shuttle can lift.

      The Falcon 9 is what is planned to be used for the COTS program. While the Falcon 1 does have a pricetag of about $7 million, it only has a payload capacity of about half a tonne. I think the version of the Falcon 9 that will be used will have a payload capacity of about 9 tonnes and a cost of a [spaceref.com]

    • NASA estimated that the shuttle costs $330M for each launch. This was back before the Columbia accident, when they had fairly regular launches. With all the redevelopment and reduced fligth frequency, it must be well over half a billion $$$ now.

      For comparison, an average US family of 4 pays $7000 in taxes a year, so every launch blows away all income tax revenue for a town the size of Birmingham, Alabama.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    but the Falcon 9 series gives me a hard-on. Theoretically the Falcon 9-S5 will be able to launch almost 25 tons for $78 million. That is about half the cost of a Delta IV Heavy or the Ariane 5 ES ATV (not including the ATV of course). The Falcon 9 series is exactly what the space transportation business has needed for a long time: competition! Cheap heavy lift vehicles are going to make realistic space transportation possible in the future.
    • by Nutria ( 679911 )
      but the Falcon 9 series gives me a hard-on. Theoretically the Falcon 9-S5 will be able to launch almost 25 tons for $78 million. That is about half the cost of a Delta IV Heavy or the Ariane 5 ES ATV (not including the ATV of course). The Falcon 9 series is exactly what the space transportation business has needed for a long time: competition! Cheap heavy lift vehicles are going to make realistic space transportation possible in the future.

      Does DNF also give you a woody?

      Let's see a Falcon 1 successfully lau
    • I don't know about you either but i'm just thinking that perhaps it gives you a "hard-on" because like all rockets it in some superficial way resembles a giant penis.
  • Summary misleading (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Keebler71 ( 520908 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:56AM (#15939141) Journal
    "Two emerging space companies [CC] [MD] [GC] have won a NASA competition [CC] [MD] [GC] to provide low cost commercial transport to the International Space Station.

    The summary is misleading. These companies won a "competition" but it was not to provide low-cost commercial transport to ISS. The competion was for NASA funding to develop a demonstration of this capability. Once a particpant actually demonstrates this capability, the project will move into the services phase where they will have the opportunity to bid on a service contract for cargo transportation services.

    Both companies represent a departure from business as usual at NASA.

    I don't think it is the companies themselves that represent the departure from business as usual as much as it is the whole concept behind COTS: NASA seed money (in the form of firm, fixed-price milestone awards) for commercial partners to develop a new technology. NASA isn't buying/developing anything. They are germinating a seed and nurturing it.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) * on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:58AM (#15939150) Journal
    From the submission: Both companies represent a departure from business as usual at NASA. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are the largest companies in the aerospace industry and win most NASA contracts.

    This is true, but it isn't the reason that this is so different from the way NASA (and government agencies in general) typically do business. In fact, Lockheed Martin is one of the members of the Rocketplane-Kistler team. RLV News [rlvnews.com] (a very good source of private spaceflight news, btw) describes nicely what makes this such a departure from typical government contracting:

    NASA will select the COTS winners based on the viability of their proposals but the agency will not dictate the design of the hardware. Another unusual feature of the COTS approach as compared to the standard way NASA does business is that the COTS winners will not receive money in annual lump sums. Instead the companies will be paid incrementally as they meet milestones laid out in their contracts. If a company doesn't meet a milestone, it won't get paid.

    Usually these contracts are cost-plus, meaning that the contractor is paid for whatever the project ends up costing, plus a reward. Cost-plus contracting is a sure-fire way to end up with a project that is over-schedule and over-cost, as the contractor has little incentive to do things quickly, and decreasing costs actually means they make less money.

    With the COTS contracts, companies will only get a fixed amount of money for meeting pre-set development milestones. If they go overbudget, they'll have to eat the costs themselves, or they'll get nothing at all. This gives them a strong incentive to do things cost-effectively. Plus, both companies will also be responsible for supplying their own funding, and I suspect that with at least one of the companies the private funding will be more than what they'll be getting from NASA for meeting milestones.
    • This gives them a strong incentive to do things cost-effectively.

      Historically, the problem with this has been safety...

      If it isn't explicitly specified as a requirement, they won't build any level of safety into it at all.

      Even if safety standards are set, they'll completely bullshit their way to whatever benchmark they are supposed to meet, by modifying tests, tweaking anything they possibly can, and ignoring every imporant flaw they can possibly get away with.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        NASA wasn't born yesterday. Safety requirements will be part of the milestones. I couldn't find an explicit description of the milestones, but there are "reliability" requirements built into the first set (according to a press conference which I just lost the link to).
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) * on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:13AM (#15939186) Journal
    SpaceX CEO Elon Musk [wikipedia.org] gave a rather fascinating talk at this year's Mars Society Conference, where he talked about his plans for the Dragon capsule, his long-term vision for private spaceflight, and his hopes of eventually helping to enable Mars colonization. An article at the Space Review, Dragon Uncloaked [thespacereview.com], gave a nice summary of the talk. Here's some interesting quotes from the article:

    The large number of engines needed for the Falcon 9 will provide SpaceX with notable economies of scale, Musk believes. "Next year SpaceX will manufacture more rocket booster engines than the entire rest of the US industry combined," he claimed. He estimated they will manufacture 25-30 engines in 2007, when Falcon 9 tests are scheduled to begin, growing to 40-50 engines in 2008. ..

    At the same time, Musk is dismissive of some of the proposed applications that could take advantage of such a powerful rocket. "I don't believe in the mining of stuff in space. The transportation costs are so horrendously high that I don't think there's anything... if there were packages of purified crack cocaine in orbit right now, I'm not sure it would be financially viable to go and retrieve them," he said, to gales of laughter from the audience.

    He was similarly dismissive of another popular proposed application, space solar power. "I know a lot about solar power," he said, "and trust me, space solar power is not a good option."

    So what might be the "killer app" for space? Musk has an unconventional answer. "I think there's some number of people in the US and other countries that would pay to move to Mars," he claimed. "They would sell everything that they've got, and they would move to Mars." If the cost of a one-way journey to Mars could be lowered to the "single-digit millions" of dollars, he said, "I think enough people would pay that to actually make the business plan quite viable. I think thousands of people a year would pay that." Needless to say, that got a loud round of applause from the Mars Society conference attendees.

    That concept might seem way of out left field for an industry that is only now accepting space tourism as a realistic market, but it also fits into Musk's personal philosophy. Early in his presentation he spoke of the importance of becoming a multiplanet species, calling it "one of the most important things we could possibly aspire to". "I think it's really incumbent upon us to extend life beyond Earth," he said. "Basically, to help make that happen is why I started SpaceX."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      He's not being suficiently nuanced about mining. Boosting up to orbit, mining stuff in space and shipping it down to Earth makes no sense. But, once we as a species have multiple populated worlds, it makes far more sense to ship something to a factory in Earth orbit from the asteroid belt, than up from Earth. Just as it makes more sense to manufacture in orbit and drop the product down the well than to manufacture on the ground and boost it up. The core principle being: avoid boosting anything up to planeta
      • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) *
        I actually agree with you. I think there's plenty of opportunity for mining for in-space use, such as mining deposits of water-ice in asteroids or comets for H2 or O2 fuel constituents.
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        OTOH, does it make sense now? It sounds like there has to be substantial demand in space for the appropriate materials to justify it. What are the chances that that will happen in the lifetime of the Falcon 9 series?
    • " If the cost of a one-way journey to Mars could be lowered to the "single-digit millions" of dollars, he said, "I think enough people would pay that to actually make the business plan quite viable. I think thousands of people a year would pay that." ...that's right after smoking the purified crack cocaine in orbit, right?
    • By the time Elon has met all of NASA's demands for manned ops and ISS rendezvous and actually learned to fly successfully his total costs will be nearly identical to those of Atlas or Delta. These are not big teams contrary to popular conceptions. When you are in a prototyping phase you can afford to screw around and reduce operational discipline. His first launch attempt was a comedy of errors. Collapsed tanks, lost propellants- it was almost funny to watch. If he was not footing most of the bill the
      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        So you are claiming that SpaceX will eventually run up similar costs to these other rockets even though he's further behind than Lockheed or Boeing would be (since they already have the experience and testing infrastructure in place)? Alternately one could point out that SpaceX spent a lot less to get something to the pad. I think we'll just have to use hindsight to see whether his development costs end up lower or not.

        I think the crucial difference is the higher launch volume that is intended for the Fal

        • The "intended" launch rate for the Atlas V and Delta IV was 20 vehicles per year. They are right now flying 5/year. The cost of the metal in the machines is not the issue. The Atlas V especially is a very simple machine with far fewer elements and components than an equivalent Falcon. Costs are in the people to support the missions and keep the machine alive through years.

          How much do you think LM and the USG spent on the Atlas V? It was a bargain- for less than $1.5B you got an entire family of la

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            The "intended" launch rate for the Atlas V and Delta IV was 20 vehicles per year. They are right now flying 5/year. The cost of the metal in the machines is not the issue. The Atlas V especially is a very simple machine with far fewer elements and components than an equivalent Falcon. Costs are in the people to support the missions and keep the machine alive through years.

            I see you're not counting the development costs for the early ICBM days of the Atlas series. Encyclopedia Astronautica claims that pa

            • Well you didn't include the cost to develop metal and to liquify cryogens either so where does it end? Here is the situation: there is hardly a single piece of hardware that was developed for the original Atlas or Centaur that is on the present Atlas V. Every system has seen multiple upgrades and simplifications. Elon Musk also hired a bunch of folks with some previous experience so he too benefited from prior work. Lets be honest and compare near term costs. The Atlas V had a pricetag and it was not
              • by khallow ( 566160 )

                Well you didn't include the cost to develop metal and to liquify cryogens either so where does it end? Here is the situation: there is hardly a single piece of hardware that was developed for the original Atlas or Centaur that is on the present Atlas V. Every system has seen multiple upgrades and simplifications. Elon Musk also hired a bunch of folks with some previous experience so he too benefited from prior work. Lets be honest and compare near term costs. The Atlas V had a pricetag and it was not $12 b

              • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) *
                So Elon consumes 15 Merlins per 1 RD-180 on a payload basis. All of those Merlins must work or there is a mission failure.

                This is actually false. Part of the point with going with going with so many rockets is to have engine-out capability, so the rocket can still make it to orbit if some engines fail. It'll supposedly be the "first American rocket with true engine out reliability in three decades." The engine-out tolerance is of course dependent on how close to max payload capacity the rocket is. It would
    • by cogno64 ( 970283 )
      Mr. Musk's comments are quite interesting. Sands of Mars, it's been aeons since I read the book "Startide Rising"//// also important to factor in the 'multiplanetary' consciousness aspect to this. It's hard to explain but this has a lot to do with the next phase in the growth of the brain and evolution, along with the multiplanetary internet which we have already achieved on a sporadic, 8kbps-type level
  • I am looking to the diagram at http://www.space.com/php/multimedia/imagedisplay/i mg_display.php?pic=060818_kistler_nasa_02.jpg&cap= Where+is+the+heat+shield? [space.com] and wondering how do they manage a atmospheric braking and re-entry maneuver.

    Any ideas?

    • It is on the top (the end opposite the engine). The basic design is of a blunch sphere-cylinder-cone.
      • by rbanffy ( 584143 )
        I know they have done their math, but it sure looks unable to generate enough drag. Picture gallery was down when they got slashdotted. I will try again tomorrow
        • Actually it is plenty draggy. In fact, the only way you could make it more draggy is to make the pointy end even flatter (right now it has a much greater radius of curvature than the Dragon) or increase the diameter.
  • ... three members of NASA's advisory panel resigned for telling Griffen what he didn't want to know: that NASA is stealing money from science. Two of these were asked outright to leave and the other quit in sympathy (check NASA watch). To paraphrase: NASA doesn't need anyone to comment on current policy. Yet another example of how far Griffen has fallen to support the Bush adminitration's 'NASA as feeder for the aerospace business' policy. Sure, we'll get cargo to space, but it will consist of McDonalds (tm
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) *
      Think of what $500 million US could do for the shrinking portion devote to the NASA science budget; which, by the way, has helped to fund the current and next generations of astronomy and astrophysics researchers in the US.

      You should really think in longer terms. Investing that money now in lowering transportation costs will allow us to perform much more space science with the same money in the future.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khallow ( 566160 )
      First, the NASA Watch story [nasawatch.com] you mentioned.

      Second, a glance at the official purpose [nasa.gov] of NASA (as described in the amended act that established NASA) reveals that NASA oversees nonmilitary US activity in space, that it should "seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space", and then as the first of the activities that NASA should engage (which follow these previous declarations) "The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and spac

  • Cool. UC-Berkeley's Arthur Jensen won Kistler's Foundation For the Future award in 2003. There is much to be said for small teams. The brain and space are the 2 big frontiers. We hope to make a dent in the brain area. [cognitivelabs.com] We're even giving away a quick speed test free [cognitivelabs.com], no sign up or you can take a brain test (with piped in Vangelis mp3) based on the noir film Blade Runner. [cognitivelabs.com]

Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, and a dark side, and it holds the universe together ... -- Carl Zwanzig

Working...