SpaceX launches and lands Falcon 9

by Chris Becker

This is big. Big big news that paradoxically one day will be as humdrum as a 747 crossing the Atlantic. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched its orbital rocket, the Falcon 9, and landed the first stage.

Space-x-3

The 2nd stage went on to deploy 11 satellites for Orbcom, but the game changer is the huge – and very expensive – first stage was successfully relanded minutes after takeoff. This means it can be used again, and again. See here for why reusability is so important.

This paves the way for the key to cheap space travel – reusability. Up until now, orbital flight was the equivalent of destroying your 747 every time you flew across the country.

The 21st century will be about technological multipliers, not financial “hubs” or property speculation.

This technology will mean orders of magnitude reduced cost for access to space and with that, huge improvements in productivity, prosperity and opening up innovation across a variety of industries (and not just space tourism as critics have derided).

A great day. Better than the new Star Wars, because this is real!

Comments

    • All Elon needs to do now is reduce the cost of the power wall by about 75% and he might have a market in Australia. Seriously, go on Alibaba – you can get a 16kwh LifePO4 battery system for $8000, Origin want $12500 for a 6kwh Tesla powerwall.

      Hilarious

  1. Awesome!

    The US is not so quietly creating multiple industries to dominate, after previously cornering the online market.

    We’re still arguing whether you really need to have broadband.

    • Yep, and this is one where the US can really increase market share on because of all the protections in place around it (labour, intellectual property, etc.) ostensibly for ‘national security’ reasons…

    • darklydrawlMEMBER

      Bingo. WaitButWhy is awesome. Tim Urban’s Elon Musk series is a great read. It is long though so give yourself some time and space to get thru. Better on a larger format screen too I find. Enjoy.

    • I was about to mention the cost – a not insignificant factor and as currently stands far from a commercial reality.

      Oh, and solar or electric 😉

    • The Traveling Wilbur

      Maybe Mr Musk could manufacture them in inner-city Melbourne somewhere? Nah, Falcons in Melb.? Never work.

    • there already are production lines for it, they are producing 5 engines a week with the goal for 40 whole rockets per year (9 engines per rocket). Now they are reusable the number of total rockets will only increase linearly each year. Pretty exciting time, they already can put things into orbit for a third of the existing manufacturers like boeing and this is only going to crush them further.

  2. “Better than the new Star Wars, because this is real”
    This is great stuff. but its not better than the new star wars. Nothing is better than the new star wars until the next starwars comes along.

    So lets hope this fulfills the promise. I recall the solid rocket boosters of the space shuttle would parachute back to earth with the idea they would be reused. But in reality they found that they where damaged by the take off (not the landing) with cracks that made them risky for reuse. Hopefully this new tech works out.

      • To get a good idea of how difficult this rocket surgery research is, read this: http://library.sciencemadness.org/library/books/ignition.pdf

        Quote:
        All this sounds fairly academic and innocuous, but when it is translated into the problem of handling the stuff, the results are horrendous. It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water —with which it reacts explosively.

        They may not be developing rocket-fuels yet … but they are sure using the ones which were discovered and developed by this guy in the 50-60-70s…

    • Sorry, but its very hard to compare them.

      New Shepard (Blue Origin) is a small, sub orbital (less than 4 minutes up at 100km altitude – same as SpaceShip Two) very small payload (a few passengers) rocket. Great technology and near perfect for space tourism and small experimental flights.

      Falcon 9 is an orbital launcher taking 5000kg payloads and/or crew into orbital flight. Yes, the first stage only went up 200km, but it then pushed the 2nd stage a little higher than that….1.5 million pounds of thrust vs around 100,000 pounds for New Shepard…

      No derision meant or implied for New Shepard- I watched that launch and landing live and applauded it too – its another great vehicle in a great new Space Race!

    • Very different achievement MM. Bezo’s rocket pretty much went straight up and back down. Yeah it went pretty high (60km, still not as high as existing aircraft), but it wasn’t actually delivering anything to space. Nifty tech demonstration sure, but whether it’s 60km straight up or 5km straight up makes very little difference.

      The Falcon launch actually was carrying a payload on an orbit trajectory (ie. going to orbit, meaning lots of horizontal velocity) and went much higher (100+km).

    • Competition is only a good thing and I’m pretty confident now I’ll be able to go to space in my lifetime for a reasonable price.


  3. The 21st century will be about technological multipliers, not financial “hubs” or property speculation.

    You know, the 21st century is 15% complete, and so far it’s been about financial hubs, property speculation and other total BS. Not seeing much reason to expect a change any time.

    • georgeharterMEMBER

      Let’s hope things DO change socially/psychologically. Maybe there is a chance that we can break out of this greed straight jacket and dream/explore again. Possibly regain some hope for the future! In too many ways our new century is off to a poor start.

    • Its even sadder when you consider that what has been done to date in the 21st century can only be consider as a significant improvement on what was done at the same point in the 20th century, give that at the start of 1916 you had a significant portion of the worlds young men in trenches facing off with machine guns. As bad as things are it could be worse.

      • It’s good that there aren’t too many wars on wasting innocent lives atm, but where’s this century’s Theory of Relativity, Radio or Powered Flight?

        WWI was obviously a disaster, mostly due to a relatively small number of idiots whose heads were stuck in the 19th or even 18th centuries but the first ten years of the 20th century were bloody amazing.

        (and then there’s the 1912 invention of the DeLaval nozzle)

      • It’s good that there aren’t too many wars on wasting innocent lives atm, but where’s this century’s Theory of Relativity, Radio or Powered Flight?

        I’d argue the trajectory for solar generation and battery storage are strong contenders to match the latter two.

        Higgs Boson to match to the former ?

      • I don’t really think an alternative way to generate and store electricity after 100 years of widespread use of electricity is in the same category as human voices and other audio that could previously only be heard in close proximity to the physical source being able to be broadcast hundreds of miles, but if the predictions that have come about since the Powerwall was launched (widespread uptake at the home level within 10 years sort of thing) then yes, they’ll match the spread of radio fairly nicely.

      • Battery storage exists for more than 150 years and frankly speaking improvement achieved in these 150 years are at evolutionary speed (two consecutive technologies were almost identical and hard to distinguish). Tesla Powerwall is only marginally better than Faure’s lead–acid batteries in 1880s. The major shortcoming of lead–acids – weight – it’s really not shortcoming at all for wall mounted home battery storage.

        Ironically, Musk appears to be very like Edison (low risk small step improvements of existing technology and big commercialisation) despite using Tesla’s name (high risk giant leaps and no commercial success)

    • I agree with you. Reusable rocket is not an invention it’s improvement driven by financials and entirely based on existing technology – like adding ABS to the cars in 90s. Good but nothing special or revolutionary.

  4. Great. So its going to be even cheaper to put a satellite in orbit. When Australia decides to overcome the enormous technical challenges (using scientists and engineers on temporary visa’s) and in the name of national pride becomes the 100th nation (about 50 after NZ) to put 50 satellites in orbit to create its very own global positioning system then we will understand the true importance of this successful launch.

    • SpaceX’s SuperDraco engine is already 3d-printed. It seems like in terms of liquid-fueled rocket development, SpaceX is well ahead of NASA now.

  5. These idiots are wasting money that could be much more productively and profitably spent on useful endeavours that actually contribute something to society, like buying property around Sydney Harbour and then reselling it at a higher price a little while later.

    Just bowing at the feet of the Good Looking and Sexy Living God that is Reusachtige 🙂

  6. Now if Elon can just get more 15,000 miles out of a Tesla drivetrain without warranty replacement

    • It is the name of a genius who felt that he cannot enter USA while illegal Mexicans are crossing the border and so he entered Canada (his mum is from there).

  7. The good news that they’ve achieved this feat with a tiny development budget …unfortunately that’s also the bad news. Make no mistake about it this is also an ICBM that can deliver a nuke anywhere in the world and it costs less than an F22 and way way less than a single sub.
    that’s the thing with technology once the genie is out of the bottle for one it’s out of the bottle for all.
    Just Imagine some nutter like Gaddafi had this sort of weapon, Dubya’s axis of evil would have actually been a potent force. For some reason I slept better when I thought this sort of rocket technology was well outside the reach of cashed up nutters.

    • …He says as a bloke whose twitter avatar used to be himself posing as Dr Evil sends a rocket into space and back.

    • I wouldn’t say that this puts the tech in anyone’s hands or not… SpaceX is miles ahead of anyone else in the business and they’re firmly within the control of the US. Unlike Tesla, I don’t think Elon is going to be able to make the designs freely available even if he wanted to.

      Still, all the more reason to get a colony going on Mars ASAP.

      • @jason No argument SpaceX is an impressive outfit
        The problem is the precedent it sets. It’s one thing for Middle Eastern Engineers and Scientists to tell some despot like Gaddafi that it’ll cost $10B to develop an ICBM but now the despot can point to a solution that was developed for under $500M. Big difference. Gives the crackpots ideas, maybe they’ll succeed maybe they’ll fail but either way the world’s a less secure place if the world’s wacko’s believe they can own ICBM’s.

      • I don’t necessarily disagree with you CB, but if all that was standing between Qadaffi and a collection of ICBMs was the expenditure of $10 bn, my understanding was that he was more than good for it.

        It’s funny you mention ICBM’s, given this rocket launch today is the by-product of Musk not being able to buy them from the Russkies.

      • The problem is the precedent it sets. It’s one thing for Middle Eastern Engineers and Scientists to tell some despot like Gaddafi that it’ll cost $10B to develop an ICBM but now the despot can point to a solution that was developed for under $500M. Big difference. Gives the crackpots ideas, maybe they’ll succeed maybe they’ll fail but either way the world’s a less secure place if the world’s wacko’s believe they can own ICBM’s.

        True, but they couldn’t build many – or even one – of these things without the rest of the world knowing, at which point they become targets of inevitable and catastrophic retaliatory strikes.

        Gadaffi wouldn’t have been launching when he knew he’d get a hundred back for every one he sent.

      • Considering how many Americans want to bomb aladdin, he is within his rights to defend himself. Nutcases indeed.

  8. Affordable space flight is not going to come from launching stuff into space on top of big buckets of burning chemicals.

    That said, this is awesome news.

    • will certainly make it cheaper to get the space elevator up though and once we have that it will be exponential growth when you can get to space for the cost of a airfare.

  9. Original JohnMEMBER

    But wait! It just keeps getting better!

    http://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/21/nasa-led-team-wants-to-grow-potatoes-on-mars.html

    “Agronomists have long advocated potato farming in areas rife with malnutrition, poverty and pasture scarcity due to its high nutrient levels and the ability to grow in challenging conditions. The earliest known record of potatoes dates back to around 2500 BC when the indigenous Aymara Indians in modern-day Peru and Bolivia were cultivating the vegetable.”

    Hmmmm – this should end well 🙂

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)

    South Park may have nailed it.

  10. This is another nail in the coffin containing the belief that wages in AUS are too high (A$18/hour is too high?) and thus high tech goods cannot be exported from AUS.

    Musk is such a hero of US manufacturing. Exporting Powerwalls, cars, solar panels, and satellites!

    • And all at a vast cost to shareholders or the government in the case of Space X.

      His current ventures live at the mercy of the capital markets.

    • You could! It was called Concord. London -> NY 3 hours. Cape Town -> London 8 hours. London -> Sydney was the ultimate, but due to political and noise constraints, that route never got better than about 15 hours ..
      ( PS: A quick check shows that, “1987 – Sep 6. Concorde sets a new coast to coast transatlantic record of 1 hour 35 minutes flying between Newfoundland and Ireland.”

    • Have you seen the skylon being developed by the UK company reaction engines? Would do Sub orbital jumps to get you anywhere in the world in 4 hours.

  11. Given this will dramaticalky reduce the cost of putting stuff in space, how come nobody has mentioned the very real soace junk issue?

  12. I guess it wasn’t that hard for Musk to achieve all of that with $4.9 billion in subsidies and transfer of NASA knowledge worth tens of billions of dollars

    • Oh yeah. That is why he only ever built liquid fuel rockets rather than solid fuel rockets.

      And NASA has re-used rockets before.

      Oh wait…