Mar 302017

Two-plus-hour launch window opens at 4:27 PM Mountain time (6:27 PM eastern) tonight. If it is aborted due to weather, another window opens tomorrow at the same time.

This will be a success if it puts the payload into the correct orbit, regardless of whether or not the booster is recovered. But if the booster is successfully recovered, especially in good enough condition to be used *again…* safe to say, we’re in a new era.



Technical webcast:

And then there’s this from a prior landing. NSFW audio:


 Posted by at 2:30 pm
  • se jones


  • Jon Risque


  • Robbie

    That liquid slopping sound you hear is all the other satellite booster companies making their pants brown. They had better start a crash course in developing their own reusable boosters or they will go bankrupt. There is no way they can compete against reusable 1st stages.

    • Scottlowther

      With luck, SpaceX’s security is up to the task… because you know that that target on their backs, already sizable, just got a whole lot bigger. While i have doubts that US companies would do direct harm to the people and physical infrastructure of SpaceX, Ihave no such doubts about their willingness to do some electronic espionage. And I would keep a *sharp* eye out for Russian and European hijinks… polonium and explosives can really make a mess of things.

      • disqumbobulated

        I wonder how many moles there are on the SpaceX staff already?

        • Jon Risque

          The do have a “no asshole” policy

      • Robbie

        Of course the real trick will now be rapidly getting them ready to launch again, and that’s where the Shuttle hit a roadblock.

        • publiusr

          Right now–Musk has more liquid fueled engines to overhaul than the Shuttle program did–and that was a big factor in costs. He donated this first re-used booster to the Cape. Does this mean he is shy on launching it for a third time? Time will tell.

          • se jones

            Those Merlin engines are an order of magnitude simpler and easy to service (not overhaul…service) than the SSME (aka RS25)

            The interwebs are full of guys wringing their hands over “coking” in the hydrocarbon Merlins. Me thinks this is overblown; high pressure, high performance, kerosene fueled gas turbines fly over our heads all the time.
            Some walnut shells work wonders. (yeah yeah, a rocket turbo pump will require a different method, but the principle is the same)

            SpaceX has plenty of used boosters for the market now, it’s cool they are donating this first one as a historic artifact.

      • Jon Risque

        I would think the Russians would be very active on ways to get rid of Musk…. If you Scott were Elon, what would you do?

        • Scottlowther

          Use some of that fortune to perfect replicator-like cloning tech and crank out one or two decoys. And three or four Kate Upton copies. You know, for science.

          Other than that… chemical and radiation detectors *everywhere.* Well paid bodyguards. My own moles in the CIA and, if at all possible, the Kremlin. And send in folks to Kerplopistan or wherever to hunt down a couple loose Soviet nukes, procure them,clean ’em up, make them functional and then take some snapshots showing them being driven around Moscow (or other sites near Putin), with a note to the effect of “if Elon dies of anything other than advanced old age, a radio signal will *stop* being sent out. And soon thereafter, things will get sporty.”

    • se jones

      their own reusable boosters

      Not a problem, ULA has it covered.
      (Little know fact: Rube Goldberg was a ULA manager)

      • Robbie


      • Scottlowther

        Bringing back just a propulsion/avionics module is an age-old approach, and certainly a lot easier than bringing back the whole booster. But… now that booster recovery is A Thing, it just seems half-assed.

        • Robbie

          Exactly, half-assed. Even the Chinese are planning to bring back their whole boosters with parachutes.

          • se jones

            On The Other Hand: ULA is planning a re-usable upper stage which would complement the SpaceX/BO boosters, especially if you fly “high time” used boosters lofting fuel to a depot. Dumb commodity fuel (or H2O for splitting on orbit) is the ideal payload for high-time engines/airframes, who cares if you occasionally lose one going uphill.

          • FelixA9

            Apparently SpaceX is considering recovery of their 2nd stage on the first Falcon Heavy launch late summer.

          • se jones

            *recovery of their 2nd stage*
            Citation please.

            Stage 2 reaches orbital velocity, so reentry/recovery would require a full thermal protection system, as well as a sophisticated hypersonic attitude control system, and finally elaborate parachutes with an airbag landing system (salt water is bad).

          • Scottlowther

            So, dump it into the Mississippi river instead…

            But seriously, folks, salt water ain’t *that* bad. Back in the 60’s, when NASA was actually pushing forward, they test fired an H-1, dumped it into salt water, fished it out, had Airman Skippy hose it down with WD-40 and then test fired it again.

          • se jones

            >salt water ain’t *that* bad

            Depends. I’m reminded of the great shop rag incident. The Shuttle was grounded for for several months back in the mid-90s when an orbiter was almost lost from an early SSME shutdown. Vibration from a bearing race failure (as I recall). It took them weeks of intense investigation to find the root cause, which turned out to be lint free shop rags. A manager took it on himself to save a few bucks and have the shop rags laundered instead of throwing them away at the end of each shift. The detergent used by the laundry vendor contained sulfates. The residual detergent on the rags, was enough to react with the coatings on the SSME parts casing micro cracks when hot hydrogen was introduced.

            So I guess the lesson is to use the right WD-40. Or something.

          • se jones

            Back in the good old days, there was lots of design work for Shuttle-C concepts. A recoverable side-mount boat tail module looked to be a good option, but everyone was hand wringing over the salt water issue, Airman Skippy notwithstanding. Big clamshell doors were looked at, but you know – heavy and complex.

            I had a brainstorm. The nozzles are tough, the boat tail can be sealed, you just need to keep saltwater out of the engine internals. So, put a port sealed with a frangible disk in the SSME throat area. The port is connected to a manifold which runs to bottles filled with some sort of expanding foam liquid, under high pressure. Some time between SSME cut-off and splashdown, you fire a squib and Fooom, the engine throats are filled ‘n sealed with this waterproof foam. Once back at the ranch, technicians attach lines to another port that is upstream of the foam plug, and begin pumping some sort of solvent into the throat that dissolves the foam. With the engines vertical and the powerheads under N2 pressure, the foam is gently washed away and the powerheads are safe and sound.

            Many mistakes were made in the history of spaceflight, but not building Shuttle C was THE single stupidest mistake NASA ever made. The price we paid for our mythic heros to pull that gear-down lever 133 times. Thank you JSC.

          • FelixA9

            Hell, just give that cargo section to the USN and say, “make it so”. They’ll dip that SOB in Hysol and she’ll be good to go.

          • FelixA9
          • se jones

            Thanx A9. Boy, I don’t check SpaceNews for a few hours and see what I miss!
            Two things: It hadn’t occurred to me that the first flight upper stage might just be inert and allowed to just fall back to the Atlantic after stage sep.
            “Bringing the stage back” in that case, is a far cry from “reuse”, the stage would hit the ocean at . . . well real fast. Not much of a “demo”, so Elon’s tweet is kinda strange.

            That CGI video is pretty old, and since that time SpaceX has pretty much put upper stage reuse on the back burner, as far as I know (which ain’t much honestly). Adding the mass of TPS, landing gear, retropropulsion and stuff, really eats into payload.

            If SpaceX will be so kind as to hire me, I’ll get right to work on a recoverable upper stage engine module. I think that would be orders magnitude easier than getting the whole stage back. An upper stage airframe really can be light, cheap and simple (think of Centaur), so the engine is where the cost is. A mid-air snag under canopy of this module would be pretty easy compared to the huge Vulcan engine module.

            Still, not a trivial task. I would assume most FH flights would be distended for GEO. An engine recover module would have to be a full fledged s/c in its own right, with guidance, attitude control, comm, and what-have-you, so you could “fly” it back to the recovery area.

          • FelixA9

            Oh I knew the video was old. Was the only one I could find, but I knew I’d seen one out there before. As long as they had a good heat shield, given the low density of the upper stage, and some parachutes, I’d think it would be doable. Worth the money? No idea.

        • FelixA9

          I just hope when Blue Origin attempts their first New Glenn landing that, success or failure, Elon tweets, “welcome to the club” to Bezos.

        • Herp McDerp

          But… now that booster recovery is A Thing, it just seems half-assed.

          Yeah. This would have made a lot of sense a quarter-century ago, if they had ever built Shuttle-C. But they didn’t. (Yeah, you’d need a heat shield and smarter avionics to bring the engine package back from orbit. So?)

          The ULA plan violates the old adage of “Thou shalt not multiply critical failure points without necessity,” so now that we know that its feasible to bring the whole thing back in one piece, why bother? The ULA rationale seems to be “tankage is cheap, so why send up all that extra fuel?” But fuel is cheaper than tankage …

          How much do you want to bet that each component of the system will be manufactured in a different state, to maximize the influence on Congresscritters?

          Does anyone know ehat distance from the launch site the recovery zone would be for the ULA engine package? Would a launch from Belize and recovery at Puerto Rico make sense?

      • philo_t

        snatching things out of mid-air is always a cool multiplier. Of course, >failing< to snatch something out of mid-air puts a negative sign on that calculation.

        Of course, Moore's law and economics would dictate that if things are to be snatched out of mid-air, it will be done by drones rather than creating opportunities for steely-eyed pilots to exercise the right stuff. Wow, that metaphor sort of got away from me.

        • se jones


          Yeah, maybe LM could double-up programs and get DOD to invest in a BIG UAV Helicopter. Never hurts to ask.

          I think they underestimate the cost of the huge campaign needed to send a flotilla half way across the ocean, in order to snatch their engine module out of the air.
          Besides the cost of the disposable hypercone, chute and parasail, there’s the ship’s crew & pilots out for (not overnight like SpaceX) several days each way.
          And, the weather in the recovery area must be good enough to risk the whole operation. Unlike SpaceX/BO, Vulcan would never have a “return to launch site” operation, Vulcan drops its module at staging, a loooong way from the pad.

      • publiusr

        I think it was ULA that also pushed depots (to boost EELV launches) and started all the hate against Ares V/SLS.

        If I were ULA–I’d join with Dynetics and build Pyrios–and just reduce part count as much as I could.

        I understand Musk will donate this rocket to the Cape

        • se jones

          I haven’t seen much SLS hate from the ULA guys, that would be biting the hand that feeds ya. But hell yeah, don’t even mention SpaceX around ULA guys (and I do spend time around them as they are nearby and in my AIAA chapter).

          Dynetics has moved on and has a major contract on SLS, but yeah I’d love to see them resurrect the mighty Pyrios if there is a market for it. But if ULA goes with BO’s methane engines, a big old kerosene burner becomes less likely, but who knows.

  • thingytest 3


  • Robbie

    I was just thinking that SpaceX could reuse the upper stages by placing fuel stations in orbit and use the stages as orbital tugs.

  • markus baur

    one thing that would be interesting to learn – how much residual fuel is left after touch down on the OCISLY?

    has anyone seen any information on that?

    • Christopher James Huff

      Very little. It likely depends on the landing and mission, but:
      “the anticipated amount of residual fuel during an unsuccessful landing attempt would be limited (i.e., 50-150 gallons)”

      • markus baur


        150 gallons times 3,8 times 0,9 equals about 500 kg

        these are very low margins – measuring of fuel and LOX quantities in a tank must have improves VERY much since Saturn (first and third stage had large residual fuel amounts on shut down)

        • Christopher James Huff

          I’m not even sure if there’s any actually left in the tank at that point, with all the plumbing between the tanks and the engines.

          I suspect the end of the reentry burn is determined by the propellant remaining for landing, since air resistance will tend to equalize the speed when it finally reaches the ground. It won’t slow all the way to terminal velocity before reaching the ground, but the landing burn requirements will be both more predictable and a lot more critical.

          • markus baur

            yes .. seems logical

            i somehow doubt that SpaceX will put the descent and landing software on open spurce any time now – nor the thinking and logic behind it 8)