SpaceX Falcon 9 historic landing thread (1st landing attempt & most recent missions)

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jmattingly13

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SpaceX IS a private company... one which I've heard rumors is thinking of going public. (Publicly traded). If that's the case, you don't want to "scare off" investors with high-profile failures broadcast to the world (IF it happens to fail, which even Elon Musk only quotes a 50-50 shot of it working right). At any rate, public offerings aside, as a PRIVATE company, they don't *have* to broadcast ANY of their activities; though I think it is really to their benefit if they DO. But as far as an "obligation" goes, not so much-- their dime, their choice...
Don't expect to see SpaceX on the market any time soon. They'll consider an IPO once they're doing regular service to Mars.
 

Zebedee

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I watched an interview with Elon where he's talked about the fact that he will keep SpaceX private as long as possible because public companies do not have a long enough time horizon for planning - they always have to make short term compromises to keep shareholders happy.
 

Reinhard

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NASA is NASA... they're only interested in what *NASA* does, what the flight has to do with *NASA*. There's plenty of PTB's that are VERY threatened by "nu-space" commercial companies and don't want to do *anything* that actually promotes them or benefits them. Some of those PTB's are within NASA; most are within the political structure that supports and benefits from NASA funding and policy (and usually has a mighty hand in making it). SO, I wouldn't say NASA *not* covering SpaceX's reusability activities is in any way surprising...
I guess NASA also wants to stay - or at least appear - as neutral as possible. So there will be lots of "Thanks for the great cooperation [vendor of the day]" but not much cheerleading for aspects of the mission that might demonstrate a real or perceived preference for one vendor above another.

The following video of NASA covers the retro-burn but focuses entirely on the relevance for future missions to Mars.
[video=youtube;_UFjK_CFKgA]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UFjK_CFKgA[/video]


Regarding costs, Elon Musk said in a press conference that the first stage hardware accounts for about about 70% of the costs, when asked about the potential savings.


Reinhard
 

James Duffy

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There have been successful tests of controlled re-entry and soft landings in the ocean (and MANY soft landing test hops in Texas).
Fun fact: the Grasshopper launch/landing site in McGregor is just 2.8nm to the west of the NARAM 44 (2002) launch site, so we flew rockets there before Elon did.

I fly airplanes over the SpaceX facility all the time (it is between the TPL and ACT VOR stations), and until recently the company seemed to always have a Grasshopper on the pad, ready to go!

James
 

georgegassaway

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Regarding costs, Elon Musk said in a press conference that the first stage hardware accounts for about about 70% of the costs, when asked about the potential savings.
I would not assume that means the second stage therefore is about 30% of the remaining cost. 30% sounds like way too much for a second stage. Does not mean the second stage does not cost 30% of the first stage but.....

Also, did he mean 70% of the total hardware cost, or 70% of the launch cost? Because there is a lot associated with launch costs other than what the hardware costs are, the people, equipment, an so on.

Musk. Cagey.

I think what can be extracted out of that is that if the first stage could be reused forever with no maintenance, that after the first flight (if paid for in full) all the rest of the flights might cost about 30% (though first stage fuel costs also have to be factored in, and a few other things left danglng). But that is not realistic

Perhaps a reasonable guesstimate would be that after accounting for transport back, inspection, refurbishment, and so on, and maybe getting to reuse the first stages on average about 10 times or so (guessitmate) before the structure may not be able to safely fly anymore and/or engines too degraded, and random crashes, that the cost could be amortized down to about 50% of total expendable, maybe 40%. Still huge savings. If they can fly each stage for an average of 20 flights, much better. But nobody knows, not even Musk, because it is something that only lots of flights over time will show, not PowerPoint presentations or tweets.

Sometimes Musk talks as if these will be able to be reused and reflown over and over indefinitely like a Learjet, landing and taking off daily with almost no inspections or maintenance between flights, and that does not seem likely. And by that I'm not saying impossible, but they have to prove it, not talk it. Just like the reuseable second stage is something they are are talking about, but that will remain to be seen and proven for many years, for now it's talk.

So it won't be till they have made dozens of flights with the reused stages and established a record of how many flights per specific stage, and how much inspection they need, refurbishment, engine swaps, and likely loss of some due to accident and/or wearing out, before the picture becomes clear on just how reuseable they are and what the effective operational costs end up being.

- George Gassaway
 
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luke strawwalker

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Don't expect to see SpaceX on the market any time soon. They'll consider an IPO once they're doing regular service to Mars.
I've heard talk, but just rumors... and you know how that goes...

It's probably for the best... not enough 'altruism' and "pioneering" in the world, and ESPECIALLY not when the "robber barons" get their fingers in the pie and hands on the throttle...

Later! OL JR:)
 

luke strawwalker

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Fun fact: the Grasshopper launch/landing site in McGregor is just 2.8nm to the west of the NARAM 44 (2002) launch site, so we flew rockets there before Elon did.

I fly airplanes over the SpaceX facility all the time (it is between the TPL and ACT VOR stations), and until recently the company seemed to always have a Grasshopper on the pad, ready to go!

James
Yeah, I went to a DARS launch out there one time when I first got back into rocketry about ten years ago... Back when that field was still being used by DARS and available to them, anyway. While we were there, watching some HPR birds go up, suddenly there was this rumbling, booming, crackling sound behind us off to the west, more a sound that you feel as much as hear... we all turned to see a pall of smoke going up, and my first thought was either a jet had crashed or a small nuke a long ways off... Then someone said, "SpaceX is testing one of their Merlin engines!" and it made sense. SpaceX was in the news back then, but just one of a dozen or more "fly by night" new-kid-on-the-block "nu-space" companies with grandiose, luminary startups that seemed to fizzle out just as fast (Conestoga, Beal, MirCorp, etc.) It WAS really cool to see and hear their hardware actually being tested just a few miles away, though. (A LOT more than what most "nu-space" companies ever achieved. Most of them never got beyond powerpoint engineering).

Anyway, what was funny was, the guy in the pop-up tent next to us had gone to the porta-cans twice that day... Earlier in the day, he'd gone in to do his business and the porta john he was in got hit by a wayward large rocket, which separated or something and was coming in hot for a core sample; it hit the door a glancing blow and bounced off, VERY LOUDLY, and landed in the grass by the portacrapper. The guy came out a minute later, eyes big as quarters.

Well, his second trip of the day to the portapotty coincided with this SpaceX rocket test starting up a few seconds after he went in... Wonder what was going through his head... You're in a cow pasture, in a plastic porta-sh!tt3r, pants probably around your ankles, and you hear this deep, rumbling, crackling ROAR in the distance, like a nuclear blast in "The Day After" or something... What do you do??

He came out a few seconds later, a bit disheveled, eyes bigger than quarters... about the same time someone yelled "SpaceX is testing their Merlin engines!".

My wife and I had a good laugh at the poor guy's expense on the way home... I was like "ya know, if there's a plane crash or a nuke goes off, the last place I want to face Armageddon is IN A PORTA-CRAPPER!

LOL:)

Later! OL JR :)

PS. The launch was nearly scrubbed that day because Bush II was possibly flying in to his ranch, which was just a few miles north of there... FAA would call them and pull the plug with nearly zero notice. Lots of guys holding their breath that day...
 

luke strawwalker

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I would not assume that means the second stage therefore is about 30% of the remaining cost. 30% sounds like way too much for a second stage. Does not mean the second stage does not cost 30% of the first stage but.....

Also, did he mean 70% of the total hardware cost, or 70% of the launch cost? Because there is a lot associated with launch costs other than what the hardware costs are, the people, equipment, an so on.

Musk. Cagey.

I think what can be extracted out of that is that if the first stage could be reused forever with no maintenance, that after the first flight (if paid for in full) all the rest of the flights might cost about 30% (though first stage fuel costs also have to be factored in, and a few other things left danglng). But that is not realistic

Perhaps a reasonable guesstimate would be that after accounting for transport back, inspection, refurbishment, and so on, and maybe getting to reuse the first stages on average about 10 times or so (guessitmate) before the structure may not be able to safely fly anymore and/or engines too degraded, and random crashes, that the cost could be amortized down to about 50% of total expendable, maybe 40%. Still huge savings. If they can fly each stage for an average of 20 flights, much better. But nobody knows, not even Musk, because it is something that only lots of flights over time will show, not PowerPoint presentations or tweets.

Sometimes Musk talks as if these will be able to be reused and reflown over and over indefinitely like a Learjet, landing and taking off daily with almost no inspections or maintenance between flights, and that does not seem likely. And by that I'm not saying impossible, but they have to prove it, not talk it. Just like the reuseable second stage is something they are are talking about, but that will remain to be seen and proven for many years, for now it's talk.

So it won't be till they have made dozens of flights with the reused stages and established a record of how many flights per specific stage, and how much inspection they need, refurbishment, engine swaps, and likely loss of some due to accident and/or wearing out, before the picture becomes clear on just how reuseable they are and what the effective operational costs end up being.

- George Gassaway
Quite true...

One thing I've learned about "space accounting" is that you can justify ANYTHING or make it look any way you want to, depending on what you include in the costs and how you figure it up. Shuttle launches, for instance. NASA always said the costs of a shuttle launch were, depending on the time frame, on average, around $250-300 million or so. Most outsiders pegged it at $400 million + per flight based on known contracts and NASA program costs/funding. We now know, that the "final driveout price" for the shuttle flights were, when one divides total program costs (as best we can understand them, which will never be 100% due to "fuzzy math" and stuff paid for by shuttle program that wasn't shuttle related (like ISS development cost overruns, etc.) when the total costs were divided by the 135 flights of the program, it comes out to well over a BILLION per shuttle flight. Of course folks argue over "sunk costs" and "incremental costs" and "infrastructure costs" and argue til their blue in the face over what SHOULD be included in shuttle costings, and what SHOULDN'T be...

So yeah, you're absolutely right that a vague statement of "it's about 70% of the cost" certainly leaves a HUGE amount of doubt about what those costs actually include, how much would actually be saved, refurbishment costs, etc.

Propellant costs are actually 'down in the noise' when compared to hardware, infrastructure, incremental, support, and program costs for space launch vehicles. The main question to be seen with reuse of Falcon 9 first stages is, how much REFURBISHMENT, inspection, turnaround, etc. is required to SAFELY and SUCCESSFULLY reuse the first stage without having the rocket blow up or crash. How those flights are insured and what that costs for payload customers may blow a big hole in the savings too, until its proven with a flight record of numerous successes. Shuttle utterly failed as an AFFORDABLE reusable space vehicle because NASA *intentionally* VASTLY underestimated the costs to refurbish it and turn it around between flights, leading to totally unrealistic dreamland estimates of incremental launch costs of as little as $10 million per flight, with turnaround times and a supply chain and infrastructure capable of supporting up to 70 flights per year with a four orbiter fleet, according to early 70's projections, which was downgraded to more "realistic" numbers of around 40-50 flights PER YEAR by the later 70's. As we know now, these were totally la-la-land numbers... The flight rates could never approach the rates where the shuttle's design choices (like SRB's, which were cheaper for HIGH flight rates, but costlier for lower flight rates where the liquid rocket boosters would actually have been preferable and cost less, which shuttle of course could never achieve the flight rates to make SRB's cheaper) were made based on faulty assumptions as to flight rates, costs, turnaround time, refurbishment, touch-labor, etc. that all proved completely unrealistic, hence why shuttle never lived up to its promises, not by a longshot. That's what led shuttle manager John Shannon to reply to the Augustine Committee on the Constellation Program review board to testify "Reusability is a MYTH". (at least in terms of SHUTTLE reusability-- in fact it was proven that returning, refurbishing, retesting, and reusing SRB's and SSME's was MORE EXPENSIVE than if those elements had been designed for lowest cost to produce and EXPENDED after every flight and replaced with new ones used only once!)

That said, Falcon 9 is NOT shuttle! BUT, the question VERY MUCH remains to be seen exactly HOW much refurbishment of Falcon 9 first stages is required, what the overhead costs for recovery, refurbishment, and reuse actually is, and how much is actually saved, versus having a streamlined, sweet-spot hitting best-use-of-infrastructure economy-of-scale production methodology cranking out dependable, but EXPENDABLE, individual rocket stages and engines. There IS a cost for reusability; costs that are NOT THERE with expendables. The question is, is it more than the cost of an efficient expendable system, and how much is the savings for a reusable system over that?? Reusability also lowers your production rates, which lowers economies of scale, making the rockets you DO produce more expensive on a per-unit basis... after all, the overhead costs are the same (the light bill and stuff to keep the factory open and functioning, personnel paychecks, etc...) Fewer rockets produced for a given infrastructure cost means higher per-rocket costs compared to a higher production rate of rockets that are dropping in the drink after every launch. Add the reusability costs of recovery and refurbishment and relaunch on top of that...

It compounds...

Later! OL JR :)
 

georgegassaway

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An update. It looks like SpaceX WILL have a live videocast of the landing.

"Mark Gadarigian, ostensibly of SpaceX, just posted on Facebook via the Space.com article on the launch reschedule that they are, indeed, planning live coverage of the landing."

https://www.facebook.com/spacecom/p...=10152500784751466&offset=0&total_comments=57

"‪Mark Gadarigian - ‬ Of course we stream it live....near 15 min on SpaceX Web Cast"
Of course there were so many experts on nasaspaceflght.com who insisted it would never happen because what if it crashed - the Cold War Russia Space Program mentality of only showing success after the fact.

- George Gassaway
 
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georgegassaway

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Well, the launch is still set for Friday, the 19th.

Meanwhile here's some eye candy:

Test flight over McGregor Texas of F9R Dev1, the 3-engine prototype of Falcon 9 that did a number of landing tests before it had a problem on a flight in August and was self-destructed.



The image was taken by a remote controlled Multicopter that shot video (one of those things the FAA wants to ban).

A February 2012 Popular Science article:
"Elon Musk on SpaceX’s Reusable Rocket Plans"
"

http://www.popularmechanics.com/sci...musk-on-spacexs-reusable-rocket-plans-6653023

Old artist concept, that was shown in that article, showing one approach for the reusable 2nd stage. They also have talked of landing the Dragon capsule back at the Cape too, with rocket powered landings and not chutes. The actual reusable Falcon looks different than the artwork, the legs and the longer fuel/oxidizer tankage




This later article on the Popular Science site, is from September 2013:

"Musk: SpaceX Now Has “All the Pieces” For Truly Reusable Rockets"

It is not very long, but documents a number of the changes made to the Falcon-9.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/sci...-all-the-pieces-for-reusable-rockets-15985616


Last thing, a video of the Falcon first stage landing on a barge. Well, not exactly. It's a re-creation in Kerbal Space Program which doesn't simulate the distances very well, mostly showing a landing on a barge. The real Falcon first stage will land about 215 miles away, and will not do much in the way of retro-thrusting, as the barge will be placed in an idealized spot. Although it turns out that they do burn three engines a bit during the re-entry phase. And will definitely need to do a big retro burn in the future if they really do want for the first stages to land back at the Cape. Which may be more practical to do for the Falcon Heavy's boosters which will burn out a lot earlier (and each will be providing about 1/3 of its fuel with the center core), not be as far downrange, and not traveling as fast as Falcon-9 is when its first stage separates for a barge landing.

That is a BIG issue for landing back at the Cape that I had not considered till just now. "Easier" to do for the Falcon Heavy twin outer boosters to fly back to the launch site than for the Falcon-9 first stage.

The early launch trajectory also could be tweaked so that Falcon Heavy boosts somewhat straighter up, and staging higher, with more upward momentum, before the side boosters are dropped, which would also mean less downrange distance and less horizontal velocity to overcome to fly back. Of course, more work for the core stage to accelerate the rest of the rocket horizontally, but there is some happy medium in that approach. The Space Shuttle climbed relatively steeply thanks to the thrust of the SRB's, and didn't have a great thrust to weight ratio shortly after SRB sep (still lots of fuel mass in the big ET), so the upward momentum from the SRB boost phase helped out a lot.

Anyway, until we get to see the real flight, enjoy the KSP not-very-accurate but fun simulation video.

- George Gassaway


[video=youtube;PXv-6i7aJT0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXv-6i7aJT0[/video]
 
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luke strawwalker

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Well, the launch is still set for Friday, the 19th.

(snip)
The early launch trajectory also could be tweaked so that Falcon Heavy boosts somewhat straighter up, and staging higher, with more upward momentum, before the side boosters are dropped, which would also mean less downrange distance and less horizontal velocity to overcome to fly back. Of course, more work for the core stage to accelerate the rest of the rocket horizontally, but there is some happy medium in that approach. The Space Shuttle climbed relatively steeply thanks to the thrust of the SRB's, and didn't have a great thrust to weight ratio shortly after SRB sep (still lots of fuel mass in the big ET), so the upward momentum from the SRB boost phase helped out a lot.

Anyway, until we get to see the real flight, enjoy the KSP not-very-accurate but fun simulation video.

- George Gassaway
That's called a "lofted trajectory" which is exactly what the EELV's are flying now...

Later! OL JR :)
 

georgegassaway

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Again, as we wait, some more old info and eye candy. From an article in April, on the first flight of Falcon F9R Dev 1.1:

"SpaceX achieves controlled landing of Falcon 9 first stage"

http://spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/009/140419reusability/#.VI-9S2TF8rM

Included was the multicopter video below. Super impressive video. Shows how the Falcon tilted slightly and responded to keep under control and fly back down to land on the landing pad. Also noticeable is that it was NOT calm when they flew it, as evident by how the smoke/dust was blown to the left after it landed, and the wind perhaps responsible for some of the early wobbling. Although some of that "wobbling" was also to do a horizontal translation maneuver so it would land safely away from where it took off from (note the four structures it sat on before it took off, very obvious in the lower left before the smoke/dust starts to get kicked up as it lands. Did not want to hit those on the way down).

- George Gassaway

[video=youtube;0UjWqQPWmsY]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UjWqQPWmsY[/video]
 
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georgegassaway

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Launch still set for Friday. Launch time, 1:20 PM EST.

SpaceX's website has this update from Tuesday:

"X MARKS THE SPOT: FALCON 9 ATTEMPTS OCEAN PLATFORM LANDING"

http://www.spacex.com/news/2014/12/16/x-marks-spot-falcon-9-attempts-ocean-platform-landing

A taste of what it says:

"During our next flight, SpaceX will attempt the precision landing of a Falcon 9 first stage for the first time, on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an unanchored ocean platform is significantly more challenging.

The odds of success are not great—perhaps 50% at best. However this test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage."


It ends with wording that really hedges their bets, that one of the flights in the next year will probably succeed.


Meanwhile, SpaceFlightNow has an aritcle with the first photos of the barge I know of, since the top view that Musk tweeted

http://spaceflightnow.com/2014/12/16/photos-spacexs-autonomous-spaceport-drone-ship/

Not the best views though.




Meanwhile, I could not resist trying my own KSP version of the barge landing. Made up an octagonal "barge" out of dozens of hockey-puck shaped fuel tanks merged together, t provide a wide landing platform with a decent amount of flotation. How to get it out to sea? Every tank had a rocket engine under it. So the thing was launched like a huge flying Pancake rocket and flown out to the ocean. It was not easy, took a number of tries to land it intact at a decent distance out to sea.

Made up a rocket to crudely represent the Falcon-9. Launched it, climbed up, staged the second stage early, to leave fuel in the first stage, and also before the first stage would fly past the barge since the barge was not as far out to sea as I'd prefer. Mostly used an autopilot (MechJeb) for the landing. But even so it is not dead accurate, so I had to do some manual adjustment. Don't have any software to record the game video, so all I have are screenshots.











 
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BLKKROW

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A close up of one landing leg:

 

georgegassaway

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On the KSP Forum, I took part in a Challenge, to land a first stage on a barge like Space-X with the Falcon. I had already done that on my own as I posted earlier.. But they were looking for bringing the first stage back to shore on the barge, and some other things such as getting the second stage into a stable orbit before landing the first stage (which is a difficult juggling act to do in the game real-time on the same flight). So I went all-out, made a new launch vehicle to match a new flight strategy to make the second stage in stable orbit task a lot easier, and upgraded the barge. Some of it not quite realistic....but it fit within the rules of the challenge.

http://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com...g-challenge!?p=1615863&viewfull=1#post1615863







I'm leaving out a lot of goodies, so if you are interested in a KSP sort-of simulation (more was done than just the barge landing), check the post out at the above link.

- George
 
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rbelknap

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Cool - I might set my alarm. (More likely I'll search out a replay later in the day)
 

BLKKROW

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The barge is heading out to sea.
 

Peartree

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70% chance of good weather. Elon estimates less than 50% chance of success.
 

marcusSRG

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I'll be up and watching! Then back to sleep for a bit:)
 

Peartree

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Going to try to watch. The only question is whether I watch from home or go to work early and watch from there.
 

nute

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I have to get up for school at 6 anyway, so I'll be watching the live-feed.

Nate
 
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