PDA

View Full Version : SpaceX gets Resupply Contract



andyschlei
2008-Dec-23, 11:21 PM
I think this is very cool:

NASA Selects SpaceX's Falcon 9 Booster and Dragon Spacecraft for Cargo Resupply Services to the International Space Station (http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20081223)

It is great to see an independently financed company get a major contract like this for NASA. They've had their bumps, but with this kind of business, things are looking up (no pun intended).

slang
2008-Dec-24, 09:10 AM
Not just SpaceX...

NASA calls upon commercial firms to serve space station (http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0812/23crsawards/)


Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies - SpaceX - today won NASA contracts valued at up to $1.9 billion and $1.6 billion respectively for 20 unmanned space station cargo flights to deliver experiment hardware, crew supplies and replacement components after the space shuttle is retired.

There's a preview story (http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0812/22crspreview/) too, with some more details on the plans from the three contenders.

Damburger
2008-Dec-30, 05:41 PM
Isn't it a bit forward to give them this contract when their only rocket has (so far) a failure rate of 75% and the vehicle they intend to use to resupply the ISS hasn't been tested at all?

To be honest the whole affair seems to be a stunt to try and make corporate spaceflight look good. I wouldn't be surprised if the NASA decision had been made under duress from above, and historically decisions regarding spaceflight taken under such circumstances haven't gone too well.

stutefish
2008-Dec-30, 07:38 PM
Alternatively, perhaps SpaceX was able to successfully demonstrate to NASA that their R&D program is robust, and that they are on track to meet their goals and timelines; and this is why NASA awarded them the contract.

cjameshuff
2008-Dec-30, 09:06 PM
Isn't it a bit forward to give them this contract when their only rocket has (so far) a failure rate of 75% and the vehicle they intend to use to resupply the ISS hasn't been tested at all?

You're putting a rather excessively negative spin on things. The failure rate is 3 out of 4, with those 3 being the first 3 times the vehicle had flown, with several components still being developed...the last two flights used a different first stage engine, for example, and the last three had more corrosion-resistant hardware than the first. The issues that caused the failures were clearly identified and corrected.

They've proven orbital capability, have done a mission-length test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage, and are currently moving the first vehicle to its launch site in Cape Canaveral. It seems reasonable to expect that NASA has had a chance to observe the vehicle and SpaceX's operations, and that this had a fair amount to do with the timing.

Damburger
2008-Dec-31, 12:37 PM
You're putting a rather excessively negative spin on things. The failure rate is 3 out of 4, with those 3 being the first 3 times the vehicle had flown, with several components still being developed...the last two flights used a different first stage engine, for example, and the last three had more corrosion-resistant hardware than the first. The issues that caused the failures were clearly identified and corrected.


I could put a positive spin and give them a 25% success rate; but that hardly improves matters. If they had previous launchers with good records they could be given the benefit of the doubt, but they have yet to demonstrate that they can consistently put things in orbit with their rockets. They might have this capability, but they haven't shown it yet.



They've proven orbital capability, have done a mission-length test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage, and are currently moving the first vehicle to its launch site in Cape Canaveral. It seems reasonable to expect that NASA has had a chance to observe the vehicle and SpaceX's operations, and that this had a fair amount to do with the timing.

They had done a mission-length test firing of the falcon 1 stage, and they still managed to lose a rocket because they miscalculated how long it would burn for in flight.

Larry Jacks
2008-Dec-31, 02:19 PM
They had done a mission-length test firing of the falcon 1 stage, and they still managed to lose a rocket because they miscalculated how long it would burn for in flight.

That's an inprecise way of describing what happened on flight 3. On that flight, they switched the first stage booster engine to one that used regenerative cooling. At shutdown, residual propellant generated a small amount of thrust for a few seconds, causing the two stages to collide.

The point is that they have experienced 3 failures but all of them were corrected and didn't repeat on subsequent flights. The first failure was due to a corroded part (very salty in Kwaj). Corrected. The second failure was due to propellant sloshing in the upper stage. Corrected. The third failure was due to residual thrust and that was corrected simply by allowing a few extra seconds between first stage shutdown and separation.

Failures are pretty common in the early launch attempts of a new booster design. So long as the causes for the failures are discovered and fixed, there really isn't a problem. I read some years ago that the Soyuz booster had dozens of failures in the early days but then went on a string of several hundred successes in a row. Delta IIs are very reliable but they had their share of teething problems in the early days and every attempt at launching a Delta III failed. Stuff happens.

Edit: I just found this page (http://spacefellowship.com/News/?p=7825) (via Instapundit) showing the status of the first Falcon 9 with some good photos. Falcon 9 is far from vaporware. Will it have problems? Quite possibly - stuff happens. SpaceX has shown the tenacity and resourcefullness to work through their problems.

Damburger
2008-Dec-31, 04:54 PM
That's an inprecise way of describing what happened on flight 3. On that flight, they switched the first stage booster engine to one that used regenerative cooling. At shutdown, residual propellant generated a small amount of thrust for a few seconds, causing the two stages to collide.

The point is that they have experienced 3 failures but all of them were corrected and didn't repeat on subsequent flights. The first failure was due to a corroded part (very salty in Kwaj). Corrected. The second failure was due to propellant sloshing in the upper stage. Corrected. The third failure was due to residual thrust and that was corrected simply by allowing a few extra seconds between first stage shutdown and separation.


So they failed to take into account that perhaps a redesigned engine might perform differently? Sounds like they cut a corner there.



Failures are pretty common in the early launch attempts of a new booster design. So long as the causes for the failures are discovered and fixed, there really isn't a problem. I read some years ago that the Soyuz booster had dozens of failures in the early days but then went on a string of several hundred successes in a row. Delta IIs are very reliable but they had their share of teething problems in the early days and every attempt at launching a Delta III failed. Stuff happens.


Failures are also pretty common in early launch attempts by groups that simply aren't structured correctly to produce reliable launchers. Just because successful rocket programmes have failures, doesn't mean that failures are a sign of a successful rocket programme. A implies B does not mean B implies A.



Edit: I just found this page (via Instapundit) showing the status of the first Falcon 9 with some good photos. Falcon 9 is far from vaporware. Will it have problems? Quite possibly - stuff happens. SpaceX has shown the tenacity and resourcefullness to work through their problems.

If it performs like some of their previous rockets, it may become vapourware in mid flight.

Seeing as they were planning to test anyway it even before they secured this NASA contract, why did NASA not wait and see if the rocket actually flew before sealing the deal?

mto
2008-Dec-31, 05:29 PM
Edit: I just found this page (http://spacefellowship.com/News/?p=7825) (via Instapundit) showing the status of the first Falcon 9 with some good photos.

That looks to be content from the Spacex site's updates page (link) (http://www.spacex.com/updates.php) Falcon9 is now fully integrated.

Larry Jacks
2008-Dec-31, 06:00 PM
Failures are also pretty common in early launch attempts by groups that simply aren't structured correctly to produce reliable launchers.

So, because two of the three (turns out I was mistaken about all of them failing) Delta III launch attempt failed, Boeing - the same company that builds the reliable Delta II and Delta IV - isn't structured properly? That hardly makes sense.

If I worked for Boeing, Lockheed, or other booster company that made boosters in the same performance point as the Falcon 9, I'd be worried. The Falcon has the very real potential of greatly undercutting those expensive existing boosters.

Seeing as they were planning to test anyway it even before they secured this NASA contract, why did NASA not wait and see if the rocket actually flew before sealing the deal?

I'd guess it was due to the timing of when NASA had to let the contract. They're going to stop Shuttle operations in 2010 and need something in the pipeline to carry cargo to the ISS. Delaying the contract might've meant delays in the cargo missions. NASA probably looked at SpaceX and Orbital Sciences and determined they had the best solutions in development within the price and time constraints.

Now, if SpaceX succeeds in developing a manned version of their Dragon capsule, it wouldn't surprise me if NASA faces some uncomfortable questions from Congress about why it's taking them so long and so much money to develop their Ares I and associated capsule.

ravens_cry
2008-Dec-31, 06:14 PM
Maybe because they have shown signs of learning from their mistakes, quickly and efficiently. Their is likely some politics involved, their always is with these kinds of decisions, but I think SpaceX has shown remarkable maturity and capability for such a young company. Look at Werner Von Braun, remember that early Juno 1 flight, where the rocket just went stop after four feet. Of course, gravity didn't go stop, and down it came, in big, spectacular, and rather demoralizing, fire ball. That didn't stop them though and in time the Juno came to be known as 'Old Reliable'. And not only that, but the Saturn V, the biggest successful rocket ever built, was designed by the same team.
While we are likely going to see some spectacular dingers, this is the nature of a high risk, low tolerance exercise like rocketry. But RocketX has shown that they can learn from the problems they face, and recover extremely rapidly.

stutefish
2008-Dec-31, 06:49 PM
None of the contractors for the Apollo Project had proven themselves capable, by Damburger's standards, of building the various Project components, and yet somehow they got the contracts anyway. And from the spectacular failure of the Apollo Project, we can safely conclude that NASA has no clue how to evaluate aerospace R&D proposals or award contracts in a responsible and informed manner.

Oh, wait... :)

cjameshuff
2008-Dec-31, 07:56 PM
So they failed to take into account that perhaps a redesigned engine might perform differently? Sounds like they cut a corner there.

They attempted to take the longer shutdown transient into account, they underestimated the degree of the difference. It was not practical to test it under those conditions on the ground, and it's a complicated problem to solve, involving fluid flows through small passages with high surface areas, at uncertain temperatures and pressures while phase changes are taking place, etc. Their estimate was slightly off. The error was quite understandable.

You seem oddly bent on painting their efforts in the most negative light possible. You keep bringing up a 75% failure rate, despite there being only 4 launch attempts (far too few for a percentage failure rate to have any meaning), and those of 3 different variations of a vehicle still under development. That you keep bringing it up is enough to make me question your motives and ability to judge such matters. Ignoring your "75%", the facts still don't support your position.

The third failure was exclusively due to a lack of characterization of a new first stage engine under those conditions. The one before that was due to lack of characterization of the second stage, something similarly impractical to test on the ground. The one avoidable problem was the corrosion issue that caused the first launch failure...they could have put some scrap out on the launch pad for a few months to determine likely corrosion effects. None of the problems pointed to any fundamental design flaws, all were fixed with minor changes. The third failure did not even require any hardware changes, just incorporation of the newly-gathered data on the shutdown transient.

They now have such characterization data from two launches, which also applies to the Falcon 9 vehicle. They also now have hard real-world data on performance of the vacuum variant second stage engine. They have not launched a Falcon 9 yet, but they have demonstrated the performance of the hardware it is based on with a successful launch to orbit, and due to the data and experience gathered in doing so, are in a much better position than they were with even the fourth Falcon 1 launch.

MaDeR
2009-Jan-02, 03:29 PM
I still expect them to have major problem in maiden Falcon 9 flight. Not all things scale up neatly from Falcon 1 to 9.

At other hand, I expect that flight 5 of Falcon 1 for Malaysia (RazakSAT) will fly without problems.

ravens_cry
2009-Jan-02, 03:47 PM
I wish them the best with this. It will take a while to iron out the bugs, but I have faith they will do so. And barring any unforeseen (those are the worst kind) problems, I too believe flight five of Falcon 1 will fly without a hitch.